About the Author: Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.
As the sun sets and the prayer calls ring out, I wrap up the day in Jijiga, Ethiopia, just 65 kilometers from the border with Somalia. Camels walk gracefully across a horizon dotted with temporary dwellings of the pastoralists who make their home in this area. I am here on the first stop of a five-day journey that will take me and a few embedded reporters from Europe and Africa through the easternmost region of Ethiopia and then to northern Tanzania.
As the newly-arrived Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, I am on my first overseas trip to observe how the UN food and agriculture organizations help reduce hunger in rural communities and how their expertise can be brought to bear for more sustainable agricultural growth.
In Jijiga, livestock are the lifeblood of the community. Wealth is measured in the number of cattle, sheep, goats, and camel an individual owns. Members of this community are working hard to manage these precious assets by attending Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)-supported training to better monitor and report on animal disease and through selling their wares at an active livestock market built with USAID funding.
I was taken by surprise by the gratitude expressed to me for U.S. assistance here in this Muslim-majority region which borders Somalia. Thanks came from women my age that did not attend school but assured me that both their sons and their daughters are in school today. Appreciation flowed during conversations with female entrepreneurs who run make-shift coffee and tea “cafes” at the livestock market.
In terms of clear measurable impact, the most impressive program I learned about in detail today was the World Food Program’s (WFP) Hubs and Spokes delivery system. It is a shining example of successful partnerships that the UN nurtures with the local community. Joint committees of federal, regional, local, and military reps plus WFP field staff at the “hubs” make for more efficient food assistance delivery and distribution through the “spokes.”
Check back tomorrow for more snapshots of this fascinating region and its resilient people.
Read Ambassador Cousin's next entry from Ethiopia.