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Archives for Asia

New Promise for a Greener, More Productive Future in Indonesia

The destruction of tropical forests is a major challenge for global development, threatening precious livelihoods, biodiversity and the earth’s atmosphere. In all, tropical deforestation contributes about 12 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions causing climate change.

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon emissions, owing mainly to companies clearing large tracts of forest and peatland to cultivate oil palm and grow pulpwood for paper.

That’s why a major announcement from the recent U.N. Climate Summit has attracted so much global attention. Four of the world’s largest palm oil companies agreed to stop clearing and burning high carbon stock forest and peatland in Indonesia. Clearing peatlands in particular releases dangerous amounts of carbon. According to one recent study, from 2000 to 2012, Indonesia lost about 6 million hectares of primary forest, an area half the size of England.

Deforestation for agriculture is threatening the rainforests of northern Sumatra. USAID is working with villages to help keep remaining tracts of forest intact.

Deforestation for agriculture is threatening the rainforests of northern Sumatra. USAID is working with villages to help keep remaining tracts of forest intact. / Anne Usher


Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, KADIN, was the leader in forging this landmark “zero deforestation” commitment. The four companies that signed on – Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources, Asian Agri and Cargill – together account for about 60 percent of globally traded palm oil, the world’s most widely used edible oil.

Globally, the world consumes more than 50 million metric tons of palm oil per year – about the weight of 500 cruise ships stretching 100 miles out to sea. We use palm oil for cooking and in products ranging from cookies to cosmetics.

And while oil palm produces more oil per acre than other crops, clearing native forest to plant it not only releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it destroys a precious resource for millions of Indonesians, who depend on forests to supplement nutrition and livelihoods. This makes conserving forests a win-win proposition at a time when the world is increasingly feeling the effects of climate change.

The commitment by palm oil companies is in the spirit of Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020, a public-private partnership kicked off by the U.S. Government and the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of companies including Unilever, Nestle, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and others, whose sales add up to more than $3 trillion per year.

Workers load palm oil fruit onto a truck in northern Sumatra.

Workers load palm oil fruit onto a truck in northern Sumatra. / Anne Usher


TFA 2020 is working to curb forest loss caused by major commodities, starting with palm oil, paper, soy and beef, which account for about 40 percent of tropical deforestation. Partners include governments, businesses and civil society organizations from around the world.

As the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia has been a focus of U.S. Government and TFA 2020 support. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to cut carbon pollution between 26 and 41 percent by 2020, and we and other U.S. officials have been working closely to support Indonesian officials in meeting that pledge.Vice-chairwoman Shinta Kamdani said KADIN became involved because individual Indonesian companies would not reach national emissions targets acting on their own. “When we set a vision, we can’t do it halfway,” she said.

With U.S. Government assistance, KADIN and the other signatories are now working to identify policy and regulatory reforms that will create incentives to encourage the conservation of high carbon stock forest instead of clearing and burning. At the local level, companies still have strong incentives to clear forests. They can sell the timber, legally or illegally harvested, and unused land can be confiscated by the government after a certain period of time. Laws also require companies to process whatever palm fruit arrives at their mill, making it difficult to discriminate between sustainable palm oil and palm oil originating from deforested land.

Last week’s announcement is an encouraging milestone on Indonesia’s path to cleaner, more sustainable growth. The United States stands with Indonesia on this important journey.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Blake is U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia & Eric G. Postel is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Economy and Environment. Follow him @EricPostel

Will Our Generation be Responsible for Killing Off the Tiger?

Will our generation be responsible for killing off the tiger?

As the world marks International Tiger Day, the tigers’ fate seems grim. From a high of 100,000 in 1900, as few as 3,500 tigers are thought to survive in the wild today. Tiger numbers and habitat have declined by 40 percent in the last decade alone, lost largely to habitat loss, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and human-tiger conflict.

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma,  PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

The illegal and unsustainable exploitation of wildlife in Asia has pushed tigers and other Asian big cats to the brink of extinction. Today, the greatest threat to Asian big cat survival are organized criminal groups who control the burgeoning and highly lucrative illicit trade. Their operations crisscross international boundaries, making it impossible for any one country to tackle the crime alone.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia's majestic tigers.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

With partners ranging from non-governmental organizations to policy makers in the United States and abroad, USAID is uniquely positioned to combat wildlife trafficking along an entire spectrum of efforts. Whether it’s decreasing demand for wildlife products on the ground, supporting research or ensuring coordinated training for customs officials on wildlife trafficking, USAID enables a holistic response to this complicated challenge at various levels.

In fact, in honor of International Tiger Day, and as part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. A $393,000 grant to INTERPOL’s Project Predator will focus on finding high-profile wildlife offenders running criminal networks; and $500,000 to the World Bank’s Global Tiger Recovery Program Multi-Donor Trust Fund will go towards the fund’s goal to double the number of tigers in the wild by the year 2022 through habitat protection, scientific studies and a reduction in the illegal trade of wild tigers and their parts.

These efforts are already having an impact. During one Project Predator operation in Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, officials arrested over 50 individuals and confiscated big cat skins, body parts and other wildlife products. Nepal in particular has excelled at curbing the illegal poaching of wild tigers. There were no recorded deaths in 2013, and between 2009 and 2013, the number of wild cats grew by over 60 percent.

Biodiversity is the fabric of our lives and planet, and the iconic tiger is one of its golden threads. Promoting stewardship of nature is a critical and effective strategy for fighting extreme poverty and fostering resilient societies. By supporting tiger conservation, we cut off funding streams to criminal networks intent on destroying our world and profiting from the illegal wildlife trade. We give communities alternatives to develop their economies sustainably. And, most importantly, we give the tigers a fighting chance to survive into the next generation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Melnyk, USAID Asia Bureau’s Environment Team Leader.

Rebuilding Livelihoods in the Philippines Post-Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines and affected 16 million people, killing thousands and displacing millions.

Entire villages and cities were destroyed, but the rebuild effort began quickly thanks to a global response.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. military were the first to deliver life-saving support, including the provision of emergency shelter, food assistance, relief commodities, and water and sanitation support. To date, the U.S. Government has provided over $90 million in aid.

Seven months later, humanitarian efforts are ongoing. An estimated 5.6 million workers have seen their livelihoods affected and many of them still need assistance. Schools opened on June 2 but thousands of children returned to classrooms that have been destroyed or damaged. Millions of people still require shelter.

“With the Principal & the Foreman of a school torn to shreds being rebuilt by USAID to get the kids back to life again. They said all the books and computers were swept away and they are finding them destroyed all over the place far away.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

“With the Principal & the Foreman of a school torn to shreds being rebuilt by USAID to get the kids back to life again. They said all the books and computers were swept away and they are finding them destroyed all over the place far away.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

Late last month, I had the opportunity to see the recovery efforts firsthand during a visit to the island of Leyte, home to Tacloban — the epicenter of the storm.. Tacloban City was completely obliterated, leaving only tents, makeshift “squatter” living conditions and other sorts of temporary housing all around, with signs of destruction in between.

But massive clean up efforts had taken place over the last six months with piles of somewhat organized garbage and debris scatteredd everywhere. Organizations and work crews were still cleaning up while I was there, repairing houses that could be fixed, and building new homes from scratch.

I heard many stories of hardship and resilience, but was particularly struck by that of Mang Danny — a driver from San Jose, Tacloban City. Mang Danny lost his wife and child to the disaster, and struggles to support his other children and rebuild the house he lost to the waves in Tacloban. USAID is helping to rebuild houses for millions of survivors like Mang Danny.

During my visit I was even able to help build houses myself in a village just south of Tacloban called Tanauan. I worked with Gawad Kalinga, an organization that brings together volunteers to build homes in the Philippines. With the Philippine Red Cross, I visited Sition Gubat, where they have built 56 new houses. This little town is part of the overall target of 20,000 new houses for Leyte.

“#USAID doing tremendous work here in #Tacloban helping the community build shelters quick before storm season starts in the next month. I built houses with an organization called Gawad Kalinga.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

“#USAID doing tremendous work here in #Tacloban helping the community build shelters quick before storm season starts in the next month. I built houses with an organization called Gawad Kalinga.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

Today, USAID is continuing to lead the charge to provide durable solutions to the recovery and reconstruction needs in the devastated areas of the Philippines. One of the ways is through encouraging public partnerships—several of which are already helping rebuild lives. One USAID partnership with Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola helped rebuild sari-sari stores, or small community stores. USAID in the Philippines has also demonstrated successful partnerships with many private organizations including the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Philippine Development Foundation, Smart Communications and Petron Corporation. With each success there is an opportunity to further implement a working strategy and improve conditions.

And on May 20, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — together with USAID — brought together foundations, organizations and corporations and the Filipino diaspora community to discuss how to create more partnerships for the Philippines’ recovery. Participants committed to partnerships on disaster mitigation and small business projects in the Philippines, and continuing such collaborations long term.

“Meet my cute family aka my dance troupe aka my eating partners in the Islands of the Philippines!” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

“Meet my cute family aka my dance troupe aka my eating partners in the Islands of the Philippines!” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

The Philippines has made great progress since Haiyan. But the typhoon season will start again, and there are still thousands of people living in tents and residing in dangerous areas. There are tens of thousands of young children who will have to study inside tents and improvised classrooms. There are thousands of farmers and fishermen that have yet to restart their livelihoods, and thousands of workers who have yet to replace the assets they lost in the storm.

Although there was much sorrow for the loss of the Filipinos hit by the typhoon, witnessing the complete destruction of homes and communities and getting to meet many survivors, I saw firsthand the strength and determination in the Philippines. The U.S. Government is working to ensure that months after the brutal devastation of Haiyan, Filipinos like Mang Danny have a chance to rebuild, start again, and move on.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Billy Dec is a member of President’s Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. You can follow him at @BillyDec

Battling Climate Change’s Most Powerful Punches

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Indonesia recently, he warned that climate change ranks among the world’s most serious problems, calling upon nations to respond to what he considers “the greatest challenge of our generation.”

As Mission Director of USAID Philippines and the Pacific Islands, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of climate change. From super typhoons, extended droughts, flash floods and other extreme weather events, these countries are often at the receiving end of climate change’s most powerful punches.

A common sight in Vunisinu and Nalase villages in Fiji—worn out concrete stilts as a result of flooding in the villages

A common sight in Vunisinu and Nalase villages in Fiji—worn out concrete stilts as a result of flooding in the villages. / USAID Pacific Islands

In late March, I visited Suva, Fiji to express the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment in the Pacific Islands region and more importantly, to help communities strengthen their resilience to disasters and climate change impacts.

We at USAID know that the most effective solutions to climate change—or any development change for that matter—are those designed by those who are affected. Hence, our new project, the Pacific-American Climate Fund [PDF], will involve partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the 12 Pacific countries.

This $24-million grant facility will support NGO projects on climate change adaptation in the areas of natural resource and water management, livelihood development, and income diversification.

Examining the proposed plan of the USAID C-CAP team to rehabilitate the drainage system that will help prevent flooding in the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji.

Examining the proposed plan of the USAID C-CAP team to rehabilitate the drainage system that will help prevent flooding in the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji. / USAID Pacific Islands

I believe that a “one size fits all” approach will not effectively support communities in their efforts to address climate change. Through this project, we expect to receive many innovative ideas—each providing a unique solution to a climate change problem experienced by each community.

Another example of the importance of engaging local communities is our Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C-CAP). USAID/C-CAP will help coastal communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change by supporting small-scale infrastructure, increasing awareness of how it affects the community, and using this knowledge in participatory mapping and land-use planning.

Drainage system in in Rewa Province, Fiji.

Drainage system in in Rewa Province, Fiji. / USAID Pacific Islands

During my visit to the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji, I had the opportunity to interact with members of the community. They shared with me the personal struggles they’ve encountered due to climate change. I will never forget the story of one manioc (taro) farmer. He has been a farmer all of his life. It’s his only livelihood and he supports his wife and three children. “One day there was heavy rain. It overflowed from the drains into my farm and I lost most of my harvest in that crop,” he lamented. “Now how am I to feed my family?”

We are working vigorously to address the challenges that families of this “Pacific Century”—aptly named by President Obama—face every day. As such, we will improve the drainage management system in Fiji, which will reduce the potential for floods to damage the community’s manioc, vegetable and coconut crops.

But our work doesn’t stop there. USAID also assists the government and civil society of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in expanding HIV prevention, care and treatment models; strengthening women, peace and security in PNG; supporting elections in Fiji; and providing disaster mitigation, relief and reconstruction in Federal States of Micronesia and Republic of Marshall Islands.

By building resilience to climate change, we aim to preserve lives—and livelihoods, which ultimately enables families to live happier, healthier lives and have the freedom to explore opportunities for a brighter future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gloria D. Steele is the Mission Director for USAID/Philippines and Pacific Islands.

Engaging China on Global Development

China is currently undergoing an evolution in its approach to development assistance and cooperation. The country continues to expand its contributions of resources, expertise and engagement on international development issues. As a result, the Chinese Government is continually reflecting on emerging challenges; the structure, mechanisms and partnerships needed to advance development priorities abroad; and new means of financing international development efforts.

Alex Thier addresses an audience member question during a CIDRN speaking engagement.

Alex Thier addresses an audience member question during a China International Development Research Network (CIDRN) speaking engagement. / Maria Rendon, U.S. Department of State

Recognizing the importance of frank, face-to-face bilateral dialogue to discuss these trends,  USAID held the inaugural U.S.-China Global Development Dialogue in Beijing on April 29.

China’s ongoing economic, social, political and environmental transformation will have a significant bearing on its domestic and global positions on related issues over the next 10 to 15 years. Despite progress, China still accounts for more than 10 percent of the world population living in extreme poverty – yet also sits on the world’s largest foreign cash reserves, some $4 trillion. Indeed, while we were in Beijing, the World Bank revised the purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, which boosted Chinese GDP by more than 20 percent, putting it even closer to the size of the U.S. economy by that measure.

Alex Thier poses with Prof. Li Xiaoyun of China Agriculture University.  Prof. Li Xiaoyun co-chaired and commented during the CIDRN public event series on China and international development where Thier was a featured speaker.

Alex Thier poses with Prof. Li Xiaoyun of China Agriculture University. Prof. Li Xiaoyun co-chaired and commented during the CIDRN public event series on China and international development where Thier was a featured speaker. / Maria Rendon, U.S. Department of State

China is an important partner with developed and developing economies in negotiations around the post-2015 development agenda, climate change, financing for development and other global issues.

In the official U.S.-China global development dialogue, the Chinese exhibited a strong desire to engage with the U.S. Government on global development issues related both to broad international policy as well as practical elements of implementation.

The country is proud of the role it has played in achieving the current Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of its own people living in extreme poverty—over the last two decades China has helped lift nearly 600 million of its citizens out of extreme poverty—but still sees much need for continued domestic progress. We found strong agreement with the Chinese on the goal of ending extreme poverty  and common ground on increasing development cooperation effectiveness through internationally agreed on principles like the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.

USAID, like other government and private donors, has started small scale, practical cooperation with China in third countries (“trilateral cooperation”). For example, the United States and China recently launched an agriculture partnership in East Timor that is intended to improve the production of income-generating crops to enhance food security and nutrition. The first harvest was in March, and now more than 52 participating East Timorese farmers are seeing the benefits of modern farming techniques.

Charles Rice for USAID

A U.S.-China partnership is helping enhance food security and nutrition in Timor-Leste / Charles Rice for USAID

Discussions with a variety of Chinese universities, think tanks, foundations, and private sector and civil society organizations also demonstrate a growing interest and participation in development policy and implementation.

Overall, the first U.S.-China Global Development Dialogue was an important opportunity to advance our mutual interest in development policy dialogue, strengthening cooperation and enhancing policy coherence in partner countries. The next set of global development goals—including ending extreme poverty and sharing a sustainable global commons and economy—will require a concerted effort with all partners, China key among them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. Follow him @Thieristan.

Texts Connect Midwives to Mothers in Timor-Leste

Health posts in rural Timor-Leste are often several hours' walk from remote communities. / Henrique Bere, HAI

Health posts in rural Timor-Leste are often several hours’ walk from remote communities. / Henrique Bere, HAI

‘A pregnant woman has one foot in the grave.’ This common saying reflects the reality in many developing countries: bearing a child is one of the main risks to a woman’s life. In the poor countries of the world, giving birth is both one of the most significant days in a woman’s life but also a time when she is closest to losing it.

In Timor-Leste, a tiny country just north of Australia, progress against maternal deaths has been slow. Since independence from Indonesia in 2002, the country has made great efforts to provide trained midwives for pregnant women who seek them, but a wide gap remains. The rural population is widely dispersed in mountainous terrain and often far from health facilities. More than half of all babies in Timor-Leste are born at home with help only from family members. As a result, many women and babies die in those first few hours and days after birth.

USAID has been working with Timor-Leste’s Health Ministry since 2004 to help find solutions to this terrible problem. In 2011, U.S.-based NGO Health Alliance International (HAI) won a USAID Child Survival and Health Grant to try a new approach.

“We realized that one basic reason that many women didn’t give birth with professional help was that their contact with midwives was so brief that they weren’t able to develop a sense of trust and confidence,” said Susan Thompson, HAI’s Program Director, based in Seattle. “There also was a lot that women could do to have a healthy baby that they didn’t know about, and it couldn’t be conveyed in the usual two or three short prenatal care visits.”

Midwife Justa Pereira and mother-to-be Rosalia Juela test the project's SMS messages. / Catalpa International

Midwife Justa Pereira and mother-to-be Rosalia Juela test the project’s SMS messages. / Catalpa International

How could HAI help the Ministry bridge that gap between women and their midwives? Noting the dramatic increases in mobile phone use throughout the country, HAI proposed the first use of this technology as a permanent behavior-change tool. The focus for this new use of mobile phone technology is in Manufahi District, where cell phone ownership is fairly high at just over half, but, at 19 percent, use of skilled birth attendants is well below the national average of about 30 percent. Ministry statistics estimate that the district has about 11,000 women of reproductive age, and expected 2,200 pregnancies in 2013, the first year of the project.

The project is called “Mobile Moms” or Liga Inan (“connecting mothers”) in the local language of Tetun. The project team matched the technological opportunity to the needs of the Ministry and developed a dual approach to making use of the widespread availability of mobile phones.

First, working with Catalpa International, a software development group in Timor-Leste, the project team created an internet-based program to send SMS maternal health messages twice a week to pregnant women in Tetun, the language most widely spoken. The messages detail important actions that the women can take to safeguard their pregnancies, and include advice on postpartum and newborn care for the first six weeks after delivery.

Second, the project facilitates phone conversations between midwives and the expectant mothers at critical times. Women can send SMS messages very cheaply to ask for information or assistance, and midwives can call them back at the project’s expense.

Health Ministry officials in rural Manufahi District have been supportive and intensely involved since the beginning. Director of District Health Services Teofilho Tilman said that they have “seen … a significant increase in the number of women receiving antenatal care and delivering at the health facility” since the project began. Over the past year in Same Subdistrict, where the project started its work in February 2013, the number of women coming to a birthing facility, using a skilled birth attendant or making four or more antenatal care visits has doubled.

In a recent study on the impacts of this project on health professionals, midwives consistently reported that they liked the service because they can better follow the progress of their patients and meet their needs. In her response, one midwife said:

For me, it helps… because before Liga Inan we didn’t know the condition of the mothers. Through Liga Inan, we have their number and we know their due date. So for example, in November we know which mothers will give birth. We match that info with the data here to check, and if they didn’t come to the health facility, we call to find out how they are.

Amalia Martins Calapes is a new mother in Same, the capital of Manufahi District. Project SMS messages have encouraged her to visit her midwife regularly. / Marisa Harrison, HAI

Amalia Martins Calapes is a new mother in Same, the capital of Manufahi District. Project SMS messages have encouraged her to visit her midwife regularly. / Marisa Harrison, HAI


In the first year of the project, Same Subdistrict midwives enrolled more than 1,000 women in the project. Nearly 600 women have completed their pregnancies and received the special postpartum SMS messages to help them give their babies a healthy start in life.

Women participating in Liga Inan provide the project with valuable input about project impact and success. Amalia Martins Calapes from the town of Same did not participate in the program through her first two pregnancies. During her third, she did. And it helps her stay motivated to seek care.

Sometimes I feel too lazy to go to the clinic… but on Mondays and Thursdays I read the SMS that comes to my phone, and think, ‘Today, I must make myself go to the clinic.’

An important goal of the program is to increase community understanding of better ways to assure a healthy pregnancy. Encouraging women to share the SMS messages is one way that can happen. According to Amalia:

When the messages arrive, the first person that I share them with is my husband. He knows and then the household knows, and then I can share information with my girlfriends. I can tell them that the Liga Inan program sent me messages about this, and this, and this. So when they need something, they can contact this number or go directly to the clinic.

Today, Amalia agrees with Timor-Leste’s new saying for mothers:

‘Healthy mothers and healthy babies give us a strong nation.’

Eye in the Sky Moves Mountains in Development

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land. Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land.
Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

When Him Lal Shrestha wants to know what is happening on the ground affecting Nepalese farmers, he shoots a glance up—way up to an orbiting satellite. That great big white ball on the top of his building helps bring life-saving data down to earth. Here’s how.

Shrestha is a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative. He showed me around his facility and explained how satellite imagery can tell us what is happening to land in Nepal and across the countries surrounding the scenic Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Pointing to his screen, he explains how land cover, particularly in agriculture and forest, in many areas of Nepal is being depleted — a serious issue that will affect how local people plant, harvest and survive. It’s also a huge concern for government officials who are trying to thwart potential calamities that could make things tougher for people just trying to make ends meet.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Shrestha describes what he sees on his screen. “In the case of Nepal, from 1990 to the current year, we see remarkable pressure on the land cover changes,” he said. “Land cover is a function of population growth; because of population growth, there is urbanization. So ultimately there is pressure on the forest coverage,” he said, adding that the survey work is important internationally because “we are discussing reducing emission from the deforestation and degradation.”

Helping people understand forest cover and other development challenges at home and across borders is the goal of this USAID effort in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Some of the tools help people detect forest fires hidden behind mountain ranges and send SMS messages to firefighters so they can speed off in pursuit in less than an hour.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

“It is hard to fix a problem that you cannot see,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah during a recent visit to Nepal. Dr. Shah believes that by harnessing science and technology, “we can put critical information in the hands of the people most affected by natural disasters.”

Other tools keep a big eye on glacier melts leading to water flows and help monitor food production and estimate crop yields to better inform the Nepal government so they can make critical decisions ahead of time to avoid famine and all the suffering that comes with it. Similarly, other governments in the region can use satellite imagery of land conditions within their borders to make informed decisions.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.  Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.
Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.
Photo Credits: (Top) Erwin Schneider, Courtesy of the Association for Comparative Alpine Research, Munich. (Bottom) Alton C.Byers, The Mountain Institute

According to Bronwyn Llewellyn, Environment Team Leader at USAID Nepal, a lack of transparency in decision-making is an issue to tackle across the region. “Science and technology can help a lot with that transparency. It’s a tool that is accessed by everyone online. By creating tools that cross boundaries, you are creating a language of science that can be used across the borders. So everyone is looking at the same tool and making the same decisions.”

So what’s USAID’s vision for this science-based development mapping toolkit? Governments across the region need the big picture. And the satellite data it collects enables them to track global climate change and make more informed decisions about land and water use that impact their countries’ future.

Driving Progress in Asia through Science, Innovation & Partnership

Nepal is a place of mesmerizing beauty. Located in the Himalayas with eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the highest peak on Earth, Mt. Everest, it’s no wonder more than 20 percent of the country is protected. The diverse terrain ranges from emerald green tea gardens, terraced paddy fields and historic temples nestled in hillsides to thick jungle, sprawling forest, pristine lakes and the largest concentration of glaciers outside the polar region.

The beneficiaries seen here grow off-season, high-value vegetable crops with drip irrigation technology, which increases crop yields by up to 30 percent and reduces water consumption by up to 75 percent, helping farmers cope with more erratic water supply from climate change while increasing their incomes.

The beneficiaries seen here grow off-season, high-value vegetable crops with drip irrigation technology, which increases crop yields by up to 30 percent and reduces water consumption by up to 75 percent, helping farmers cope with more erratic water supply from climate change while increasing their incomes.
Credit: USAID/ Bimala Rai Colavito

But what lurks behind this idyllic landscape is a growing problem — climate change. Nepal struggles with both water scarcity and increased flooding, impacting everything from health and nutrition to livelihoods and food production. With agriculture employing 80 percent of the population and one in three suffering from food insecurity, these ecological shocks can present serious setbacks for farmers and their families, robbing them of their livelihoods or ability to put food on the table.

At USAID, one of our top priorities is developing innovative solutions that can help vulnerable communities withstand chronic threats, such as pandemics or climate change, and sustain progress when disaster strikes — not get pushed further into poverty. This is important across the globe but particularly in Asia, where half the world’s poor live and more than half of all natural disasters occur. In today’s interconnected world, our success matters to the United States. As the fastest growing region in the world accounting for more than half the world’s GDP and nearly half its trade, Asia has become a key driver of global politics and economics. Progress — or instability — in Asia has ripple effects throughout the world and can impact us here at home. Across the region, we’re hard at work.

In Nepal, we’re helping farmers and families mitigate the adverse impacts of a changing environment on their lives and livelihoods. We’re helping them adapt to new rainfall patterns and adopt new water-saving tools such as multiple-use water systems for sanitation needs, drinking and growing food. We’re also introducing solar-powered pumps, which enable farmers to use drip irrigation for high-value crops, increasing their annual income by over a third. Our work has had a transformational impact on women in particular — who are typically responsible for collecting water — freeing up their time and energy to invest in other aspects of their lives.

We’re forging partnerships that leverage resources and harness the science, technology and innovation that exist throughout the region to maximize impact — and reach. USAID recently announced three new partnerships with Indian organizations to share successful, low-cost agricultural innovations and technologies with African countries. These partnerships are a win-win for all: The organizations gain access to new market space; USAID advances its efforts to increase food security and farmers’ incomes in Africa; and African countries gain access to new tools to help their citizens escape extreme poverty. These include a low-cost tractor, an organic fertilizer made out of seaweed and a solar-powered food dehydrator — all devised to increase yields and incomes by mechanizing operations, fertilizing depleted soils and preventing post-harvest losses.

In Timor-Leste, we saw a great opportunity to extend our reach by partnering with ConocoPhillips, which has significant investments in the country and contributes to sustainable community development — particularly in agriculture and education to help Timor-Leste improve agricultural productivity and increase its pool of skilled workers. This is vital in a country where nearly 40 percent of people live in extreme poverty and more than 60 percent of the population work in agriculture. Together, we are helping more farmers than ever before diversify their crops to increase their incomes and improve their families’ health and nutrition. Through this partnership, we have been able to double the number of farm families benefiting from this project. Farmers practicing new horticulture techniques have boosted their incomes by up to 300 percent.

And we’re bringing transformative science and technology to remote corners of the world where they’re needed most. Due to climate change and rapid urbanization, the coastal nation of Bangladesh — which has the highest malnutrition rates in the region — is losing up to 1 percent of its arable land each year. Adding to the challenge, 80 percent of the country rests in a low-lying river delta prone to flooding. To tackle these challenges, USAID is training farmers in the use of high-yielding varieties of rice seeds that are tolerant to soil salinity and adverse weather, as well as in the use of fertilizer deep placement technology, which allows for fertilizer to be placed under the soil and closer to the root where it is most effective, as opposed to on top of the soil where it is more likely to be washed away. As a result, soil fertility is improved, fertilizer use is reduced and yields are increased. Our efforts helped the coastal district of Barisal end its rice-deficiency and produce enough rice to feed its people.

Asia faces complex and integrated problems on a scale never before seen in history. These issues demand innovative approaches that combine resources and expertise at every opportunity. We are committed to the task, and hope you’ll click here to find out how you can join us.

Bringing Hope to Women in Sri Lanka’s Former Conflict Zones

Like most places that have experienced conflict throughout the world, women were deeply affected by Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict.  For most women who lived in the Indian Ocean island’s conflict zones, displacement, destruction, violence, harassment and loss were part of their everyday life.  The conflict ended in 2009, leaving many women traumatized and in need of psychosocial care, without belongings or livelihoods, and after the loss of their spouses, as heads of households.  Several USAID initiatives continue to support these women by integrating them into society and bringing normalcy back into their lives.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the BIZ+ program’s beneficiariesOne such initiative is USAID’s BIZ+ program which helps to increase and enhance equitable economic growth in the former northern and eastern conflict zones.  BIZ+ is partnering with small and medium-sized local businesses to create 5,000 new livelihoods and increase household incomes. The program primarily targets women; including war widows, disabled women and female-headed households.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the program’s beneficiaries. She is 25 years old and lives in one of the worst conflict-affected northern districts of Sri Lanka.  Having lost a limb during the conflict, Thaminy faced many hardships.  This is when Thaminy heard about the vocational training and production center in her district that provides livelihood assistance to war widows, women abandoned or women separated from their spouses or families. USAID is supporting the center to expand production and marketing of rice flour and spices and provide vulnerable women like Thaminy with new skills and sustainable livelihoods.

“The profit of the business belongs to the vulnerable women who work so diligently in the center. USAID’s assistance and support – in the way of building new hostel and storage facilities, and providing new equipment and transportation – have helped us to overcome any challenges and be successful businesswomen.” says Thaminy.

Thaminy is now economically independent and has the confidence to socialize with others.  “Thaminy is now enjoying life without worrying about the leg she lost. She is happy to work and earn for her family and for herself. As a mother, I am very proud of it”, quips Thaminy’s mother.

The Managing Director of the Vocational Training and Production Centre is happy to see the socio-economic business enterprise model with a vision of improving livelihood of vulnerable women come this far.  But above all, he is happy to see how the project has increased hope in the minds of women who seek empowerment through employment opportunities.

* Name has been changed to protect identity 

250 Million Children In The World Cannot Read And USAID Is Doing Something About It

Two hundred and fifty million children in the world cannot read according to the recently released Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All; 130 million of them are in primary school. That’s equal to more than a third of the population of the United States. If these children do not learn to read they will have fewer opportunities and struggle with learning for the rest of their lives. Learning to read in the early grades is critical and hard work. It is not a skill that can be “picked up.” With the help of teachers trained specifically to teach reading, children learn to read over time by practicing and honing their skills. Strong readers perform better in all subjects, so children who learn to read in the early grades have a better chance of graduating from high school and getting a job or pursuing a college education.

At the State of the Union the other night, I was sitting in the gallery listening to President Obama say, “One of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is a world class education.” I was on my feet applauding. His words ring true here at home and in developing countries around the world.

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language.

I’m visiting Zambia and Malawi over the next two weeks where USAID is working hard with our partners to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies by investing in new, results-based reading programs that start with building capacity in the existing teacher corps and in training new teachers in the best practices of teaching reading.

In Malawi, USAID partners developed a phonics-based reading program in the Chichewa language, and provided Chichewa readers to students and accompanying scripted lesson plans to their teachers. Teachers received training on the use of the materials and extensive on-site coaching to help them use them every day in their classrooms. In 2012, after two years of the implementation of this program, the proportion of 2nd graders who could read at least one word in Chichewa had risen from 5.3 to 16.8 percent. The program is now in the process of being scaled up to all districts in the nation of Malawi.

Malawi and Zambia aren’t the only countries where we’re making an impact. In Kenya, USAID is sponsoring an initiative to improve reading outcomes in Kiswahili and English in 500 primary schools. The program has introduced innovative teaching methods, new, phonics-based reading materials for mother tongue instruction, and professional development to build the skills of educators and improve student literacy outcomes. In a recent study we found that children enrolled in schools using the USAID-funded program were up to 27 times more likely to read than students in schools outside the program. This program, too, is in the process of being scaled up to reach more schools in the future so that more children in Kenya will have access to a high quality education.

Children in class in Kenya. Credit: Derek Brown

Children in class in Kenya / Derek Brown

In the Philippines, USAID is supporting a program known as the Improved Collection and Use of Student Reading Performance Data. Each time a teacher participating in the program conducts a reading test (in either Tagalog or English), he/she submits the test results via SMS to a Department-of-Education administered database. Teacher supervisors from the department then use this information to provide timely feedback to the teachers on their reading instruction, based on the student results. This USAID program is heightening transparency about student outcomes and tightening the feedback between teachers and their coaches, leading to an increased likelihood that teachers will identify and assist children who are not meeting grade-level expectations in reading.

Through these programs children are learning to read and will have better lives thanks to the support of the American people, and USAID will continue to do more to get all children reading and access to quality education.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christie Vilsack is USAID’s Senior Advisor for International Education

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