AP Interview: Samantha Power and Russia’s Food Crisis


Samantha Ball rose to prominence as a human rights advocate and was chosen by President Joe Biden to lead the agency responsible for distributing billions of dollars in U.S. aid abroad, including more than anyone else in the world. food aid. But since Russia invaded Ukraine, the work includes a new mission with a Cold War feel — countering Russian messaging abroad.

As USAID Administrator, Ball is currently dealing with a global food crisis triggered by local conflicts, the economic upheaval of a pandemic, droughts and other events typical of climate change extremes. As the Biden administration has often articulated, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, exacerbating food shortages and raising prices everywhere complicates matters.

That sparked a psychic rivalry reminiscent of the Soviet era last month, when Ball visited desperate families and struggling farmers in the Horn of Africa country. She watched aid workers deliver emergency food to children, who were always the first to die from food crises, and announced new food aid.

But unexpectedly, a few days later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov followed her to Africa, visiting other capitals with a different message aimed at strengthening Russia’s presence in Africa. Partnerships.

Lavrov claimed that U.S. and international sanctions on Russia’s six-month invasion of Ukraine were to blame for cutting off vital food supplies to world markets. He dismissed the “so-called food crisis” that has hit the continent hardest.

In fact, the Russian blockade keeps Ukrainian food out of the world. International sanctions against Russia exempt agricultural products and fertilizers.

“What no one in our administration will do is allow the Russian Federation (which still says it’s not at war in Ukraine) to blame sanctions and the U.S. for the recent spike in food and fertilizer prices,” Ball returned to Washington ‘s office told The Associated Press.

“People, especially when they’re facing a crisis of this magnitude, they do know…whether you’re delivering emergency humanitarian aid…or you’re on the podium trying to make it the new Cold War, ‘ Ball said.

“Mr. Lavrov traveled to Africa after me, and after that visit, the countries he visited received almost nothing tangible from him, other than misinformation and lies,” Ball said.

Even African officials whose governments refused to join the United Nations earlier this year to formally condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine told Russian leaders to privately appeal to Russia to keep Ukrainian grain out of ports, she said.

A former journalist, Ball won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for “Questions from Hell,” a book on genocide that sparked debate in government and academia about the wisdom and ethics of intervening in atrocities abroad. Before joining the Biden administration, she served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama.

With a record number of people already starving around the world since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, creating new food and energy shortages, much of Power’s focus has been on the food crisis. After successfully reducing the number of people without food in an earlier decade, the number of hungry people worldwide rose to an estimated 828 million this year, with 150 million in the wake of the pandemic alone, many of whom are in dire need, Ball said.

High food prices are fueling political unrest even in countries outside areas where aid groups have warned of famine, such as the overthrow of the Sri Lankan government this summer. “Most analysts would be very surprised if the Sri Lankan government finally fell,” Ball noted.

“Because of economic pain and people’s needs, human needs, holding the authorities accountable for the horrific inability to care for the needs of loved ones — if anything, that’s a motivator. A” to protest, Ball said.

“I couldn’t put it more bluntly, this is the worst food crisis of our lifetime,” Ball said.

She pointed to some promising signs in recent weeks — Russia allowing Ukraine to ship its first grain ship out of a Russian-blocked port in months, and food and fuel prices have fallen.

But in East Africa’s worst-hit countries — Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia — four consecutive rainy seasons have failed, withering grains in the fields and killing hundreds of millions of livestock, the only livelihoods for pastoralists in the region. “They don’t have a Plan B,” she said.

A woman farmer in Kenya told her she was holding back from the high price of fertilizer and realised she could only sow half of her crops for the next season, a warning of deeper hunger.

But Power said donor aid to Africa’s current hunger crisis is less than half that of the last major crisis in 2016. There are no signs of an end to the war or food crisis in Ukraine, with wealthier countries telling Power they are donating most of their relief money to Ukraine or else it will be siphoned off.

Remarkably, Power’s GoFundMe account, which was announced in mid-July to help ordinary people in response to the global food crisis, showed just $2,367 in donations on Friday.

Ball and other U.S. officials have increasingly pressed China, especially for more relief. Asked for comment, the Chinese embassy in Washington said China had donated $130 million to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

“It’s not a topic,” Ball said of the plea to China. “This is sincere hope.”



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