Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 24, 2021
Thank you, Sam, for that kind introduction. It is an honor to take part in the InterAction Forum this year. I know how important these two days are for all of you and the communities you serve.
The lessons you take from this forum will save lives.
After all, you are literally on the front lines. Your teams take enormous risks each and every day to serve the world’s most vulnerable. I’ve seen your work up close. I spent over half of my 35-year career working on humanitarian and refugee issues in the foreign service. No matter what country I was in, or what issue I was working on, we relied on you – constantly.
So, let me be very clear: The United States values our partnership. And we recognize your indispensable role in making bilateral and multilateral cooperation work.
That’s why, on my first day here at the United Nations, I met with NGOs on the ground in Yemen. They shared stories about the dire conditions in a country brought to its knees by six years of fighting. I was in awe hearing about the heroic work many of you are doing there. Your coordination and advocacy on Yemen have been vital. You raised the alarm and mobilized the community to try to avert a deadly famine.
On my first day, I also spoke with several other NGO heads to hear more about the global landscape. Three themes quickly rose to the surface.
First was the wide-ranging and devastating second-order impacts of COVID-19 on the world’s most vulnerable.
More than 168 million children have been out of school for a full year now, which catalyzes its own spinoff crises. Like how, according to UNESCO, 11 million girls may never go back to school. That’s not just a threat to their advancement. It also puts them at higher risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriages, and other forms of gender-based violence.
To help those girls – and so many others around the world suffering from all the myriad effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – the United States is providing up to $4 billion in funding for COVAX. We see this as a down payment for our efforts to end the global pandemic and protect the most vulnerable.
Second, all the NGOs I’ve spoken to have said we need to do more in the Security Council on humanitarian issues.
I agree wholeheartedly.
Over the last decade, conflict was the leading driver of food insecurity. Today, we have famine looming in at least six countries. We cannot allow that to happen on our watch. We can still prevent these tragic outcomes.
That’s one reason why we made the signature event of our March Presidency of the Security Council an open debate on conflict-induced hunger. In particular, we shined a spotlight on the dire situations in Ethiopia and Yemen, where over two million children under the age of five are at risk of starvation and acute malnutrition.
Third, I heard again and again that the world needs American leadership. That it needs us to reengage at the United Nations and around the world.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Under President Biden’s leadership, we rejoined the World Health Organization, because we need to coordinate on COVID-19 and build better global preparedness for future pandemics to come. We also know how important the WHO is to so many of you, working by your sides to respond to emergencies like Ebola and cholera.
We also proudly rejoined the Paris Agreement, which we helped form, because the only way to reverse the effects of the climate crisis is to join forces.
We restored financial and political support to the United Nations Population Fund, eliminating the global gag rule on reproductive rights.
And we immediately re-engaged with the Human Rights Council and have announced our intention to seek election in Geneva, so that we can advance our most-cherished democratic values around the globe.
All of this is to say, America is doing everything we can to advance peace, progress, and prosperity around the world – through principled diplomacy and effective multilateral institutions.
That’s where you come in. Because on every one of these issues – from COVID-19 to climate change, ongoing conflicts to humanitarian crises – we need your help. I need your unfiltered voice. I need you to tell me what’s really happening on the ground.
I need you to tell me where and how we need to act – even if it’s not what we want to hear. More broadly, your advocacy and action are critical for meeting the world’s most pressing challenges. I’m counting on your partnership, and I want you to know you can count on ours.
So, thank you for everything that you do. I look forward to working with you in the days, weeks, and months ahead.