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- As Delivered –

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks at the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations hearing on East Africa’s quiet famine:

“I’ll be brief, thank you very much.  Thank you, Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Bass.  I’m very grateful that the Ranking Member to the Subcommittee for calling this hearing and bringing attention to the grave humanitarian crises that’s worsening in East Africa.  I mean worsening.  It’s really scary, because it’s been pretty bad up till now.

“The UN estimates that nearly [30] million people in East Africa don’t have the food they need.  Right now, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan face dire food needs, while parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda face a crisis nearly as bad.  For several years, seasonal rains have failed in the Horn of Africa—a direct result of climate change.  And looking ahead, this crisis holds the potential for massive displacement.

“So we have an extreme weather condition caused by climate change. We have a worsening famine. We have a brewing displacement crisis. These sound like the sort of issues our State Department and USAID are designed to grapple with. 

“So I’ll reiterate the points I made this morning at our full Committee hearing: the Administration’s request to cut our international affairs budget by a third would be devastating. The lack of leadership in senior roles—including USAID Administrator; Director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance; Assistant Secretary for Africa; Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration—it makes it impossible for our agencies to do their jobs because these slots have not been filled.  American leadership is vital, and so far, this Administration by its actions is undermining our country’s role in the world.

“Among the two worst cases we see are in Somalia and South Sudan, and I’d like to briefly focus on those. 

“Between 2010 and 2012, Somalia suffered through the worst drought and famine in 20 years.  Failed harvests, a spike in food prices, and insecurity that impeded the delivery of food and exacerbated this crisis. It’s exacerbating as well, exasperating. A quarter of a million Somali refugees lost their lives including 133,000 children under the age of five.  That is just, it breaks your heart to see that.

“And, the main lesson learned from that tragedy was that humanitarian assistance came too late, and we need to remember that lesson today.  More than six million people are in need of assistance in Somalia, and nearly three million face crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. 

“If the April-to-June rains fail again, this situation could worsen quickly, potentially leading to another humanitarian tragedy and massive displacement in the Horn, which in turn could lead to instability in Kenya and Ethiopia.

“I’ll soon offer a resolution supporting ongoing efforts by our government, along with the UN and the donor community, to help meet the challenge of drought and food insecurity in the Horn of Africa.

“Turning to South Sudan, more than 40 percent of the population, nearly five million people, currently face severe, life-threatening hunger. By July, that number will likely rise another half million. Last month, the UN declared 100,000 people to be coping with famine conditions.

“The security situation on the ground remains dire. This past weekend, six aid workers were ambushed and brutally murdered in South Sudan. Since December 2013, nearly 80 aid workers have been killed.

“The United States and our partners have taken on the tall order of distributing food and other necessities to those in need.  Many of the worst-off communities are inaccessible by road for most of the year, and last month, famine was declared in two counties in South Sudan.

“So we need to continue providing humanitarian support and pressuring the government in South Sudan and the armed opposition to put the needs of their people first.  And I’m pleased to cosponsor Ranking Member Bass’s resolution calling for strong support to address the famine there.                                                 

“So, I thank you Mr. Chairman.  I’m grateful to the Subcommittee for addressing, dealing with these difficult issues.  I’m grateful to our panelists, and I yield back.”