The Washington Post

Federal Faces: Cara Christie of USAID

Name: Cara Christie

Position: Disaster operations specialist, U.S. Agency for International Development

Best known for: In 2011 and 2012, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia were reeling from the region’s worst drought and famine in 60 years. Malnutrition and death rates soared, crops failed, livestock died and food prices skyrocketed. At the height of the crisis, more than 13 million people needed assistance.

Christie led the $1.3 billion U.S. relief effort to provide food, water, emergency health, nutritional care and cash voucher programs to help millions living under the devastating conditions. She is credited with recognizing the significance of the impending famine almost a year before it unfolded and convincing her superiors of the need to preposition commodities and award grants in the fall of 2010 — a move that hastened aid to the region.

Colleagues said Christie and her team members anticipated the crisis by analyzing historical and current rainfall data, crop patterns, livestock health, market prices and malnutrition rates in the region. She also helped coordinate activities with other governments, international agencies and non-governmental organizations to speed relief to the most vulnerable.

USAID Disaster Operations Specialist Cara Christie. (Sam Kittner)

The relief effort was complicated by multiple factors, including conflict across southern and central Somalia and in parts of Kenya and Ethi­o­pia. Massive numbers of people were displaced and access to the neediest was restricted.

Colleagues described Christie as the individual who was able to design responses that met the needs and “kept the trains running.”

Government work: Christie joined USAID in 2006 as an information officer with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and has since worked on numerous high-profile disaster responses, including the 2011-12 Horn of Africa drought, the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya.

Motivation for service: Christie has long been fascinated by the underlying causes of armed conflicts and how to help those caught in the middle. This drew her to USAID.

Biggest challenge: At times, the sheer scope of crises forces Christie and USAID to recognize that they can’t reach everyone in need. She also faces roadblocks: bad weather, conflict, time pressure and dwindling resources.

Quote: “I often feel I have one of the best jobs in the U.S. government. Every day, my team and I save lives and alleviate human suffering amid some of the world’s greatest tragedies. We are helping others, and there is no greater accomplishment.”

— From the Partnership

for Public Service

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