Press Briefing by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah in Nairobi, Kenya

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

MODERATOR: (In progress) Raj Shah. I would like to offer the floor to Dr. Shah.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Good evening. This morning, the United Nations issued a famine declaration for South and Central Somalia. I also had a chance this morning to visit with Somali refugees in the Dadaab camp, and to visit other drought-affected communities inside of Kenya at Wajir. What I saw was striking. At Dadaab, I saw young child after young child weary from a long journey, lined up waiting for access to food, medicine, basic services that can make the difference in saving their lives. I met mothers, like Habiba (ph), a woman who had traveled for 33 days by foot with her two children, suffered a robbery along the way, in order to arrive at Dadaab and have access to safety, food, and basic human security. We visited a four-year-old boy who, in the acute malnutrition wing of the hospital at Dadaab, weighed only 8.7 kilograms at the age of 4, and was reliant on a naso-gastric feeding tube and very specific feeding regimens in order to, hopefully, survive.

And we know that these stories are really just a handful of the stories of the now more than 384,000 people that make up the Dadaab camp. At the camp, they receive a range of services and food, health, security, water, education. But the pathway forward for them will be dangerous and long, and many have arrived with such a severe level of acute malnutrition, especially for children, that we know they will never fully recover.

In Wajir, we passed carcasses of livestock on the way to visit with local pastoral communities that were suffering from the longstanding drought in Kenya. We know that in the north, the drought has led to very serious effects for people that are living in pastoral communities and agricultural communities and that rely on their basic livelihood for effective agricultural production and basic access to livestock and livestock markets.

It was precisely in that community where people had talked about how most of their livestock assets have either died or been sold off, and how they were now subsisting on a series of safety net programs – getting food from the World Food Program, water from programs supported by USAID. And what little livestock economy remained was in part due to very specific programs put in place to allow livestock to survive, livestock vaccination programs, and allow livestock markets to continue to develop throughout the region.

These two visits and these two examples tell a story of what we now know is the worst drought to affect the Horn of Africa in more than 60 years. We know from very good data from FEWS NET, the Famine Early Warning System that USAID helped develop with the United Nations and other partners here in Kenya, that this actually is the worst drought we've seen in a 60-year time period. We know that there are 11.5 million people who are at real risk of hunger, starvation, and other ills related to this drought. And we now know that there are parts of Somalia that have met the official determination of being a famine. And it is no surprise that those famine-affected areas are precisely those areas where ineffective local governance and Al Shabaab's precluding any humanitarian access to those populations has resulted in high death rates and the refugee crisis we now see manifested in places like Dadaab.

It is in this context that the United States Government is focused on a well-coordinated and aggressive response in order to address short-term needs and save lives, but also to address the long-term opportunities to avoid these types of famine and failure when we see them happen time and time again in this part of the world.

In the short term, our priority is to enable our implementing partners and humanitarian partners to have full access to affected populations and save lives and protect livelihoods. We've already spent $431 million since last October. We were able to start making those actions then because we saw, through the Famine Early Warning System, data come in and we were able to provide program resources to provide food and other types of programming in critically affected areas throughout the Horn of Africa.

Today, I am proud to announce – and Secretary Clinton also announces – a $28 million commitment, including $23 million specifically for food and services in Somalia and in specific parts of Somalia that are hardest hit, and an additional $5 million of food assistance building on the 41,000 metric tons of food we've already provided to the refugee population at Dadaab. Together, these represent the largest and fastest efforts that any international partner is making in addressing the critical needs that are acute and important in this part of the world right now. And the United States remains absolutely committed to a firm and aggressive humanitarian action and humanitarian response.

But we also believe we must do more. And that's why we have been supporting since last October a very broad range of safety net programs that have included vaccinating 300,000 livestock in the region, putting in place community feeding and safety net programs that have reached more than 4.4 million people, in order to help them get through a drought that we know is causing great harm to many, many populations. And it is our hope and our aspiration that this kind of early planning and early action will help limit the number of communities that are officially designated as communities experiencing famine. And we hope that it will help those communities continue to have resilient market structures and to recover as rapidly as possible.

We've also been very focused on a long-term strategy. In 2009, at the L'Aquila summit of the G-20 world leaders, President Obama himself called on the world to come together and make more than $22 billion of investments in long-term food security and agricultural development with a specific focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so, the United States committed to make $3.5 billion of those commitments ourselves, and we have been living up to that pledge that the President has made.

But more than the money, we pledged that we would work with partners to do things differently. We created a program called Feed the Future, and we have worked with now nearly 20 countries that have each made commitments to increase their own investments in agriculture and food security, to target women and girls, women being the largest – the people who provide the most labor on farm – on small farms in particular in Sub-Saharan Africa. And we decided we would work in a comprehensive way, from seed research to access to improved agricultural inputs to improving agricultural marketing systems, and ultimately enabling countries to achieve food security on their own.

President Obama made those commitments because of a firm belief that we have that the famine we are seeing today does not have to be this way. We know that if we do the right things and make the right long-term investments in agricultural development, we can enable food security as we have done in other parts of the world. And we can enable African farmers, African researchers, African leaders to be the engines of change and usher in a period of food security, so that when there's a low rainfall every few years, it doesn't devastate these rural populations as severely as we are seeing today.

We will remain absolutely committed to the reforms we've put in place in order to launch and implement Feed the Future. And we will be continuing to ask our country partners to remain committed to their commitments to more than double spending on agricultural development, to create the space for private sector investment and agribusiness in the agricultural sector, and to make effective government reforms to address issues like corruption and poor governance in order to make sure they're delivering better outcomes in a more effective way.

Our conversations with leaders in Kenya and Ethiopia and other parts of the world are all focused on that core theme of mutual accountability. We are willing to make major new investments to usher in an era of food security, but we are asking more of our partners, and we are pleased to see that they are taking actions to move in that direction.

And finally, I'll just conclude with a comment about the specific area in south central Somalia. Al Shabaab has made a pledge that it will allow unfettered humanitarian access to the World Food Program, the UN agencies, and humanitarian actors. We are determined to test that pledge. We would like to see that access expand dramatically and rapidly. We are providing food and other programmatic resources in support of those actors as they begin to expand their services in those areas, and we do expect that Shabaab and others will honor the pledge to allow unfettered humanitarian access at a time of critical and immediate need.

With that, I thank you and I am able to take your questions.

MODERATOR: If you'd like to ask a question, please state your name and your affiliation.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Catherine (inaudible) and I work with the Associated Press. I would like to know, would the additional emergency funding announced today be subject to the OFAC regulations, please?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, the – our ability to provide support in Somalia is very similar to, say, the United Kingdom. And I was – I have worked on that with Andrew Mitchell, who was here over the weekend. And we all operate under the same legal restrictions, that we want to provide support to those populations in critical need and not to designated terrorist organizations. And so that's the – that is what the entire humanitarian community is trying to do here. We are trying to push as hard as we can to make sure that our humanitarian commitments reach those most vulnerable people.

We've seen in the past that humanitarian convoys have been harassed, they've been taxed, they've been – food supplies have been misappropriated, and we will not allow for that. The effort here is to reach people who are now suffering from a UN-designated famine. And we are doing absolutely everything we can to enable our partners, the World Food Program in the lead but with a constellation of partners like UNICEF, to be providing those services. The OFAC license that we have does provide for some additional capacities, and that applies to all of our commitments in Somalia as well.

QUESTION: I'm Walter (inaudible) from (inaudible) Media. Now, having this (inaudible) today (inaudible) appreciate the dilemma (inaudible) went through that so far IFO Two has not been opened and (inaudible) open anytime soon despite the prime minister's directive last week. Now the refugees are still coming in, in the droves. (Iinaudible) is concerned?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Here in Kenya?

QUESTION: Yes.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, the ambassador may want to add to this. He has been very directly involved. We recognize the success of the emergency operation at Dadaab is dependent on effective Kenyan leadership. This is a tremendous challenge and issue that the Kenyan Government has to address. And I believe we're encouraged by recent statements that have been made and recent commitments that have been made, I think right following the prime minister's trip, to allow for a building out of the additional settlement facility, to allow for expanded access to land and basic services, and to improve the logistics system that allows for a more rapid intake of refugees as they come in by doing more effectively at the border, and also improving the logistics of intake at the camp itself.

All of those are critical actions. They depend on Kenyan leadership. We met with Kenyan Government officials at the camp itself, who were doing Herculean work in making sure people got access to the camp and to food and medicines, and we know that further actions are going to be necessary.

Ambassador, do you want to add to that?

AMBASSADOR GRATION: No, that's (inaudible).

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Okay.

QUESTION: Victoria (ph) from Capitol FM. I have a question about Jeffrey Sachs, who is the special (inaudible) to the secretary general, said that emergency response is not going to be the only thing to solve the problem. You mentioned Feed the Future as a development-based initiative. Are there any other initiatives that you're going to be taking to address that (inaudible)?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, first, thank you for the question. And absolutely. This is not – we know that humanitarian action alone does not solve this problem in the long term. And let me just underscore what Dr. Sachs said. He made the point that we have now seen, even in Kenya, in parts of western Kenya, significant improvements in agricultural production, in marketing systems, in the use of more resilient crop varieties – improved maize varieties, for example. And as a result, we've seen a more climate-resilient agricultural system serving small holder farmers come into being in that part of Kenya. We're seeing the same type of progress in parts of Ethiopia, in Mozambique, in Senegal, and across this continent.

And I agree wholeheartedly with Jeff Sachs that we know how to work in support of African leaders, whether they are from civil society or governments, scientists or farmers, to essentially solve the food security challenge through effective agricultural development that targets and supports women farmers and women producers in particular.

We know how to do this. We've seen yields double quickly. We've seen marketing systems come into play. We've seen people use mobile phones to get better price information and overnight increase their incomes by 20 or 30 percent, reinvest those earnings in their agriculture, and begin the pathway out of poverty and begin to build the resilient production systems that are necessary.

We need to invest in making that more accessible. And that requires donors to live up to the pledges that they made in 2009. The United States is doing that, but we need all of the donors to do that. That requires countries to make – continue to make the tough choices. In Ethiopia, they need to do more to liberalize their marketing systems and the seed sector. In Kenya, we want to see the successes of improved agriculture in the west reach a broader set of communities here in this country. And we need to work more effectively with local banks to enable credit and access to credit in the agriculture sector, which has continued to be challenging but where we've seen some real progress.

So we know how to do this. Jeff is right about that. And if we use this as a moment to reassess how we're doing, I think we would recognize that we still have a long way to go to make the investments necessary to eliminate insecurity and famine as risks in the future.

QUESTION: Sam Lowenberg (ph), freelance journalist. How would you reassess how you're doing? I mean, what have been the lessons you've learned so far?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Could I just clarify, with Feed the Future or in the famine response?

QUESTION: Both.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Okay. Well, I'll start with the famine response. We have really studied deeply the experiences in the Ethiopian famines of the '80s and in 2000-2001. We've studied carefully the experience in Somalia in '92 and '93. And I think we've learned a few things that have affected the way we're addressing the emergency response right now. One is to really put into place safety net programs for at-risk populations so you limit the number of people who fall into the acute malnutrition and famine category. And I think we believe that those types of activities taken by us and a range of other partners, including country governments, have helped prevent an additional several million people from being in a condition that would be characterized as a famine. But it's going to get worse before it gets better, and we all know that, over the next few months and we have to continue to work at it. That's where the investments in livestock vaccination and community safety nets, access to water, all of those are pertinent to those learnings.

The other thing we learned is that the health interventions are just as important as the food interventions. So making sure kids get vaccines and get therapeutic feeding, are protected from infection or treated for infections, can often be the difference between saving lives and not saving lives, and needs to be taken just as seriously as providing food to kids that are starving, because kids that are acutely malnourished, unfortunately, die from infections mostly. And our ability to have a health system that supports that is very important, and that's why we visited the hospital at Dadaab today to make sure we were doing everything we could in that front.

And then the final big learning, I think, has been a focus on therapeutic feedings and making sure we have improved nutritional quality reaching children, so that when they do take in food in a famine setting, they're getting as much richness in micro-nutrient sufficiency as is possible.

On Feed the Future, I think we've learned a lot as well. We learned from the Asian Green Revolution that large-scale investments made in a coordinated and focused way will make a difference. And then we saw, after the Asian Green Revolution, a big drop-off in investments in agriculture in Africa. So one of the big learnings has been a resurgence of both investment and a real coordinated effort where countries develop their own plans. The African Union, through a process called CAADP, the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program, kind of reviews and supports those plans. It brings together farmers' groups and private sector companies and public cooperatives in order to enable success.

A second learning has been the need to really stick with it over time. We know that agricultural development won't change everything in just a few years. We can often get food production up quickly, but building marketing systems and encouraging private investment takes a longer period of time. And that's why we believe it's important to use this moment to remind the world to live up to its commitments to stay focused on Feed the Future and to make that a real pathway to success.

And then the final thing I think we've learned there is the need to focus on women. For a long time, despite a recognition that women provide most of the labor on farms in Sub-Saharan Africa, most of the biggest partners – USAID, the World Bank, so many others – didn't effectively target their programs to reach those women and benefit those women. We're now doing that. In our programs here in Kenya and Ethiopia and other parts of the continent, we're developing measures and metrics so we can assess, are the benefits of these programs resulting in improving women's incomes and women's livelihoods? Because we know that that's the key to enabling communities to move out of poverty, and that's the key to getting kids in school and having improved nutritional outcomes for children.

So those are some of the things we've learned that I think we're trying to put in place and do very differently in Feed the Future in Africa right now.

MODERATOR: Additional questions?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Shah. Thank you, Ambassador Gration.

Nairobi, Kenya

Last updated: November 21, 2014

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