This morning, the United Nations declared what has become plain to anyone who has witnessed the devastation caused by this epic drought: thousands of people in southern Somalia are currently in a state of famine.

After the announcement, I visited the Wajir and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. I saw child after child weary from their long journey to the camps, eager for their first meal in days if not weeks. Seeing a child in such a fragile state—witnessing just one child face such difficult circumstances—is heartbreaking. Knowing that millions of children face a similar fate in the coming months unleashes a sense of profound sorrow.

Dadaab is now the fourth largest city in Kenya, home to more than 370,000 people who were in such a state of need that they fled their homes, many on foot, many from hundreds of miles away, just to find food, water, and healthcare for themselves and their children.

But the other thing I witnessed in those children was a strong sense of resilience. They weren’t beaten down by their circumstances or overcome with despair. They were courageous, strong, unwilling to succumb to the tragedy that surrounded them.

Throughout the region, more than 11.5 million people are in need of emergency assistance, and there is no quick fix to that need. The United States, in cooperation with all of its international partners, is doing everything it can to help relieve that suffering with food, water, healthcare, and other critical services. Our priority is to save lives, and our experts are working day and night to find every channel possible to provide that desperately needed assistance.

For years, we’ve been working with the Ethiopian government on a safety net program that has step by step improved food security for many living in areas vulnerable to drought.

Even in this record drought, due to that long-term effort, 8.3 million people that have benefited from this program today do not need emergency assistance.
Since October 2010, the U.S. Government has provided $459 million in life-saving aid to over 4.4 million people in the eastern Horn.

But that is no comfort today to those who have no food or water for their children, or for themselves. We must implement long-term strategies that can help prevent this kind of suffering once and for all.
The President’s Feed the Future initiative is designed to partner with countries like Ethiopia and Kenya to develop their own agricultural industries, helping them break free of the need for humanitarian food aid. Only through a long-term sustained investment in their own food security can these countries escape the vicious cycle of famine of food aid we’ve once again witnessed.

Dr. Rajiv Shah is the Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.