Monday, September 18, 2023

New York City, New York


KHADIJA BENGENNA (via translation): With us, here, in our studio at the UN Headquarters in New York is Isobel Coleman, Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. Isobel, welcome. In this same place eight years ago, member states agreed to what was called the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Where are we on this now?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: Thank you, Khadija.I was honored to be part of the General Assembly this morning when Member States came together to take stock of where we are, and the picture is not pretty. As you've just explained, and as your colleague also explained, the Secretary General said we're just not making the progress that we're getting on the SDGs. And there are many reasons for that, of course, the COVID pandemic was a big blow to the progress of SDGs, but we were already lagging even before COVID. So to hear countries this morning double down on our commitment to really try to increase progress against the SDGs is extraordinarily important, and in the time that we have remaining in the march to 2030 to really make progress on food security, ending poverty, and all of the other goals that are so important – the SDG agenda is the agenda of USAID. It's the work that we do around the world – trying to help countries to address the causes of poverty, increase access to clean water and to health, to eliminate inequality and injustice around the world. All of these different elements are truly at the core of what we do.

MS. BENGENNA (via translation): Isobel, you mentioned food security more than once. Today, with the Ukraine-Russia war and the grain crisis – is there hope, for example, to overcome this crisis and maybe persuade Russia to allow for grain to be exported once more and surpass this crisis which is affecting the world?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Well, I always have to maintain hope that we can convince Russia to stop weaponizing food, which is what has happened. Russia has invaded one of the world's breadbaskets and taken huge amounts of agricultural land out of commission. We now see hundreds of thousands of acres that have been destroyed by landlines and weapons, and is just out of production. And, of course, in the food that Ukraine is producing – it's not able to get it out in the economical fashion, through the Black Sea as it has in the past. So it is impacting countries around the world, particularly the most vulnerable countries. I have to remain hopeful that we will find a path forward, but right now, it is a very dire situation because the food exports are really along the Black Sea. We, at USAID, we're doing everything we can to work with Ukrainians and with the partner countries on the other side of the border, to help increase exports over land routes through Europe – through the Danube and out through Romania and Bulgaria – but it just can't replace the Black Sea. So we have to do everything we can to really put pressure on Russia to reopen those critical export routes.

MS. BENGENNA (via translation): On Libya – the floods caused massive devastation, and before this segment began, we learned from you that the U.S. is providing additional humanitarian assistance to Libyans. What can you tell us about this? The amount of aid and how it will be delivered to Libyans.

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Thank you, it is a terrible situation in Libya. And our hearts go out to the people who’ve been so deeply affected – the tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives, or lost their homes, or are missing right now. USAID has contributed just today, an additional $10 million – this is an addition to the million that we immediately announced, also in the way that the State Department has done. So the U.S. government response in total, right now, is $12 million.

I know that it’s not sufficient to deal with all of the huge needs, but that money will be going to the people in Derna, Benghazi to really help on immediate needs of access to clean water and sanitation, shelter, and food. And then beginning to help people just pick up their lives. The level of destruction is huge. And, of course, it relates to climate change. This was unfathomable rains that came but also a lack of preparedness, and a lack of resiliency in eastern Libya. Those dams, for years, there had been warning of the weakness in those dams and the people just didn't have the forewarning that they should have had.

MS. BENGENNA (via translation): Yes, but Isobel perhaps the sum doesn't seem so big when we talk about $10 million or $11 million in light of the huge damage and needs.

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: No, it's not sufficient to meet the full needs, of course, of the Libyan people – we recognize that. But we hope that countries around the world will also join us in supporting the Libyan people. And, of course, we’re going to do as much as we can in the wake of this extraordinary crisis in Libya.

MS. BENGENNA (via translation): Now everything you have discussed – and in light of the absence of the leaders of important states such as Russia, China, the UK, and France – is the importance of these issues really being taken into consideration during this UNGA?

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR COLEMAN: Well, I can't speak for the decisions of other leaders. But I do know that of the five permanent members of the Security Council, President [Joe] Biden is the one who is here, and he’s here with a full range of commitments – commitments that we're making both to climate resiliency, to food security, to democracy, and also to deepening and strengthening our alliances around the world. So President Biden has shown up – he’s in town and he will be giving a speech at the General Assembly tomorrow. And I know he very much looks forward to meeting with many, many leaders from around the world, and deepening and strengthening relationships.

MS. BENGENNA: Thank you very much, Isobel Coleman, Deputy Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

UNGA 2023 Isobel Coleman
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