Michelle Obama at USAID

May 6, 2010 By Jordan Smith

First Lady Michelle Obama stopped by USAID yesterday afternoon to thank employees of the development agency and let them know she and the President recognize that “the challenges we’re facing are bigger and much more complex than ever before.” She referred to global hunger, climate change, natural disasters and an exploding youth population. Still, USAID has made important gains against these staggering challenges, gains that have not gone unnoticed by Mrs. Obama. “Because of your efforts to improve basic health conditions, there are children around the world who are alive today who would have died without your help,” she said. “Because of your commitment to sustainable agriculture, we’ve seen the most dramatic increase in food production in history, and we’ve helped you prevent starvation — seen you prevent starvation around the world.”

Obama reflected on the agency’s widely-heralded role in leading the U.S. response to January’s brutal earthquake in Haiti, which occurred just days after Administrator Rajiv Shah was sworn in. “In the aftermath of the terrible earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions without food, water and shelter, the men and women of USAID, you all answered the call, and you put service above self, and helped to mount a rapid response to one of the most complex disasters that we’ve seen.” She continued: “Your work with the Haitian government, our military, the U.N. and NGOs helped feed nearly 3 million Haitians, and provide water and sanitation services to much of the affected population.”

Perhaps most importantly, Mrs. Obama spoke to those who question the role of USAID in U.S. foreign policy.  She said emphatically, “USAID will play a central role in our mission going forward.  The President and Secretary Clinton are committed to making development an essential part of our efforts to ensure peace, security and progress in the world. “