director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA.
The Trump administration is seeking billions of dollars in cuts in funding to the United Nations, even as the United Nations warns that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War, and seeks $4.4 billion in additional funding by July to avert famine in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan. For more, we speak with Joel Charny, director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask about the U.S. threats to cut billions of dollars in funding to the United Nations. Can you talk about the effect of this? And what is President Trump saying?
JOEL CHARNY: Well, at this—the budget will come out tomorrow, but the report is that there will be a 50 percent cut across the board in Trump’s budget for 2018. Now, the U.S. is a very significant supporter of the humanitarian arms of the United Nations, as well as the U.N. across the board. But in the context of 20 million people being on the brink of famine, you’re proposing to cut funding for the high commissioner for refugees, the U.N. refugee agency; for the World Food Programmme, that Ertharin Cousin represents; and for UNICEF. And those three agencies are, on the U.N.'s behalf, on the front line of responding to the situations that we're talking about. So, to call this ill-timed is an incredible understatement. I mean, to—and the other rumor, Amy, is that, you know, there are going to be devastating cuts to the U.S.'s own humanitarian funding through agencies like the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the refugee bureau at the State Department. So, we're anxiously awaiting the release of the Trump budget tomorrow, but it—we’re obviously quite concerned that, in the context of the massive need that we’re facing and the normal U.S. leadership that we see in responding to famine situations, these cuts, not just for the U.N. but also for domestic—you know, for our international response agencies in the U.S. government, will be devastating.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the new U.N. secretary-general you referenced, Joel, António Guterres, recently calling on greater international financial support.
SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: One of the biggest obstacles we face now is funding. Humanitarian operations in these four countries require more than $5.6 billion this year. And we need at least $4.4 billion by the end of March to avert a catastrophe. Despite some generous pledges, just $90 million has actually been received so far—around two cents for every dollar needed. We are in the beginning of the year, but these numbers are very worrying. Funding shortages have already forced the World Food Programme to cut rations in Yemen by more than half since last year. And without new resources, critical shortages will worsen—will worsen within months.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s António Guterres, the new U.N. attorney—the new U.N. secretary-general. I want to turn to a mother of nine children in South Sudan.
SOUTH SUDANESE MOTHER: [translated] Currently, we have no food, and the entire family depends on water lily and date palm.
AMY GOODMAN: Joel Charny, can you talk about South Sudan?
JOEL CHARNY: South Sudan is a place where, you know, there was so much hope in 2011, when the country was founded, after years of support from around the world, including from the United States. And basically, the leaders of South Sudan decided that they would rather fight over ultimate control than govern their country in a way that worked for all their people. So, South Sudan is a classic example of another famine or food shortage that’s driven purely by conflict in this—with an ethnic dimension, but also a political dimension, unresolved political conflicts within the South Sudanese ruling class that date all the way back to the ’90s, that were covered up during the independence struggle but have since emerged.
And again, in South Sudan, we face just immense logistical difficulties in reaching people, like the woman you just showed. And we have to overcome obstacles from the government itself. We have to overcome logistical difficulties. We have to make sure that we can work safely in the midst of conflict. And South Sudan has oil. South Sudan has relatively fertile soil to feed itself. And the issue is just the inability of the authorities, and working with the—with outside aid agencies, to come together to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan. And it is a desperate situation. Of the four—of the four countries that we’re discussing, South Sudan is the one place where a famine has officially been declared in one part of the country, affecting 100,000 people.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about Somalia and Nigeria, Joel Charny?
JOEL CHARNY: Well, Somalia—I mean, Amy, I know I’m depressing your listeners, but, I mean, Somalia is the one place, I think, where a rapid response actually can make a difference, because the—although there is conflict in Somalia, the famine threat this time, the severe drought, is mainly in parts of the country that are reachable by the government, as weak as it is, and reachable by the international aid community. So if we’re able to mobilize quickly—and this is what everyone’s saying right now—if we’re able to mobilize food and cash quickly, we can—we can overcome the situation of Somalia, in Somalia, if we get—if we get moving.
In Nigeria, it’s a question of—you know, Boko Haram is disrupting areas in the northern part of the country. There’s been a response by the Nigerian government that has, you know, led to people being driven into camps and away from their homes. And because of the conflict there, food production has been disrupted. It’s very difficult to reach people. And again, from the perspective of an outside agency like Norwegian Refugee Council, the key in northern Nigeria is either to reach some kind of peace agreement or at least a way to prosecute the war that doesn’t disrupt life in villages and doesn’t harm people who are so vulnerable.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end by going back to where we began: in Yemen. President Trump met with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House Tuesday, during which the two reportedly discussed their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. They also are expected to discuss U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia for this ongoing Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen, which has killed thousands. Amnesty International urged Trump to block the arms sales, writing, "Arming the Saudi Arabia and Bahrain governments risks complicity with war crimes, and doing so while simultaneously banning travel to the U.S. from Yemen would be even more unconscionable." Joel, tonight at midnight begins the—what they call what? The Muslim ban 2.0, when people from six countries, including Yemen, will not be allowed into the United States, unless it’s stopped in court. How does this go together with what you’re seeing right now in these places?
JOEL CHARNY: Well, as people have pointed out, four of the six countries in the ban are currently in conflict, in which the U.S. is involved. And our view on the ban is very simple. The people in these countries and, indeed, refugees worldwide are among the most vulnerable in the world. They are vetted before they come to the United States. And it’s just an absolute priority, from our standpoint, that the U.S. remain open to the most vulnerable refugees and that we have an immigration program from these countries that allows people to reunify with their families, to study in the U.S. and so on. So, you know, this contrast between assaulting—you know, having wars going on, yet not being able to be a safe haven, is obviously a clear and worrying contrast.
AMY GOODMAN: Joel Charny, I want to thank you for being with us, director of the Norwegian Refugee Council USA. And, of course, we’ll continue to cover the story.
When we come back, why are eight men scheduled to die in Arkansas within 10 days? We’ll talk about the reason. Stay with us.