The United States is deeply concerned by the humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa and today’s announcement by the United Nations that a famine is underway in parts of Somalia. The United States is the largest bilateral donor of emergency assistance to the eastern Horn of Africa. We have already responded with over $431 million in food and non-food emergency assistance this year alone.
But it is not enough — the need is only expected to increase and more must be done by the United States and the international community. That is why today the United States government is providing an additional $28 million in aid for people in Somalia and for Somali refugees in Kenya.
The eastern Horn of Africa is prone to chronic food insecurity which has been exacerbated by a two-year drought. Crops have dried up, livestock have died, and food prices have been skyrocketing. In Somalia, twenty years without a central government and the relentless terrorism by al-Shabaab against its own people has turned an already severe situation into a dire one that is only expected to get worse. Even so, we remain cautiously optimistic that al-Shabaab will permit unimpeded international assistance in famine struck areas.
The United States — in close coordination with the international community — is working to assist more than 11 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, who are in dire need of assistance. To anticipate growing needs, the United States government has worked with our partners over the last year to pre-position food in the region, increase funding for early warning systems, and strengthen non-food assistance in the feeding, health, water and sanitation sectors. In addition to emergency assistance, this administration’s Feed the Future program is working to break the cycle of hunger once and for all by addressing the root causes of hunger and food insecurity through innovative agricultural advances.
But the United States cannot solve the crisis in the Horn alone. All donors in the international community must commit to taking additional steps to tackle both immediate assistance needs and strengthen capacity in the region to respond to future crises.
Remarks by Ambassador Rice at the Security Council Stakeout on the Humanitarian Situation in the Horn of Africa
Ambassador Rice: Good morning. While the issue in the Council today has been climate change, I’ve made a statement in that regard already and I wanted to say a few words about the UN’s declaration of famine in parts of Somalia today. It goes without saying that the situation is grave, over 11 million lives at risk, and in need of assistance. This is indeed a crisis situation, and one that has been exacerbated quite directly by the refusal of al-Shabaab to allow critically needed humanitarian assistance to reach over 60 percent of the people who need it most, over the course of the last year and more. The United States has been and remains the largest donor of bilateral humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa, contributing this year alone already $459 million, including an additional $28 million that Secretary Clinton just announced today. We will continue to focus on this issue and to provide the support that we can, but clearly this is a global challenge, and it is one that requires the concerted effort and support of the wide range of donors that are in a position to assist. We will be supportive of the United Nations as its agencies and funds and programs do the essential work of providing for and supporting those most in need. Thank you.
Reporter: Ambassador Rice, will any of the money that the United States has pledged to fighting the drought go to Somalia?
Ambassador Rice: Yes.
Reporter: Mark Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator of the UN, just gave a press conference and he said that the U.S., two years ago, was the number one donor to Somalia and has now fallen to seventh or eighth—pretty much tied to anti-terrorism restrictions on where the funds can go. I know you gave the Horn of Africa number but is he correct about this?
Ambassador Rice: I can’t tell you if he’s correct. I can tell you that the United States remains the largest bilateral donor to the crisis in the Horn and the epicenter of the crisis in the Horn is, of course, Somalia. We have provided support and will continue to provide support to the refugees that have reached Ethiopia and Kenya among others, but our support has gone to Somalia as well and will continue to do so. The challenge has been access for the humanitarian agencies, particularly in the south and the central region, and it’s been blocked deliberately as a matter of policy by al-Shabaab. And al-Shabaab is principally responsible for exacerbating the consequences of the drought situation by preventing its own people from being able to access critically needed assistance.
Reporter: But they’ve lifted the restrictions?
Ambassador Rice: They say they’ve lifted the restrictions, after two years of starving their own people. We’ll see if those restrictions are in fact, as a practical matter, lifted on the ground. Neither the United States nor others in the international community are prepared to pay bribes or taxes to al-Shabaab, while it starves its own people.
Reporter: How will the U.S. transmit its aid? Is it through the UN and other groups?
Ambassador Rice: We typically provide our assistance through a variety of non-governmental organizations, and international organizations including UN agencies. UNICEF is among those that have been consistently active in that area, including within Somalia—it is one of the major recipients and, of course, WFP and others, UNHCR in the camps, and, of course, a range of NGOs.
Reporter: To clarify, will the aid get into the areas are being held by al-Shabaab? Will the United States send aid to those areas which arguably need it the most?
Ambassador: The issue—this is not complicated—aid will go where the humanitarian workers can gain access. The reason the aid hasn’t gone in sufficient quantities into south and central Somalia, is because al-Shabaab has prevented those most capable of delivering large quantities of aid from having access. And when they have had access they’ve taxed them, harassed them, killed them, kidnapped them—so that’s the problem. The question is whether al-Shabaab will finally, in the face of a massive famine, and the worst disaster in the region in, perhaps, 60 years, allow its people to access the critical humanitarian resources and food that they need. Thank you very, very much.