USAID Humanitarian Assistance to Southern Africa and Southern Africa Drought Relief

Africa Regional Media Hub Media Briefing with USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) R. David Harden

USAID Office of Food for Peace Director Dina Esposito

Moderator:  Thank-you. Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from across the continent and media gathered at various missions in Africa.

Today, we are joined by USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance David Harden.  Assistant Administrator Harden is speaking to us from Washington D.C.

We will begin with remarks from Assistant Secretary Harden, and then we will then open it up to your questions.  For those of you listening to the call in English, please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue.   If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1.

For those of you listening to the call in French and Portuguese, we have received some of your questions submitted in advance by email, and you may continue to submit your questions in English via email to  If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #ElNiño and follow us on @africamediahub.

Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately forty-five minutes.  And with that, I will turn it over to Assistant Administrator Harden.

Assistant Administrator Harden:  Hello everybody, ladies and gentlemen.  This is a great opportunity for me today, and I look forward to our conversation.

Before I actually get into my remarks, I want to frame my experience and my life just a bit.  Southern Africa means everything to me.  It really changed my life, and my family’s life, and my thinking, because I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana more than thirty years ago.  And I think what is compelling is, when we look at the drought today in Southern Africa, it is the worst drought in thirty-five years.  And so it allows us to kind of take a snapshot, not only of the crisis that we face today and the steps that we are undertaking, but the progress that has also been made since the early 1980s.  So wanted to kind of set that out.

Also, I just want to note more broadly, the USAID response to El Niño is big and bold and robust.  We’ve had over a billion dollars for El Niño, at large.  Now, in terms of Southern Africa, the focus on our conversation today, this is just a component of our El Niño response.

And then the last point I would just say is, you know, in the early 1980s when I was in rural Botswana, the difference between where we are then in terms of crisis preparation and prevention, and where we are now, is light years apart.  That doesn’t mean that real people in vulnerable communities aren’t suffering today, because they are.  But what it does mean is that we have the technology, and the capabilities, and the reach today that allows us to minimize risks, and allows us to really save people’s lives.  So for me, this is actually personal.

So let me begin.  As you know, Southern Africa is facing the worst drought in thirty-five years.  And our Famine Early Warning System, we call it FEWS NET, and we’re going to do a briefing for the SADC countries on our FEWS NET work here, estimates that 18 million people are facing heightened food insecurity.  Now there are other people in Southern Africa that are stressed, but by our calculations through our satellite imagery and our FEWS NET work, we have concluded at this point that 18 million people are at a level three risk.

And this is worrisome, this is troublesome, because with 18 million people at risk, it sends shocks through the entire economic and social systems.  And so there are risks of children who will have stunting, or farmers who will have to eat the seeds instead of the ones that they are planting.  There will be currency risks, there will be broader economic unemployment risks, and in the health sector I think that it is absolutely possible to see risk, both for HIV/AIDS patients, and in terms of increased risk for cholera.

Yesterday, in Botswana, in Gaborone, SADC launched a humanitarian appeal.  And we made a public announcement, both in Gaborone and to U.S. media yesterday, where we announced another 127 million dollars to respond.

Now, the profile of Southern Africa widely varies, and we are going to use our 127 million to target those that are most in need, and those countries that have been hit the hardest.  So for instance, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Lesotho, and Swaziland are going to be our target countries.  It doesn’t mean that we have ignored or don’t think about South Africa, and Botswana, and Zambia, but those countries in particular have made the biggest strides in progress, and are the ones that are most resilient, most capable of standing on their own.

And so, for me, that’s just a remarkable outcome, because I remember very clearly our drought relief efforts in the early 1980s, and the fact that through strides in governance, and technology, and innovation, and engagement with the private sector, a number of the African countries in Southern Africa have really demonstrated quite extraordinary resilience.  So we are happy about that.

I do want to just note that our 127 million dollars is in addition to the 300 million dollars of humanitarian assistance that we have put into the region since 2015, and is in addition to all of our development assistance, which ranks into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  And so even though I am speaking with you from Washington, know that we have missions and teams on the ground that are monitoring this very, very closely.

Let me just make one quick correction here.  The 127 million, well it was yesterday and today, adds up to a total of 300 million dollars.  It’s not in addition to the $300 million dollars.

So, what are we doing?  We are providing food to the most needy, we are helping communities mitigate the risk, we are working on the nexus between agriculture, water, and energy, we are helping with health programs, we are delivering seeds, we are working with farmers, and we are doing it now because we are ahead of the curve.  In the next three to six months, that is when we are going to see the heightened risk, and so our focus in this call and this announcement is now, because it is cheaper, better, and we save more lives from a pre-emptive early response rather than an after the fact response.

And I will tell you, we are working even with farmers in Kasane, Botswana, which is where I was thirty years ago, and not only there but across all of Southern Africa.  For instance, in Zimbabwe we are working with local communities to help with village and family gardens, with dams, with pastures.  We are introducing good, new technology.  We are running solar powered water pumps for hospitals so that they are able to provide clean water.

In Malawi, where Dr. Biden just was, and where we made an announcement not too long ago, we are working with farmers to support drip irrigation.  We are helping them get to a two crop season instead of a one crop season.  We are working with farmers to get drought resistant crops in, and to expand market yield, overall.

And so what we are doing, yesterday and today, is doubling down on our financial commitment, our humanitarian commitment, and our national commitment to our friends and neighbors in Southern Africa.

So I do want to just say that I think the U.S. is taking the lead here, and I think we have made a real, and big, and bold commitment, and we are going to operationalize it, it’s going to be targeted, it’s going to be on the ground.  We need others to join us.  We need other donors and multilateral institutions, and we need to work together to minimize the risk for the 18 million people that are going to potentially suffer.

And I think what is also striking and compelling to me is, we are partnering, we are the second chair.  SADC is the lead.  SADC is the one that is completely focusing on where we are going and how we are going to respond to this crisis.  They are leading the appeal.  And like good development partners we are there, but kind of a shoulder behind as SADC takes the lead.

So I think I have covered my overall points.  Dina Esposito is our Food for Peace lead, a brilliant officer on these issues.  Dina, do you have anything else you want to add to the overall context before we get to the Q and As?

Food for Peace Director Esposito: Thanks, Dave.  I think you have covered the territory very well.  I would just add that in AID we have been chairing for many months a multi-sectoral working group that is bringing together humanitarian and development actors in our agency to look at this response, which as Dave points out is about, first and foremost right now in the near term, addressing the huge humanitarian needs while simultaneously looking at the medium to long term multi-sectoral approach to tackling resilience, which is squarely noted in the SADC appeal, that we need this two-pronged approach.  And so we are trying to model that within AID, and within our programming approach to this drought.

Assistant Administrator Harden: So I think we are good on our side.  We are ready to take questions.

Moderator: Very good.  Thank you, Assistant Administrator Harden.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  Just a reminder, to ask a question please press *1 on your phone.  For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation, and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, the current refugee crisis in Africa, and the U.S. response to them.

Our first question is a question that was submitted in advance to us by M. Mguni from Mmegi Publications in Botswana.  He asks the following, “A big part of helping the region’s recovery will depend on assistance crossing borders and getting to targets as quickly as possible.  What are your comments on the state of preparation of the region’s infrastructure and logistics?”

Assistant Administrator Harden: Well first of all, thank you from my colleague from Botswana.  Look, I have worked in lots of tough operating environments around the world.  The infrastructure, the port system, the warehousing system, and the road structures in Southern Africa are nowhere…they are light years above of where I usually work.  So we’re feeling pretty good about cross-border trade and the customs protocol that is in place.  The ports in Southern Africa are fine and our warehousing is fine.  We are going to be able to run supplies up through various parts of Southern Africa, I think, pretty efficiently.

As typical in these cases, not only SADC, but their partners at the World Food Program, have established a logistics coordination cell.  Again, when I look at crises around the world and who runs extraordinary logistics cells, it is the World Food Program.  So this is by no means the most challenging logistics operation we have undertaken in a while.  In fact, it is refreshingly simple, if I might add, at least compared to where I typically work.  We have a massive warehouse in Durban, with a capacity of up to 30,000 tons of prepositioned commodities that we can ship throughout the region.  So, thank you from Botswana.

Moderator: Thank you, sir.  Our next question will be from Gabriele Steinhauser from the Wall Street Journal.

Media: Hi, a quick question.  How many of the 18 million that are under heightened food pressure, as you say, are in Zimbabwe?

Assistant Administrator Harden: I have that number for you.  The biggest number is in Malawi, I think.  But hold on just for one second.  We are sorting through our papers.  If I recall…I want to give you the exact number.  It’s 4.1 million.

Media: Okay, thank you.  And how many in Malawi?

Assistant Administrator Harden: Let me just run through the big numbers.  Now again, this is our current estimate, and this is subject to change as conditions change on the ground.  We have 6.5 million people who are at risk in Malawi, 4.1 in Zimbabwe, and 1.5 in Mozambique.  The numbers drop off pretty dramatically after that, you know, 650,000 in Madagascar and about 500,000 in Lesotho.

Media: Thank you.

Assistant Administrator Harden: Thank you.

Food for Peace Director Esposito: This is Dina Esposito.  If I could just jump in on Zimbabwe?

Moderator: Please.

Food for Peace Director Esposito: We are estimating that somewhere around forty percent of the rural population in Zimbabwe, that 4.1 million people are going to be food insecure.  By comparison, in 2015 it was around six percent.  So while we know that a lot of these communities are chronically food insecure, we do feel, as we pointed out, this is a historic moment, a historic drought, where needs are dramatically higher than what we would call a normal year in Southern Africa.  Somewhere around a one million ton food deficit for Zimbabwe, which is of course cause for concern.

Moderator: Thank you, Dina.  Our next question is from Karen Allen with the BBC.  Karen, go ahead?

Media: Hi, good afternoon to you all, and good morning in Washington.  Two questions rolled into one?  Is the money being rolled out all in one go, or is it over several years?  And also, 300 million out of 2.4 billion, where is the rest going to come from?

Assistant Administrator Harden: So the first question is, the money is going out this year.

Media: Okay, and that year being twelve months, before the year is up?

Assistant Administrator Harden: Yes, yes.  Dina, we have this right, correct?

Food for Peace Director Esposito: That is correct.  You’ve got it.

Assistant Administrator Harden: Yeah, okay.  And I think it is really important just to emphasize, this is our immediate humanitarian response, but we have missions in most of the SADC countries, and their development programs continue.  And it links very closely to the humanitarian assistance.  And so the health work, the governance work, the connection into resilience, all is ongoing, and it is all above where we are right now.  So with this 127 million, we are now at 300 million on the humanitarian assistance, alone.

Part of the reason why we are having this call today is to raise the clarion call for more help from other donors and elsewhere around the world.  So we are making our commitment, we are going to be big and bold, but we want others to join us.

Media: Thank you.

Moderator: Very good.  Our next question is from Imabre Twahirwafrom Kigali.

Media: Thank you so much.  This year’s focus is on the funding the full response to the SADC region.  And my question is, how will you be working with other UN humanitarian agencies to provide aid for the affected countries?

Assistant Administrator Harden: Thank you for that question.  We work hand in glove, we work very, very tightly with our UN colleagues and our NGO partners.  So, for instance, UNOCHA, which has a very well developed sense and understanding of the region and the risks, is our partner, not only in Southern Africa, but frankly, everywhere.

And WFP, whom I have personally worked with for well more than a decade, are really quite incredible people who are operational, they are on the ground, they know how to respond to emergencies, they know how to move commodities, and they are very, very effective.

So we will work very closely with our UN partners.  We think it is a leveraging opportunity.  I mean, if you think about the private sector, what we are doing with our money is leveraging a vast network of professionals, of organizations, and of additional resources.  So we are very pleased to work with our UN colleagues.

Moderator: Very good.  Our next question is from the listening party in Angola. This is from Manuel Esperanca of Radio Nacional de Angola, and he asks the following:  “In Angola, drought is associated with floods, as whenever the dry season ends, the rainy seasons cause huge floods in southern Angola.  This destroys all crops and in the worst scenario, it kills people.  Is there any possibility for the U.S. to help Angola in order to reduce the risks posed by floods?”

Assistant Administrator Harden: Well, that’s an excellent question, and I think it also speaks to our forecasting capabilities.  I really would just highlight our FEWS NET work that identifies not only the El Niño drought risk, but the La Niña flooding risk.  And so I want to be clear, there is a flooding risk associated with excess rain for Southern Africa, including in El Niño.  Now, it’s not a hundred percent, right?  Our analysts say that there is about a sixty percent chance of a La Niña that would create serious risks to people and property.  So that’s still a real risk, mind you, but it is not a definitive.

We are actually currently working with Angola’s…the government has a civil protection unit, which is in a sense kind of a disaster response team.  And since 2013 we have been actually working very, very closely with them so that they can envision what El Niño and La Niña impact would be, and how they can strengthen response to both, not only droughts, but floods.  And we are working in a number of municipalities in Angola, and we have been doing this now for several years.

So Angola, in many respects, at least from the drought perspective, is better positioned and less vulnerable than others.  I know that there has been an uptick in loss of cattle, and that is something that we are monitoring and we have our mission out there focused on these issues.  But really, the flood risk and the preparations that we are taking for that, is ongoing, and has been ongoing since 2013.

Moderator: Thank you.  Our next question is from Diniz Kapapelo of Jornal o Crime.  She asks the following:  “Regarding investment by USAID to fight El Niño related problems, is there any specific amount spent in Angola?

Assistant Administrator Harden: With regard to Angola, specifically, we feel like they are more buffered for the El Niño drought effects.  So the highest risk, as classified by UNOCHA and through our analysis, is the 18 million people that are centered in Malawi, and Zimbabwe, and in Mozambique and Madagascar.  So the short answer as it relates to El Niño is, most of the people that are at real risk are not in Angola.  But again, I just want to re-flag the notion that we are working very closely with their disaster risk teams, and if the situation changes on the ground, actually, we can respond really, very, very rapidly.

So if it turned out that El Niño was a disaster, we are basically saying they are better prepared and less at risk.  But if the situation changes, we are able to put a disaster declaration on the ground probably in twelve hours, probably less, frankly, and that kicks off our response capabilities.  We don’t think they are there yet, but if they do get there, this is what we do for a living, and we would be prepared to respond.

Moderator: Very good.  Thank you.  Just a reminder, to ask a question please press *1 on your phone.  So our next question queue person is back to Imabre Twahirwa in Kigali.  Please ask your question, sir?

Media: Thanks again.  My second question is pulling from the latest data from WFP.  It said that they took over 9.7 million people are projected to be food insecure by the peak of 2016 and 2017 seasons.  And do you think the government has the political will to cope with the consequences of this phenomenon?

Assistant Administrator Harden: Could you just repeat that question?  I want to make sure I understand it fully, and I am not there yet.

Media: The question was, from the latest data by the WFP, it says that around 40 million people are projected—

Moderator: Okay, got you, 40 million people, got you, okay.

Media: Yeah, and my question, what do you think now are the most pressing [inaudible] at the national level to cope with the consequences of this phenomenon, and do you think governments have the political will to cope with this [inaudible] consequence of this phenomenon?

Assistant Administrator Harden: Okay, I think I got your question.  If I don’t, we will go back and try it again.  I think there were basically three parts there.  So the 40 million people number by WFP, and that is the number of people who are stressed.   What we are talking about now is those that are the most stressed, those that are in the worst state of crisis.  That number of people we calculate, and we calculate this with our UN partners, is 18 million people.  So our goal is to help the most vulnerable people, number one.

Number two, and I am not entirely sure I had the full sum and substance of the question, but certain countries are more able to cope.  It’s either because they have the governance structures and the relationship with the private sector in place and they need a lot less support, and they have demonstrated the underlying resilience, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, for instance.  Other countries just are, frankly, at less climate risk in this instance, and so therefore don’t need as much help.

And then those countries that both don’t necessarily have the institutional structures in place and are at climate risk are the ones that we are targeting, and those are the six countries that I had mentioned at the top.  I hope I got your question right.

Food for Peace Director Esposito: If I may interject, as well?

Assistant Administrator Harden: Yes, please.

Food for Peace Director Esposito: This is Dina Esposito again, speaking from USAID.  I am looking again at the SADC appeal, which it does indeed estimate 40 million people in need of aid, of which 23 million require immediate humanitarian aid.  And of that, the number we are using for the food assistance is the one that Dave mentioned, the 18 million people.  Some of our water and nutrition interventions are addressing a wider swath of people, because of course those people are going into health clinics, or are communities accessing repaired boreholes and things like that, you would have larger numbers.

Moderator: Thank you.  Our next question is from Botswana again, once again from M. Mguni with Mmegi Publications in Botswana.  He asks the question, “What advice or technical support is the U.S. giving the region on greater El Niño resilience and preparedness?”

Assistant Administrator Harden: That is also a really good question.  Let me begin by saying that earlier this year we briefed the SADC embassies here on our FEWS NET analysis, and we are going to do that again because the situation changes over time.  So at a very beginning point we are in close coordination.  I actually spoke to the Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy of Botswana yesterday about not only what we are doing, and this announcement, but how we coordinate.

We are also working with the SADC’s Climate Service Center, which is designed to improve their ability to monitor and protect changes and extreme changes in climate conditions so that they are better able and prepared to respond.

I think also, at a technical assistance level through not only the development work that we do, but more broadly, you see us engaging on the energy and water and agriculture nexus, where farmers are able to be more productive, to withstand shock, to increase yields, to sell more to market.  This is part of our ongoing work and we are doing it now, but we are always going to do that.  For instance, we also sent a team to Malawi just recently to help them think about how they break the cycle of drought emergencies, not only through resilience, but through smart development.

But here is the fundamental point. The fundamental point is that Southern Africa countries have a range of resilient responses, but again, where we are today with Botswana since this is a question from Botswana, is dramatically different from where we were in the early 1980s, or where we were in the mid-60s.  And I think that that development spectrum, that development outcome, demonstrates most poignantly the resilience impact.

Moderator: Very good.  We have another question from Imabre Twahirwa from Kigali.  Go ahead?

Media: Thanks again.  For my third question, I need to know what comes between building communities and providing humanitarian assistance, yet we know that some countries are facing challenges to implement the appropriate early warning system.  What do you think should come first?  Thank you.

Assistant Administrator Harden: Just so I understand the question, is it response that comes first or understanding the preparations?  I wasn’t quite clear about the question.  Maybe you could just restate it and I will try to zero in on it.

Media: Again, my question was to know what should come first between building community resilience and providing humanitarian assistance, just at some national level, assessing challenges to implement the appropriate early warning system.

Assistant Administrator Harden: So, look, I think where we would all like to be is that countries are able to withstand shocks independently, or with a little bit of help, right?  And so massive humanitarian assistance, which we do, we are happy to do it, it represents who we are as a people, it represents our commitment to the people in Southern Africa, that and we will be there.

But what we strive to do is to make sure that, through our development programming and through our diplomatic engagement, what we strive to do is make sure that the institutions, both publicly and privately, are in place that allow for countries to withstand these shocks, and so that they are able to independently act with a little bit less help, but in a little bit stronger capacity.  So our goal is always to get the resilience piece right first.

The second portion of this is to get out ahead of a crisis.  So you have seen that in Ethiopia, and our goal here in Southern Africa is to get out ahead of a crisis, not to have 18 million people dying on the streets, but to get the commodities, and the systems, and the response in place to prevent an escalation of the crisis.  And then it is only at the very end when all that has failed that we come in with the kind of full-blown humanitarian assistance.

But again, our goal right now is first, get the institutions straight, second, mitigate and prevent. Either prevent the disaster or the shock, mitigate it, which is what we are doing now, or respond to a full-blown crisis.  So right now we are pretty much in the mitigation.  We feel like we have three to six months ahead of us where we can get things right, get commodities in place, get systems in place that will minimize the risk to those 18 million people.

Dina, I just want to touch base with you.  Do you want to kind of flesh this out a little bit further?

Food for Peace Director Esposito: No, I think you have done a great job on this question, Dave.  I think that we do want to take advantage of this crisis, if one can say such a thing, to ask ourselves if we have the government platforms in place, and vision in place, that will drive development dollars in the future in a way that will put us even further ahead of the curve for the next drought.

We know that Southern Africa is drought prone.  We know that climate variability is such that we are going to see these shocks.  And so we do have resilience programs in place, we are providing humanitarian assistance at scale, but there is a moment of reflection where we have to engage with governments to be sure that the development agendas in these countries are focused on chronic vulnerability and recurrent crisis.

Assistant Administrator Harden: And let me just add one additional contextual point.  You know what?  I may be the oldest person, and I am not that old, but I may be the oldest person on this phone call, so I remember vividly the famine in the Horn of Africa in the early 1980s, the Band Aid concerts, and the horrific pictures of people starving to death.  That was less the case in Southern Africa, but it was still the case in Southern Africa.  And the difference between then and now is stark.

So there has been a lot of progress in resilience.  We know there will be more droughts, we know that there will be more shocks, but if we can continue to build in that resilient conceptual thinking, the next drought, we are hoping that there won’t be 18 million at risk, that there will be substantially fewer people at risk.

And you know what?  This is entirely possible, it’s entirely possible that with each {inaudible} drought, as we learn, and adapt, and apply, we have better, quicker, faster responses, with less people at risk.  So there.  Thank you for that question.

Food for Peace Director Esposito: Dave, this might be the moment to note that on July 6th we had a milestone moment in the United States where Congress passed, and then the President signed into law, legislation called the Global Food Security Act.  And the Global Food Security Act is a signal of the U.S. commitment, the same commitment to boosting agricultural production and improving nutrition worldwide.  It is referred to often as the President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative which was launched at the time of his presidency, but which will now be carried forward by the United States through this authorizing legislation.

We have resources flowing from those programs into Southern Africa, for instance in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, which is focusing on improving income, nutrition, the resilience of small scale farmers and herders, especially women farmers.  And so this is a moment, when Dave expresses that optimism, to know that we now have codified in our law an agenda around sustained agriculture production and sustained improvements in nutrition that will be carrying forward in the future so that hopefully we do have fewer people in need of humanitarian assistance when these droughts occur.

Moderator: Very good.  Well I think that concludes our time here.  I was wondering, Assistant Administrator Harden, do you have any final words, or Dina, any final words?

Assistant Administrator Harden: I think that this call and our announcement yesterday represents our commitment to the people of Southern Africa.  And I want our commitment, I want it to be understood that these are real people with real relationships, that has real connectivity, not only to me, but to many, many of us in Washington.  And we are proud to partner with our SADC colleagues, and we are going to work through this crisis, and it is a big one, and it is serious, and it is the worst in thirty-five years.

We have three to six months to get it right and we intend to do it, but at the same time we are pleased and proud to partner with our friends and colleagues in Southern Africa.  So thank you, and thank you for joining, thank you for your interest, thank you for your questions.  Thanks for probing and pushing us, and making us better.

Food for Peace Director Esposito: Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you.  That concludes today’s call.  I would like to David Harden, USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating.

If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at  Thank you.  That concludes today’s call.

Assistant Administrator Harden: Thank you.

Food for Peace Director Esposito: Thank you.