Official Reflects On Foreign Aid Triumphs, Challenges

In the final week of the Bush administration, many officials are packing their offices and offering final words of advice to the team of incoming president, Barack Obama. But the director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and head of the U.S. Agency for International Development still has plenty of issues on her plate.

Henrietta Fore is spending her final days on the job trying to make sure trucks with food, fuel and plastic sheeting make it into Gaza during the brief daily breaks in Israel's military offensive against Hamas. She also is still trying to raise alarms about a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, where she says 1,700 people have died of cholera, a treatable disease.

Fore says the death toll in Zimbabwe is needless, and that the humanitarian crisis there is a "failure of the state, pure and simple."

Cholera has spread to all of Zimbabwe's provinces, according to the USAID administrator. Trying to get President Robert Mugabe's government to deal with this has been one of her major frustrations on the job.

Asked about other difficult days, she laments the fact that it took so long for the military regime in Myanmar, or Burma, to allow in aid after a cyclone last year. "They had so little and lost all of it," she says.

Fore says the Bush administration does have a solid legacy to leave behind in the area of humanitarian aid and development.

"We have tripled foreign assistance worldwide, doubling it in Latin America and nearly quadrupling it in Africa," she says.

She also praises the creativity of Bush aid programs, such as the president's initiatives for emergency relief in HIV/AIDS and malaria and the Millennium Challenge Corp., which offers multiyear aid commitments to countries that are well governed.

In her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton praised these new models of U.S. foreign assistance. She said that as part of her "smart power" approach to the world, both diplomacy and development will be central to the Obama administration's foreign policy.

Clinton told senators she will focus on the plight of women, who she said "comprise the majority of the world's unhealthy, unschooled, unfed and unpaid."

Clinton also talked about how the Defense Department has taken on too much of the job of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fore says the incoming USAID team will find that the civilian capacity in the U.S. government is far too small for the world's demands.

"I don't think a day has gone by when I have not noticed how small our staff is," Fore says. "There are skills that you need in the world of development — economists, engineers, environmentalists, health workers, education specialists, economic specialists for micro-enterprise and budding entrepreneurs, and humanitarian specialists. We have needed all of them."

Right now, USAID has just 1,000 foreign service officers, says Fore, though she has laid the groundwork to double that figure.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.