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USAID says it will send $90 million in aid to Gaza


The U.S. Agency for International Development - better known as USAID - says it is sending $90 million to aid Palestinians in Gaza. The announcement comes amid growing concerns of famine. Roughly half the population of Gaza faces severe food insecurity. Well, Samantha Power is in charge. She is the administrator for USAID. Samantha Power, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SAMANTHA POWER: Good to be back.

KELLY: What are you hoping $90 million will buy?

POWER: Well, it will buy a lot more if we can secure greater humanitarian access because resources are only part of the equation. It is really important that every country step up. There are a lot of needs in places like Sudan and all around the world. And so this is an important announcement. It allows organizations like the World Food Programme, UNICEF and others to build their pipelines to get supplies into the region. But fundamentally, we need more checkpoints open. We need humanitarian aid workers to feel secure as they drive from one part of Gaza to the next, and that's been very challenging throughout this conflict so far.

KELLY: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you're touching on a key thing, which is that providing aid is one thing, getting it distributed is another, especially since the closing of the Rafah border crossing. And there's been damage to the pier the U.S. has been working on building. How does that effort go, getting the aid this money will hopefully buy to people who desperately need it?

POWER: Well, I think that you mentioned Rafah. Rafah needs to be reopened. It's very important. Negotiations between Egypt and Israel are underway. I think President Biden was - did something extremely important, which is broker the reopening of Kerem Shalom. And we now have, you know, 200, 300 trucks most days going through Kerem Shalom.

But, you know, we've said that we need 500 trucks, humanitarian aid trucks, alone. And that's something we've been saying for many months, and it's a target that we've almost never met. So you can imagine the deficit between, you know, getting to 150, 250 trucks and 500. And trucks are a poor proxy for what we're really talking about, but it's basic shelter, food, medicine and, now with the fuel shortages, water as well because it's so difficult to power the water in the sanitation plants.

KELLY: You're talking about things that the U.S. has been calling for for months. You're a experienced diplomat, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Is the U.S. doing everything it can, exerting every ounce of leverage it has to try to get this aid to the people it needs?

POWER: Well, we are pushing, I can tell you, relentlessly. And USAID's logisticians and operational people are on the ground coming up day in, day out with creative solutions. But clearly Hamas, you know, insinuates itself in the civilian population. That makes it very, very challenging. And Israel needs to prioritize the opening of multiple crossing points, you know, at one time.

I think the emphasis right now, honestly, Mary Louise, is on this really important cease-fire proposal because what the president has laid out is something that would pause the fighting. You know, it would address some of these concerns that aid workers have about moving around - not just their safety, but the delays and the blockages at checkpoints and so forth. You know, all of that presumably would melt away. And we would be able to flood the zone with the kinds of food and shelter that are needed and, as President Biden has said, pave the way for a permanent end of hostilities. Because this just can't go on.

KELLY: Just to change gears, I do want to ask about growing dissent within the Biden administration over the administration's policy toward Gaza. I have interviewed one of the State Department officials who resigned in protest. And I know one of your advisers, Alex Smith, resigned last week. In his resignation letter to you, he, quote, wrote, "I can no longer in good conscience continue to be silent amidst USAID's de facto policy of ignoring human suffering when that suffering is perpetrated by an ally." How do you respond to that?

POWER: Well, nobody at USAID, I assure you, is ignoring human suffering. And I wish I could have on the show the people who do this work day in, day out, often at great personal risk. I wish I could introduce you, indeed, to our Palestinian staff, you know, who are doing this work and who have family members in Gaza, for whom this is really, really personal.

We have a lot of views at USAID that are critical of U.S. foreign policy. We have views that believe we are pushing and doing everything we can. And my job is to hear those views, and particularly those that are informed by facts on the ground and ideas about what more we can do because the situation is abhorrent. Civilians are living in unimaginable terror and in unimaginable deprivation. So if there weren't people, particularly at an agency like USAID that is...

KELLY: Right.

POWER: ...Rooted in humanitarian and development mission, who are unhappy about where we are, that would be disappointing in its own right.

KELLY: That is Samantha Power. She is the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator. I appreciate your time. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

POWER: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Megan Lim
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Tinbete Ermyas
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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.