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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at a Panel on Human Development in Africa


Remarks
David M. Robinson
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Washington, DC
November 10, 2011

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Date: 11/10/2011 Location: University of Notre Dame Description:  (from L to R): AMBASSADOR DAVID ROBINSON, Principal Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population Refuges, and Migration, AMBASSADOR VICKI HUDDLESTON, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, REV. ROBERT DOWD, Director Notre Dame Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, 
ANNEMARIE REILLY, vice President Overseas Operations, Catholic Relief Services, 
SCOTT APPLEBY, Director Notre Dame Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies ,and 
AMBASSADOR TIMOTHY ROEMER, Former U.S. Representative © Photo by Matt CashoreGood morning, everyone, and thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this event. I’d like to both thank the organizers and to congratulate the University of Notre Dame for launching this exciting and necessary initiative. As you all know, we are living in a time characterized by a widening gap, both at home and globally, between rich and poor, those who can become self-sufficient and those who cannot, and it's a gap that is simply not sustainable: It's not sustainable socially, it's not sustainable economically, and it's not sustainable politically.

But unfortunately, it's also a time when we're tempted to turn inward, and to think we need to concentrate on our own challenges exclusive of the broader context. And, of course, that's impossible to do: We are globalized, we're part of a single fabric. Whether it's health issues, environmental concerns, security threats or economic well-being, we can't solely look in the mirror. What happens in Africa has an impact on life in the U.S. What happens in Mexico, in Greece, in Pakistan and in China, all has an impact on our domestic future. And so ND’s leadership and vision in launching this initiative could not be better timed. And personally, it makes me very proud to be a graduate of this great institution.

But I also want to challenge Notre Dame to broaden its horizons, broaden its concept, just a bit. The issues and values driving this project include health, education and sanitation, economic development, and human rights, among other things. All of these are essential. But I'm not sure they're sufficient for a project of this scope. What I have not seen is much reference to humanitarian response, that is, providing for the basic needs of people displaced by famine, by war, by political conflict, or by economic want. These are the most vulnerable people, the people most at risk, on the planet, including in Africa, one of the targets of this program. And sadly, that’s the norm: Development strategies don’t often include humanitarian response. Instead, development experts tend to see humanitarian response as a specialized activity that occurs outside of the context of traditional development work, that occurs outside the context of those traditional activities aimed at lifting people or lifting a country out of poverty toward self-sufficiency, away from aid toward trade.

And while that is a laudable and necessary goal, is it enough? Is global human development a goal, considering where it has to happen, that you can achieve without simultaneously planning for humanitarian intervention? I don't think so.

We are meeting today in the shadow of the worst humanitarian crisis to hit the Horn of Africa in a generation. Almost 14 million people are affected by drought, famine and conflict, and almost 750,000 may die before the end of this year if we cannot reach them with life-saving and life-sustaining help.

Almost one million Somali refugees have fled to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, straining areas already fragile, already susceptible to drought and disaster. The refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya today house about 450,000 people. They were designed, twenty years ago, to house 90,000 people. That makes Dadaab, this refugee complex in the middle of nowhere near the Somalia border, the second or third largest city in Kenya, and taken together with the number of refugees also in Nairobi and other cities, it means that the total number of displaced people in Kenya alone is hundreds of thousands more than the population of Michigan. Now, what would that kind of population inflow, proportionately, of desperately poor, sick, persecuted people mean for Michigan’s economic recovery and development? Well, you can imagine the impact it would have. Devastating.

And this kind of displacement is not confined to the Horn of Africa. Globally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that almost 43 million people are displaced and vulnerable world-wide: this includes refugees, people fleeing from disaster, vulnerable migrants, stateless people, internally displaced people and others. These are people for whom governments do not necessarily accept responsibility and for whom most development strategies hold no plans. And again, just as a matter of reference, 43 million people is more than the combined populations of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa.

That’s a lot of people, and the trend is growing, not shrinking. And the impact of that trend will become more acute as time goes on for two reasons: first, because the population is growing, rapidly: the population of the African continent will double by 2050, as will Kenya’s own population; and second, because populations are becoming increasingly urbanized. By 2050, 70% of the world’s populations will live in cities. Today, only about 22% of Kenyans are urbanized, but that is changing at a rate of 4.2% per year.

Now, the United States is actively engaged in responding to these crises and trends: In the last year alone, we've contributed more than $750 million to emergency relief in the Horn of Africa and about $660 million dollars in more traditional development programs for health, economic and environmental improvements in Kenya this year. In addition, the President's Feed the Future Initiative is providing for drought resistant crops, new farming techniques and food security programs that are working. More than 150,000 people in Kenya alone have benefited from improved water and sanitation through our programs, and the worst effects of the drought have been mitigated in areas where our programs are active. The numbers and suffering would be much worse if we hadn't been there.

But the truth is, our programs remain less effective than they could be if we could bridge the disconnect between humanitarian response, on the one hand, and traditional development, on the other, a disconnect that exists because we--we in government, in international organizations, in NGOs and other groups--perpetuate a myth, a faulty theory. The myth is that there is a continuum from emergency relief, to early recovery, to sustainable development when things are relatively stable. It’s just not true. These things happen concurrently, they nest together. And unless development strategies take into account, from their inception to their conclusion, this enormous mass of displaced, at-risk, vulnerable people, those strategies likely will become overwhelmed and irrelevant…at great cost. As the World Bank notes, marginalization of populations prevents economic and social progress in host areas. And those host areas, including rapidly growing urban centers, are precisely where economic and social progress is most needed.

Late yesterday, I returned from leading the US delegation to our annual talks with the European Commission in Brussels on humanitarian action: Between us, we account for more than 50% of the world’s total humanitarian response. And in the past many months, I’ve traveled to the Horn of Africa, the Thai-Burma border, Colombia, and most recently the Balkans, and I can tell you: among practitioners in the field, there is emerging consensus that this continuum, this idea that there is a neat divide between development and humanitarian response is a deeply flawed idea, and that the longer we hold onto it, the less effective we will be both at humanitarian response and at development.

And so as I said at the outset, I would like to challenge Notre Dame, to consider, as a central part of this initiative, how it will include humanitarian action as an essential and integral part of its development plans and programs. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is something worth fighting for.

Thank you.



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