GEOFF BENNETT: For the first time in nearly eight years, a Cabinet member has visited Somalia.
Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield's trip to the capital, Mogadishu, comes as the region faces one of the world's most acute humanitarian crises caused by ongoing conflict, climate change and COVID.
Across the Horn of Africa, 24 million people are extremely food-insecure.
And, in Somalia, humanitarian agencies warn that more than eight million people are on the brink of famine if more aid isn't delivered soon.
In a moment, Nick Schifrin interviews the ambassador to the U.N., but, first, he looks at the urgent crisis in Somalia.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Across the arid landscape of Southern Somalia, families are fleeing to try to escape death by starvation.
They set up tent cities like this one in Baidoa.
Bundobo Hassan left her home after her livestock were killed by drought.
BUNDOBO HASSAN, Internally Displaced Person (through translator): We just survive on what people give us.
We just eat what we have.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Somalia faces its worst drought in 40 years.
The last five rainy seasons have been dry, ravaging crops, killing millions of livestock, and pushing more than one-third of the country's 17 million residents into acute food insecurity.
Current estimates say the crisis could be worse than the 2011 famine that killed more than 250,000 people.
VICTOR CHINYAMA, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Somalia: The level of human suffering that these communities goes through is beyond comprehension.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Victor Chinyama is UNICEF's Somalia spokesperson.
VICTOR CHINYAMA: The capacity of families and communities to withstand these climatic shocks gets eroded every single year.
And that is why now you have large numbers of people that have been displaced and are looking for help.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Help to save the most vulnerable.
Already, hundreds of children have died, the U.N. says thousands more at risk of dying and 1.8 million could be malnourished through July.
VICTOR CHINYAMA: We potentially are looking at a generation that could be lost.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But Somalis don't only need food.
They need peace.
Al-Qaida linked Al-Shabaab, which the U.S. calls a terrorist group, wants to establish an Islamic State and controls large swathes of rural areas.
SHASHWAT SARAF, East Africa Regional Emergency Director, International Rescue Committee: It's almost impossible for us as humanitarian actors.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Shashwat Saraf is the East Africa regional emergency director for the International Rescue Committee.
SHASHWAT SARAF: It's so insecure that no humanitarian actor or agency would be able to go into those geographical pockets to provide humanitarian services.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Somalia's hunger catastrophe is exacerbated by a conflict 3,000 miles away.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine blocked Ukrainian exports and deprived the Horn of Africa its major source of food.
At current funding levels, humanitarian agencies say famine could arrive in a matter of months.
SHASHWAT SARAF: Today, what we have is a 50-person funded team for the region.
And we still don't have enough financial resources to be able to meet the increasing needs that we're seeing in the region.
NICK SCHIFRIN: More money is also what U.S.
Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield asked for in an unannounced trip to Somalia this past weekend.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations: The United States is asking other donors and the world to go bigger and be bolder.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is back in Washington, and joins me now.
Ambassador, thanks very much.
Welcome back to the "NewsHour."
What will the impact be if Somalia does not get the additional funding it needs ahead of what's expected to be another failed rainy season in the coming months?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We want to do everything we can to avert this next round of failed rainfalls, which should happen sometime around the March/April time frame.
And what we need to do is get more donors to support the people of Somalia.
I announced $40 million when I was there.
And that's in addition to the $1.3 billion that we provided already.
But more is needed to be done by more people.
We have to be much more ambitious.
We have to be more aggressive.
We have to save lives.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Those numbers that you just cited, more than $1.3 billion of assistance from the U.S. since last October, makes the U.S. by far the largest donor.
But the United Nations says the European Union has only funded 10 percent of its humanitarian response plan to Somalia.
Does Europe need to do more?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Everybody needs to do more, so traditional donors like the European Union and others in Europe, who are already providing funding, but we're also calling on nontraditional donors, donors who might not otherwise think about engaging on Somalia, to also contribute to this effort.
This is about humanity.
There's no reason for people to die of hunger.
We have the tools that we need to support them.
We just need the resources.
NICK SCHIFRIN: There is a term, as you know, that humanitarian workers use: compassion fatigue.
Are donors, do you think, too distracted by Ukraine?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don't think so.
I hear compassion fatigue being used all the time.
I heard when I was in Africa a concern that resources are being redirected to Ukraine.
All of the funding that we have provided to Ukraine is new money.
And we're still funding other humanitarian needs.
And we encourage other countries to do exactly the same.
We can't be fatigued about people dying.
We can't lose our sense of humanity, our compassion for people.
It is important that we not watch another child die of hunger.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Nearly one million of the Somalis who need assistance live under territory that's currently controlled by Al-Shabaab.
U.S. trains Somalia's Danab.
That's the elite counterterrorism force.
And, also, local militias have been fighting Al-Shabaab.
But many experts say that at the core of the long-term problems that Somalia faces is bad governance.
This government is unelected.
There are senior officials who used to be senior members of Al-Shabaab.
Why does the U.S. support this government?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: President Hassan Sheikh was president previously.
And, interestingly, what he has said in this term is that he's learned so much since he was out of government.
And we have been impressed with the strategy that he has put forth, to engage with the other regions of Somalia.
He's looking at how he can move forward on political reconciliation.
And he has tried to be more inclusive, including bringing in those people who have turned their backs away from Al-Shabaab and who are prepared to work with this government to do right by the Somali people.
He is fighting to take territory away from Al-Shabaab.
And he's been extraordinarily successful, with our help and with the help of the African Union transitional mission.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Why not condition in U.S. assistance more on performance?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We can't condition humanitarian assistance and allow people to die.
We have to support the humanitarian imperative that Somalia puts in front of us.
Also, if they are going to defeat Al-Shabaab, they have to be trained.
And we have worked to train their soldiers so that they do abide by humanitarian and human rights rules.
And we're working to push Somalia for the first time closer to a more inclusive, closer to a democratic government.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Some experts I spoke to today urged the U.S. to push the government to speak to Al-Shabaab to actually come up with a negotiated settlement to what many see as a civil war.
Do you agree?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I heard president Hassan Sheikh speaking on another channel a few weeks ago.
And he said: You're asking me to speak to terrorists.
You're asking me to speak to people who are responsible for slaughtering our people.
He wants to get rid of Al-Shabaab.
We have designated them as terrorists.
We would not be asked in the United States to negotiate with terrorists.
These -- Al-Shabaab is responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Somalis.
It is responsible for this country being in the situation that it's in right now.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Finally, Ambassador, in the time I have left, many African capitals do not like talk of a great game between the U.S., China and Russia and Africa.
But the Chinese foreign minister just visited five African countries.
China, of course, pours billions of dollars into infrastructure development in Africa.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov just visited South Africa, whose foreign minister just called Russia a friend.
U.S., as you have pointed out, is by far the largest humanitarian donor to Africa as a whole.
But does your assistance sometimes fail to match your influence?
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: China is spending billions of dollars on infrastructure.
It is not a gift.
It is basically a yoke that is putting many countries in debt.
But countries have made these decisions, and they will work with having to deal with the consequences of these decisions down the road.
Our message to Africa is, we want to be your partner.
We want to help you build a future for your next generation.
And we want to do that together with you.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you very much.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.