Administrator Samantha Power and Chef Tom Colicchio Host Twitter Spaces Discussion with Experts on the Hunger Crisis in the Horn of Africa

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Wednesday, August 31, 2022
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Listen Now: HungerCrisis: Responding to Drought in the Horn of Africa

TOM COLICCHIO: Hey out there, we're going to get started in a second, waiting for a few more people to come on. Today we're on Twitter Spaces, talking about the drought in the Horn of Africa. Just everybody, a few more minutes before we start. Before we start, I want to thank Administrator Power and USAID for hosting this conversation and bringing together this extraordinary group of humanitarians.

I'm Tom Colicchio. You may know me from my work on Top Chef. But, today, I'm here to host this most timely conversation about the global food crisis and the scale and severity, which is unprecedented. Some of you may already be following the crisis. And for some of you, this may be real new information that we've seen a lot of terrifying headlines. And we're gonna sort of try to tease out what they mean. How did we get here? And so today we're going to talk about the perfect storm of horrific events that have led to this moment. And we're going to learn from some of the leading voices about how their organizations are mobilizing working day in and day out to combat this growing food crisis. 

Specifically, we'll be talking about what is happening in the Horn of Africa. It's a large Peninsula and Africa is currently being wrecked by the worst drought in decades resulting in catastrophic levels of humanitarian need. The Horn of Africa is composed of a number of countries including Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. And we're honored to be joined by local experts that are meeting the urgent needs on the ground in these three countries. And they represent some of the world's most vulnerable in the crisis. And so I want to thank, ahead of time, Rania Dagash from UNICEF's regional office for Eastern and Southern Africa, Lauren Landis from the World Food Programme, that she's the Kenya Country Director, and Frantz Celestin is the Chief of Mission in Somalia for the International Organization for Migration. I want to thank all of them for joining us today. And, again, Administrator Power. Thanks. 

So, before we dive in, if anybody would like to, if you're listening, and you're compelled to take action, at any point, you can go to gofundme.com/globalfoodfund to make a contribution. All the organizations are vetted and they're all on the frontlines of fighting this crisis. So, you know, I have been active for the last 20-30 years, helping to alleviate hunger in America and hunger in America is very different. It's usually a crisis of a lack of nutrition and it can, it doesn't come from drought, or from war, or from famine. It's usually political reasons why people in our country aren't getting fed but this is very different. 

So, first question I have is for Samantha. You just recently came back from a trip on the ground there, what were you seeing?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Tom. And thanks to everybody who's joined today, this is not the happiest of topics. But it distinguishes itself from other humanitarian events in the world, in that there's something we can do about it. And that's an exciting aspect of this. But that only happens when awareness grows and people dig into the facts and open their hearts to what's happening pretty far away. 

So that's partly why I went, right, is to see up close, to be able to move beyond the statistics that we read in the newspaper every day, to meet the individuals affected, to also meet staff with the World Food Programme, UNICEF, IOM – like those we have on the call today who are doing God's work on the ground. In essence, Tom, what we have is a situation where in this part of the world, rainy seasons are essential, because you need the rains in order to grow the crops, in order to harvest the crops, in order to feed folks. And a couple of things are happening at once. 

First of all, the two rainy seasons a year that normally happen are basically becoming dry seasons or have become dry seasons. And so over the years, in recorded history, there's actually never been a circumstance that anybody is aware of where you've had four straight failed rainy seasons, where the rains just fail. You know, if there's a drop, you're lucky, but nothing's sufficient to grow and to harvest in the way that folks are used to.

That had never happened before. And now we're in our fourth and the World Meteorological Organization has just reported actually, in the last few days, new models that show with a high degree of confidence that the region is going to experience its fifth straight, failed rainy season. So, that's one aspect of it. 

The other thing that's going on, of course, is Putin, for no good reason, decided gratuitously to brutalize the people of Ukraine. The effect of that has been to limit what Ukrainians are able to grow and harvest. Luckily, the blockade that had been put in place blocking Ukrainian grains from reaching the world market has been eased significantly by a UN-Turkey deal. So that's very, very significant. But, that came very late. And so food, fuel, and fertilizer prices, already which were spiking, because of inflation, now compounded by that war, and its knock on effects. 

And what I saw on the ground finally, to your question, is a degree of despair and deprivation that I have not seen in my two, three-decades career traveling to places where heartbreaking things are happening. And maybe the best example I would offer is livestock. 

You know, they often say in that part of the world, the animals die first. And what you have right now are nearly 9 million livestock who have already died in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. That's actually an increase of 3 million who have died just since July. And what does that mean? You know, some of you are familiar with pastoralists. You know, who herd these animals, depend on these animals for livelihoods, who travel around with these animals, their home for thousands of years, their families have been, you know, practicing pastoralism. Now, suddenly they went from having maybe 500 animals, goats, camels, et cetera to having four, or to having zero, and to suddenly find themselves not only with nothing to eat or no source of income, but nothing to do. And we heard reports of suicides among pastoralists. You then see mothers who have children whose arms are as thin, thinner than a watch face. Who are in desperate need of urgent nutrition, therapeutic feeding. And that's something that the organizations on this call are providing mercifully.

But imagine being a mother and just, you know, two seasons ago or two years ago, being able to feed your kids. You know, you're never living in the lap of luxury, but you're able to make ends meet. And then suddenly, the rains fail, the prices go up. Fertilizer prices are doubling and tripling so if you are a small scale farmer. Well, you're able to plant much less, and you suddenly can't feed your family. And what does that feel like or you have to go to a humanitarian organization and ask for help for the first time in your life? So that's the degree of desperation. And the main thing, just to leave folks with is, this is more than 20 million people in this region called the Horn of Africa who are on the brink of starvation. That is the equivalent to every single person in the state of Florida at risk. It is a huge number of people. And while the American people and the Congress have been, have been generous, we do not see the kind of response that we need globally to meet these needs and get these vulnerable families through this devastating time. And that's why we've come together and hope to raise awareness. Hope you can tell your friends and family members what's out there and and support these organizations on the ground who are trying to keep people afloat, as well as build in more resilience. So the next time there are four or five failed rainy seasons in a row, the families are better able to withstand these kinds of climate shocks.

Tom, you might be on mute. Tom, you are muted if you are speaking.

RANIA DAGASH: You know, Samantha while Tom comes online and colleagues, this is Rania, from UNICEF. There is so much in what you said that resonates. I don't know where to start. I am from this region. And I have never seen it this bad. I've been doing this work for 22 years.

And I don't think I ever broke down in every conversation that I have had with a mother or a grandmother or a nurse or a colleague like I did in Somalia the last few weeks.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Tom, are you back online? Nope, keep going. I think it's great to hear from you on the ground. And I think that was going to be Tom's next question anyway, is, you know, good to ask you. What keeps you up at night? In light of the backdrop that we've tried to describe so far? 

RANIA DAGASH: No, absolutely. And thank you for gathering us today; Chef really. And to all of you who are on this call, you know, the 20 million people that you refer to now, Samantha, 10 million are children. And that certainly keeps me and hundreds of the UNICEF colleagues, I think, up at night along with many. These 10 million children are at the sharp end of this drought in a climate and a human-made crisis that they didn't even create. I think that is a thought for all of us. I think the pockets of conflict certainly add to the suffering that the children go through. And we see a huge upsurge in child death. And we fear that we may see more of that simply because the world didn't act in time.

I should say that I met a mother in Dolo, on the border of Somalia and Ethiopia, on the Somali side. And she was pregnant, had two children, one-year-old twins. And she had walked for 160 kilometers to make it to the camp where we were giving service along with many local actors who have been absolutely brilliant at leading this response with us. And she is the story of many mothers and grandmothers that we saw. And she's lucky that she made it because we could save her children. They came to a stabilization center where we provided nutrition and we could help her save her children. There are many more that are left behind that we couldn't get to. I can't get out of my head the tiny mounds of earth that mark children's graves when you enter a camp that has just been set up. And the stories of mothers that say they left. They bury children along the way as they were walking to us. So a lot, I would argue, keeps us up at night. And what will happen to the million more in the few months to come.

Many can't recover from this crisis, as we said, and we don't want to keep coming back to seek assistance, the way that we do. Nor do the people that we support want us to do that. But it is fundamental to my mind, that we rethink the way that we're funding malnutrition and gout. We need longer term predictable funding to stop needless death and early action from governments and the international community at the first sign of a crisis. We flagged this pretty early I would say but the response has been very slow. And had it not been for the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance and your support, being the lead donor for us at UNICEF in this response, I think we would have seen a massive explosion of children deaths as we had predicted. So we're very grateful for the support that we have. I'll stop there.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Thank you so much. I think we're still – Tom is able to listen, but not yet, I think able to rejoin us as a speaker, although we're working on that. It's very powerful. And as you said, it's, you have in your mind, the memory of this woman who had walked more than 100 miles. When we hear from IOM, we'll hear about the mass displacement that has accompanied this crisis. Because if you are a parent, or if you are an individual in search of food, and there's no food around you, you take flight. That means massive disruption, but also an influx, a very destabilizing influx of people into communities that often aren't equipped to absorb those populations. But as you said, she was one of the lucky ones and those who reach UNICEF, WFP, IOM, they are the lucky ones. And we have to bear in mind those we are not seeing as we think about, again, how to mobilize a much more substantial response. I wonder, Lauren, from the World Food Programme, if I could turn it over to you and pose the same question, but you can take it in any direction. But what keeps you up at night against this, this grim backdrop?

LAUREN LANDIS: Thank you, Samantha, and just very happy to join this conversation and all of you, from the World Food Programme here in Kenya. And I really, like Rania said, I really feel that this entire conversation resonates so well. Three seasons, when, of no rains, we saw the loss of animals, you would drive down county roads, and you'd see dead carcasses on both sides of the road. And as you've said before, that many people lost their livelihoods, about even just in Kenya, about 4.5 million livestock. But then as we got, as Rania said, as we got into this fourth season of no rain, we saw the admission into malnutrition centers just go up, up, up and up. And I guess what really keeps me up at night is what will five seasons of no or poor rains – what will those bring to these very vulnerable people? How long can you go without rain before we see large scale loss of life? I think, I'd just like to add though, you started Samantha by saying this is a crisis that we can do something about. And I just want to really reiterate that due to the generous support of USAID and the American people, we have immediately jumped in to try and make a difference. And instead of distributing food in Kenya, we have been able to move to cash phones to really increase by five fold in the last year, the number of people that we're reaching the drought response. So how that might work, or how that does work, is that through their mobile phone a household, a family of six, receives about 6,500 shillings, which is about $60. So a household of six for an entire month, but that resource allows them to go out and on the local market, buy food, and then take care of their most critical life saving needs, maybe medical care, maybe paying off debts, because they've been borrowing from neighbors to pay for food. And to maybe pay, I don't know their rent, so that they can continue to survive in a really dignified way.

The World Food Programme also really supports what's called moderate acute malnutrition. So the children that are malnourished, but not as critical that they need to be in a hospital. And we've, with the support of USAID, have been scaling up. We used to just do this kind of treatment in four counties. And now we're moving it very quickly to 15 counties, to really serve these children, to prevent them from becoming acutely malnourished, and to bring them sort of back to life, so that they can survive and thrive. I'll stop there.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. I know we don't have a ton of time, but we're gonna want to shift to describing what all of us, what more all of us can do. But I would love now to turn to Frantz of the International Organization for Migration. Frantz over to you.

FRANTZ CELESTIN: Thank you very much. And to follow up on what my colleagues are saying, what's keeping me up at night is this thought that it's about to get worse. As you've heard, there is a fifth rainy season in the forecast, which means there'll be no space between this drought and the next one. This will reduce the people's capacity to cope and their ability to recover. So less milk, less meat, increased hunger, and most likely, increase in mortality. The compounding effect on the general population will be catastrophic. So far, we've actually seen about a million people displaced. And that's on top of the 2.9 million people who've been displaced over the years by conflicts and other natural disasters. So, I've seen people displaced two, three, four times, because the land they used to rely on can no longer provide. As you pointed out in the beginning, in Somalia, in some areas, 1/3 of their livestock have been decimated. To make it – to make matters worse – those that survive can no longer reproduce. So as you can imagine, this has a double whammy effect on the people. So, you have increasing hunger will force people to move, and compete over resources, which leads to communal violence, leading to more displacement. This is why I'm calling this drought a threat multiplier. So, as you know, IOM, WFP and UNICEF, we are working together to provide an integrated package that includes water hygiene, sanitation, shelter, nutrition, health, and cash to families who've been displaced. And so at IOM, we are going to where the people are to make sure that they don't move in the first place to provide that support, to enhance their capacity, and also to enhance their resilience.

Because we want to improve their ability to bounce forward, not just bouncing back because that would go to the status quo. And this is why we are increasing our footprint in the ground. So far, we have about 650 staff on the ground, working with government, NGOs, and also the UN providing those items that I mentioned, looking after about 450,000 internally displaced persons. We said we just provided about 400 million liters of water to those in need.

So our job at IOM and within the system, the humanitarian system, is to, well, return our capacity to deliver today. Giving these life-saving emergency tents, we should put the building blocks in place to prevent people from dying in the future. We would like to see those displaced to have a horizon beyond the tent and a future beyond humanitarian aid. This is why we're working with communities to better prepare to withstand the shocks you mentioned. And I think in any event, six failed rainy seasons is in the forecast. And that's not too far. So, we have to work together to provide the support to those in need. I'll stop here. Thank you very much.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thanks, Frantz. Tom, do we have you, I see you as a co-host, but I don't know if your mic is working. No, okay. Oh, is that you? No, okay, so tech is not our friend today. 

I wanted to just pivot now, in our remaining minutes to what more each of us can do. And, you know, this whole setup here is not designed to have large international organizations praise USAID or the U.S. Government. But there is a sort of good news and bad news. The good news is, thanks to the Congress coming together and passing two very substantial Ukraine supplementals that allow for much greater resources to be dedicated – so to the food crisis – the U.S. has been able to step up as a government in a major way allowing these organizations, or contributing at least to their ability, to provide some of the services that you've heard about. The problem is that other countries that traditionally have joined the United States are coming in with much less significant contributions than they have in the past. And just to get specific about that, there was a drought not nearly as severe as this one in the same region in the 2016 and 2017 period. And again, much, much less severe in terms of the numbers of people affected, the number of kids at risk, the number of livestock, we had never seen number, like those we've described in terms of livestock death, which again, are sadly, a canary in the coal mine, for what lies ahead. Too much worse today and yet, the funding is down 66%, from what it was in response to the 2017 drought. The United States, for example, when it comes to the World Food Programme, I think accounts for something close to 85% of the overall World Food Programme appeal for the Horn of Africa. And that's just not sustainable. I mean, there's just not enough money in any one country's bank account, given the scale of this need, and the needs in other parts of the world as well. I mean, look at Pakistan today, and the flooding there.

USAID and all donors looking to see how they can contribute, look at the very specific needs and in places like Tigray that are conflict affected, as well as affected by some of these larger structure forces. So there is a ton of need out there – we need other countries to step up in the ways that they have in the past. We're hopeful that the UN General Assembly, which is approaching here in September, will give countries an excuse to step forward and to step up. We're hopeful that large powers like China will contribute to international organizations, as well at the scale that is needed. That is something that could be very important, but hasn't yet happened. And there is a GoFundMe page that I just want to make everybody aware of, it's gofundme.com. Tom mentioned it earlier, gofundme.com/globalfoodfund. So, the contributions there have not been that substantial from individuals yet, but we're hoping with more attention to the crisis that that will change.  

I want to just open the floor to the organizations, again, that will get funded and the programs that will get funded through these kinds of contributions that I've been speaking to. Would Rania or Frantz or Lauren like to add anything here as to what is most needed now in terms of resources?  

RANIA DAGASH: Yeah.  

FRANTZ CELESTIN: Okay.  

RANIA DAGASH: Frantz, do you want to go?

FRANTZ CELESTIN: Yeah, sure. So, on our side here, and thanking you and the American people, the taxpayers, the American government. The drought response and the Drought Response Plan is 78% of the funding that we received so far came from the American people. So, we would join the Administrator, asking other countries to join. And individuals also, you can make a great impact on the people we touch.  

So far, there are some underfunded sectors here, clusters here: health, water, wash, specifically, and also CCCM – Camp Management and Camp Coordination. Despite the fact that the original humanitarian response plan was supposed to address about 5 million people. Now it has been updated to target 7.8 million people. In fact, we are still looking at the numbers, they will keep growing. And that's why I said that it’s about to get worse, is keeping me up at night. Because if they are as they are now, because last week – the week of August 25th – 52,000 people were newly displaced. And that was a 16 percent increase over the last week, and we see increasing numbers being displaced. Right now, we are planning for 7.8 million. I am afraid it's going to be more if as the forecast predicts we have a fifth failed rainy season. So, thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Lauren, or Rania?

LAUREN LANDIS: I can jump in quickly. You’re – Administrator – you're absolutely right, in that we have received drought funding from eight other donors other than USAID. But it's really a very small amount compared to the contributions we've received from the American people. And quite frankly, at the level, even of the very high level of funding, we can only continue to provide drought assistance for say another six months. If, as IOM suggests, we see this fifth rainy season, or something even worse, we will not have the resources to continue our assistance, to take, not only save the lives of those people affected by drought, but also to help them quickly recover to get back on their feet.  

And that also leads me to bring up another point that I think is critical. It really has been already mentioned today. Really, it all comes down to resilience. And I think that's a quote I take from you, Administrator. And that is that “we have to do a better job.” And we have to support making sure that these people do not fall down when these shocks hit, and that they're more resilient and can recover both their lives and their livelihoods much quicker. So, I would also encourage that as we're funding drought assistance, that we're also thinking, how can we support resilience? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great. Rania?

RANIA DAGASH: Thank you, Administrator. And I couldn't agree more with my colleagues.  

You know, Samantha, in these places, we don't just thank you for the support you extend, but we also would like to ask for your voice and the voice of the American people and the government at large. Not just to help us spread the word and ask other member states and donors to support us. But also, to make the point that Lauren just ended with: we will be back here having the same conversation in two, three years, because we know for a fact this is climate-induced, and the droughts are coming back. But what we can do in terms of making smart investments in longer term, sorry, in the resilience of communities. This is about digging boreholes, you know, with sustainable aquifers where we can. This is about putting social protection systems with governments so that they can support their own people and communities. It's reliable sources of groundwater and expanding all of these programs, which will enable better nutrition, allow children to go back to schools, allow us to be able to actually create communities and their coherence together.  

And I – if I were – I didn't want to give numbers at all in this conversation. But our life saving response continues and it is critical, but it has to be underpinned by the longer-term resilience and your voice with the governments of the countries to also make that investment. I think it's quite critical that we don't shy away from holding all of us to account on the longer-term solutions. This isn't going away anytime soon. And if we don't respond to it, like I said, we'll be back having the same conversation in a few years. And I hope that we can reduce those that are exposed in a few years’ time through this collective action.  

So, thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. And, of course, again, compounding tragedy with tragedy, this is a crisis in which, you know, with a limited pie of resources globally, you know, investing so much in emergency response inevitably does pull away resources. You know, from donors, or from government or governments themselves from these longer term investments that make it less likely that people would have to flee or would face acute malnutrition in the future. And those tradeoffs are very difficult, but I think every donor, every individual, every philanthropy, you know, to look at what can be done in the very near term to save lives, but also what are the organizations to invest in, that are making these commitments to communities? For example, to transition from pastoralism, if that is what is required, if livestock, you know, have died at scale in this crisis, there may be opportunities to get the young kids who might have been herding animals to school. But where are those school fees going to come from? You know, are the governments in countries where these kinds of calamities have occurred. Are they going to make those investments in trying to smooth the path for families to transition in that way? What about the boreholes or shifting communities, again, to smarter seeds that are going to be more drought resistant? There's so much to be done in the resilience space. And we just need to simultaneously save lives in the moment and make those investments. And I think, you know, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration, are three large international organizations that provide emergency support. But also, more and more are thinking about how this emergency support can serve medium-and long-term objectives. And that's absolutely critical.  

Before we close, I'm looking at Tom here, who just had microphone problems throughout, but I think has been able to hear all of this. But he mentioned in the beginning, I have reinforced this website, gofundme.com/globalfoodfund. Any small contribution can make a difference for someone out there who will never know your name but will depend in the present and in the future on the kind of support that the organizations that you've heard from here today are providing. And all three of the organizations who have these teams on the ground doing the work that's been described, are receiving contributions from this Global Food Fund through GoFundMe. So, if you can do that, but if not, please do raise your voice, urge elected officials to make resources available. We cannot afford to wait for the kind of ghastly images that we all have seen in the past and that could be much more, sort of, at the –- could be an exponentially larger number of communities and individuals affected this time around. The way to save lives is to make these contributions now, because we know what's coming and we know unfortunately that this crisis is going to be with us for some time.

So, thank you, everybody. Thank you Tom, for being with us and for loaning your platform, gofundme.com/globalfoodfund. Thanks to everybody for joining and for all of the work that they're doing on the front lines to try to support people facing this great crisis. Thank you, everybody.

Virtual

Last updated: September 02, 2022

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