USAID Administrator Mark Green on U.S. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief

On-The-Record Briefing

For Immediate Release

Thursday, September 21, 2017
Office of Press Relations

New York City, New York 

MR GREENAN:  Good morning, everybody.  Very glad to be able to introduce you today to – or reintroduce you, if you’ve met him before – our USAID administrator, Ambassador Mark Green.  He’s here to speak to you about the U.S. response to some truly unprecedented humanitarian needs worldwide, from the earthquake in Mexico this week, and of course the near famine in South Sudan.  He’ll have some announcements, I think, and I’ll turn it over to him.  I just want to remind everyone that the briefing is on the record.  We are embargoed until the conclusion of the briefing.  There will be a transcript available.  And I now turn it over to you, sir.

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  Great, thank you.  It’s good to see all of you.  Good morning, thank you for being here.  I look forward to taking your questions.  But first, of course, I want to share my condolences with the people of Mexico in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake.  USAID has deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team, or a DART, as we call it, to Mexico in response to urgent humanitarian needs.  The death toll from the magnitude 7.1 earthquake has risen over 200.  This morning, over 60 members and five K-9s from the Los Angeles County Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue Team landed in Mexico City as part of our Disaster Assistance Response Team.  These teams arrive with over 62,000 pounds of specialized tools and medical equipment to conduct around-the-clock search and rescue operations.  They will be working closely with Mexican disaster authorities to help rescue earthquake survivors and assess structures for earthquake damage.

USAID has also deployed disaster experts across the Caribbean, as you know, as yet another hurricane moves to the region.  And of course, we extend our condolences to the people in the Caribbean.

As we help our neighbors in Mexico and the Caribbean, I want to make clear that America is and will remain the world’s leading humanitarian donor.  Whether it’s responding to an earthquake, drought, or conflict, America is committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with people in their hour of need.  It is who we are as Americans. 

While we respond to immediate crises, America is also providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance to those suffering as the result of famine, food insecurity, drought, and conflict, all of which is driving the greatest movement of people since World War II.  In the face of this unprecedented need, we are continuing to show leadership.

The United – today I am announcing more than $550[1] million in additional humanitarian assistance from the United States to the millions of people affected by food insecurity and violence in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia – the so-called “four famines.”  This funding will provide lifesaving food and health care for vulnerable groups that have been affected by these crises.  And this funding brings our total contribution of humanitarian assistance to over $2.4 billion for these four crises since the beginning of this fiscal year.

And we’re also responding to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.  As ISIS’s brutal rule comes to an end, we continue to support Iraqis living in cities liberated from ISIS.  As the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the Iraq crisis, the U.S. remains committed to supporting the Iraqi people.  Yesterday, I announced nearly $264 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq.  The U.S. Government has now provided nearly 1.7 billion in humanitarian assistance for the Iraq crisis since Fiscal Year 2014. 

As the President said earlier this week, America is wholeheartedly committed to humanitarian assistance.  This week alone, the United States has announced almost $1 billion in additional humanitarian aid.  But humanitarian assistance, we all know, alone will not solve these crises.  We need long-term political solutions that address the drivers of conflict and insecurity.  Those four famines or near-famines that I referred to – we have to remind ourselves they are entirely man-made. 

As global humanitarian needs grow, we’re also working to build resilience to stave off additional needs for humanitarian assistance and emergency assistance in the future.  As some of you have heard me say before, I believe firmly that the reason for foreign assistance must be to end the need for its existence, and that means working to end the root causes of famine, conflict, and insecurity, and helping to build resilient communities and families and governments as well.  At USAID, our teams around the clock work daily to promote human dignity and elevate the human condition.  Our assistance is not a handout; it is a hand up, and over the long run we seek to help our partners by building in-country community capacity, to strengthen governance, and to mobilize domestic resources.  Our message is clear:  The United States stands ready to help those in need.

And I am happy to take your questions.  I will just add a couple of notes.  Just moments ago literally before I came in, I was in touch with the leader of the DART team who has gone down to Mexico or is working with Mexican team.  Just by way of background, the United States has two certified search and rescue centers or teams in America, Los Angeles County and Fairfax County of Virginia.  We have deployed the Los Angeles County team.  They have gone and landed there at 5 o’clock this morning.  There are 67 individuals involved, search and rescue experts, as well as five dogs – K-9s – and heavy equipment.  And this is in direct response to the request from the Government of Mexico, and I’m sure they are being put to very good use right away.

So that’s the latest that I have, and again, with that, be happy to try to address questions you might have.

MR GREENAN:  Why don’t we start here with Carol.

QUESTION:  You say that you – ultimately any long-term solution means addressing the root causes.  Surely most people would say that would include family planning and climate change, both of which are not high on this administration’s priorities.  So how can you address the changes – the root causes if you’re not actively and aggressively going after these two?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  Well, there are a number of drivers of these challenges that we face, but with respect to issues of climate, look, we believe the climate is changing.  We look at the challenges through a development lens, and we are continuing to work with our partners around the world to help them deal with whatever the fallout might be.  So as you know, in Ethiopia we have resilience programs that have helped Ethiopian communities and leaders deal with a third consecutive year of drought.  In places like Indonesia – before my time, but in Indonesia we have been working with leaders to deal with land use, to deal with the risk and fallout from mudslides.  So we will continue to partner with others to take on challenges that may be emerging from changing climate.

With respect to Mexico City, as you’ve heard me announce, we are the largest donor to the Global Fund.  We are heavily engaged and will be announcing today a new focus country for the President’s Malaria Initiative.  And the top – top, if you would use the term – victims of malaria are pregnant women and children under the age of 10.  We’re heavily engaged there.  So we are working on these challenges every way that we can. 

But I would also say that many of these challenges are driven by other challenges and conditions.  As we’ve talked about, the movements of people and the internally displaced individuals, who are among the most vulnerable in the world, and we are looking for ways to provide them with not only immediately humanitarian assistance but the kinds of skills that will hopefully, God willing, give them a chance someday to live what we would say are normal lives, where they can be productive members of society. 

So we are working to deal with immediate needs and we’re working to deal with the kinds of long-term challenges that I think have made these among the most vulnerable people in society.

QUESTION:  What about family planning?  Almost everyone you met in Ethiopia, most every woman had seven or eight children, many of them born in the camps. 

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  Well, again, we’re continuing to work on maternal and child health.  As respect to Mexico City itself, it is not the first administration to have Mexico City policy.  In terms of the newer provisions in that, as I think you know, the State Department is undertaking a study – USAID is participating – which is looking at what the impact might be on the additional provisions.  And that information will hopefully be completed in October, so that’s how we’re going to deal with that.

MR GREENAN:  Let’s go to Laura.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Laura Koran, CNN.  I want to go back to this team that’s in Mexico, the earthquake assistance.  Can you talk a little bit more about the kind of specialized assistance that they can provide?  We’re seeing these images of rescue efforts, and for example the little girl who’s trapped in the school – very challenging, obviously racing against the clock there.  What can your teams add to that effort?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  Well, they have heavy equipment.  They have specialized training.  It’s known as – and this is something I’ve been learning as we go.  Of the two teams that we have, LA County and Fairfax County, the LA County is a heavy team, which means it is specifically trained to deal with the types of tragedies that you and I are both seeing on the screen, collapsed buildings in particular, and the K-9s going with them have that particular training.  They are in specific response to the needs identified in Mexico.  And the members of the DART leadership that are going down are – part of their role is to make sure that we are very carefully coordinated with our partners but also Mexican leaders so that we are in the right place at the right time applying their capacities.  It’s obviously heartrending to see the images that we are, and God willing, we’ll see more progress in terms of extracting survivors and doing what we can to help them. 

MR GREENAN:  Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Hi, Mark.  Nick Wadhams.  Can you give us a breakdown on the numbers for the four famines?  How is that – what sort of programs is that money going to be going to?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  Well, in the four famines it’s obviously food insecurity work that we do.  So depending upon the circumstances, it is either food distribution or it is monetized assistance to help with purchase of local food.  It is, at the same time, looking at ways to strengthen food production capacity against drought.  For example, in Ethiopia, where we traveled recently, we saw a fodder project which was helping communities – fodder and irrigation to help communities be able to produce feed off-cycle in the face of the dry season.  So that’s some of the work that we’re doing there. 

But it’s everything from, again, food distributions, to immunizations to make sure that we are dealing with health needs, to – when we can – beginning to look at resilience in food production and the local economy.

QUESTION:  And that number is 550 million?

MR GREENAN:  I think it’s 525.

QUESTION:  Or 575?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  I think it’s – in terms of the new money, 575, 575 million – Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and South Sudan.  And obviously, in each of those cases, as we’ve said, they are manmade famines and very challenging to work with.  And humanitarian access in each one is probably the most important issue that we’re trying to tackle through diplomatic channels, and it’s difficult.

MR GREENAN:  Conor Finnegan, ABC News.

QUESTION:  Can you talk a little bit more about that?  What exactly is the U.S. Government doing to increase access, particularly in a place like Yemen, where we’re going to have to be on the right side of the parties there, and as well in Myanmar, where the government has rebuffed American efforts so far?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  So two very different and two very challenging circumstances.  In Yemen, I know that the State Department – I know Secretary Tillerson is personally engaged and is talking, obviously, with the powers that be to try to get humanitarian access and make it safe to deliver basic necessities and food. 

In the case of Burma and Bangladesh, I was in an intense session yesterday with our partners from the UN commissioner – high commissioner on refugees to some of our European partners.  A number will be going out almost immediately to look at the situation there, but also doing what we can to try to press both governments to provide humanitarian access, security, in a situation that is rapidly changing and obviously very, very disturbing. 

But it is something that we’re trying to make sure that we’re very carefully coordinated with our partners here so that we’re not at cross-purposes.  In an area like that, which is where the displaced individuals are, is a very small, tight area, and it’s difficult to access, and there are security issues.  So we’re making sure that we’re working closely together, coordinated, not stepping on each other or unnecessarily taking energy away from where it needs to be, and that’s getting a diplomatic and – or a diplomatic solution. 

MR GREENAN:  Kylie Atwood, CBS.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks.  Just to follow up on that, do you think after those conversations yesterday, you’re any closer to being able to allow in that humanitarian access?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  This is Burma now or to Yemen?




AMBASSADOR GREEN:  I wish I could tell you that.  I don’t know that to be the case.  I think what I can tell you – and I’m certainly not in all the discussions, but I was in the donor discussion, if you will – that we’re trying to work with the UN-related agencies that do have a presence immediately on the ground to make sure that we fully – excuse me, fully understand what the needs are, but I think we have a ways to go.  I think we have a ways to go.  The fact that the Vice President spoke about it and the fact that we’ve heard from Secretary Tillerson talking about it means that it is obviously very high up on the priorities of this government in – diplomatically.  And so we are pressing hard.

My – it’s been an interesting week for me.  As I often remind people, my background is in development, so I come from a background where I worked on PEPFAR, I worked on Malaria Initiative, I worked on Millennium Challenge Corporation – all of those very orderly, planned out development tools.  And we’re seeing right now a time in history where the world’s on fire and there are immediate, pressing humanitarian needs that we see right before us.  And I think the tragedy of what we’re seeing in Burma cannot be overstated and it’s happening before our eyes, so we’re making sure that we are carefully coordinated and doing what we need to do.

I would refer you to the State Department because the refugee side falls under the State Department, but we also made an announcement yesterday on a pledge of assistance, financial assistance, to these efforts.  And in the group that I was in yesterday, our partners are also pledging assistance.  So the good news is it has everyone’s attention and people are coming forward on the financial side to deal with the humanitarian needs.  But I think we all recognize that we need to do more than the humanitarian needs.  We need to prevent a further tragedy from happening.

MR GREENAN:  Carol Morello again, Washington Post.

QUESTION:  I want to make sure, are we – all of these around a billion dollars that you have announced this week, is this all new money that had not already been committed?  And I’m wondering if you are hearing in your bilaterals and in these meetings if a lot of people are questioning the U.S. commitment and why you are so confident that the U.S. will be there.

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  We have – that’s several parts to that question.  We – the announcements that we’re making are new money.  In some cases where we’re talking about PEPFAR-focused countries and PMI-focused countries, those are obviously categories, going forward, things that we’re working on – not money flowing tomorrow, but a pledge of making them priorities within existing programs.

On the disaster relief side, we do have the money that we need out of the International Disaster Assistance account.  The fact that we have six DART teams mobilized at once – that has only happened once before – we can do it.  It does begin to push us, obviously.  But part of my commitment is to making sure that we have the resources that we need for these kinds of challenges.  And I can tell you that the U.S. Government, at the very highest levels, is engaged on the humanitarian relief being provided to Mexico.  As I was walking last night on the sidewalk of the streets of New York, I was on the phone and I was talking with the White House and they were on top, making sure that we provide what’s been asked for and what’s necessary to extend our hand.  So I’m pleased to say that the government is very engaged in taking on these fires of humanitarian assistance that we need to address right now.

QUESTION:  Have you encountered a lot of concern among partners in your bilats that the U.S. may not be there?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  No, I haven’t.  Now, in fairness, some of these I’m the new kid and these are first-time conversations in a few places since I’ve been on the job all of six or seven weeks.  But I think after President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, I think that was an address that sent a clear signal to those in attendance and those watching that this is an engaged U.S. Government.  Again, he specifically referred to very successful programs, international programs, like PEPFAR and PMI.  I think that went a long way to reaffirming for people that we’re engaged.  That’s why we’re here. 

And I’ll also say as I have been moving around back and forth to my own bilaterals, the level of engagement and energy by Secretary Tillerson was all over the place.  Just a very, very busy schedule and engaged with lots of our partners.  I think the discussions are energetic.  We’re talking about what’s going on in the world, we’re talking about roles that we can play, we are talking to partners about their contributions making it clear that we believe in the leadership role that we play in humanitarian assistance, we want others to join us, we expect others to join us.  I think that’s a clear message.  But this has been a very energetic week.

And I’ll also say on a personal note, this is only my second UNGA.  I was involved in the malaria side back when I first got into the private sector from my days as ambassador, and I think from the outside I looked at UNGA and said, “My world – word, why is everybody doing this?”  I have found the week to be tiring, but engaging.  We’ve had very good conversations with a wide range of partners – bilateral partners, multilateral partners – there’s been lots of give and take.  We are talking about coordinated activities.  The session I attended where I made my announcement on Iraq, the session that we sat in on dealing with the crisis in Burma, the sessions on Syria, South Sudan.  I think it’s been a vigorous week, and I believe progress is being made.  Of course, we’ll only know after the fact how much, but I think it’s been a good week.

MR GREENAN:  Well, thank you very much, Ambassador Green.  I know you have a very busy schedule yet today ahead of you.  Thank you for joining us and --

QUESTION:  Can I squeeze in one parting question?

MR GREENAN:  Well, we only have time for one more?  Okay, last one.  We got to go.  He has – he does have a schedule.

QUESTION:  Just one.  Could you just lay out for us where those six DART teams are?  And you said --


QUESTION:  --  this is only the second time six have been deployed.  What was the last time?

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  So my understanding – 2015 – I can’t tell you where they were deployed in 2015.  I can tell you where they’re deployed now.

QUESTION:  Perfect.

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  Okay.  The Caribbean, Mexico, South Sudan, Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. 

QUESTION:  Great.  Thank you.

MR GREENAN:  Good question.


MR GREENAN:  All right.  Thank you very much, sir.


MR GREENAN:  Thank you all for coming.


MR GREENAN:  And the embargo is lifted.  Thank you. 

AMBASSADOR GREEN:  Off to do malaria.

QUESTION:  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much, sir.