REBECCA ROBERTS, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Israel's announcement today that it would impose a cease-fire in Gaza was greeted with relief by American officials. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement urging both sides to end their attacks immediately. Rice, just like everyone working for her boss, President Bush, is just three days from leaving office. Some of those Bush administration officials, such as the director of U.S. Foreign Assistance, still have urgent issues on their plates, like getting aid to the Palestinians in Gaza or to cholera victims in Zimbabwe. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: As both the director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Henrietta Fore has been spending her final days on the job making 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's also trying to raise alarms about a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, where, she says, 1,700 people have died of cholera, a treatable disease.
Ms. HENRIETTA FORE (Director, U.S. Foreign Assistance, USAID): The death toll in Zimbabwe is needless. It was a failure of the state, pure and simple. And we have been working very hard there, but all 10 provinces now have cholera in Zimbabwe. This is something that the government must take action on.
KELEMEN: Trying to get Robert Mugabe's government to deal with this health crisis has been one of her major frustrations. In an exit interview in her office at the State Department, Fore said there have been other difficult times, especially when a cyclone hit Myanmar last year and the military junta initially blocked foreign assistance for an impoverished population.
Ms. FORE: They had so little, and they lost all of it. So how do you, as a nation halfway around the world, come to help?
KELEMEN: In that case, it took a lot of outside pressure. Fore has been on the job for only a couple of years, but worked in other capacities in the Bush administration. She credits the administration for paying a lot of attention to humanitarian issues and development.
Ms. FORE: We have tripled foreign assistance worldwide, doubling it in Latin America and nearly quadrupling it in Africa. It has been creative with the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the president's initiative for emergency relief in HIV-AIDS, in malaria. And there are some very good, new models.
KELEMEN: Models that the incoming Obama administration are planning to build on, though it's likely to reorganize the bureaucratic structures of these programs. Development was a major topic at Tuesday's Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton. She stressed the moral and strategic reasons to continue aiding the world's poor.
Ms. HILLARY CLINTON (Nominee, Secretary of State, President-elect Obama Administration): Then, a particular concern to me is the plight of women and girls who comprise the majority of the world's unhealthy, unschooled, unfed and unpaid.
KELEMEN: Hillary Clinton also talked about how the Defense Department has taken on too much of the job of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. The outgoing head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Henrietta Fore, says the incoming team will find that the civilian capacity in the U.S. government is far too small for the world's demands.
Ms. FORE: I don't think a day has gone by when I have not noticed how small our staff is. There are skills that you need in the world of development, economists and engineers, and environmentalists and health workers, and education specialists, and economic specialists for micro-enterprise, and budding entrepreneurs and humanitarian-crisis specialists. We have needed all of them.
KELEMEN: Right now, she says, USAID has just 1,000 foreign service officers. Fore has laid the groundwork to double that. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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