Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
January 29, 2023
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s like a full day of back-to-back meetings. Some of you were in some of those meetings today. We started this morning with His Excellency President Hassan Sheikh. We met with ATMIS. We met with the UN. We met with NGOs. And I want to thank all of them for taking the time to give me the extraordinary briefings that they provided.
Almost 30 years ago, I served in Kenya as the regional refugee coordinator for the Horn of Africa. At that time, a brutal war had consumed Somalia. Tens of thousands of Somali refugees flooded into Kenya, where I was stationed. I spent countless days in the Dadaab refugee camp, where many of the refugees were placed. And by the time I left Kenya, there were about 120,000 refugees in those camps. These were refugees who were fleeing violence and were desperate for safety. Many of them women who had been victims of rape. The toll of this war was obvious, and it was lasting.
Today, the Dadaab camps have over 400,000 refugees – and many families are there on their third generation – having spent more than 30 years in Kenya. Their lives had been upended by conflict, and people were traumatized and exhausted. It really was heartbreaking at the time that I was there in the 1990s, and I know it’s still heartbreaking today.
On top of all of that, so many of the families I met with, and especially children, were experiencing what we call severe acute malnutrition. And let me tell you what that looks like. I saw little children grow gaunt. Their hair thinned and yellowed, and many of them lifelessly lying on the floor. Their arms would whittle down to bones. Literally just bones. Parents were desperate for help. But too often, there was no help and there was nothing that they could do. I saw a little girl die like that. Right in front of me. And this is what starving to death and wasting looks like.
Nearly 30 years later, that image is still seared in my mind. And when you see something like that, you never, never forget it. So, when we talk about acute malnutrition, that’s not just a technical term for me. And when I hear the word ‘famine’ – I see what happened to that little girl happening across a whole swath of a country.
And that’s why, when I started this job in New York two years ago, I made conflict and hunger our first signature event in the Security Council. And when Russia’s further invasion into Ukraine exacerbated the global hunger crisis and turned a dark situation into a dire crisis, we called a ministerial in New York and launched a “Roadmap for Global Food Security”. It was a call to step up. It was a call to action. That roadmap now has the support of more than 100 countries. This moment demands this kind of international solidarity. Because we’re facing the worst global hunger crisis any of us have ever seen.
Climate change has triggered an unprecedented drought and turned fields fallow – as we have seen right here in Somalia. Conflicts, like the one caused by al-Shabaab, or the one in Ukraine caused by Russia, have driven farmers from their homes. And COVID sparked a supply chain crisis that has made these all the more worse.
As complicated as it all sounds, the conclusions I heard today from President Hassan Sheikh, UN humanitarian groups, and the NGOs I met with, are not. The humanitarian situation in Somalia is as dire as any in the world right now. In fact, this combination of COVID, conflict, and climate – and the climate crisis – the three C’s – brought that horrific word back to Somalia.
Famine is the ultimate failure of the international community. In a world abundant with food, entire communities should never, ever have to starve to death. We cannot accept that failure.
When the longest drought in Somalia on record led to initial famine projections, the United States took action. Since 2022’s fiscal year, the United States has provided more than $2.5 billion of lifesaving assistance to the Horn of Africa, and 1.3 billion of that directly to Somalia.
Our funding last year accounted for more than 80 percent of the World Food Program’s emergency operations in the Horn of Africa. Four times greater than the contributions of all other countries combined. That aid has brought food, water, shelter to the Somali people. The recent findings of the Somalia Famine Review Committee showed that the swift increase of assistance, mobilized in large part by us, delayed the onset of famine in many parts of Somalia.
Speed saves lives. Scale-ups prevent deaths. It’s that simple. But unfortunately, we have not yet averted famine. We have delayed it. We have postponed it. But the threat still looms large. In fact, widespread hunger-related deaths can and do occur well before, even in the absence of a famine declaration.
Starting this April, that same risk returns, especially in Somalia’s Bay Region and right here in Mogadishu where so many internally displaced people are most vulnerable. And according to the UN, without contributions from other donors, critical food and nutrition assistance supporting 4.6 million people in Somalia will end by that time. The number of people affected by the drought more than doubled last year. More people need help. Which means more of us have to help.
Today, I’m proud to announce over $40 million in additional funding from the United States to Somalia to save lives and meet humanitarian needs. This is in addition to the $1.3 billion that we’ve already provided. This funding from the American people, through USAID, will address extreme food gaps, treat severe malnutrition in women and children, and combat the current outbreak of deadly diseases like measles and cholera.
Also, during the Africa Leaders Summit, President Biden and the African Union announced a new joint strategy – a new joint strategic partnership to combat food insecurity on the African continent.
But I want to be very clear here. The United States cannot do this alone. This is a collective responsibility. This is about our shared humanity. In recent years, we have cheered as a new group of donors emerged to respond to dire humanitarian crises. Now, today, the United States is asking other donors and the world to go bigger and be bolder. This is the moment to bolster your humanitarian contributions. To make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable. To provide food and nutrition and health care access, access to water, sanitation, and shelter. To save lives. To give people dignity.
Those who face famine are, but for the accident of time and place, no different from any of us here in this room.
This is our call to action today. And I’m calling on the international community – especially countries with the means to give more – to heed the call of humanity. Amidst this crisis, it has been devastating to watch some traditional donors cut down their humanitarian budgets. We cannot slash or even merely sustain our aid budgets. We must increase our funding in the year ahead. We must turn this famine postponement into a cancelation. And that will require more countries to contribute. More countries to help. Both bilaterally and multilaterally.
And to that end, I am grateful to the United Nations for surging staff to the Horn last year, and for putting forward a new position dedicated to Famine Prevention and Response Coordination. My message to the UN: Keep going. We need to be even bolder. And braver. Leaders here in Somalia have recognized the threat of famine and asked for help.
Let’s work smarter and across projects that span humanitarian and development assistance to respond to that call. Let’s increase regular reporting in the UN Security Council, because it’s clearly a threat to international peace and security.
The UN has the tools to know where famine is about to strike, when it will happen, and what we can do to help. Let’s use those tools and take anticipatory action. Together, we must also do everything we can to support the safety and security of the local and international NGO community. They have bravely gone further into the field and risked their lives to deliver therapeutic food to remote communities. We must protect them and hold those who target them to account.
Because in 2023, the truth is, there is no reason we can’t get resources to people in acute need. None at all. That’s the difference between today and when I first encountered acute hunger 30 years ago. The technology has improved. We have made major, major advances in therapeutic feeding. We have the tools to track where acute hunger is happening and where it will get worse. We have everything we need. Now, all it takes is for more countries to step up and help the people of Somalia in their time of need.
So, this is my call to the international community. Let’s be ambitious. Let’s end famine forever. Let’s do it together. And let’s make that horrific ‘f’ word irrelevant once and for all.
Thank you. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Okay, now we have time for a couple of questions. We’re going to start with Abdirahman with Garowe Online.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mrs. Ambassador. My name is Abdirahman Jeylanni Mohamed for Garowe Online. So Ambassador, you have stated grave concern, but you said a great famine – let’s avoid the famine. But you announced a new package of assistance for Somalia. So, what are the key areas that (inaudible) in terms of food (inaudible)?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. It’s hard to pick a priority out of desperation. So, in order to avert a famine, you have to direct your efforts at all, and that’s what we’re doing.
QUESTION: Another question.
QUESTION: Thank you. Early today you met President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. What are the outcomes of that meeting?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I had the opportunity to follow up with the president on a meeting that we had in Washington during the Africa Leaders Summit. We had a very intense discussion about the security situation and his strategy to address the security situation and how we can assist. Of course, we talked about the looming famine and what needs to be done and what kinds of strategic efforts this government can take to address the long-term requirement to address famine so that it doesn’t happen again. We talked about the assistance that the U.S. provided – the U.S. is providing to assist. And I congratulated him on his efforts at state-building and peace and reconciliation.
MODERATOR: Next up we’ll go to Mohamed with The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hello, Ambassador. My name is Mohamed Botan and I’m with The Washington Post. Earlier today during your speech, you brought up how this severe drought is taking place, particularly in the Bay Region. Based on the current trajectory if things don’t change, do you believe it will spread to other parts of the country? Is there a specific timeframe in regard to the possible famine that awaits Somalia?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Certainly, there is a timeframe. Somalia has had five straight failed rainy seasons, and the next one is in – coming in March-April. So that’s the timeframe we’re looking at right now. If we don’t ramp up our efforts, when those rains fail in March and April, we’re going to see a situation that is more desperate than what we are facing now. And this is a situation that is not just in the Bay Region. It’s a situation that’s taking place here – right here in Mogadishu and further afield in this country. So, we can’t leave any stone unturned. We have to reach out everywhere.
MODERATOR: We have time for one last quick one, and we’ll go to Mike with The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Issuing a general call for more contributions from other countries allows countries to say, “She’s not talking about us.” Who specifically are you talking about, specifically?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The countries know who we’re talking about, and we have spoken specifically to countries to encourage them and urge them to pay more. I have asked the UN and their headquarters to approach those countries, as well as others, that they may identify who might be able to give more. I’m not going to name and shame today, but the countries know who they are.
QUESTION: How long before you name and shame?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We kind of do it sometimes. It’s possible to do that. But countries know who they are, and we will press them, and when they give more, we will give them credit for giving more.
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone. That’s all we have time for today. Thank you.