Briefing on Announcement of New Measures To Address the Drought in Ethiopia

Special Briefing
John Kirby
Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs
USAID Administrator Gayle Smith
Washington, DC
March 3, 2016


MR KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. Today at the briefing I’ve got a special guest who’s going to kick it off for us – USAID Administrator Gayle Smith, who you all have seen before. She’s going to give you an update on what USAID is doing to mitigate the effects of drought in Ethiopia. She’ll be able to stick around for a couple of questions, and then we’ll get on with the rest of the daily briefing. I will moderate the questions if you don’t mind, so in order – in the interests of time, please identify who you are, who you’re with, and let’s limit the follow-ups as best we can so we can keep things moving.

With that, ma’am.

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Thank you. Good afternoon, everybody. I imagine some of you have been following this phenomenon called El Nino, which is striking hard at a number of parts of the world, nowhere harder than in Ethiopia. We are also tracking its impacts in Latin America, and we are receiving information that it appears to be far worse in Southern Africa than we had hoped.

We began responding to the impacts in Ethiopia in the fall. We track these things, looking at weather and market data. It is at the point now where over 10 million people are in need. The United States has, to date, provided $500 million. In January, I was able to join in Ethiopia the Secretary-General of the United Nations, UN agencies, and the EU in a session where we collectively looked at what we needed to do.

We are announcing today that we are going to take a step as a contribution to that and one that we hope will lead the rest of the international community, which is to deploy what we call a disaster assistance response team. This is a group of experts that allows us to take a response that has been robust to date but to accelerate and expand it.

Our aim, though, is different than it often is. Most times we deploy a DART at the height of an emergency. We are moving earlier in this case because we have found that there is real alignment between donors, NGOs, the government, and UN agencies that if we move very, very, very quickly, we can avert the worst impacts of this drought.

Now, I don’t want to underestimate the fact that it’s already having impact. There have been losses to livestock. There are signs and growing signs of malnutrition. We are at risk of poor farmers invoking coping mechanisms and thus becoming poorer and more vulnerable over time. But again, the important thing here is this is almost an act of emergency prevention. If we move now, if other donors, if others move with us, we think we can do two things: avert the worst impacts, and protect some of the development gains that that country has made over many years.

The UN estimates that what is needed urgently over the next three months is $268 million. We are also moving seeds, $4 million worth of seeds very quickly now. This is another critical factor for farmers. Obviously, if they’re able to make the planting season, they will not be dependent in the coming year.

So our team will be led by a woman named Kate Farnsworth. She is one of our most experienced DART leaders. And again, what they will do is work with partners, the government, the UN agencies to expand and accelerate the response to this.

I will conclude just by reinforcing the point that this is something different. We are challenging the world not just to respond to human suffering, but to respond quickly enough to prevent something even worse. So with that, I’m happy to take questions.

MR KIRBY: Arshad.

QUESTION: Two quick things. You said, I think, that the need was $268 million.

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: For the next three months.

QUESTION: Yeah. How much is the United States going to contribute toward that need? And then second, you talked about poor farmers adopting coping strategies that would make them even poorer. What do you mean by that?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Sure. On your first question, we have provided over $500 million to date, and we are prepared to look at more. As I say, we’re doing the seeds now. Part of what a DART team does is, with other partners who are responding, looks at what the gaps are, what the needs are. Where we need to respond, we will. But the other thing we are doing – and part of the reason we are announcing this in the way we are – is we are asking our partners in the donor community to move with us. So we will cover gaps as they are needed, but we’re also working very hard to make sure other countries step up.

What happens in a situation like this to those who are the most vulnerable, the extreme poor, is that if a harvest is short because of a drought, they have very few choices. They may be forced to sell their livestock; they may be forced even to sell their tools and implements. We’ve seen a lot of cases where they’re forced to eat their seeds as a matter of survival. You get into a worst-case scenario if they’re forced to sell their land or abandon their land for temporary employment.

Now, one of the things that’s happened in Ethiopia, which we have been proud to support but is something we are doing around the world much more in earnest, is work that we frame under the banner of resilience, which is designed to reduce the vulnerability of extremely poor people to the kinds of external shocks they experience all the time, right – droughts, conflicts, whatever it may be.

In the case of Ethiopia, there’s been considerable progress of something called the Productive Safety Net Program, for example – we were able to visit it recently – where through harvesting small amounts of water that can be used for livestock for people and for agriculture they can build a buffer so that when people face things like drought they’ve got something additional to fall back on, so that, if you will, there are more coping mechanisms. And we avoid what often happens in crises like this, is that the poorest people cope; they may survive, but they end up poorer coming out of a crisis than going into it.

MR KIRBY: Ros.

QUESTION: Hi, Rosiland Jordan, Al Jazeera English. Madam Administrator, one of the complaints that we’ve heard from people in the more rural areas is that – not that the aid isn’t available, but they worry about it being diverted for political reasons. Given that there is such a pronounced effort to try to prevent widespread malnutrition and a possible famine, what is the U.S. doing to encourage the Ethiopian Government to not let this sort of political diversion happen, as you get closer to the communities that are really in need?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yeah. Look, making sure that assistance gets to the areas where it’s needed is a priority and something we focus on in every operation we conduct. In this case, one of the things that has been done – and this has been a joint exercise of everybody responding to this – is mapping out the areas that are worst effected. So there are actually maps that show these are the areas we need food, this is when we need it, this is the level of vulnerability.

So our first-order effort is to follow the map, right. So we have facts and evidence that show us where the assistance is needed the fastest and what kind of assistance. There are 2 million people who are facing acute water shortages. These are people who rely on livestock. So the evidence and the facts drive us in the first instance. We and our partners always have in place robust monitoring systems to make sure that it gets where it needs to go. So that’s basically the way that we will approach this.

MR KIRBY: Matt.

QUESTION: Hi. Matt Lee with AP. I’m just wondering, the 500 million is since when that the U.S. --

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: That is since the fall of 2015.

QUESTION: That’s – and who else has contributed? Has anyone else?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yes. The European Union, the UK, Canada, obviously UN agencies. There is a UN appeal, and in some cases you look at some other appeals, the response has been reasonably prompt, but it’s insufficient. And so one of the things we agreed at the event we did with the Secretary-General is to be a little bit more forward-leaning in saying here’s what we need by what date in order to fight and try to keep ahead of the impacts of the drought.

QUESTION: Right. The 268 that is needed is on top of the 500 million that you --

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yes. That’s over the next three months

QUESTION: -- and what every – and what everyone else has already contributed as well?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yeah. There’s a base of what’s already been provided. So that’s 500 million, plus what others have provided. What we’ve done is looked at – we’ve got the maps. We know where people are, what the needs are, and done an estimation – the UN has – of here is what we need over the next three months to manage this in such a way that we minimize to the greatest extent possible people falling further behind, right, so just to keep on top of it for three months.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: In addition to what you already have in hand?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yes, this is above and beyond what’s already been done.

QUESTION: So – but so – and this is my last one – so you are looking for – hoping people will follow your – the U.S. lead here --

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yes, indeed.

QUESTION: -- by contributing more money or by sending DART – their equivalent of a DART team?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Different countries respond in different ways, so I think that’s their call whether they need more personnel. I think the first order of business is we need the resources by dates certain in order to keep ahead of this. Because, as you all know very well, what too often happens is we wait until the newspaper and the televisions are littered with images of starving children. In this case, there is a great deal of human suffering now, but we think it’s more prudent to get ahead of it.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Thank you very much.

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you take one more question?

MR KIRBY: Yeah. Can we take one more?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Sure.

MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So what can you tell us about the magnitude? Ten million people – for how many months do they need the assistance?

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yeah. That’s a good question. The way we look at that – I mentioned Southern Africa, for example. When we began looking at this – and one of the things we are able to do through our early warning system is look at things on a constant basis. Southern Africa is looking to be worse than we had thought. And in the case of Ethiopia, we are constantly looking at the numbers to try to determine are we staying at 10 or are we moving to 11 or are we getting ahead and moving down. So that’s an iterative process that’s done on a regular basis.

The way those numbers will work is, if there is a response that is timely, those numbers will be level for a while and come down. The longer it takes for the world to respond to this, the greater the chance that those numbers will come up. And I – if you want to follow this, we – the United Nations and the government – will be constantly updating the numbers based on the latest information that we have.

QUESTION: In the case of Ethiopia, how much money is the government putting forth? Because there has been announcement --

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Yeah. The government has actually put forth a fair amount of money. As I recall – and don’t quote me on this; I think you should ask them for the number – they were, I think 350, 400 --

QUESTION: 1.2 billion is what they said.

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: No, no, no. Well, maybe. Maybe. That may be their number. I’m aware of the last announcement they made when I was there, which was significant. I think what is significant here is the government is responding and they are putting money into the mix and doing their equivalent of kind of an emergency request and adding money to the budget. But I would refer to them for the exact numbers.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR SMITH: Thanks very much.

MR KIRBY: Thanks, Gayle. Appreciate it.