Full House Foreign Affairs Committee passes Smith bill to prevent mass starvationH.R. 1079 Desert Locust Control Act
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Ranking Member of the Africa Subcommittee, spoke at the March 25, 2021 committee markup of his bill, H.R. 1079, to avert massive food shortages and related destabilization in areas of Africa. Smith's bill passed in a unanimous voice vote. The following are excerpts of his remarks:
Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you and Ranking Member McCaul for including H.R. 1079, the Desert Locust Control Act in today’s markup.
According to USAID: “The desert locust is one of the most destructive migratory pests in the world, rapidly consuming most vegetation in its path, including crops and pastureland critical to maintaining the food security and livelihoods of populations in East Africa. Locust swarms are highly mobile and carried on the wind; swarms can travel up to 100 miles per day, and even a relatively small, 0.4 square mile-sized swarm can consume an amount of food sufficient for approximately 35,000 people in one day.”
The World Bank notes that: “A new generation of locusts emerges every 8 weeks. Each generation, on average, sees a 20-fold increase in the population. The growing swarms spread to new areas, disrupting the food supply, upending livelihoods and requiring substantial resources to address.”
As of the end of last year, some 42 million people in East Africa alone are suffering acute food insecurity – and this does not include Gulf States such as Yemen or India and Pakistan, which are also impacted.
“Acute food insecurity” is defined as the sudden lack of food or the ability to produce or access minimum requirements of food.
The need for this legislation came about with the realization last year that various agencies of the federal government which shared partial responsibility for addressing the compounding locust, food and COVID crises were not coordinating their efforts, and thus not achieving the best possible outcome. This included not only the State Department and USAID, but also the NSC, the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture.
It is in large part thanks to the herculean efforts of our Ambassador to the United Nations food agencies in Rome, Kip Tom, and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Former Governor David Beasley, that awareness of this crisis and steps to mitigate it have had at least partial success.
They prodded countries, all of which were under COVID lockdowns, and the Food and Agriculture Organization into action, without which we would be facing an even greater food security crisis.
Yet the crisis persists, and the upsurge in locusts continues.
The bill helps coordinate our governmental response at de minimis cost.
And what are the costs of not acting?
In testimony last week before the Africa Subcommittee in a hearing chaired by Rep. Bass, Ambassador Tom noted that to date some $240 million has been spent to address the crisis.
Of this, USAID has provided some $26 million in assistance as of February 1st of this year, for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. The German government has provided the largest amount of assistance to combat locusts.
But if this blows up into full scale famine – abetted by an ongoing hostilities in Ethiopia – then Ambassador Tom estimates that the humanitarian cost will balloon to $3 billion to $3.5 billion.
That would mean millions of lives potentially lost to a horrific death by starvation and implicate US disaster assistance funding.
I ask for your support for H.R. 1079, which I also invite you my colleagues to cosponsor.
H. Res. 245 (as Amended)
I would also like to voice my support for my good friend and colleague Karen Bass’ House Resolution 245, as amended, Calling for Continued and Robust International Collaboration and Coordination to Fight COVID-19 across Africa.
In 2020, Africa had both fewer COVID-19 cases—about 3.5% of the world’s cases according to the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention—and fewer deaths than other parts of the world. Robust containment and a younger population were factors, but the emergence of variants that are more transmissible and deadly has now resulted in a fatality in rate in 2021 that is now above the global average.
Tanzania’s President—a pandemic skeptic-- has just passed away, reportedly from COVID-19.
H.R. 1145, To Direct the Secretary of State to Develop a Strategy to Regain Observer Status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization
Finally, I would like to thank Congresswoman Young Kim for her bill, H.R. 1145, as amended, directing the Secretary of State to develop a strategy for Taiwan to gain observer status at the World Health Organization, and note how as a freshman representative she is becoming a leading voice on Asia Pacific issues.
Democratic Taiwan has been a model citizen in how it engages the world with regard to health crises, and its exclusion from the WHO at the behest of China is a scandal which jeopardizes global health and underscores how the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping disregards the global common good.
Let’s not forget that it was Taiwan which sounded the alarm on the COVID virus when Beijing was engaged in a cover up with the apparent acquiescence of the WHO.
Let’s also not forget how Taiwan responded to the need for Personal Protective Equipment when PPE was in such short supply last year.
I am forever grateful for how the people of Taiwan contributed 300,000 masks to first responders and frontline healthcare professionals in my home state of New Jersey during the height of the crisis last April.
Mr. Chairman, I am proud to cosponsor of this bill, and I thank you and the Committee for advancing it today.