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Archives for Asia

A Spotlight on the World’s ‘Invisible’ Workers

Haitian construction workers in the Dominican Republic include an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants. The USAID Global Labor Program is supporting research and advocacy for international standards to protect their rights. / Ricardo Rojas

Haitian construction workers in the Dominican Republic include an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants. The USAID Global Labor Program is supporting research and advocacy for international standards to protect their rights. / Ricardo Rojas

USAID invests in people and their communities. But the people who do the most to bring wealth, infrastructure and services to a globalizing world may be those who leave their communities behind. They are construction workers, nurses, dishwashers, farm workers and maids. They are not likely to vote, or be leaders in their communities, or even lead their own households. But they do provide nearly half of all financial flows to developing country economies. They are the world’s 232 million migrant workers.

“Than,” one of many Burmese migrant worker in Thailand’s fishing industry, who face some of the worst abuse in the world.  / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

“Than,” one of many Burmese migrant worker in Thailand’s fishing industry, who face some of the worst abuse in the world. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

“Than,” whose full name is protected for his privacy,is a 16-year-old Burmese boy who came to Thailand with his parents to find work. He works on fishing boats, earning only a little over $200 for an entire one-month boat journey. His father was arrested for not having a work permit, so now Than must provide for his two younger sisters, and earn back the money his family paid for a labor broker to bring them across the Thai border. His sisters hope to attend a school for migrants. Than only completed a sixth grade education.

Than is one of the luckier ones. Many Burmese migrant workers in Thailand’s seafood industry are little more than forced laborers. A report by the Solidarity Center found many workers were forced to work 16 to 20 hours a day and went without pay for months. Employers told workers their wages were being used to repay the labor brokers who brought them to Thailand.

Unemployment and underemployment have forced over half of Dominican Republic workers, many domestic workers from Haiti, into the precarious informal economy.  USAID’s partner Solidarity Center is supporting these workers to organize for their rights. / Solidarity Center

Unemployment and underemployment have forced over half of Dominican Republic workers, many domestic workers from Haiti, into the precarious informal economy. USAID’s partner Solidarity Center is supporting these workers to organize for their rights. / Solidarity Center

Thanks to interventions supported by USAID, some of these workers have been able to win back wages and better working conditions.

Even when migration is voluntary, life can be very difficult. Domestic workers migrating from Asia to the Middle East often lose the ability to communicate with their families or even their children; yet they keep working for wages they hope will enable those children to have a better life.

Even though migrant workers’ contributions to global financial flows are stunning (in 2014, remittances from expatriate workers were estimated to be $436 billion up from $132 billion in 2000), these workers are almost never the beneficiaries of any development program. They are largely invisible, restricted by law from participating in political or civic life in their countries of destination, and cut off from family and community ties in their countries of origin. They fall outside of human rights norms, and therefore are often victims of exploitation.

Between 2 million and 4 million migrant workers toil in Thailand as dockworkers, in seafood and domestic work. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

Between 2 million and 4 million migrant workers toil in Thailand as dockworkers, in seafood and domestic work. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

However, human rights advocacy organizations are beginning to advocate for the rights of these workers in new and innovative ways, and USAID is supporting a range of activities in several countries with high numbers of migrating workers.

According to the national census data in Nepal, as of 2011 over 700,000 Nepalis were recorded as working in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with over a quarter of the country’s GDP coming from remittances. Unfortunately, too many Nepali workers are also exploited and trafficked as they migrate for work and in the destination country.

In Qatar, it’s been reported that more than 400 Nepali workers have already lost their lives working on World Cup construction sites. To help thwart the exploitation that may occur in the labor recruitment and migration process for foreign employment, USAID’s CTIP Project in Nepal has established 250 Safe Migration Networks to help educate community members on safe migration and monitor those who do migrate for employment. Much more needs to be done, such as ensuring ethical labor recruitment practices in countries of origin and decent working conditions in countries of destination.

The Thai fishing industry in Thailand has been described as being built on the slavery of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

The Thai fishing industry in Thailand has been described as being built on the slavery of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

USAID’s Global Labor Program has elevated the profile of some of the world’s most invisible workers: domestic workers around the world. A successful global campaign led by representatives of migrant domestic workers themselves succeeded in winning a new international convention on the rights of domestic workers, and bringing them from their homes into the world’s spotlight.

On this International Migrants Day, civil-society groups from around the world are presenting a framework for migration and development called the “Stockholm Agenda” to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. This initiative is a starting point for a broad and robust dialogue on how to ensure we spotlight and support the world’s migrant workers. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that “migration works for all.”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Bama Athreya is a Labor and Employment Rights Specialist
Marina Colby is a Senior Counter-Trafficking in Persons Advisor
Both work in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance

Ending Extreme Poverty in Asia through Universal Health Coverage

A woman in the Philippines receives a tetanus shot during a pre-natal visit. / HealthPRO

A woman in the Philippines receives a tetanus shot during a pre-natal visit. / HealthPRO

The 2010 World Health Report on Health Systems Financing and the unanimous endorsement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by the United Nations in 2012 have paved the way for rich and poor countries alike to take a closer, more critical look at how raise resources and improve access to health services, particularly for the poor. Asia is home to 3.9 billion people and accounts for a third of the global economy. Despite the region’s robust economic growth, almost two thirds of those in extreme poverty still live in Asia.

While there are many paths that a country can choose to get out of poverty, mobilizing domestic resources towards the health sector – in the form of Universal Health Coverage policies that seek to increase access to services especially for the poor – is a sound and sustainable investment that can lead to great economic returns. These reforms that empower the poor are critical because poor health and health shocks are leading causes of chronic poverty and impoverishment.

An Indonesian patient awaits further instructions during a check-up. / USAID

An Indonesian patient awaits further instructions during a check-up. / USAID

Rapidly growing Asian countries, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam have shown that improving health indicators and reducing extreme poverty are clearly linked. Declines in infant and child mortality rates in these countries preceded periods of strong and sustained economic growth.

Clearly, an agenda to end extreme poverty must include UHC goals.

Ill health prevents the poor from climbing out of poverty and can impoverish the near poor. When a household member falls ill, this can mean diminished labor productivity. In addition, households often make catastrophic financial outlays paid for by selling their assets, reducing their consumption, dipping into their savings, or borrowing at high interest rates for seeking health care.

High rates of out-of-pocket spending, a highly regressive way of financing health systems, create financial barriers to accessing health care., This financing represents 36 percent and 61 percent of the total health spending in developing East Asia and Pacific and South Asia regions, respectively.

Pupils in Vietnam's Bac Giang Province take part in a USAID deworming project . /  Richard Nyberg, USAID)

Pupils in Vietnam’s Bac Giang Province take part in a USAID deworming project . / Richard Nyberg, USAID)

UHC reforms come in different shapes and sizes. Some common characteristics include improving revenue collection mechanisms so that they are fair and affordable;, helping people move away from paying for health services out of pocket and toward prepayment and risk pooling; improving value for money with strategic purchasing;, and targeting the poor through subsidies.

Many of these reforms across Asia have increased access and utilization of health care, provided financial protection, as well as improved health care outcomes.

Countries such as China and Bangladesh successfully piloted schemes. In Bangladesh, the pilot voucher program to improve maternal and child health successfully increased pre-and post-natal care and facility-based deliveries, while reducing out-of-pocket spending and the costs of these services, and decreasing neonatal mortality rates by a third to almost half in home-based interventions. Bangladesh has adopted UHC as a national policy goal and USAID is providing assistance to support implementation of their health financing strategy.

Vietnam and Indonesia have reached partial coverage of their populations by around two thirds, and have recently taken additional steps to expand their coverage.

Analysis of various UHC schemes in Vietnam (public voluntary health insurance, social insurance and the health care fund for the poor) showed that they had improved financial protection – significantly decreasing spending for the beneficiary insured and providing evidence of positive impacts on their nutrition indicators. And in January of this year, Indonesia set out on the path towards UHC with the goal of covering its entire population of 250 million people by 2019.

The dynamic economic environment in fast-growing Asia means that the role of donors like USAID and the development assistance architecture will need to evolve as well.

Individual countries and the region at large will need to grapple with growing migrant populations and the need for portable schemes that ensure access for migrant labor populations across porous borders. A large and growing informal sector, individuals not covered by the labor and social security provisions, will continue to test how countries communicate expanded coverage to remote and often marginalized communities. Equally as important will be the question of how to finance and address the changing mix of population health needs arising from demographic trends and the emergence of non-communicable diseases.

As many of the developing countries in Asia continue to grow, they will have sufficient resources to afford a basic package of health services for their entire population; however, governments tend to under-invest in their health sector relative to their economic potential.

As a result, oftentimes as countries grow wealthier, public health systems fall further behind.

In Asia and globally, growing domestic resources represent a critical window of opportunity where countries must have the vision and courage to strategically direct this increased wealth towards the health sector so that development dollars are crowded out.

By financing policies that focus on increasing equity and access to quality essential health services – the aim of universal health coverage – countries will be taking concrete steps towards the bold vision of ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristina Yarrow is a Senior Health Technical Specialist in the Asia Bureau, backstopping technical areas specific to health systems strengthening and research such as health financing, UHC, and implementation research.

Caroline Ly is a Health Economist in the Bureau for Global Health’s Office of Health Systems.

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“Being LGBT” in Asia

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Thomas White, deputy director, Governance and Vulnerable Populations Office, Regional Development Mission Asia, USAID

This month marks the release of the eighth series of comprehensive country reports under USAID’s “Being LGBT in Asia” initiative, a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) begun in 2012. The initiative seeks to learn about, meet and engage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people across Asia, developing a better understanding of their lives as well as recommendations for further development assistance activities.

Conducted through national dialogues and interviews among LGBT communities—including over 650 LGBT people and 220 LGBT organizations—the initiative highlights the Asian LGBT experience and raises awareness about USAID’s LGBT rights and development policies.

Taken collectively, the reports highlight important trends and lessons about LGBT life. On the promising side, Vietnam has seen sweeping changes in the acknowledgement of LGBT rights in recent years, including dozens of television shows and interviews in the media with LGBT people, culminating in a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage earlier this year, although the measure did not pass. Thailand is genuinely friendly in many ways, and openly welcomes LGBT tourists. But LGBT people in Thailand face strong pressure to be “good citizens” and put family concerns before their own, a pressure that is similar in Cambodia.

The Philippines paints a mixed picture with high levels of basic social tolerance and acceptance, and even LGBT political parties. At the same time, there is widespread friction with the Catholic Church and the country’s Muslim communities. Other countries face deeper challenges. Basic social acceptance of LGBT people is lacking in most of Indonesia; if you are LGBT in Aceh province, the courts prescribe whipping, caning and egregious fines. Ultranationalist gangs have taken to violent repression of LGBT people in Mongolia. In China , being LGBT is deeply challenging with the country’s cultural focus on family and, in some cases, LGBT people marry and have children against their will to fulfill social requirements.

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To mark the global celebration of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), the United Nations Development Programme and USAID held a series of events to highlight the plight of LGBT people in the Philippines May 12-16, 2014, as part of the “Being LGBT in Asia” initiative. This is part of the ongoing exhibit at the RCBC Galleria Plaza in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines / Being LGBT in Asia

Nepal is widely lauded for a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that annulled laws containing discrimination against sexual minorities, but being LGBT in Nepal is truly difficult because of the country’s poverty, continuing political crisis and powerfully entrenched patriarchal values. Brunei, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore continue to criminalize LGBT status, a position the United States opposes.

“Being LGBT in Asia” country reports are now available for Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, and reports are in both English and the associated local language.

In addition to country-level reports, USAID reached out to LGBT communities across Asia using social media, websites and crowd-sourced videos.  USAID also recently released its LGBT Vision for Action, a strong stand on developing an inclusive environment for all LGBT people.

Since the beginning of the initiative, U.S. ambassadors across Asia have held receptions to reach out to and recognize LGBT people. More recently, “Being LGBT in Asia” has garnered broader support that includes the White House, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

As President Barack Obama has said: “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas White, Deputy Director, Governance and Vulnerable Populations Office, Regional Development Mission Asia (RDMA), USAID

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.

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