Ambassador Patricia Haslach interview with VOA

U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance to the Drought in Ethiopia

Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach

VOA Amharic Interview

November 25, 2015

VOA:  Thank you very much Ambassador Patricia Haslach, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia.

As you know, the failed spring and summer rains compounded with the arrival of El Nino, last weekend summer rains has left 8.2 million Ethiopians in need of American [inaudible] assistance.  Tell me how the U.S. has been supporting the response to this emergency.

Ambassador Haslach:  First of all I want to thank you for inviting me, and in fact it’s on the eve of the U.S. Thanksgiving, and I think it’s important that we talk about helping people out in the world, especially on the eve of Thanksgiving.  We were helped.  Our first pilgrims were helped in the United States by some of the native Americans, and we feel that we’ve been, thanks to early warning and our careful tracking of the progression of the El Nino in the Horn of Africa that U.S. the government through our U.S. Agency for International Development has been making both food and non-food assistance contributions early and robust.  We have been keeping pace with the government’s release of its humanitarian needs document, or Humanitarian Requirements Document known as the HRD.

When the HRD first was released back in August, well, the number of people that were in need was put at about 4.5 million and then recently, in mid-October, the government revised that estimate up to 8.2 million.  So the U.S. government is providing, currently, one point, sorry, 128 point million in emergency food assistance for Ethiopians in 2015.

This includes 42.7 million which was provided before the revised Humanitarian Requirements Document came out in August, and 85.7 million in additional support in direct response to new requests from the government of Ethiopia.

And I just want to let you know that the government says it’s planning on releasing yet another version of the Humanitarian Requirements Document sometime in early December, and we stand poised to help the government with both food assistance, which I’ve just detailed to you, as well as with non-food assistance.

I can also discuss a little bit about our regular development assistance to Ethiopia through what’s known as the government’s Productive Safety Net program, if you’re interested.

VOA:  Sure, you can go ahead and tell me about the Productive Safety Net program.

Ambassador Haslach:  The Productive Safety Net was set up in 2005 and the U.S. government is one of the donors that contributes to the Productive Safety Net program.

It’s aimed at people that are chronically food insecure, and it started in some of the highland areas, and more recently since the 2006 drought it has been expanded to the pastoral areas.

Every year a certain number of people, this year it’s a little over seven million people, have been diagnosed as chronically food insecure, and the government and the donors provide food and cash to get the families through a couple of difficult months, you know, when they don’t have any of their production left.

This year, so we have those people that are on the Protective Safety Net program, and to which we contribute about $100 million a year.  And in addition to that we have the people that have been identified in the government’s Humanitarian Requirement Document, and they are being, we are providing assistance. And that is emergency food assistance.  So there are two separate things here.  One is our development assistance to the Productive Safety Net program; and the other is emergency food assistance.

And we’re also providing non-food assistance.  You’d probably ask why is that critical?  But in addition, to food you need water, you need medicine.  There have been some outbreaks of disease.  You need feed, you need seeds, so we’ve been providing about $7.6 million when the government came out with its revised estimates in August.

Then on top of that, with the new revised estimate in October, we’ve provided an additional $11.7 million.

Again, we stand poised, should the government need additional assistance in that area as well when they release the next HRD.

It’s very important, though, for me to also emphasize that while Ethiopia and the countries in the Horn of Africa — it’s not just Ethiopia — are facing some of the driest conditions actually ever recorded due to El Nino.  Other areas are also going to be experiencing floods.  So some areas not enough rain; some areas too much rain.

But the government’s response here, I mean we are really dealing with a different situation.  In the 1980s I worked on the Horn of Africa drought.  I was working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, very active with our USAID colleagues in trying to address that terrible drought that affected the Horn of Africa.

But the government now is in a much much better position and is doing quite a bit.  We’ve been engaging with them on emergency response.  We’ve worked with them on setting up the productive safety net program, and they have been actually taking the lead.  They’ve contributed their own resources to this.  They’ve gone out in the international market to buy grain.  We understand, in fact, they’re going to be shipping some on some of the new train service from Djibouti.  Some of the local governments as well.  I’ve talked to some of the government leaders in the Somali region and some of my staff have talked to the government in the north, in Amhara.  And those governments too, have been stepping up in their own way to meet the needs of the citizens.  That’s again, water, seeds, fodder and food.

So while it’s one of the worst droughts we’ve ever seen, the government’s response and the donor’s response, especially the U.S. government’s response.  We, as you know, are one of the largest donors.  We will remain one of the largest donors.  We remain committed to helping countries in the Horn and Ethiopia deal with this natural phenomenon.  And we are also taking the lead with some of the other donors in really working with both the government as well as our implementing partners.  And I would like to point out that there are a number of international NGOs and local Ethiopian NGOs that have really been stepping up to the plate, and I would like to single out Save the Children, World Vision, Concern, Goal.  There have been a number.  And I have personally been out and seen feeding programs for children and food distribution programs through the WFP as well as through some of the other partners like Catholic Relief Services and CARE.

VOA:  You mentioned the government also using its own resources —

Ambassador Haslach:  Yes, yes.

VOA:  — through this crisis.  How have you been coordinating the effort of the government with that of the response of the international community like the United States?

Ambassador Haslach:  Well we couldn’t do any of it without coordinating with the government.  The Prime Minister and I have discussed this.  The Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonnen, has been put in charge of organizing both the government response and the response with the donors, and we’re of course working very very closely with [Atu Matiku] who has been the government’s designee to work on this emergency crisis.

So we’ve been working very very closely.  As you know, it’s important that we all coordinate the arrival of food.  It’s coming into right now at Djibouti and possibly using some of the other ports in the region.  But that means everything has to be coordinated.  We want to make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts.  We want to make sure that all the people that need to be helped are being helped.

VOA:  When you provide assistance to this emergency, you provide not directly to the government but to your partners of Ethiopia.  Tell me how this works.

Ambassador Haslach:  We work both through our UN partners.  The World Food Program on food, but also UNICEF, OCHA.  We work through all of the different UN bodies that operate here.  And then we also work through what we call our implementing partners, and I mentioned some of them.  Catholic Relief Services, CARE, Save the Children, World Vision.  They’re all active in helping us to provide emergency food relief.

May I also draw your attention to one other area where we’ve been providing assistance, and that is in helping the refugees.  Because remember, Ethiopia is host to over 800,000 refugees from Eritrea, South Sudan, Somalia, and some in the Afar region.  And we are very appreciative, and I think the whole world is appreciative at how generous Ethiopia has been in keeping its doors open to these refugees.  But the refugees also need to be fed.  So we have a separate process through the UNHCR and other UN organizations on providing food to refugees in the camps.

VOA:  I know you touched on it, but let me take you back to the assistance you give to the emergency situation here.  Now why is it you provided to your partners in operating in Ethiopia rather than providing the government —

Ambassador Haslach:  The government has its own mechanisms for responding to the drought.  We, of course, you know, receive our funding from the U.S. Congress and we have rules and regulations on how we provide food assistance.

VOA:  How do you make sure the assistance goes to the intended populations?

Ambassador Haslach:  Of course monitoring and evaluation is one of the key components to all development and humanitarian assistance, and we have a very robust team here working with our partners and with the government to make sure that the intended recipients are the ones that are receiving, for example, the food rations.  Families receive special food rations.  Young children receive supplemental food.  We want to make sure that when they receive that food that it is actually getting to the children.

VOA:  When you say in your statement announcing the 97 million U.S. dollars.

Ambassador Haslach:  Right.

VOA:  You said you have some prepositioned supplies.

Ambassador Haslach:  Yes.

VOA:  What does this mean?

Ambassador Haslach:  Well, the government and the World Food Program have stocks already set up throughout the country.  You have to get the grain in those warehouses distributed, and then we’ll bring in additional food supplies.

I think our major concern is going to be after the new year.  I think right now we’re in a pretty good position with the government stocks, with the government going out in the market and purchasing grain, with the WFP stocks that have been in country.  I think what we’re aiming at now is if the numbers are revised upward, and we think they’re going to be revised upward, that we have enough food to get into the country in time to be able to meet those needs.

Now we’re looking at the, basically there have been two failures of the short rain and a less than robust long rain, and so we want to make sure, you know, we can’t predict what might be happening, but I think the whole first of the year through to the end of 2016 we’re going to be watching very very carefully the impacts of El Nino.  We hope there’s not a follow-on La Nina effect.  So we’re going to be watching very carefully.

But what’s important is, you can’t just all of a sudden decide you need to get food into the country.  You have to bring it on ships, you have to offload it, you have to bag it, and then you have to get it into Ethiopia.  So there’s a long lead time that’s required there.

But fortunately, there were stocks available.  But what you worry about is the needs rise and you start to deplete the stock.  So we’re very very focused on again, keeping apace with the revised food needs and non-food needs in the country.  But I want to assure you that the United States, our response has been early and it has been robust, and we have been working very closely with the government in trying to meet these needs.

VOA:  UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, visited Ethiopia last week.

Ambassador Haslach:  Yes, I met with her when she was here.

VOA:  Did you have discussions with her?

Ambassador Haslach:  Yes, we did.  She met with all of the donors when she was here.  And I think it was good that she came, because until you actually go to a place and see what it’s like, you don’t get the full picture.  So I think she’s gone back to Geneva, and I think the UN is committed to responding.  And they have been responding, but continuing to respond.

VOA:  UN OCHA’s [inaudible] in Addis Ababa says she left Ethiopia with an understanding that an urgent scale-up of international support was required.   What do you make of this?

Ambassador Haslach:  I just think I confirmed that.

VOA:  So you believe that, you know, more support from the international community is needed —

Ambassador Haslach:  Oh, yes.

VOA:  — even before the revised —

Ambassador Haslach:  We anticipate that the HRD, the Humanitarian Requirements Document, when it comes out in December will reflect a larger number of people that are in need.  And so we will need to respond to that.  So that’s what she’s talking about and that’s what I’m talking about.  I can’t give you the exact number because the government hasn’t released the report.  When they do, we will respond to it.  But we’re anticipating, because of what’s happened with the weather, that the number of people that are in need of emergency assistance will increase.  And we, the U.S. government, the other donors and the UN, stand ready to try to meet those needs.

Now I will point out there are a lot of needs out there in the world right now, so coming out with a revised report in a timely fashion is critically important.  There are needs with other refugee populations in the world.  There are needs in South Sudan.  And making sure that we can all respond to those needs in a timely fashion requires that the needs be publicized early, so we can all respond to them.  Because, as I mentioned to you before, it takes a lot of lead time both to get the funds and to get the foods into country.

VOA:  She described this year’s drought as particularly harsh.  Do you feel —

Ambassador Haslach:  I started out by saying it’s some of the driest conditions ever recorded in history.

VOA:  Even before the revised report comes out there are reporters suggesting that the number of people needing emergency food assistance will reach 15 million.

Ambassador Haslach:  I don’t want to speculate until the government releases its report.

VOA:  Ambassador, UN believes Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought in decades.

Ambassador Haslach:  Yes.

VOA:  How has, you know, the country been coping with this drought so far?  I know you touched on it, but —

Ambassador Haslach:  I touched on it.  It is the worst drought in decades, but the government’s response has been also impressive.  Donor response, our response, the U.S. government response, and the government’s response.

I think every day I see an article in the newspaper about the drought and what the government’s doing.  I’ve met with the regional government in Somalia, the Somali region.  We’ve met with other officials both at the regional level and the federal level.  The government is responding and so are the donors.

VOA:  Is there a consensus between the government and donors like the United States regarding the magnitude of the drought and its consequences?  Because —

Ambassador Haslach:  We will follow the government’s Humanitarian Requirements Document.  That is the guiding document that determines what the emergency food and non-food needs are in the country.

VOA:  Because there have been media reports suggesting that the amount of aid has been too small a quantity for the scale of emergency, and others believe people have been dying of hunger in some parts of the areas.

Ambassador Haslach:  I’m relying on the government, the donors and my government for the information.  I can’t speculate on what other journalists and others are saying about this drought.  I can only give you my response, and I can only tell you what the U.S. government has been doing, and we have been early and we have been robust in our response.  Thank you.

VOA:  Do you believe the government and the international partners could have done better?

Ambassador Haslach:  I think that we’ll see.  I don’t think this crisis is over, so I think we need to be focused on addressing the humanitarian requirements now and the ones we anticipate that are coming.  I prefer not to do a lessons learned finger-pointing at this time.  I think it’s more important that we focus on what the needs are and responding to them as quickly as possible.

VOA:  Ambassador Patricia Haslach, thank you very much for your time.

Ambassador Haslach:  Oh, you’re welcome.  Thank you.