Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Russell Senate Office Building Washington, D.C.

[Remarks as Prepared]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good evening. I’m grateful to all of you for having me here to celebrate this truly momentous moment in promoting food security and nutrition around the world, and with individuals like you who have given so much of your lives to this vital cause. I feel really, really fortunate to be leading USAID at this time, of all times – it’s not an obvious reaction actually to be leading USAID at this time of all times but I feel so privileged to be a part of this effort to find solutions to this, one of the most formidable and soluble challenges of our time.  

Thanks to Will, who may just earn the title of the most impassioned advocate for child nutrition in the world. And though I didn’t get to hear their remarks in this room, I did get to hear from them as they walked out – Senator Coons and Senator Boozman. I also wanted to thank Senator Wicker and Representatives Michael McCaul and Greg Meeks, all of whom I consider, not just allies in this cause and many other vital causes, but true colleagues. People who you can just posit a challenge in the world and brainstorm together around what the solution set is and what America’s role is in spearheading that solution. I also definitely want to acknowledge Congressman Royce and Congressman Yoho, who are no longer, I guess formally, Congressman officially – although I think like Ambassador, you get to keep that title for life. But, just the fact that even if it’s no longer something that you are no longer doing formally as part of this institution, you are doing so much to elevate the cause of nutrition, and certainly there’s no better leadership record in this domain than yours, respectively. And so, I’m so glad to be working with you in your new roles.

I think that here we have leadership of all kinds – from civil society, from individuals from the communities that are affected, from current legislators, from executive officials, from former legislators. And all of that has resulted in the landmark passage of the Global Malnutrition and Treatment Act last month, which codified our shared commitment to end malnutrition around the world – an audacious goal, but a realizable goal if we can stick with it.

This bipartisan, bicameral leadership has never been more important, as you’ve heard here from others. More than a million people in Somalia alone have been displaced by drought-induced hunger. You all know that we’ve never seen in meteorological and historical records five straight failed rainy seasons, now into a sixth. Lord knows what happens after the sixth – too soon to tell – but at the rate we are going. These people, the million who have fled not because they wanted to leave their homes, but because they watched their crops wither, their animals starve, their farms turning to dust, and so they are traveling thousands of miles in search of safety. They have watched their children collapse on the side of the roads en route to what they hope is refuge and safety, and in some cases, their babies dying in their arms. 

Many of you have traveled to drought-affected areas and had the experience of witnessing this, or talking to people who have survived this, or have lost loved ones to this scale of crisis. So, it has to be said that though the Horn of Africa is getting rightly concentrated attention and resources right now, this crisis extends well beyond the Horn. Around the world, more than 800 million people, around a tenth of the world’s population – which is hard even to fathom – are going hungry. More than 660 million are malnourished, including around a third of children under five. 

But the truth is that even though malnourishment drives nearly half of deaths among children under five around the world – as Will and Senators who have spoken here and Congressman who have spoken here have attested – with sufficient and targeted resources, this crisis, this malnutrition crisis, is remarkably preventable and it is remarkably treatable. During the trip that I took to the Horn of Africa there were a lot of those grim scenes that I’ve described and a lot of heartache. But I also had the privilege of speaking to families who had seen their children literally brought back to life, brought back from death's door to health, in a matter of weeks, just by virtue of access to this Ready To Use Therapeutic Food, something that as Will likes to say, is as close to a silver bullet as anything that exists in the realm of global health. And that is why the U.S. government is funneling resources into producing these treatments, as well as some of the other steps that have been discussed, to reversing malnourishment. 

Now, most children suffering from severe malnutrition live in communities outside of areas that are in immediate humanitarian distress. So, this is a challenge that we face together. That’s why USAID made a commitment that was referenced before, which is this unprecedented $200 million investment to dramatically scale up access to wasting treatment, including therapeutic foods, and with lead philanthropies like Eleanor Crook contributing another $50 million for the initial launch, in order to reach more remote communities where severe malnourishment has been a death sentence. 

But as Will kind of stole my thunder in telling the story, but nonetheless, I will share again – we are no longer living in a world, I don’t think we ever were, where U.S. resources alone are going to do the trick, where public sector resources alone are going to do the trick. Right now, USAID’s budget, thanks to the Members of both parties up here and Ukraine supplementals and significant generosity from the taxpayer, we have a substantial increase, for example, in our humanitarian response budget this year. But the gap between the humanitarian appeals and what we are contributing has arguably never been greater. So people are being evermore generous, and yet the needs are outpacing that generosity. 

And that’s why we have to do things like the funding drives that Will alluded to. Which is when we are prepared to invest $200 million as USAID, that we bring others along, and that we leverage the investments we make to get other countries to step up. And it did take an all hands on deck campaign, basically, in this very short seven weeks, in fact, between when we issued the challenge and when we were successful in generating an additional $280 million from high net worth individuals, from philanthropies, and from other donor governments. When the words came out of my mouth to issue that challenge, I too, was wondering why I was issuing that challenge? And was it a good idea? And had I really thought carefully about how many millions would have to be raised each week over the seven weeks? But sometimes it’s good not to do that calculation in advance. But it is proof of concept that as this story gets told, as people are alerted to just how life saving that investment can be, the difference that can make in mobilizing resources.  

So, we now are in an area, as many of you know, that has struggled with production cycles and advanced purchase agreements and the like. By knowing these resources are coming online, some of those bottlenecks in the system are also going to be overcome. But as we’ve heard, this is just one piece of the fighting malnourishment puzzle, and so we're committing now $75 million in new funding to scale food fortification efforts – the practice of infusing everyday foods with essential vitamins and minerals, which provides a nutritional “safety net” of sorts and is one of the most impactful and cost-effective ways to tackle malnutrition.

So, we’re also helping health systems provide high-quality nutrition services for the first two years of a child’s life, training health workers to counsel new moms on breast-feeding practices and provide nutrition services at infant healthcare facilities. As a mother myself, I can’t imagine going without that know-how, and in developing communities and countries it is going to be actually priceless in its impact. The more mothers we’re able to reach, the more nutrition knowledge imparted, the more lives will be improved and even saved.

And we’re investing in long-term food security solutions that will prevent malnutrition from occurring in the first place. Thanks to bipartisan support in Congress, the U.S. government is committing $760 million to expand and scale agricultural programs that support farmers and communities around the world that are really hurting now as you know with spiraling food, fuel  and fertilizer prices. 

As COVID-19, climate change, and Putin all wreak havoc on food systems, it will be crucial for all of us to keep fighting to feed the world. And thanks to the passage of this Act, and all of the labor that you put into to get this Act across the finish line, I’m confident that this fight will be bipartisan, sustained, and do immeasurable good for millions of people around the world. I look forward to working with the community of Members who worked to bring this legislation to fruition – including, again, Representative McCaul, Congressman Meeks, Congressman Kim and Houlahan and Senators Coons, Wicker, Kaine, and Boozman. You continue to inspire others here towards our shared goal of a world that is fed and nourished – a goal that remains firmly within our grasp, but will only be reached through American leadership.

Thank you.

Samantha Power 2022 Global Food Crisis
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