Africa Regional Media Hub Press Briefing with Mr. Robert Jenkins, Acting Assistant Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Via Teleconference, July 10, 2017
Africa Regional Media Hub
Press Briefing with
Mr. Robert Jenkins, Acting Assistant Administrator,
U.S. Agency for International Development’s
Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance
July 10, 2017
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Africa Food Security call. At this time we’ll turn the conference over to your host, Miss Tiffany Jackson-Zunker. Please go ahead.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants, who have dialed in from across the continent, and media gathered at our various missions in Africa. Today we are joined by Mr. Robert Jenkins, Acting [corrected title] Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. Mr. Jenkins will discuss U.S. humanitarian aid to fight famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, and in particular, the recent announcement of an additional 639 million dollars in assistance for this effort. Mr. Jenkins is speaking to us from Washington, D.C. We will begin with remarks from Mr. Jenkins, and then we will open it up to your questions.
For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email, and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to email@example.com. If you would like to follow the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #FoodSec and follow us on @AfricaMediaHub and @USAID_DCHA. Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 30 minutes. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Mr. Jenkins.
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much, and thank you everyone for joining us today. On Saturday, the U.S. Government announced a nearly 639 million dollars in additional humanitarian assistance to the millions of people affected by food insecurity and violence in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. Tens of millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the man-made crises in South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen, all of which are driven by violent conflicts, and in Somalia, where ongoing conflict is exasperating the effects of severe and prolonged drought. Despite the influx of aid that has helped to alleviate famine in some areas of South Sudan, and has so far prevented famine in Yemen and Somalia, the overall food security situation is worsening, and life-threatening hunger continues to spread in both scope and in scale.
Through this additional funding that we’re announcing, the United States can provide additional emergency food and nutrition assistance, life-saving medical care, improved sanitation, safe drinking water, emergency shelter, protection for civilians who’ve been affected by conflict, and support hygiene and health programs to treat and prevent disease outbreaks for all four crises. This additional funding brings the total U.S. contribution to over 1.8 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance for the four famine crises since the beginning of fiscal year 2017.
The United States is one of the largest donors of humanitarian assistance in all four crises and is the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance in the world. The aid we provide represents the best of America’s generosity and goodwill. We will continue to work with our international and local partners to provide this life-saving aid needed to avert famine and to support communities impacted by these crises. And with that, I’ll take your questions. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Jenkins. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation, and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: U.S. humanitarian aid to fight famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.
Our first question was sent in by email from the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It comes from Birhanu Fakade, Senior Editor at The Reporter, by Ethiopia. The question reads, “We have heard that the new U.S. commitment of aid has omitted Ethiopia among the list of countries receiving assistance. Why has a country with some seven million people in need of emergency food aid not been considered?”
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much for the question. The situation in southern Ethiopia is deteriorating, and it might be catastrophic without additional interventions. The UN is warning that emergency food supplies and nutrition commodities in Ethiopia are running dry, with both the World Food Programme and the Ethiopia government anticipating partial pipeline breaks beginning by the end of June, with perhaps complete breaks by September. Now, during last year’s El Niño drought, the government of Ethiopia demonstrated its growing capacity to lead a robust and timely response, which supported over 10 million people with food, nutrition, water, and agricultural assistance. The government of Ethiopia must build on their progress and continue to provide the resources and leadership necessary to combat this year’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. And while this announcement is limited just to the four crises outlined earlier, that does not mean we are [correction] forgetting about Ethiopia and aren’t deeply concerned in Ethiopia and what’s happening there.
The United States remains the largest humanitarian donor in Ethiopia, and we plan to continue ramping up our assistance, and strongly encourage additional contributions from the government of Ethiopia and other donors to meet the forecasted gap in funding required to address the needs of people there. So far this year, we have already provided 225 million dollars for humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, and, just to restate, we continue and plan to intend to ramp up our assistance. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will go to Kevin Kelly from Nation Media Group, based in Nairobi. Kevin calls us from Washington. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: And Kevin Kelly’s line is open. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, hi, thanks for doing this. I’m actually in New York, not Washington, but close enough. So I have two questions, but I understand I’m limited to one. I’ll ask a specific, if I can come back later with a general question I’d be grateful for that. The specific is similar to the question that the reporter from Ethiopia just asked. How about Kenya? There’s also a major food crisis in Kenya with 2.6 million Kenyans in need of food emergency assistance. Kenya is not included in the four countries that you’ve announced having additional resources available to them. I know that U.S. does provide significant aid to Kenya, but can you speak to that generally, please? About what’s being done now and what may be done in the future. Thank you.
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much. So far this year we have provided over 22 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to Kenya, and, as you mentioned, the United States has been a partner of the Kenyan people for many years and we have a very robust program there, for not just humanitarian assistance but also our development work, particularly, right now, as Kenya prepares for elections and deals especially in its north with the same drought that is affecting Somalia. One of the things about Kenya in recent years has been the ability of us to partner with the Kenyan government and partners there on resiliency programs, which have really gone to help aid the resilience of communities and get agricultural production up in areas where it’s needed most. We have studies that have shown that for every dollar that we spend in those resilience programs, we save almost three dollars in humanitarian assistance needs. So Kenya is very much on our mind, we continue to work there, we will continue to ramp up efforts as needed, but it just is not included in this announcement today.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question was submitted also by email from Voice of America’s Salem Solomon in the Africa division. He asks, “What is the typical lag between appropriation of funds and actual delivery? After approval, how long does it typically take to reach those who need it at a critical time?”
MR. JENKINS: Thank you, that’s a great question. And the United States government’s budgeting process can often seem very complicated. So the funding that we are announcing today, much of it was part of the appropriation we received several months ago, with the final FY17 budget agreement in Congress. So we’re very happy and thankful for Congress’s generous support for these humanitarian assistance programs, and the additional funding they’ve provided this year, which is the largest amount of humanitarian assistance funding in our nation’s history. The way our funding works is “no year money,” so we are continually assessing, analyzing, and then funding needs throughout the year, regardless of where we are in the budget cycle. And we pride ourselves on having perhaps the world’s fastest ability to fund emergencies and redirect funding if need be, and put assistance directly where it needs to be, as fast as possible.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will go to the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Thank you, the line is open.
QUESTION: Well, my name is [UNCLEAR] from Addis Ababa, I am from [UNCLEAR] News Agency. Well, my question is, I think there is a high number of flowing refugees and maybe there is risk of cholera spreading around Somalia and other neighboring countries, such as South Sudan and so. So what is USAID’s explanation to date to keep that donationand what will be the risks in terms of the humanitarian assistance toward this such kind of risk and threats towards this region? Thank you.
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much. And what I failed to point out is this assistance we’re talking about today, while it is directed at the crises in the four countries, it includes what we’re doing to support refugees in neighboring countries. You mentioned South Sudan, which right now unfortunately is the world’s largest refugee crisis, and our assistance goes in food and other ways through both USAID and the United States State Department to assist refugees in Uganda and other countries.
Regarding cholera in Somalia, it’s not just Somalia, unfortunately. Yemen right now is grappling with the world’s largest food insecurity crisis, and the same time the largest outbreak of cholera in the world, with over 260,000 cases since April, which is frightening. We have ramped up assistance in Yemen, but also in Somalia and other places, with our non-food assistance, to support the people who are dealing with not just cholera but also systemic diseases.
One of the complicating factors with the need for food and these desperate food insecurity crises is people become weaker and therefore much more susceptible to disease. So almost always, our food assistance is provided with non-food assistance, which includes medical care, therapeutic feeding, meeting the emergency shelter needs of IDPs and refugees, including psychosocial support for victims who aren’t just physically but also mentally affected by the dire situation they find themselves in.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I’d like to remind our listeners, if they’d like to ask a question, to press *1 on the phone.
Our next question is, “The USAID announcement mentions the man-made nature of the crises in these countries. Does the United States have additional programs or funding to address the political problems behind these devastating situations?”
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much for that, and yes. No amount of humanitarian assistance will ever solve these problems. These problems are a manifestation and symptom of the conflicts that are going on in all four countries. Somalia is also grappling with drought, but the conflict there, like the conflict in South Sudan, like the conflict in Yemen, like the conflicts in Northern Nigeria, it’s really the conflict that is causing these problems. So the United States is involved in all four countries with our diplomatic efforts and the efforts that we do engaging with the rest of the international community.
The day after the anniversary of independence in South Sudan, I would just like to point out that we continue to hope that President Salva Kiir will expeditiously come through on his promise to allow the unfettered free flow of access for humanitarian assistance and humanitarian aid workers. And in that country, like all four of these countries, we call on all parties of the conflict to please allow humanitarian assistance to be provided apolitically and get to the people that need it fast, while we continue with our international partners to press for peace and try to find a lasting end to these conflicts.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go again to Kevin Kelly in New York. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: And the line is open, thank you.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thanks for the opportunity to ask a second question. Now, as I said, this is a much more general one. So tomorrow there’s a global Family Planning Summit opening in London. I don’t know if you can speak to the Trump administration’s involvement in that Summit, but I hope you can speak to the broader point that based on UN population projections released in the past couple of weeks, Africa’s going to experience enormous - astonishing, really - population growth over the next few decades. Probably there’s a correlation between this kind of population growth and the need for emergency food assistance. I’m wondering if you can speak to that, whether you agree that that is the case, and if you do - or even if you don’t - what you think the United States’ role might be in regard to family planning as a potential factor in reducing the emergencies in food assistance. Okay, thanks a lot.
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much, and your question highlights that while these four countries are grappling with a food insecurity crisis, that is just one of the many important issues that Africa is dealing with right now and will continue to deal with, unfortunately, for some time to come. And that’s why the U.S. remains a friend and a partner to Africa, and we remain the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance in Africa, including South Sudan, the horn of Africa, and the Lake Chad Basin.
Particular to your question about family planning, unfortunately, I would have to refer that to experts in my agency and others at the State Department, as that’s outside of what I focus on.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question has come from Ayen Bior, a journalist for Voice of America in South Sudan, who has asked quite specifically, “How much of the 639 million will be allocated to South Sudan?”
MR. JENKINS: Well, thank you very much. For South Sudan, just over 199 million dollars will be going to South Sudan and to refugees created by that crisis. And our total amount that we have provided with this additional funding, this fiscal year, to South Sudan, is over 453 million dollars [correction to this figure below]. If you go back to prior years, we have always been the largest humanitarian donor in South Sudan. We continue to be, and we have provided more than 2.5 billion dollars since the start of the conflict in December 2013.
MODERATOR: Fantastic. Thank you very much. Our next question will go to the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. Operator, can you open the line, please?
OPERATOR: Thank you, that line is open.
MEDIA: Thank you very much, this is Birhanu from The Reporter newspaper. I just want to know how this allocation of added funding for the stated countries is worked out, because they, as I said, this is a typical issue for humanitarian crisis in the horn especially, so I just want to know how countries such as Ethiopia, who host this huge amount of - million numbers of,several million - in need of emergency food assistance, in addition to that, 700,000 or 800,000, or million refugees are hosted from Eritrea, South Sudan, and other countries. So, having that in mind, how do you go with this allocation of resources for these four countries, which omits Ethiopia? Thank you very much.
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much for your question. I first would like to correct something I said in the last thing about funding to South Sudan. I missed the number; our total FY17 assistance is approximately 650 million, not 450 million. So that’s 650 million to South Sudan.
Now, on your question on Ethiopia, when faced with so many problems around the world, in these four crises, in southern Ethiopia, with refugees crises, added on to that what’s happening in Syria and Iraq and our massive responses there, it is always a very difficult job of trying to allocate resources to those people that are most in need. And that changes over time. So as we look at each of these countries as a country unto itself, we’re always looking at the global response that is necessary and trying to shift resources from one place to another where they can make the most difference and hopefully save the most lives.
So, as you mentioned, the number of people that are in need is going up in southern Ethiopia, and the United Nations has said they will need an additional 550 million dollars for that crisis. We are responding to that, and will continue to respond to that. The needs are determined by the United Nations and NGO partners and the government of Ethiopia, who, as you know, does their own targeting and their own provision of assistance.
MODERATOR: Thank you. There is a follow-up question from Ayen Bior regarding these South Sudan funds. He specifically asks, “Which agencies will receive funding?” and she asked for a breakdown of the other three countries in your list.
MR. JENKINS: Thanks for your question. In South Sudan - I don’t have a list in front of me of all of the partners - but a significant portion goes to United Nations agencies and then also to multiple non-governmental organization partners. So it’s quite a few different organizations, most of which we’ve already been funding and will continue to fund.
MODERATOR: Thank you. For those listening, if you would like to ask a question to Mr. Jenkins, please press *1 on your phone. We have time for one or two more questions.
Via email came the question from Voice of America, Africa Division, Salem Solomon: “Is there a mechanism in place to track if funds are delivered to the right place or not? How often do funds approved never get delivered for one reason or another?”
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much for your question. We hold it as a sacred trust when we are spending United States taxpayer dollars, and we put a huge priority on making sure, in many multiple ways, that we track all of this assistance. No diversion at all is acceptable, and we require all of our partners to have their own monitoring and evaluation plans, and they all have strict audit guidelines that they must fulfill on an annual basis so that they are constantly tracking where the assistance goes. Separate to that, we also have third party monitoring mechanisms that track and make sure that deliveries take place, and we require our partners to report directly and immediately to us and our Inspector General anytime there’s any diversion or any loss of assistance.
Now, all of these countries provide very difficult work environments, very dangerous work environments; in fact, there are humanitarian workers in all four countries risking their life every day, and what they’re risking their life to do is to see that the assistance gets to who it needs to get to, and they do an extremely good job of that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one last question. We will go to the listening party at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. If you could open the line please, operator.
OPERATOR: Thank you, the line is open.
MEDIA: Thank you very much. I am Luel from Ethiopia Herald Newspaper. My question is that there are some countries that would hide a humanitarian crisis for the sake of building their good image or other reasons. Is there any ways that USAID will identify such issues to help people? Thank you.
MR. JENKINS: Thank you very much. The issue you raised often becomes an important issue that we have to work on and track. And that is one of the reasons that we, along with the rest of the international community, use collective organizations who can independently track, monitor, and verify the situation on the ground. One of those groups is the Famine Early Warning System, or the FEWS Network, which we fund and created, but is also funded by other donors, and that helps us give a non-political, non-governmental, true assessment based on science and real data on what the conditions are in certain countries. Then it’s up to us and our diplomats and others in the international community, other donors, to work with that government to help them come to grips with the situation that they’re dealing with, and to be as transparent and open as possible.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. That concludes our call. Mr. Jenkins, do you have any final words to our participants?
MR. JENKINS: I do not. I would just like to thank everyone for their interest and time this afternoon. And thank you for taking the time to have us explain this very important announcement.
MODERATOR: Great. With that, I would like to thank Mr. Robert Jenkins, Acting [corrected title] Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance for joining us and to thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.