USAID official Michael Hess leaves for a two-week trip to East Africa on April 6th. He's the assistant administrator in the agency's Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. Hess says he’ll meet with partners like World Vision, the UN World Food Program, CARE, and Save the Children, among others, to evaluate the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and see where additional help is needed. The USAID official says he's planning to travel to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti, which provides a port for much of the emergency aid that enters the region.
Hess says his bureau recognized the threat posed by the drought several months ago, after warnings that the upcoming rainy seasons would likely be inadequate. He told Voice of America reporter William Eagle that since then, the US government has spent over 150 million dollars in food aid and other forms of assistance: “We’re estimating right now somewhere around 600 thousand metric tons or more (of food) will be needed for this crisis, and we’ve given about a third of that so far and other donors are kicking in. Things are getting mobilized and attention is being drawn to it. We just have to make sure we keep the effort up.”
Hess says the emergency is taking a heavy toll on pastoralists. Many of them have lost their livelihoods as green pastures have dried out and their cattle have died. He says the agency’s African Bureau has spent about 65 million dollars in 2006 alone to help pastoralists organize so their voices can be heard in Kenya, and around the world.
Hess rejects criticism that donors do not respond actively enough or early enough to humanitarian crises: “In this case, it certainly isn’t fair…. We started picking up on these issues in early October and have been working with the international community to get a response in there fairly quickly…. We want to make sure we alleviate the conditions that might cause some of these people to slip down to the chronically food insecure category. We don’t want them to do that and that’s what we’re trying to alleviate – and trying to alleviate the possibility of a famine as well.”