Transcript of press conference with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Executive Director of the World Food Programme Josette Sheeran
Subjects: Famine in Somalia, Horn of Africa, WFP donations
Transcript, E&OE, proof only
24 July 2011
KEVIN RUDD: It is a privilege to be here with the head of the World Food Programme Josette Sheeran to talk about what we in Australia can do better and more, to support this famine in Somalia and this food crisis across the Horn of Africa involving both Ethiopia and Kenya. What you see here is evidence of kids slowly deteriorating. We’ve seen some little babies who are in bad shape and what this underlines is the importance for the international community to act now.
In terms of Australia’s effort we have, prior to coming here, dedicated $40 million both to the WFP and the UNHCR including $5 million to the Australian NGOs who work here in this part of the world as well. But what I have discussed with Josette is a need for a further $20 million to go into the work here in the Horn of Africa through the World Food Programme. That brings us up to $60 million in terms of our allocation now and we hope that that contributes to what is good work here by the WFP that every minute counts.
JOURNALIST: How do you persuade other countries to be as generous?
KEVIN RUDD: Well that is probably a difficult question for the head of the WFP to answer.
JOURNALIST: There are plenty of countries that aren’t giving that could give.
KEVIN RUDD: I don’t think is about the global guilt game, but I think it is, however, about an appeal to the conscience of the world. This will be five times as bad come the end of the year if we don’t act now. It is as simple as that. People like the Brits, Canadians, ourselves, who put our best foot forward and there are other countries as well, but we do need more, so it is a direct appeal to folk across the world, for governments across the world, to do their bit.
JOSETTE SHEERAN: It is very critical to get the funding now, this drought is the worse in 60 years; it has swept the Horn of Africa. We know that there is about 2.2 million people who have not been able to be reached with aid, so we have the triple crisis of this epic drought, conflict and then high food prices. In Somalia the prices of food have soared over 240 per cent year over year. We need to scale up in these areas that haven’t been reached such as this.
When these people come here and register there is no food here. We haven’t had access before but we will be airlifting in food and Australia’s contributions can be able to provide about 400 million packs of food like this - that can save a child’s life. This is climate proof food. You can rip off the corner and get it into a child’s mouth you don’t have to add water. This is our priority to rush in these types of supplemental foods that can protect these children. We are bringing these to Mogadishu and we are bringing them to this area of Somalia, that previously has been inaccessible and where you see many thousands of people gathering in search of food.
JOURNALIST: Is there a direct call to those countries like the United States and big European countries that are not willing to give money or aid that might go to Al-Shabaab or be delivered through Al-Shabaab to act now, is that what you are saying?
KEVIN RUDD: I’d say to all the governments of the world there are about 11 or 12 million people affected by this drought that is the worst in 60 years. A couple of million of those people are here in Somalia. They can’t be ignored. Sixty per cent have not been reached by any humanitarian agency as of today. What I have said to governments around the world is that this will not be a perfect humanitarian operation, not every 'i' will be dotted not every ‘t’ will be crossed, we’ve got to accept that. It is a risky environment but we need to rely upon the professional judgement of the WFP and others to get the food out there. I would encourage all governments to cut the WFP some slack in their ability to do that. As for the United States, the European Union and with all governments, I think it is important for everyone to step up to the plate. Six months time will be too late. It is as simple as that.
JOSETTE SHEERAN: And I will just say that Australia is one of the countries that give us core funding and allows us to make the judgement of where to spend it. We have taken 20 million of the contribution from Australia to also put here in the Horn of Africa, it is our number one emergency and this brings your contribution up to 80 million life saving dollars.
If I could just say, we’re now seeing in the past few weeks, pledges coming in from the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan and of course Australia, but also non-traditional donors like Brazil, have come in to be one of the largest contributors to the situation here and that is important. We are putting out the appeal even throughout Africa for food from nations in Africa that had good harvests and have not been affected by this drought.
JOURNALIST: When are they air dropping food into Somalia?
JOSETTE SHEERAN: First we are at looking airlifting food to get it quickly into places where the demand is growing due to the new arrivals. We have had some stock but it being overrun by the number of people coming and needing the help. So we will be airlifting into Mogadishu and we’ve been trying to arrange the airlifts into this area that would quickly front load some of these special nutritional supplies. Air drops are the least favourable, you can’t be sure who gets it, it can be dangerous on the ground, but these options we will consider the contingencies of how we can reach people who we know are not making it through this terrible drought, especially the young children.
KEVIN RUDD: The one thing in conclusion I would say, is that there is about $80 million from us, if you take into account the WFP’s core funding from Australia, for the Horn of Africa. The reason I am here today in the Horn of Africa, I am here in Somalia today is to send one simple message to the world community - act now, Christmas is too late. The time to give is right now. We can make a huge difference. This is an avoidable catastrophe if urgent action is taken today.
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