Signing Ceremony for Humanitarian Assistance to Mitigate Effects of El Nino

Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr.
Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr.

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr.

USAID and World Food Program Humanitarian Assistance Signing Ceremony

WFP Offices, Belgravia, Harare

Good afternoon. I am pleased to represent the United States Government at this joint signing ceremony with the World Food Program.  I am so excited that r, we are providing $10 million dollars in additional humanitarian assistance for vulnerable Zimbabweans. This brings the total U.S. Government contribution in response to the drought to $35 million dollars.

As you are all too well aware, Zimbabwe is enduring its second straight year of drought as a result of El Niño. Farmers are experiencing large-scale crop failure while watching their livestock die. The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) estimated last June that 1.5 million rural Zimbabweans would experience food insecurity from January to March of this year, the peak of the ‘lean season’ months, when food is scarce between harvests.  As you all know, the newly released ZIMVAC rapid assessment report indicates that the situation  is much worse than expected, and the number of rural Zimbabweans who are currently food insecure has increased to over 2.8 million, or 30 percent of the rural population. I commend the Government of Zimbabwe for recognizing the severity of the drought and issuing a disaster declaration. This declaration will allow for the mobilization of critical resources, including resources provided by the United States.

The United States Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, is providing life-saving food assistance for 600,000 vulnerable Zimbabweans, thanks to these additional resources. The U.S. Government is proud to work with our longstanding and trusted partner, the World Food Program (WFP), and its many implementing partners, to deliver this assistance quickly and efficiently to the communities and people who need it most.

Of this additional $10 million contribution, $5 million will be allocated for food rations and cash transfers for the purchase of food.  These food and cash distributions will maintain the nutritional status of vulnerable Zimbabweans and alleviate suffering for those affected by the drought.

The other $5 million in new funding will allow WFP to restart its Productive Asset Creation program.  This activity provides monthly food rations or cash transfers in exchange for labor to build or rehabilitate community assets such as irrigation schemes, dip tanks, and dams.  This will enable the most vulnerable households to meet their immediate needs, while also improving infrastructure and livelihoods for the future.

We have been asked a lot lately, “How do you ensure that your food aid goes to the people who need it most?” I can assure you that USAID has a robust monitoring system in place to safeguard our food assistance.

USAID has also put mechanisms in place that enable people to report any grievances. There is a suggestion box and a help desk at all food distributions, and our partners follow up on all issues that arise. People can also contact USAID or their local authorities directly. We will act on any and all allegations of misuse of food assistance.

The United States is proud to be part of a coordinated  response to the drought. We work  closely with other donors to ensure there is no duplication of effort and that as many communities as possible are covered during this challenging time for Zimbabwe.

However, while we recognize that there is currently a need for this type of assistance, humanitarian assistance alone is not enough. The root causes of food insecurity and poverty must be tackled for Zimbabwe to one day be free from hunger.

To move beyond humanitarian efforts, USAID puts great emphasis on promoting agriculture and improved livelihoods opportunities, as well as improving nutrition, for those most affected by food insecurity. In addition to our contribution to WFP, the United States government through USAID is providing $100 million over five years to our development food assistance partners, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture and World Vision. These partners aim to address the underlying causes of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition and have rapidly scaled up to respond to the current drought.  USAID has also provided $20 million over five years under President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to promote agricultural recovery and livelihood development among small-scale farmers for crops and livestock.

Although, I have only recently returned to this great country, it has saddened me to see cracked earth, dry riverbeds, and wilted crops.  However, I also see hard-working, serious people, and I see rural communities coming together to build, to learn and to invest in their futures. The United States is proud to work hand-in-hand with the people of Zimbabwe to help build a country that will one day be resilient in the face of drought. That is my dream for Zimbabwe, and that is why I am honored to take part in this signing ceremony today.

Thank you.