Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, talks about the "elephant in the room"
On Wednesday Eric P. Schwartz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, addressed a crowded assembly at the United States Institute of Peace. Schwartz, who took the oath of office on July 8, 2009, is leaving the State Department to take on the position of Dean at the Humphrey School of Foreign Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
He began his speech by mentioning the "elephant in the room," saying it would be impossible to talk about humanitarian aid without speaking of the Horn of Africa right now. The State Department estimates that right now more than 13.3 million people there are in need of emergency assistance, primarily in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. People in that area are facing the worst drought they have seen in 60 years, on top of conflict and poverty, and therefore now is a crucial time for humanitarian aid.
Schwartz went on to discuss why generous "U.S. financial support for humanitarian response is critical, as an expression of our values and in recognition of our interests." First, the aspect of morality, the "moral imperative," as Schwartz says. This illustrates that the amount of effort and money on our part is small compared to the huge influence on real people's lives, and simply, it is the right thing to do. Second, Schwartz mentioned maintaining our world leadership position, which enables us to help with policy law and influence the development of other nations. Third, he spoke of "reconciliation," saying that humanitarian aid can greatly ease tensions and instability in certain countries, and therefore contribute positively to our own national security. He continued on to discuss the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) that the Department of State and USAID are now implementing, and the two big goals they were facing; "to implement the Secretary of State's goal for enhanced capacity within the State Department; and second, to ensure integration of effort between the Department and USAID."
After Schwartz's speech he was joined for a discussion, moderated by George E. Moose, Vice Chairman of the USIP Board of Directors, and Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution. They took questions from the audience, and discussed topics from how to give aid when a country's government denies that a problem exists, to violence against refugees, to a 2-fold prevention strategy. Ultimately what I took away from the speech and discussion was that Humanitarian Aid presents an interesting puzzle. On the one hand, everyone agrees it is the moral and right thing to do, but on the other hand the technicalities that must be dealt with are extreme. Sometimes involving governments (both our own, and those of the countries we are aiding) can complicate and lengthen the process, but as Schwarz pointed out, to implement real change and have a lasting effect it is necessary for the governments to be involved.
Schwartz has done a lot of good in his three years with the State Department, and that has made a difference in millions of people's lives. He left us with a firm conclusion that humanitarian aid is not only the right moral thing to do, but necessary - and who would know better than him? "As I prepare to move on, I leave with a deep conviction that U.S. support for international humanitarian assistance is money well-spent: it saves lives, it promotes our leadership, and it can create conditions for peace and reconciliation."
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