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The Horn of Africa is facing drought and food shortages


Climate change, COVID and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have strained global food supplies. And in countries where food scarcity was already an issue, these factors have proven devastating. The United Nations estimates that 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021, with children being particularly hard hit. Every 11 seconds, one child dies from acute malnutrition. Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, is on the line from Nairobi, Kenya. Welcome.

SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much.

RASCOE: You've been meeting with local officials and aid workers in northern Kenya today. What are they telling you about the conditions and what they need?

POWER: It is a region, the Horn of Africa, which also includes Somalia and Ethiopia, where the farmers, the pastoralists, the communities have experienced four straight seasons of drought in recorded history. And people are on the brink of really difficult circumstances. I mean, really, either the world is going to mobilize like we never have before at this scale, or you are going to see tremendous suffering in the Horn of Africa, which really is the epicenter of that food crisis you mentioned.

RASCOE: Are there farming practices or perhaps irrigation practices in places like Kenya to address the droughts that they're facing?

POWER: We have to help individuals who are afflicted by successive droughts or floods or wildfires adapt. And like you said, mitigation is atop of the list. It is also at USAID about getting drought-resistant seeds to farmers. And what we are trying to do in this crisis is get that kind of innovation in the hands of more small-scale farmers so that they are able to sow and reap their harvests along timelines that are very, very different than those they were working with, let's say, even, you know, 10 years ago.

RASCOE: On Saturday, Russia attacked the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, violating an agreement it had signed with Ukraine and Turkey less than 24 hours earlier to create safe passage for the shipment of grain and fertilizer. So how optimistic are you about diplomatic efforts with Russia regarding these - you know, these ports that are so important for the movement of grain and fertilizer?

POWER: What happened on Saturday with Russia's attack is outrageous. And I think now as President Zelenskyy said, nothing that Putin has agreed to has, you know, ever been something that one could just rely upon. But this is really about the parties to the deal holding Russia's feet to the fire and insisting on enforcement of this deal. I also think African leaders and African voices are very important in pressing Putin to that effect. It is the citizens of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East, who are paying a very, very severe price for Putin's brutality and his use of food as a weapon of war.

RASCOE: We mentioned 828 million people dealing with hunger. And what's even more heartbreaking is that 150 million have been added to that over the past two years, and that's reversing a decade of progress on reducing world hunger. What is it going to take to get back on track?

POWER: You know, the fact that so much headway had been made in the previous decade in addressing global hunger should inspire us to redouble our efforts. So I think we can take heart that we were actually making a major difference before COVID hit. And getting supply chains back on track will make a major difference in terms of food prices and fuel prices. And countries need to step up to help those who weren't large emitters of carbon over the years but who are paying the steepest price for the emissions that developed countries like the United States produced.

RASCOE: That's Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

POWER: Thank you, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.