When Prime Minister Cameron meets President Obama in Washington today it will have been ten months since our two countries signed a new Partnership for Global Development. The partnership outlines specific areas where we are focusing our collective efforts, reaffirming our commitment to saving lives and improving human welfare around the world.
If you needed proof of how much more we can achieve by working together than acting alone, our response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa demonstrates the transformative impact of our partnership.
Over the last ten months, USAID and the UK's Department for International Development's (DFID) leadership and decisive action in the region has helped avert an even larger catastrophe. As heads of our nations’ respective development agencies, we have both visited the Horn of Africa and seen for ourselves the scale of the crisis, which placed more than 13.3 million people in need of emergency assistance. That is roughly the combined population of London and Washington. (Watch this video of Rajiv Shah and Dr. Jill Biden's visit to the Horn of Africa last year)
While the drought was regional, the crisis only led to famine in southern Somalia, where a governance failure and lack of access obstructed international relief efforts. This underscores the importance of the recent London Conference on Somalia hosted by Prime Minister Cameron that brought together over 50 countries and international organizations to consider how best to support Somalia not only on development but on issues like piracy, the political process and security. DFID led a parallel set of discussions on preventing future humanitarian crises.
Thanks to the generosity of the British and American people, our nations led a significant humanitarian response that helped save hundreds of thousands of lives in Somalia alone, and reached millions of people across the region with food, health care, and water and sanitation services.
But we must do more than provide relief. We must help countries build resilience, so they are prepared for disasters before they hit. USAID’s Famine Early Warning System provided some of the first alerts of the impending crisis, giving us time to pre-position food and health supplies in advance. And many of our programs on the ground have allowed families and smallholder farmers to weather the crisis.
In Ethiopia, for example, farmers receive cash and food in exchange for work on community projects through the government-led Productive Safety Nets Program, which both the U.S. and the UK support. Because of this program, 7.5 million people were able to withstand the drought without seeking emergency aid.
Farmers can also access loans and advice to help them take up new earning opportunities, enabling them to feed their families year round. This and other programs are helping to make a real difference to people’s lives.
Although the region will remain prone to droughts--and that vulnerability may only increase as a result of climate change--the simple truth is that we should be doing more to prevent these crises in the first place. We want the countries and communities of the region to have the capacity to weather and then bounce back from any future shocks. While we can’t prevent drought, we can prevent food crises.
Through President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative, USAID is partnering with governments, the private sector and smallholder farmers across 20 countries to boost crop yields and strengthen food security.
But in order for this to work, we need to bring the global development community together to focus on long-term, sustainable agriculture development.A major first step in this direction will occur later this month when East African Ministers will meet and agree a Common Program Framework to End Drought Emergencies. Setting out a range of measures to strengthen resilience, the framework will provide a basis for mobilizing and co-coordinating the work of the donors in the region. USAID, with UK support, has been actively working to make this meeting a success.
To further support these efforts, last September at the UN, together we set up an informal group of Political Champions for Disaster Resilience, which includes a small number of key international figures who are committed to promoting the importance of food security even after the headlines on the crisis have faded.
These are not easy issues, but they are critical to saving lives in the future. Building resilience will take time and requires a continued international commitment, but we should be proud of the efforts of the global community and our own commitment to results-oriented approaches. And we pledge that our organizations will continue to work in close partnership to improve lives and livelihoods around the world.