An influential Republican lawmaker pledged on Tuesday that the US will continue providing life-saving food aid to Kenya and neighbouring countries despite the Trump administration's threatened cuts in international assistance.
“The president proposes; Congress disposes,” noted Chris Smith, chairman of the House of Representatives' Africa subcommittee. “Congress will make sure we get humanitarian assistance to where we need it most,” he said.
Mr Smith's comments were made at a hearing his subcommittee held on the topic of 'East Africa's Quiet Famine'.
The chief witness was Matthew Nims, acting director of the Food for Peace programme in the US Agency for International Development (USAid).
Mr Nims said in response to lawmakers' questions that USAid has so far given a “robust response” to what he described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
“USAid has rapidly scaled up and is redirecting its efforts,” he told the House panel. The agency provided about $1.5 billion worth of food resources to drought-affected countries in East Africa as well as to Yemen in 2016, Mr Nims said.
An additional $100 million must urgently be made available, a group of Democratic members of Congress declare in a resolution to be considered by Mr Smith's subcommittee.
Mr Nims suggested, however, that the US “cannot do it alone.”
In what could be taken as a rebuff of President Trump's proposed cuts in US funding for the UN, Mr Nims said, “We need all our United Nations, NGO, affected government and donor partners working together to tackle these challenges.”
Pressed on the potential effects of Mr Trump's call for deep cuts in international assistance, Mr Nims said he had no information on specific amounts of proposed funding for USAid.
“Humanitarian assistance can't solve these crises,” he warned. The hunger afflicting millions of South Sudanese, Somalis, Yemenis and Nigerians is “man-made,” Mr Nims said, noting that armed conflict is occurring in each of the affected countries.
The USAid official praised the relief efforts being undertaken by the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments.
SOUTH SUDAN CRISIS
But Congressman Smith was strongly critical of the South Sudanese government's failure to ensure the safety of aid workers.
He reported that the death toll has risen to seven in the recent attack on members of a South Sudanese NGO.
Three Kenyans and four South Sudanese lost their lives in the March 25 ambush by unknown assailants.
Mr Nims also noted that the government of President Salva Kiir has not implemented its announced plan to levy a $10,000 fee for each aid worker sent to South Sudan by international NGOs.
“Donors and the US ambassador have made it clear that this fee is untenable and will not be paid,” Mr Nims said.