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US lawmakers give thumbs up to USAID chief Rajiv Shah

March 09, 2012 10:52 IST

US Agency for International Development Administrator Dr Rajiv Shah has been praised by US lawmakers for shepherding America's development efforts with the scarce resources available and alleviating poverty-stricken populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of South Asia, and Haiti, which was devastated by a killer earthquake over two years ago.

Shah, who was appearing before the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee to present the administration's international development priorities in the 2013 Budget, was lauded for developing the new USAID policy agenda for gender quality and female empowerment and called a "visionary".

Maryland Democrat Senator Ben Cardin, who was chairing the committee in the absence of Massachusetts Democrat Senator John F Kerry, said, "I believe that our international development assistance is a critical investment in America's national security and I recognise that Dr Shah and his team has made tough choices in this year's request."

"I believe this is a budget that protects America's security interests and maintains US global leadership while also encouraging more efficient use of taxpayers' dollars," he said, and argued that development, along with defence and diplomacy, the three Ds, is one of the three critical prongs that help to ensure America's national security."

Cardin said, "As the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, I know firsthand how smart investments and worthy development projects are not only the right thing to do, but they have a profound impact on global stability."

"Often, Americans do not understand how the work of the State Department and USAID affects their lives. Aside from the humanitarian and moral imperative of improving lives in the world's neediest places, I would also like to underscore how our development assistance overseas expands export markets and ultimately strengthens our domestic job market. We have an economic interest in what we do globally as far as our development assistance is concerned."

Cardin then said, "I want to praise -- Dr Shah, I want to praise you with your release last week of the new USAID policy for gender equality and female empowerment, which makes integrating gender and including women and girls central to all US international assistance."

He said, "This policy, which updates guidelines that were over 30 years old, recognises that the integration of women and girls is basic to effective international assistance across all sectors like food, security, health, climate change, science and technology, economic growth, democracy and governance, and humanitarian assistance. It aims to increase the capacity of women and girls and decrease inequality between genders and also to decrease gender-based violence."

Shah in his presentation, said, "Two years ago, President Obama and Secretary (of State, Hillary) Clinton asked us to elevate development as a core part of our national security and foreign policy strategy. We recognise that this work is so important that it has required us to do things differently. It has required us to be more responsive to national security priorities, more effective in foreign policy priority contexts, while being much more results-oriented and efficient in achieving core development results in food security, health, water and sanitation, education, humanitarian assistance and resilience to climate change, and democratic governance and basic respect for human rights."

Thus, he said, "In this FY '13 budget request, we believe we have made tough choices, choices that are leading us to focus and concentrate our investments where we can generate the most value for every taxpayer dollar that is invested. In priority areas like food and health, we have taken extra efforts to cut programs and reallocate resources to those specific countries where we think we can get the most results for every dollar that we invest. Our maternal health program, for example, has been reduced to 24 priority countries in order to support those places where the burden of disease is highest and where we can get the most results."

Shah said, "This budget includes a focus on our top priorities," and noted that "in front-line states like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, we continue to implement our reforms focused on accountability, making sure that we are making our work and the footprint of our work sustainable, and doing what we can to ensure that those societies and countries have a pathway to success without long-term US assistance and engagement at current levels."

"Our food programmes have really represented a new way of doing business over the past two to three years. The president's programme, which we call Feed the Future, has helped to work in nearly 20 countries to expand access to agricultural development and has done so by engaging local US institutions that have technology to add, including US universities and farmers' groups."

Shah said, "The programme is now generating specific results. In Haiti, we are seeing rice yields increase by 170 per cent. In Kenya, we note that 90,000 dairy farm households have experienced an income increase of more than $14 million on an annual basis. And Bangladesh for the first time in three decades today has enough rice to feed itself."

In terms of transparency, Shah said, "We've launched website that puts all of our program expenditures and obligations in the public domain for every country by sector so there's clarity where the resources are going. We are testing different strategies to use our website and to use different programs in-country to expand transparency."

For example, he pointed out, "I would highlight the new Pakistan country website that lists every programme that we support in Pakistan. It has a ways to go and can get better, and we'll be re-launching our site completely this June. And I think that will improve transparency if people can click through and see every programme we have everywhere."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC