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Archives for Afghanistan

MDG Countdown: Working to Fulfill A Global Promise

Susan Reichle is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID's Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning. Credit: USAID

We all have a deadline in 2015 that can be easily lost amid our busy day-to-days and crowded lists of to-dos.

In 2000,189 nations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and to extend hope and opportunity to millions across the developing world – all by 2015.  Under the United Nation’s umbrella of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the 189 countries committed to eight development goals that were  ambitious in scale and yet vital.

That’s why this week, USAID and our counterparts at the UK Department for International Development are once again drawing attention to the MDGs at an event in New York,during the UN General Assembly.

The good news is that great progress is being made towards achieving the MDGs, and the global community can be inspired by the innovations and successes we are seeing around the world.

Poverty has been cut by 50 percent globally and the proportion of people with no safe drinking water has been cut in half, ahead of the 2015 deadline..   

As evidenced at the New York event this week, USAID is also making a significant contribution to meet the MDG’s:

  • In El Salvador, we work with the Salvadoran Ministry of Education to not only improve the quality of teaching and learning, but also partner with local communities to keep students in school and to recruit children who were not attending classes.  (MDG 2)
  • In Afghanistan, we work with the Government to build capacity in its Ministry of Health, among midwives, and in local hospitals, and have helped to increase health coverage from eight percent to over 60 percent of the people over ten years and helped the country realize an incredible drop in infant, child and maternal mortality rates.   (MDG 4 and 5)
  • In Indonesia, where only 40 percent of citizens receive water from a household tap, we worked to vastly improve the water and sanitation systems.  While our effort has scaled down, the program legacy lives on in private and public sectors’ support for clean water and sanitation, and proof that local and the central governments are willing to commit funds to the utilities to improve performance and expand services if a clear and compelling justification is presented.  (MDG 7)

Still, with only 15 months until the deadline we still have the other six goals to meet.  USAID is applying its resources more strategically than ever to enable countries to achieve the MDGs.  As outlined in USAID’s County Development Coordination Strategies, we are implementing the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development by focusing on those development imperatives that are priorities for the host country and USAID investment can make a difference.  These strategies are informed by evidence, rather than anecdote and lead to stronger projects designed in cooperation with host country counterparts, including government and civil society.

The challenges involved in meeting the MDGs by 2015 remain daunting, yet USAID along with our global partners are making significant strides.  Using breakthrough innovations, integrated approaches, and strategic partnerships we can achieve unprecedented progress in the years to come.

Afghanistan’s Banner Year for Agriculture (and how to get more of them)

The 2012 wheat harvest in Afghanistan is shaping up to be one of the best in the last 35 years, according to a new report by the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture.  This is fantastic news for the Afghan people and economy. Afghanistan has been one of the least food secure countries in the world due to a combination of drought, conflict, and low productivity. In 2002, under famine conditions, 10 million Afghans required substantial food aid.

With an eye to the future and to overcome these perennial challenges, USAID and the Government of Afghanistan have made support for agriculture a top priority of our efforts in Afghanistan. This support has been instrumental in enabling Afghan producers to capitalize on favorable conditions through programs that increase farmer’s productivity. For example, our IDEA NEW (Incentives Driving Economic Alternatives-North, East, West) program has trained over 300,000 Afghan farmers on agriculture productivity and provided technical expertise for almost 6,000 businesses. Watch this short video.

Afghanistan requires an estimated seven million metric tons of wheat to feed its population. Wheat is especially critical in Afghanistan as it accounts for a substantial proportion of average nutritional intake. Without enough wheat, Afghans are either forced to purchase more expensive imported wheat or reduce their consumption. Reduced consumption leads to widespread undernourishment which in turn affects child mortality and growth, educational attainment, and worker productivity.

The Big News: the prediction for this year’s harvest is 6.7 million tons of wheat, or 94% self-sufficiency. A primary reason for this record harvest is favorable weather conditions and rain and snow melt at the right times in the planting cycle. Significant investments by American taxpayers in Afghanistan have also been critical. Improving irrigation has allowed farmers to get more water to their fields at the right time. Improved seed distribution and hands-on programs to introduce improved cultivation techniques has made the land more productive. And improved storage and transport infrastructure allows a lot more of the produce to get to market. Each of these improvements adds up to a big difference, and Afghanistan’s farmers increase their crops and their family nutrition and income.

Now the challenge is to make these gains sustainable. In Nangrahar, USAID is working with “agro-entrepreneurs” to build packaging facilities and pave the way for increased exports. In the south, melons are being exported to India and Pakistan thanks to improved roads and trade agreements that allow for transport of goods where before most produce spoiled on the way to market or didn’t have markets to reach.

This year of success does not diminish the need for the US and Afghan governments to stay focused on addressing the long-term food security challenge in Afghanistan.  USAID’s agriculture strategy is working to reduce the influence of weather and increase the self-sufficiency and resiliency of Afghanistan’s farmers.

Alex Thier serves as assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs.

Today is World Humanitarian Day

The United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day reminds us that helping those in need is a universal value. In the midst of every disaster and conflict, there are also inspiring acts of courage, generosity and selflessness. I am continually awed by the people I meet around the world who take great risks, who are moved to act in ways they never imagined, and who dedicate their lives to alleviating the suffering of others.

Humanitarian values are not owned by any one group but, rather, are an expression of humanity shared by all–from the Tunisian students who organized convoys to help those coming across the border from Libya to Sergio Vieira DeMello, a great humanitarian whose life of service and tragic death in Iraq in 2003 inspired the establishment of World Humanitarian Day in 2008.

At USAID, we were recently reminded of the great cost and sacrifice individuals endure to help those in need when the life of USAID Foreign Service Officer, Ragaei Abdelfattah was taken in Afghanistan, where he has served for the last fifteen months. We honor and acknowledge the risks USAID and State Department civilians take across today’s arc of global crises—and the sacrifices made by our committed implementing partners—in an effort to save the lives of others.

I have just returned from Mali, where more than 100,000 people are internally displaced from their homes due to violence and conflict in the north. Many have found refuge in communities in the south, where families are already stressed by ongoing drought but still open their homes to those who have even less. International aid workers are organizing to find ways to provide support in those areas difficult to access in the north, where food and medicine are in short supply and many of those families that remain do not have the resources to flee. I met a mother in Mopti, Mali, who fled with her six children. She told me how much she valued the “chain of solidarity” she has experienced since being forced out of her home and the tremendous help she has received from the people of Mali and from people around the world. This solidarity—and show of humanitarianism by fellow Malians and the international community–provides her with hope and vital support at a time of great need.

All over the world, humanitarians put themselves in grave danger to reach those most in need, from Syria to Sudan, from northern Mali to Afghanistan. Yet despite the risks, our collective commitment to humanitarian action is enduring.  When and where there are people in need, we will be there to help.

On August 19th, I urge everyone to take a moment to honor those who have devoted and, in too many cases, lost their lives to humanitarian action; to those who acted on a moment’s notice to provide help; to everyone who believes in the importance of reaching out a helping hand at a time of need.

In the spirit of this year’s U.N. World Humanitarian Day theme, “I Was Here,” I urge all of us to do something good, somewhere, for someone else. And as we commemorate this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we celebrate the courage of individuals and the commitment to helping others that unites us worldwide.

Picture of the Week

Health workers practicing Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) techniques. HBB is an evidence-based educational program to teach neonatal resuscitation techniques in resource-limited areas. Since September 2010, the USAID-funded Health Care Improvement project has trained 691 providers in 9 out of 34 provinces on essential newborn care and resuscitation using the HBB curriculum. Implementing Partner: Health Care Improvement (HCI) Project Photo Credit: USAID/Afghanistan

 

 

Six Degrees of Mobile Money in Afghanistan

Gregory Howell is the Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Growth and Infrastructure at USAID’s Afghanistan Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Traditionally, USAID Missions have man­aged development programs by segmenting activities into technical offices such as democracy and governance, economic growth, health, education, and infrastructure. Crossfertilization takes place occasionally, when mutual interests are identified; but meaningful collaboration is rare. The focus on mobile money in Afghanistan breaks out of the usual stovepipes, demonstrating how dynamic teams bringing expertise from different disciplines in partnership with host-country counterparts can contribute to a collective goal—even in a difficult operating environment.

Ten years after the introduction of mobile-phone technology to the country, more than half of all Afghans have mobile phones, and more than 80% have access to a mobile-phone network. But only 7% of Afghans have a bank account.

By leveraging the mobile-phone network to provide financial services to the unbanked, key public- and private-sector services can be improved to serve hundreds of thousands of women and men across the country. With mobile money, a teacher can receive her salary in full and on time in a remote district; a police officer can transfer funds to his family back in his home village; and a  business­ woman can repay her microloan without having to spend valuable time away from her business. Once customers have registered for the ser­vice, they can visit a local mobile-money agent to withdraw actual cash that had been deposited in their mobile wallet. The agent serves as the ATM, exchanging mobile money for cash once the customer inputs a PIN number into the phone. Mobilemoney service provider bank accounts pool funds from all clients in at least four banks to diversify risk.

Mobile money can fundamentally transform the lives of Afghans, just as it has in Kenya, the Philippines, and a growing list of countries around the world. USAID’s strategic approach focuses on three main areas of intervention:

  • Engaging with key stakeholders, including government ministries, private-sector companies,
    and international donors
  • Ensuring an appropriate legal and regulatory environment and support from relevant host country government agencies
  • Encouraging innovation through public-private partnerships that could lead to greater inancial
    inclusion and development results

Read the full article in USAID’s Frontiers in Development Publication.

Hello Countrymen: Afghan Independent Radio Stands on its Own

Jeanne Bourgault is President of the media development organization Internews.

A decade ago, Afghanistan was one of the most information-poor countries on the planet, where television was banned and its entire national media consisted of a single radio station used solely for propaganda purposes.

Today, one of the greatest success stories of Afghanistan is found in its media where hundreds of broadcast and print outlets operate each day, with a vibrant press corps whose numbers swell in the thousands.

Amid this burgeoning media scene, this week [April 8] saw an especially important milestone when the enormously popular radio program network, Salam Watandar (“Hello Countrymen”), became a fully independent, non-governmental Afghan organization.

First created in 2003 with funding from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, Salam Watandar began as a small radio production service that provided content to a handful of independent provincial radio stations established by the nonprofit media development organization Internews. Since then, the network has grown to 47 radio stations broadcasting in 29 Afghan provinces with the capacity to reach over 10 million listeners. Through these partner stations, Salam Watandar broadcasts high-quality programs on current affairs, culture, social issues and sport, and has served as a strategic hub for mentoring and training its partner radio stations.

Most of these partner stations were also created by Internews with funding from USAID. Over the past decade, Internews has built and equipped 44 independent radio stations across Afghanistan. Forty of these are today part of Salam Watandar’s 47-station strong partner network.

Salam Watandar’s move to full Afghan ownership drew the support of USAID Mission Director to Afghanistan, Ken Yamashita, who attended a special ceremony to mark the transition.

Yamashita also had the opportunity to engage Afghan youths on Salam Watandar’s feature radio program Generation Hope. “The youth of Afghanistan, like the youth anywhere around the world are connected and have tremendous networks…it is our responsibility to make sure that [the youth] have better opportunities,” said Yamashita.

Salam Watandar Chief Editor Najibullah Amiri said that “with achieving independence there will be many challenges ahead, but this step allows the staff at Salam Watandar to take ownership- to feel this is now our radio.”

In the midst of the often challenging news coming from Afghanistan, one thing that Americans and Afghans can be enormously proud of is the fact that our work together helped to usher in a wave of new media outlets and the revitalization of Afghanistan’s journalism landscape.

Together, we have helped to build something that is a national asset. This week, one important part of that national asset became wholly Afghan. And that is a good news story in all senses of the phrase.

Hard Won Progress in Afghanistan

I first traveled to Afghanistan in the spring of 1993, when the civil war following the Soviet withdrawal was in full bloom. Over the next four years, as a humanitarian aid worker, I witnessed the systematic destruction of Afghanistan’s institutions, infrastructure, and social cohesion.

18-year old Marian has been attending classes to learn to read and write for four months now. WFP food rations mean she can learn and contribute to her family’s upkeep. Photo Credit: Silke Buhr/World Food Programme

Since the Taliban were driven from power and al Qaeda were driven from Afghanistan, much of the country has undergone a dramatic transformation. In 2002, Afghanistan’s literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality statistics, as well as access to communications, electricity, and paved roads, were dismal. Ten years later Afghanistan has shown incredible gains in healthcare, education, and economic growth.

In 2002 there were only 50 kilometers of paved road in the entire country.  Since then, USAID has built or rehabilitated over 1,800 kilometers of road connecting citizens to markets and to each other. Few Afghans had access to a working telephone in 2002, today 85 percent of the population are within a competitive and highly profitable mobile phone network that in the coming decade will revolutionize financial access in the way communications has the last decade. Economic growth of eight to ten percent on average per year has lifted millions of Afghans out of extreme poverty and bolstered the Afghan government’s gradual progress towards greater self-sufficiency. With USAID assistance in setting up a centralized collection system, Afghan government revenues have grown eight-fold from $200 million in 2002 to $1.65 billion. USAID’s work in the power sector has helped bring 24 hour electricity to Kabul and tripled access to electricity nationwide.  Our work with DABS, the Afghan utility, has helped them increas their revenues from $39 million to $159 million in the last three years, substantially reducing the need for government subsidies.

Eight million children enrolled in school today, more than a third of whom are girls, compared with 900,000 boys and almost zero girls in 2001. USAID built or rehabilitated 680 schools contributing to these gains and helped train thousands of teachers. These investments in Afghanistan’s future will be paying dividends in the coming decades in Afghanistan by nurturing a trained workforce.

A decade ago, Afghanistan’s health system was shattered, leading to widespread malnutrition, infectious disease, and shockingly high infant and maternal mortality rates.  Since 2002, USAID and other donors have invested in the Afghan Ministry of Public Health to build a low-cost, high-impact healthcare system. According to the Afghanistan Mortality Survey released last December, the radical expansion in health care access from six to sixty percent of the population has increased life expectancies 15 to 20 years in the last decade.

The gains for Afghanistan’s women have also been remarkable. From a form of draconian segregation that denied women access to even the most basic services or employment under the Taliban, women make up 27 percent of parliament and the national civil services.

Our new report, USAID in Afghanistan: Partnership, Progress, Perseverance, outlines these impacts and in a transparent and frank accounting of the roughly $12 billion in civilian assistance that USAID has implemented in Afghanistan to date.

But these gains are fragile. As our report also details, not all projects have been success stories, and many parts of Afghanistan remain insecure. The uncertainty among Afghans due to the ongoing insurgency, regional interference, the drawdown of ISAF forces, and poor governance is palpable.

We must cement the gains from this incredible investment, and make them sustainable. Over the last 18 months, USAID has been adjusting both our programming and our business model to ensure that our portfolio reflects the most cost‐effective priorities.  Launched in fall 2010, the Accountable Assistance for Afghanistan (A3) initiative ensures there are proper procedures to protect assistance dollars from being diverted from their development purpose through extortion or corruption.

While we can’t be sure that the historic gains made since 2001 will overcome the myriad of challenges facing Afghans today, we can be certain that without sustained effort to bring economic and political stability to Afghanistan, their darkest days may not be behind them.

Alex Thier serves as assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs.

U.S. – Afghan Women’s Council – Celebrating 10 Years of Progress

This week we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the U.S. – Afghan Women’s Council (USAWC). Created during the Bush Administration, the Council has stimulated an extraordinary array of public-private partnerships to elevate the status of Afghan women and girls. As I listened to commemorative remarks by Secretary Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush, I recalled my own visit to Afghanistan in December 2011.

While in Kabul, I had the enormous pleasure of speaking with a group of female students and recent university graduates currently working in USAID-supported internships. These women are among the first generation of girls who were educated in post-Taliban Afghanistan; many of them represented the astonishing 25% of Kabul University female graduates.

Similarly inspiring was my visit to the American University of Afghanistan (AUAf), where a beautiful campus hosts a student body that is approximately 22% female, enrolled in undergraduate programs such as Business, IT, and Political Science.  There’s also been a dramatic increase in female enrollment.  While the Senior class is only 6% female, the Freshman class is over half.  Even more heartening is the 36% of women now enrolled in a college prep program.

The American University of Afghanistan is one of many critical efforts USAID has proudly supported as a U.S. – Afghan Women’s Council partner. The Agency’s assistance has actually supported myriad efforts of the Council. In addition to AUAf, USAID has worked with the Ministry of Education, the International School of Kabul and the Women’s Teacher Training Institute. But support has not been limited to the education sector. In partnership with USAWC partners, USAID has developed and implemented programs for children, women’s leadership, women’s entrepreneurship and women’s health care.

The results of the U.S. Government’s support for Afghanistan’s women are visible and impressive. Programs like the REACH are offering midwifery training have helped lower child and maternal mortality rates by over 20%  in the last ten years; over 3000 midwives have been trained, about half of them with U.S. support. Additionally, I’m thrilled to say that today over three million Afghan girls are in school; almost no girls were being educated while the Taliban were in power.

The US-Afghan Women’s Council should be applauded. It has delivered concrete results for development while maintaining crucial support in the U.S. for the needs of Afghan women. The Council has stimulated a dazzling set of projects and programs involving an impressive set of partners from the private sector, foundations and NGOs committed to ensuring expanded opportunities for women in Afghanistan..   As we mark a decade of progress through the Council, I’m reminded of Secretary Clinton’s remarks on Wednesday when she said, “The women of Afghanistan are a valuable and irreplaceable resource, and their rights must be protected, and their opportunities for them to contribute must be preserved.”

Winter Emergency in Afghanistan

The U.S. is experiencing a relatively mild winter, but the opposite is true in Afghanistan.  Temperatures near the capital city of Kabul recently dipped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit making this winter the coldest in 15 years.

Snow falling in Afghanistan. Photo Credit: USAID

As is often the case, the people who are most vulnerable are also the least equipped to protect themselves against the cold.   The New York Times recently reported the deaths of 28 children in Kabul in recent months, and the 30,000 Afghans who are living in informal settlements throughout the capital city remain at a high risk of hypothermia.

In fact, well before the winter months, with USAID funding and support, emergency supplies were stockpiled in preparation for the freezing temperatures.  Since the onset of the extreme cold and winter emergency conditions, USAID has been coordinating with the United Nations and international organizations to distribute this emergency aid to the settlements surrounding Kabul, as well as other areas affected by extreme winter weather.  USAID and its implementing partners are especially focused on reaching vulnerable populations, including women and children.  By the end of last week, emergency relief supplies, including blankets, tarpaulins, clothing, stoves, and fuel, had been sent to all of the informal settlements near Kabul.

While winter aid is reaching many Afghans, both in the Kabul area and in more distant provinces, the humanitarian response is not without challenges.  The dangerous security environment makes it hard to safely reach vulnerable populations, and rugged terrain slows aid to remote regions.  Despite the challenges, USAID will help Afghans make it through the winter and continue our commitment to improve their quality of life into the future.

 

 

Afghanistan Makes Progress by Addressing Land Issues

Arazi Officials and community members identify land claims at a recent workshop in Jalalabad. Photo Credit: Gary Hunter & Anna Soave

In a December 6, 2011 story in the Asia Times, Dr. Rafiullah Bidar, the Jalalabad program manager of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, made a striking comment: “It is part of our culture that people kill each other over two issues. . . . One is for land, and the second is women.”

Improving land tenure and land management systems will help reduce violence, increase peace, and promote economic growth, which are among the most pressing challenges facing the Afghan Government.
USAID is currently working to improve land tenure in Afghanistan by providing technical assistance and institutional strengthening to the Government of Afghanistan (GIRoA) entities in Kabul, which play a role in the land tenure process in Afghanistan, through the Land Reform in Afghanistan (LARA) project. LARA is a program jointly developed by USAID/Washington’s EGAT Bureau and USAID/Afghanistan.

This project works directly with the GIRoA entities of Arazi (Afghan Land Authority), Afghan Geodesy and Cartography Head Office (AGCHO), Supreme Court, Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA), and Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG). Work in Kabul includes policy formation and streamlining of the land tenure process with all related GIRoA entities.

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