Remarks as Prepared
It is a pleasure to join you today, because I believe we have a real opportunity at this moment in development. For decades, our community has talked about the importance of building community resilience to perennial disasters, like droughts and floods.
But every year, as many as half of our emergency workforce mobilizes to East Africa. And every year, communities from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel brace for a possible season of lost livelihoods—a season of starvation.
In fact, around this time last year, we were in the midst of responding to the worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa, which had placed 13.3 million people at risk—more than the populations of New York City and Los Angeles combined.
At the height of the crisis, I traveled with Dr. Jill Biden and Senator Bill Frist to the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab. Every day, over 1,000 people were arriving at Dadaab, desperately trying to escape the drought. There, we met families who had to leave behind their homes, their countries, and—in some cases—faced the impossible choice of leaving behind their children.
In this difficult environment, our teams were working around the clock to save as many lives at possible. We provided over 420,000 metric tons of nutritious food aid—enough to feed 4.6 million people. And because we’ve learned from previous famines that the leading killer is preventable disease—not hunger—we vaccinated over 1.5 million children.
But that very afternoon, Dr. Biden and I saw a very different story—a story of resilience and real development results that are protecting communities and saving lives. We visited the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute, where USAID is helping develop affordable small-scale irrigation systems and drought-resistant seed varieties of sorghum, millet, and beans. What we saw was evidence of a new approach that focused not just on humanitarian assistance, but also on long-term development solutions.
From Talk to Action: Elevating Resilience
Across the Agency, we’re fundamentally changing the way we respond to crises—turning our aspirations for resilience into real results on the ground. Instead of sending in different teams to complete separate analyses and draw up individual plans, we’ve forged one unit—called a Joint Planning Cell—to address both humanitarian and development needs.
And instead of spending another year wishing for improved donor coordination, we worked closely with our African partners and the donor community to convene a Global Alliance for Action at a summit in Nairobi designed to rally the world behind a new global agenda in resilience. As a result, for the first time ever, Kenya and Ethiopia have real plans and structures to help communities combat vulnerability to crisis.
And we’ve already seen real policy changes. Kenya has established a National Drought Management Fund to support increased investments in its arid north. Ethiopia is implementing new policies that prioritize early livestock interventions ahead of drought, including commercial de-stocking and fodder interventions.
And we’re implementing our own new policies at USAID—where our teams are about to unroll the Agency’s first-ever policy guidance on resilience to ensure we keep up our end of the bargain. These policy changes are based on new evidence from research we’ve funded to understand what works best in resilience.
For example, we’re found that commercial de-stocking alone—helping families sell livestock ahead of a drought—has a cost-benefit ratio of 40:1. And animal fodder interventions—basically ensuring that the right animals get the right food at the right time—has a cost-benefit ratio of 2:1.
Thanks to research we funded with Tufts University, we know that by providing fodder support for lactating goats, we can reduce malnutrition during a drought by 50 percent; and at a cost-savings of 45 to 75 percent compared to therapeutic feeding.
Results—From the Horn to the Sahel
These policy reforms are impressive—and demonstrate the power and potential of national action. But what’s more important is that we’re grounding them in evidence in order to deliver the end-state results we seek.
In the Horn, this approach led us to form innovative, high-impact partnerships with companies like Swiss-Re—an industry leader in risk-management solutions—to pilot an index-based livestock insurance program for pastoralists. Last October—at the height of the drought—insurance payments were made to over 600 pastoralists in Kenya who had purchased coverage for their animals earlier in the year.
And this approach helped keep more than 7.6 million people out of crisis through support for Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program. Even more importantly, it helped position families for a rebound—supporting them at a moment of crisis so they could focus on building resilient livelihoods. This is exactly what happened for Amin Amhed Ibro, a father of five, who became a safety net participant because he was among the poorest in his Ethiopian village. After a livelihood intervention provided him with two female goats, it wasn’t long before he increased his herd to 25. With additional support from the World Bank, he diversified his income—branching into bee keeping and even real estate.
Ultimately, through these types of programs in the Horn of Africa, we aim to directly benefit 10 million people and reduce the region’s emergency caseload by one million people within five years.
Building on the early success of this approach in the Horn last fall, we are bringing a greater focus on resilience to our work in the Sahel where a devastating combination of drought, violence and displacement has put more than 18 million people across eight countries in need of assistance. Thanks to our early-warning systems, we acted far ahead of the curve—sending in food aid as early as last November.
We’ve sent more than 100,000 metric tons of food to the region—enough to reach 3.2 million people. And we scaled up efforts to train community health workers to screen and treat children for acute malnutrition.
At the same time, we’re ensuring our humanitarian response delivers real development results to help local communities weather the next lean season.
In Niger—where families have grappled with a deficit of food every other year for 50 years—the government has taken the critical step of relinquishing control of the nation’s trees to its rural populations. Thanks to these reforms, we’ve been able to help more than 4,800 people grow Moringa trees. This is a fast-growing, fruit-producing, drought-tolerant tree that is grown overwhelmingly by women. And we know that when we strengthen the livelihoods of women, they reinvest 90 percent of their income into the education and health of their family.
We’re also encouraging farmers to let trees naturally regenerate on their farms—helping to re-green an estimated 5 million hectares of land in Niger. In fact, a recent geological survey has even shown that the regenerated forests have spread to Mali.
Global Action and Global Interests
These pockets of success have made it clear the kind of impact we’re already having at the household and community level. But the challenge before us is to bring these solutions to scale for entire populations—saving millions of lives when it matters most.
To do that, we need to a global effort and strong partnerships at local and international levels that are rooted in mutual accountability.
Ultimately, we’re here today because we know the value of resilience.
At a time when development dollars are increasingly precious, investments in resilience represent a truly cost-efficient and more effective approach forward in development.
But resilience is about more than cost-savings. It’s about asserting human dignity:
The dignity of mothers who should never have to see their children whither away for lack of food; the dignity of farmers and pastoralists who shouldn’t have to lose their crops, their herds, their livelihoods for lack of basic tools, like irrigation and insurance; the dignity of nations, which shouldn’t have to worry that one dry season could set back key development gains, cost billions for their economies and threaten the security of its citizens.
If we continue to strengthen our focus, build on the alliances forged in the last year, and double down on key commitments shared in this room today, then— as a global community—we can ensure that this fight for dignity is never in question again.
- Remarks by Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, at the Beyond the Headlines in the Sahel: Population, Environment, and Security
- Video Remarks by Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, at the 2015 Regional STIP Conference
- Remarks by Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction
Last updated: May 14, 2015