Across the eastern Horn of Africa, more than 11 million people -- a number greater than the populations of Houston and New York City combined -- are now in need of emergency assistance to survive. Today, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs; Dr. Reuben Brigety, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); and Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg of USAID held a special press briefing on this humanitarian crisis.
Assistant Secretary Carson said, "We in the United States Government have been responding to the evolving humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa for some time, and my colleagues and I will provide you with additional details on this situation. However, I wanted to underline the importance that we attach to providing an appropriate and timely response in full partnership with the international community. Severe drought, poor infrastructure and insecurity have had a debilitating impact on the welfare of millions of people in this region, especially in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. This crisis has resulted in severe malnutrition, acute hunger, and rising levels of starvation. It has generated extraordinary refugee flows across thousands of miles in East Africa.
"The current crisis in the Horn has long-term and short-term implications. It threatens the lives of those at risk, especially young children and women. And it also endangers the hard-won development gains and the future prospects of millions of people throughout East Africa and the Horn. Today, over 11 million people are in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa. In Kenya, an estimated 3.6 million people have been affected. This includes refugees, rural pastoralists, and urban poor who are unable to buy adequate food because of escalating prices.
"In Ethiopia, at least 4.5 million people are in need of assistance. Almost 3 million people need assistance in Somalia. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees already in Kenya and in Ethiopia, new arrivals are coming in at staggering daily rates. Many of these most recent refugees are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition, and there may be many more in need of assistance in Eritrea, where a repressive regime fails to provide data on the humanitarian needs of its own people. The free flow of information is what allows people to make early choices that can help avert catastrophe. We urge the Government of Eritrea to cooperate with the UN agencies and other international organizations to address the issue of hunger and food shortage in that country.
"The State Department and USAID have been working with the international community and governments in the region to respond to food, water, shelter, and sanitation needs of affected populations. As we work to address the short-term immediate needs in the region, we will continue to implement our Feed the Future initiative as part of our long-term strategy to mitigate the effects of prolonged drought and food shortage in this area in the future. The Feed the Future program is intended to increase agricultural productivity, shift away from rain-fed agriculture, promote better storage techniques, employ modern farming methods, and utilize science and technology to assist populations in adapting to increasing erratic weather patterns throughout the Horn of Africa. By investing in and working closely with regional governments, we hope the Feed the Future program will help reduce regional vulnerabilities to these types of humanitarian crises in the future.
"An especially complex and difficult component of the Horn of Africa's humanitarian crisis is the high number of Somali refugees flowing into both Ethiopia and Kenya. This is a result of three overlapping and intersecting problems. The first is the extreme climate-induced drought that has prevailed intensely for the past two years and cyclically for more than 50 years. The second is the absence of a functioning central government in Somalia for over two decades. And the third is the presence of the anti-Western terrorist organization Al-Shabaab in south central Somalia. Al-Shabaab's activities have clearly made the current situation much worse. In January 2010, Al-Shabaab prohibited international humanitarian workers and organizations from operating in their areas of control. And its continued refusal to grant humanitarian access has prevented the international community from responding to and mitigating some of the cumulative and most disastrous consequences of the drought in south central Somalia.
"We have seen the recent reports that Al-Shabaab claims that it will finally allow international humanitarian aid into areas under its control. We are consulting with international organizations that have worked in these areas to verify if there has been any real change in Al-Shabaab's policies that would allow us and others to operate freely and without taxation imposed for humanitarian deliveries. Al-Shabaab's current policies are wreaking havoc and are not helping Somalis living in the south central part of that country.
"The drought and humanitarian crisis in the Horn will not end next week or next month. As this crisis and its humanitarian needs expand, the international community and host governments will be called upon to do more to respond to the immediate and critical humanitarian assistance needs in the Horn of Africa. We recognize the measures that the countries in the region are putting in place, and we applaud our partners who have already responded generously to the appeals for assistance. As we look for ways to implement more comprehensive approaches, we hope potential donors will increase food, shelter, and financial contributions as part of a focused campaign to meet the critical needs of the region."
You can read the full transript of the briefing here.