ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good afternoon, everybody. It is very moving to be here in Lebanon as the Administrator of USAID, a long standing partner – with so many parts of the rest of the U.S. government – with the Lebanese people.
I have come pretty much on the Ambassador's request to see what more the United States and the American people can do to support the Lebanese people at this time of immense economic difficulty. Even from the United States, we hear a lot from Lebanese leaders, from politicians.
In my brief time here so far, I've made it a point to talk to ordinary Lebanese and how they are experiencing this economic crisis firsthand. I met earlier today with a single mother of three children who could no longer afford medicines that she needs in order to deal with really chronic, difficult medical conditions – she’s worried, can she stay alive for her kids, to be able to take care of her kids and help get them through this economic crisis? Will her daughter be able to get access to the books and materials she needs in university, to be able to get the degree that she needs, to be able to get a job and work, and make a living, eventually?
Talking, here with farmers, who find the inputs that they need to grow now priced out of reach and what that means for them – the stress, the anxiety, the fear – as one of them put it. So, USAID has been very fortunate to be able to support farmers – to be able to support them get access to seeds, get access to equipment, and allows them, for example, to more efficiently bale – as you can see here – and to store more supply, more feed, which is incredibly important for animals who rely on that feed. The investments that we are making are helping those farmers that we are able to reach get through this difficult time, but they made very clear that they don't know how long they can last. And they are making adjustments with imports, now priced out of their capability, they are looking to see what can be made domestically.
And so, we've heard a lot about alfalfa feed, and USAID is supporting the effort to grow alfalfa feed here in Lebanon, which will be a source of income for those who grow it, but also a means of keeping cattle fed. We met farmers who have had to sell their cattle because they can’t afford the medicines and the feed it requires to keep the cattles healthy, and that it's going to mean less income over time.
So USAID, and the United States generally, is working with partners on the ground to think through how do we lower the price of food for families? Because so much food now is out of reach for families that have seen their purchasing power drop precipitously over the past several years.
In addition to this food security work that I've described, we're also providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Lebanon. And, I'm pleased today to be able to announce an additional $72 million in humanitarian assistance that is going to provide food parcels to those who just simply cannot afford to feed their families anymore. There'll be about 660,000 new beneficiaries by virtue of this additional infusion of humanitarian assistance.
We know though, again, that while that is a huge amount of resources, a huge amount of humanitarian assistance, we know the needs are even greater than that. And so, what I look forward to doing – in the next couple of days here – is also meeting with political leaders, who of course, are not yet able to come together to put in place the kind of longer-term political leadership that is needed in this country to make a set of vital reforms that will allow all of us in the international community to go beyond band aids – like humanitarian assistance – to go beyond, again, creative innovation to try to get through this really difficult economic time, to seeing the Lebanese people and Lebanese leaders grapple with the root causes of this crisis.
That is what is so overdue. But in order for that to happen, there has to be a president of the country – chosen. There have to be ministers – including minister of agriculture, minister of health – that are permanent, not caretaker ministers. But this next phase of Lebanon’s, I hope, recovery needs to commence, and in order for that to happen, political leaders, political parties, have to come together on behalf of vulnerable Lebanese people who depend on those solutions being found. With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
JULIA GROEBLACHER: Thank you, Madam Administrator. Our first question is from L`Orient Today.
RICHARD SALAME: Does USAID expect to be increasing, decreasing, or not changing its level of spending over the next 12 months in Lebanon?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, already, the humanitarian assistance I've announced today marks a material increase. For a very long time the United States has been supporting Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities that are supporting those refugees What is different about this grave economic crisis facing the country is that now Lebanese families, themselves, are finding themselves dependent on humanitarian assistance in a way they never envisaged for themselves. And so, we – USAID, are supplementing this long-standing support we have provided for Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities, for those refugees, with this infusion of humanitarian assistance for Lebanese families that are no longer able to get by. So, that's an example of a significant increase.
Additionally, we will be bringing around $14 million in new food security money and this is money that is very much, of course, rooted in the crisis of today. But, that will entail investments in longer-term food security resilience, and so that's everything from making sure that farmers have the know how on what the latest seed technologies are, including seeds that are resilient to climate changes – because we know those changes are happening here just as they are all around the world – investments in the machinery, that's one of the main requests I've heard from farmers today. Mechanization is an incredibly important part of the solution, and scaling those agricultural developments here that are working, but that are very small scale and that are not reaching as many farmers, and thus as many Lebanese citizens as they might. So, those are two examples of additional assistance.
I think you also know, apart from USAID, that we and other countries are looking at the steps we can take to support the security forces here who are going to be critical for maintaining stability in this country and perform a number of roles that go well beyond traditional security roles that are vital to getting through this difficult phase. So, that'll be an additional infusion of assistance from the United States as a whole.
JULIA GROEBLACHER: Our second question is from Mohsen Amine from Janoubia.
MOHSEN AMINE: How does the Administration view the results from this project and what kind of projects will you be supporting in the future, besides the humanitarian aid?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, one of the results, as I already indicated is, here, you see the contrast between before and after, you might say. When you're able to bale in this manner – in a storage facility like this, you can store so much more – it's much more efficient. And that's going to be a big cost savings over time, so it allows for more production.
One of the things that can slow production is not being able to store what you produce. So, you can see right here, a very visible result. I also think in light of the Ukraine war, which has increased wheat prices here in Lebanon, which were already increased because of COVID and supply chain issues, and so forth, but those prices since February – since Putin invaded Ukraine – are now up 177 percent. So, with our partners on the ground, we're looking to see how can we support local investments in wheat production – not only of the traditional kind that has been done here for some time, but that which could be used to actually produced bread, locally, to make sure that local bakers have the wheat seed that they need in order to bake the bread that Lebanese depend on. So, that's an example of something that I think is a work in progress.
And then, I've been very struck here to see the results of this investment in the alfalfa animal feed. This is not an industry that had existed here, before this latest crisis, but when animal feed – for example from Ukraine – was blockaded, it required innovative producers and farmers here to think, “what are we going to do to make up the difference.” When that blockade occurred, the price of importing feed from elsewhere just went up and became unaffordable for people who raise cattle and other livestock here in this country.
So, the way that this adaptation has occurred – to taking alfalfa and turning it into a form of animal feed – I think is an example, again, of another result in that locally produced alfalfa animal feed is much cheaper to buy than the imported animal feed. And so, it can become part, again, of the feed provided to livestock here. So, those are just a few results.
But I think the more that we invest, and continue to be very vigorous in making sure that what we are investing in – actually changing diets, changing income, profits, livelihoods, and changing this country's ability to fend for itself in the event of future shocks. Because this is unlikely to be a normally difficult economic period. This is unlikely to be the only time – I think – ahead, we can anticipate that we, in the United States, are having to think the same way, with supply chain disruptions brought about by COVID first and then Putin’s war against Ukraine just on the heels, just as people were coming out of COVID. These are just two examples of how the interdependency of the international system leaves farmers and vulnerable communities very, very much dependent on those supply chains functioning in the way that they always had, or that they have recently. And I think what all of us have learned is we need to build more resilience into our own food systems, into our own value chains right here in the countries in which you live as Lebanese, and we live in the United States.
JULIA GROEBLACHER: Let’s take one last question here from Charbel Bkasini from An-Nahar.
CHARBEL BKASINI: I just have one question. First Russia's invasion of Ukraine further deteriorated the Lebanese crisis. So, how can we guarantee that Putin would not stop the arrival of Ukraine’s wheat to Lebanon? Plus yesterday, a user on Twitter commented on your Tweet of your arrival saying, please make sure that the aid comes just to the ones in need, not to the government. So what's your call on that? And how can the U.S. and the USAID make sure that only poor people get the aid, especially that today Lebanon is facing a new crisis – an additional crisis – the cholera outbreak. Because last month, Lebanon recorded a new case since 1993.
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: These are two different questions and I'm happy to take them both. First, on the question of where our assistance goes. We, USAID, and we, the U.S. government as a whole, are incredibly careful about where our assistance goes. And this is for two reasons.
First of all, our assistance comes from the American people to the Lebanese people. You can see, if you look at USAID’s slogan, if you look at USAID branding anywhere, it says from the American people. We feel responsible to American taxpayers to make sure that when the American people think that they're coming to support small farmers here in Lebanon, or to support female headed households, or to support people who have been afflicted with cholera, that the money is actually reaching those people. We feel responsible to those in the United States, who have been generous and allow us at USAID to support our partners here on the ground.
The second reason that we feel we have to be vigilant – especially vigilant right now, this moment in history – is there have never been so many demands on donor assistance, on humanitarian assistance. As you know, there are more than 100 million displaced people around the world – that's a record since World War II. Climate shocks are intensifying, just in the last two months, I have been in Somalia and Kenya, where there is unprecedented drought, five straight failed rainy seasons. And I traveled just a few weeks after traveling to those two countries to Pakistan, a third of which was underwater because of unprecedented flooding, and monsoon rains. And those are just a few examples.
The needs globally are acute and growing. And so when we provide assistance, we have to make sure that it is reaching the intended beneficiaries. And here, I'll give you two examples of why we think we can have confidence in this regard.
On cholera, we are working with the WHO to make sure that our support buys rehydration kits that can actually get to people who have contracted cholera. We think these trusted international partners that we have worked with over a long period of time, that we can rely on. But also, we have relationships with primary health clinics, as well, and we know that that is the first port of call for people who are either have contracted cholera or who are recovering from it – which we hope will be the vast majority of those who contract it here.
Similarly, when I met earlier today with a Lebanese mother of three, who is now a recipient of food from USAID, that food is coming through WFP, and they have – the World Food Program – they have a means of assessing vulnerability that has been tested in many, many environments around the world. And we feel confident that their assessment of who – against this backdrop of so much – who is the most needy, since, we don't have enough assistance to spread it as widely as some might like sunlight like – how we prioritize becomes very, very important. And so looking at those with acute needs and acute vulnerabilities, we think they have a methodology to do that. So, we partnered with them.
On your first question about the Black Sea Deal. We have seen even just in the last two weeks the vulnerability of that deal. Of the flow, I should say, of grains, and animal feed to a country like Lebanon – 81% of this country's wheat comes from Ukraine, as you well know. Again, no matter what we do to – in the short term – to try to increase local production, local capacity, the flow from Ukraine is critically important to keeping prices at a reasonable level here for poor families, or to lowering prices really, because that is what is most needed.
You know, when you say how can you trust Putin? You can't. He's invaded a sovereign neighbor and is pulverizing civilian infrastructure for months. Although people were hungry around the world, he weaponized the exports of grain from the Black Sea. It is really important that the deal negotiated by the UN and Turkey continue. There are a lot of statements from various Russian officials that people are tracking at the United Nations, in Washington, and in Kyiv – that I knew. But fascinatingly, coming here and talking to Lebanese farmers, it really brings home how important it is to sustain passage of those grain exports from the Black Sea. Farmers here, in this valley, are paying so much attention to what is happening in the Black Sea. What is Putin going to do? Is he going to renew it? Is he not? Because lives here in Lebanon depend on those exports being able to flow. We've already seen prices, food prices around the world come down when that deal was put in place in August. When Putin suspended participation in the deal a couple of weeks ago, prices went up. Wheat and corn prices, who does that hurt? That hurts the most vulnerable people here in Lebanon and elsewhere, where people are just barely hanging on. So hearing that firsthand, from farmers who need to know how much is their feed going to cost, need that stability, that predictability – that deal should never have been needed.
The war should never have happened. Invasion should never have happened. The Black Sea port should never have been blockaded. Food should never have been weaponized. But, what we have seen with the Black Sea Grain Deal in place, is that some relief is possible and some of the pre-February war flow can have a meaningful impact on lives all around the world. And just again, that dependency here, that vulnerability here to what happens in Ukraine, is a reminder of how important it is as well for Putin to end the war, as well as to let those grains go.
ABIGAIL SEWELL: You said USAID will continue to provide humanitarian assistance, but if the reforms don’t happen, if the IMF deal doesn’t happen, are there specific forms of aid that will not be forthcoming from the U.S.?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: The reforms have to happen. I mean, the alternative is that more and more Lebanese fall beneath the poverty line – this is not a country where that should ever be happening. It has the human capital, the dynamism for which Lebanese are famous all around the world – so our emphasis has been and will remain on encouraging government formation, the selection of a president, the appointment of permanent cabinet that can deal with these enormous structural challenges, and that can accelerate attention to this list of reforms that the Lebanese government has already agreed to undertake in exchange for that infusion of resources from the IMF.
There is proof of how this can happen. The Bank Secrecy Law is something that I know resonates with Lebanese who are sick and tired of corruption, sick and tired of seeing others take the spoils of their industry. They do the hard work and others pocket the spoils. And so, the way in which individuals were able to come together and put that law in place, I think, a testament to how this can be done.
But, there needs to be a sense of urgency. I feel incredibly privileged to be here on behalf of the American people and the United States to be able to offer additional support. But, the global needs right now are acute, because of COVID, because of Putin's war on Ukraine, because of the climate shocks that are intensifying all around the world.
Again, it is important for all of us as donors to step up and help deal with the symptoms of Lebanon's crisis, whether that's cholera, or whether that's food insecurity. But it is incumbent on Lebanese political leaders to deal with the root causes of the crisis. And fundamentally no outsider can make a lasting difference and put Lebanon on a path to sustainable recovery. That's not the job of outsiders. It is the job of the Lebanese to come together for the sake of their country men and women.
And so, that is my message in leadership meetings that we'll be having over the course of the next couple days. It's the message of despair that I hear from Lebanese who are paying the price for this failure to make these reforms. These are reforms that have been on everybody's list for a very long time. These are not new ideas. But, now that the commitment has been made, now that the IMF has made clear that resources will flow when those reforms have occurred. That should be incentive enough to end the infighting and the bickering and do what is needed for the sake of the people in this country.
ABIGAIL SEWELL: But there are programs that are …
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: We are collectively laser-focused on pushing for government formation and for pushing for reform. That is our focus now. We are not focused on what happens if those reforms don't happen. The reforms have to happen. We're not focused on what happens if the government doesn't come together, the government has to come together. For the sake of the people of this country, that is what needs to happen.