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“Humanitarian aid must be viewed as a catalyst for development”: senior USAID official

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This year’s African Development Bank (AfDB) Annual Meetings included a panel entitled "Building Resilience in the Horn and the Sahel", which was held on Monday, May 19, 2014 in Kigali. The panellists for this particular session all agreed on the importance of the efficient and rational use of financial resources in times of humanitarian crisis. They also highlighted the importance of perception, stressing that the recipients of this humanitarian aid must view it as a catalyst for sustainable development rather than a simple means of achieving development.

According to Earl W. Gast, Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID (US Agency for International Development), humanitarian aid must be linked directly to development. He explained that USAID had assigned $90 billion to support 10 crisis-hit countries over the last decade, the majority of which are in Africa. The ultimate aim of aid is to help vulnerable populations cope with shocks and achieve sustainable development through their own efforts. Gast had one particular regret in this respect, namely that the humanitarian aid allocated to vulnerable populations in crisis-hit countries (and particularly in the Horn and the Sahel) had saved lives, but had failed to reduce the overall vulnerability of the recipient populations. As he explained in his own words, "humanitarian aid must be viewed as a catalyst for development".

The IGAD Drought Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI) is a platform set up by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organisation of Eastern African countries. IDDRSI's aim is to improve resilience to drought and enhance sustainability. Its coordinator, John P. Cabayo, stressed that persistent conflict, climate change and endless internal political in-fighting are aggravating factors in the impoverishment of vulnerable populations in the Horn and the Sahel. In his somewhat pessimistic view, the situation is unlikely to improve. He pointed in particular to the crisis in South Sudan, which may well lead to new humanitarian crises in the region, especially in terms of displaced persons. He did, however, congratulate the AfDB on its existing initiatives, focusing in particular on projects that target the most vulnerable population groups in the Horn. In his opinion, it is now essential that these populations are able to take ownership of these poverty-reduction projects. This will ensure that they view them not simply as humanitarian aid and a means of survival, but as a sustainable, long-term route out of poverty. He cited the example of Ethiopia, which, after years of drought, now produces and exports several crop and livestock products.

Antoine N. Some, Head of the Sahel Institute at the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CLISS), focused on the situation in West Africa. He explained that the region has the necessary resources and expertise to work alongside the most vulnerable populations to combat poverty. Nevertheless, he called for improved national and global governance, as well as more effective management of long-standing crises, citing the current situation in Mali as an example.

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