Administrator Samantha Power’s Interview on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes”

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

CHRIS HAYES: And my next guest took on Russian aggression during her time as Ambassador to the UN under President Barack Obama. Joining me now by phone is Ambassador Samantha Power, currently serves in the Biden Administration, as the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID. Ambassador Power. Welcome, and thank you for enduring our technical difficulties to join us. I appreciate it.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great to be with you, Chris.

MR. HAYES: First, let's start with the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which is dire. And I guess the question is, is there anything that can be done about it? I've seen frustration expressed by some in Ukraine that there is essentially no humanitarian aid getting to them. But again, it's in the midst of a warzone. How do you see that situation from your perch at USAID?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you for that. It is the most dire situation going right now. And that's saying something because the world is offering up a lot of competition in terms of brutal conflict and displacement. But particularly the sieges of so many populated areas are really very difficult to navigate. Because if Russia is using siege as a weapon of war, if there are civilians being intentionally targeted, and then you cite international humanitarian law, and Putin has thrown out the rulebook that makes operating from a humanitarian standpoint, very, very challenging.

That said, the approach Chris is different than in other conflicts. There are actually seven UN agencies now on the ground that have scaled up. There are 64 nongovernmental organizations, 21 other international organizations like the ICRC and IOM, and they are actually present in 24 of the oblasts, all 24 of the oblasts in Ukraine so the scale up has gone relatively well. The access is the challenge because Russia again is trying to use food, water, medicine, as an additional weapon of this savage war.

And our approach as USAID, as the U.S. government is to support some of those actors that just mentioned. And to have them get food, medicine, water into the country above all into Kyiv into places that have not been encircled. Knowing that Ukrainian volunteers are not only volunteering for military service, but are very eager to be part of this new humanitarian vanguard that then is navigating checkpoints, insecurity, violence, shelling to try to reach those parts of the country that had been really hard to access.

We also have convoys who managed to reach some of the besieged areas because there has been a little bit of food and medicine allowed in. But again, you can just tell in places like Mariupol, the strategy is to use the civilians to press the government to surrender, and of course, the civilians and the government are refusing to allow that strategy to work at this point.

MR. HAYES: You mentioned sort of one thing after another, and alarming nature recently, I have to say that, you know, about two weeks ago, people started writing about grain and food and food supply and the centrality of Ukrainian-Russian beginning I thought, well, is this the thing to panic about or not? To see personally in looking at the reporting from our own folks and others? I've become persuaded that it maybe is something really, really terrifying and this is just the Times on it. A crucial portion of the world's wheat, corn, and barley is trapped in those two countries tug-of-war. While an even larger portion of the world's fertilizer is stuck in Russia and Belarus. The results of that, global food and fertilizer prices are soaring. Since the invasion last month, wheat prices have increased 21%, Barley 33%, and fertilizer 40%. Does USAID see this as a looming disaster. What can be done about it?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yes, in short, we have missions in 80 countries, programs in 100 countries, and what we're doing is convening our mission directors out there in the world where these effects are being felt. And if you look at the least developed countries in the world, more than a third of them import – they import more than a third of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

Fifteen of the least developed countries import more than half of their wheat from the two countries. So this is just, you know, in an instance in a sense with the invasion that Putin orchestrated, taking both of these export markets, effectively offline, for vulnerable people. The most vulnerable people in the world, it’s devastating.

Now what’s our job is to figure out is what are the workarounds? How can those countries with substantial wheat supplies for example, put more wheat in the open market so that wheat can be purchased and the prices don't spiral to an extent ensures that humanitarian organizations like the World Food Programme can buy, let's say, half the amount of wheat this year than they might have last year. That would be terrible, because that will be the amount of wheat provided if the budget stayed the same.

Additionally, I will say that the supplemental that President Biden just signed into law includes additional resources for USAID for humanitarian assistance. And it gives us the ability to look of course first and foremost at Ukraine but also about what the spillover effects and the fallout from this war are going to be on other countries. So we are certainly looking to see where we can meet the increased needs in places like Lebanon, Egypt and virtually all sub-Saharan Africa.

MR. HAYES: I was struck by the sort of graphics I've seen how much Middle Eastern particularly wheat and grain is coming from that region of the world. Ambassador Samantha Power again thanks for your patience tonight. Thanks for joining us. I appreciate it.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thanks Chris.

Last updated: December 01, 2022

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