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Archives for Asia

Pearl Harbor Day – A Remembrance

The balcony outside the “Flag Mess,” or Admiral’s dining room, on the sixth floor of the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), offers one of the most all-encompassing views of Honolulu and the southern coast of the island of Oahu in Hawaii.  From the Diamond Head promontory on the far left (familiar to fans of Hawaii 5-0) through Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, to Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, on to the Waianae mountains to the far right, on a sunny December morning it is hard to envision how different the scene would have been 72 years ago.

December 7, 1941 – the “day that will live in infamy” in the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – saw the Japanese Imperial Navy attack on Pearl Harbor and many other U.S. military installations on Oahu.  A Hawaiian friend, now 85 years old, was a schoolgirl at the time.  She remembers the sound of the attack and running out onto the lawns of the Kamehameha School – the first school established for native Hawaiians – to see the Japanese planes bombing the U.S. fleet at Pearl, an experience that left indelible memories.

Sailors man the rails as the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) enters Pearl Harbor. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbor for a scheduled port visit during their transit home after an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.

Sailors man the rails as the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) enters Pearl Harbor. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbor for a scheduled port visit during their transit home after an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. Photo Credit: Seaman Apprentice Kelly M. Agee

Other witnesses to the attack, who survived and lived to fight in the Pacific campaign, are fewer and fewer every year.  They still return, some to spend eternity with their fallen comrades.  In a solemn ceremony, survivors who served on the USS Arizona can have their cremated remains entombed within the hull of the ship – approximately three dozen have done so, joining the more than 1,100 who went down with their ship.

These days, the job of protecting American interests in the USPACOM area of responsibility (AOR) falls to the people of USPACOM and the four service commands.  It is a massive job – the AOR reaches from the west coast of the U.S. to the western borders of China and India, more than 50% of the surface area of the world.  With 60% of the world’s population, the world’s five largest militaries, five of the world total of seven U.S. mutual defense treaty allies, and sea lanes through which the bulk of world commerce passes, the region is vital to U.S. national interests.

The importance that USAID places on our partnership with USPACOM is demonstrated by the assignment of four USAID advisors to the Command – two Development Advisors and two Humanitarian Assistance Advisors.  Working closely together, we are committed to advancing U.S. national interests and USAID developmental objectives in this critical part of the world –responding to humanitarian disasters, building host nation capacity to counter instability and violent  extremism; mitigating the effects of climate change; and countering illicit trafficking; and  promoting stability, good governance, and regional cooperation in Asia. Although this cooperation takes many forms, it is usually most visible when military forces respond to a USAID and host nation request for support with disaster assistance programs, as was the case just last month when the strongest typhoon to ever hit land devastated parts of the Philippines.

As we pause to remember the sacrifice of those who fell here 72 years ago, we should also remember that the people of USAID and USPACOM continue to work in peaceful ways to achieve the ideals for which our fathers and grandfathers fought not so long ago.

Richard Hough is the USAID Senior Development Advisor to U.S. Pacific Command. A career Foreign Service Officer, he works to maximize interagency cooperation and develop solutions to developmental challenges faced by both civilian and military agencies.  His international career has spanned more than thirty years, with assignments in Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Richard served as USAID Mission Director in Romania and Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro), opening the missions in each country in the immediate post-communist period and managing significant democratic, social and economic transition programs, including pro-democracy support that was instrumental in removing President Milosevic from power.  As Director of Programming for the USAID Missions to Indonesia and the West Bank and Gaza (Palestine), he managed the development of a new, post-9/11 strategy for USAID programs in Indonesia, the fourth largest country, with the largest Muslim population, in the world.  Following the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26, 2004 Richard developed a $400 million recovery and reconstruction plan for the province of Aceh.  In Palestine he managed a $2 billion development assistance portfolio that supported the Israeli-Arab peace process.  He is married to Jill Gulliksen, an international development professional with thirty years of program management experience; they have two grown children.

Political Transition Assistance and Prevention of Gender Based Violence

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

She was abandoned as a baby at a rural hospital in Bihar, India. The hospital, at a loss for what to do with an infant girl, gave her away – to a brothel. Through concerted efforts of an anti-human trafficking organization in India, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, she was adopted and housed at the nonprofit’s shelter for girls. Thanks to Apne Aap, she escaped the brothel at an early age, rescued from a life of forced prostitution that awaited her. This year she graduated from secondary school. She wants to be a doctor.

In a nearby village named Khawaspur, I met a girl about the same age who was living a very different life. Despite significant efforts to remove her from the red light area of the village, she was forced into prostitution at the age of 12. For the past 5 years she has been living with daily exposure to sexual violence. Forced to lie about her age to authorities, she lives in hollow silence.

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

I saw these two stories with my own eyes, and learned of the cruel cycle that we at USAID try to break:  poverty, women’s systematic exclusion, and a lack of education, among other factors, all contribute to endemic gender-based violence (GBV) and the disproportionate maltreatment of women.   Endemic GBV and women’s inequality on the other hand threaten the stability and development of any given country or region.  In addition, we know that in conflicts and crises, GBV is more prevalent and these issues are magnified.  This is why USAID continues to be focused on ending GBV.

GBV is the violation of human rights on the basis of gender, and encompasses a wide-range of issues including bride kidnapping, sexual violence, and human trafficking. Given the breadth and complexity of the issue, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) helps increase community education, support for prevention and response, and women’s inclusion in political processes – all critical issues that threaten both the stability and rights of citizens, such as GBV.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, where bride kidnappings are a serious issue, OTI partnered with a local NGO to engage students from three universities in the southern city of Osh in discussions on bride kidnapping and recent changes to laws that increase jail time for perpetrators. Young women – and men – are uninformed about bride kidnapping laws and the legal process, and women often face stigma from communities and families when attempting to resist captivity.  With OTI’s support, the local organization activity utilized street theater performances, t-shirts, brochures, and public service announcements to empower students to take a stand against bride kidnapping and serve as an example for others.  In addition to confronting bridal kidnapping, the program functioned as part of a larger effort to address sources of instability and support the democratic transition,

In Burma, OTI supports a local organization to conduct a qualitative study on violence against women.  Women’s rights organizations plan to utilize the findings to enhance service and response mechanisms and support prevention and response programs around the country.

To address sexual violence in Sri Lanka, OTI-supported youth led more than 1,000 individuals in protests against sexual violence, with representation from diverse ethnic and religious groups from six districts across Sri Lanka.  Support for these youth groups was delivered through OTI’s Sexual Assault Forensic Evaluation (SAFE) program.

In addition to these activities directly addressing gender-based violence, the Office of Transition Initiatives supports a number of other initiatives as components of transition programming in countries including Syria, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and Burma. These initiatives promote women’s participation in the political process, build the role of women in government and civil society, and raise awareness on critical issues impacting women and girls. Inclusion of women in transition processes will promote their positions as equal stakeholders in democracy, and encourage prevention of gender-based violence. In conflict and crisis environments, providing an inclusive platform for those impacted by sexual violence to become agents of change in their own communities is critical for protecting the rights and security of individuals, and for the development of legitimate political processes.

With writing support from Lisa Bower, Program Manager and Gender Point of Contact at the Office of Transition Assistance, and  Melissa Hough, Special Assistant to the Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.

Transforming Gender Norms and Ending Child Marriage: The Role of Boys

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

Child marriage has recently gained heightened attention by donors, researchers, activists, program implementers, and policymakers. The international community has increasingly recognized child marriage as a violation of girls’ rights, health, and well-being, and efforts to prevent and respond to child marriage have prioritized critical “hot spots” where the practice is particularly grave and widespread. Yet, it is also crucial to shed light on a current “blind spot” in these efforts: the role of boys in ending child marriage.

When males are included in strategies and interventions to address child marriage, the focus is mostly on the key role that men play as powerful gatekeepers: fathers and religious and community leaders, whose support must be galvanized to intervene on behalf of girls. The forward-looking USAID Vision for Action on Child Marriage, for example, includes engaging men as an important part of mobilizing communities to shift norms that perpetuate child marriage. But the Vision does not stop there; it further states that, “equally important is reaching out to boys at a young age to encourage equitable gender attitudes and norms so that they can be allies in preventing child marriage and change agents within their communities.” This aspect of male engagement is usually not highlighted in child marriage discussions, yet raises a vital question: What needs to happen to create a generation of boys that resists and rejects child marriage for themselves in the future?

A young girl.  Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The international community has increasingly recognized child marriage as a violation of girls’ rights, health, and well-being, and efforts to prevent and respond to child marriage have prioritized critical “hot spots” where the practice is particularly grave and widespread. Yet, it is also crucial to shed light on a current “blind spot” in these efforts: the role of boys in ending child marriage. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

This “demand-side” orientation requires long-term investments aimed at changing the social and behavioral gender norms that drive child marriage. What if all future men refused to marry a child bride? Though directly addressing this side of the equation is seldom mentioned, there are promising interventions with young girls and boys that seek to transform gender attitudes and behaviors with the goal of promoting gender equality more broadly. One example is the USAID-funded Gender Roles, Equality, and Transformation (GREAT) project.

Although GREAT does not directly address child marriage, it works with adolescents (ages 10-19) and their communities to reduce gender-based violence and improve reproductive health in Uganda. Building on the CHOICES project in Nepal, GREAT recognizes early adolescence as a window of opportunity—a time when the formation of gender norms and identities is taking place. The project utilizes participatory activities to engage young girls and boys in gender equality discussions. For example, project staff ask young girls and boys to pile-sort cards representing various household and community tasks, to show who is responsible for them. Girls and boys (including sisters and brothers) see the pile of tasks assigned to girls steadily grow larger than the boys’ pile. The activity prompts conversations about fairness, as boys remark on the larger burden carried by their sisters.

These types of “a-ha” moments are crucial entryways to deeper critical reflections that can begin a journey towards gender equality. By tapping into young boys’ sense of justice at a very young age, interventions such as these, which seek to transform gender norms early in the process of childhood development, hold the promise of shaping a future generation of men as allies in wiping out child marriage globally.

Video of the Week: USAID Announces Additional $10 Million for Philippine Relief Effort

On November 18 at the Tacloban Airport in the Philippines, USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg talks about “steady drumbeat” of aid from the U.S. to help those affected by Typhoon Haiyan. On the trip, Nancy will visit Tacloban and Manila to meet with senior U.S., UN, and Philippine officials. She will observe multilateral, interagency, and USAID relief operations. She will also tour distribution centers to determine additional humanitarian aid relief.

Learn more about USAID’s relief and response efforts to assist those affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Follow @NancyLindborg on Twitter for on-the-ground updates!

Strengthening the Philippines through USAID Relief

The sheer destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally in the Philippines as Yolanda) is mind-boggling. Thousands have been killed, countless homes have been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos left homeless. Americans, and indeed people all over the world, have been shocked by arresting images of a destroyed landscape and desperate people whose lives have been ruptured. While nothing can undo the damage wrought by the storm, the U.S. Government has mounted a swift, large, and coordinated relief effort using all of the tools at our disposal, with USAID leading that humanitarian response.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Eric Chiarito, from Hyde Park, N.Y., left, and Marine Sgt. Jonathan Thornton, from Lake Havasu, Ariz., load supplies to assist the Philippine government in response to the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. Photo credit: U.S. Navy.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Eric Chiarito, from Hyde Park, N.Y., left, and Marine Sgt. Jonathan Thornton, from Lake Havasu, Ariz., load supplies to assist the Philippine government in response to the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. Photo credit: U.S. Navy.

While this is the fifth time since 2009 that USAID has been called to respond to a significant typhoon in the Philippines, this is by far the most devastating. It is also the first major disaster in my short tenure as Director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and I have been encouraged to see how the present effort is beginning to make a tangible difference in the lives of ordinary Filipinos. As aid begins to reach tens of thousands of survivors, we are proud of our assistance to the Filipino people even as we are humbled by the breadth of the devastation. A few observations from the past week:

  • Preparedness and rapid response was critical. USAID/OFDA’s hydro-meteorological expert had sounded the alarm about the storm well in advance, and so we were able to pre-position a disaster response advance team in Manila ahead of the typhoon. That team reached Leyte Island, the epicenter of the crisis, within 24 hours of the typhoon’s passage. That team was on the first commercial vessel to reach the affected area and rapidly began to assess the areas hit by the storm and pinpoint the major priority needs. We found the immediate needs to be emergency shelter, water, and food and we have been working closely with our military colleagues to deliver much-needed assistance.

  • The damage is heartwrenching. Roughly 90 percent of structures are visibly damaged, including office buildings, hospitals, and homes. We saw severe damage to infrastructure systems, making access to water systems, communications systems, and transportation systems difficult. 
Weaker structures were totally destroyed but even hardened concrete structure suffered major damage in the ferocious storm surge.

  • Much more help will be needed. Immediately after Haiyan hit, the United States offered $20 million in humanitarian assistance, which allowed us to distribute emergency shelter kits and family hygiene kits to the region. This is enabling us to reach 20,000 families with plastic sheeting for their homes, soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper, and sanitary supplies. Additionally, with the help of World Food Program, USAID has sent 55 metric tons of food, including highly nutritious bars and paste–containing a day’s worth of calories–to nourish approximately 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for roughly four to five days.

This is a first step, and we will do more in the coming weeks to help families meet their basic needs, regroup, and begin to recover. It has been incredible to witness the unity of communities to offer help where they can. We are already beginning to see a major uptick in the volume of international aid to the Philippines as the global aid response reaches full capacity. As more and more aid from the U.S. and many others – from countries to charities to individual donors – begins to reach the Philippines, we are optimistic that the response effort is turning a corner.

Get the latest news and updates on Typhoon Haiyan.

Tackling Malaria and Other Transboundary Challenges in the Lower Mekong through Regional Cooperation

Gregory Beck serves as deputy assistant administrator for Asia

Greg Beck serves as deputy assistant administrator for Asia

More than 60 million people live in the lower Mekong River basin, a region of the world currently struggling with drug-resistant malaria. While the introduction of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs) for treatment of malaria has helped to greatly reduce its prevalence over the past decade, a high percentage of malaria cases are now failing treatment with ACTs, endangering global progress in fighting this communicable disease. With no alternative antimalarial medicine available, this presents a serious health security risk that requires robust regional and global cooperation to effectively overcome.

CSIS2Such was a major topic of discussion at an event on the Mekong’s health and development future that I participated in on Tuesday morning, November 12, at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS). Robust regional cooperation is key to developing and implementing sustainable solutions to global challenges such as drug-resistant malaria. That’s why at USAID, we are deepening our engagement with regional institutions working to promote integration and shared solutions in a region of the world closely tied to America’s security and prosperity — the Asia-Pacific.

One such regional body is the Lower Mekong Initiative, or LMI. Comprised of the governments of the United States, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam, LMI works to identify collaborative solutions to challenges shared by the five lower Mekong nations — from water resources management to vulnerability to climate change. As a result of the LMI infrastructure we’ve helped put in place, regional working groups have been established with both U.S. and lower Mekong country counterparts to discuss for the first time in a regional setting how best to achieve shared development goals. Over the past year we have established a new LMI coordination hub at our Regional Development Mission for Asia in Bangkok. In conjunction with LMI, we are also actively supporting the Friends of the Lower Mekong, which coordinates the development work of donors in the region.

Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook

Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook

We are making progress. Our shared successes have been clearly demonstrated in the regional collaboration and coordination that took place in response to the emergence of H7N9 avian influenza in 2013, as compared to the SARS pandemic 10 years ago when information was not adequately shared. For H7N9 avian influenza, the sharing of surveillance results, samples and lab methodologies within China and globally started about 40 days after the first case developed symptoms. This information was used to rapidly take steps to limit the spread of the virus and establish animal and human surveillance and lab testing for H7N9 in the LMI countries using platforms previously developed for H5N1 avian influenza. As a result, only 139 human infections with H7N9 virus have been documented and only one country has been affected to date. In comparison, SARS cases had accumulated for about three months before the virus was detected. By the time the SARS pandemic subsided in late 2003, there had been over 8,400 human infections in 29 countries and the economic impact was estimated to be at least $80 billion.

We are forging partnerships to combine resources for maximum impact. Through the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, we’ve joined AusAID, DFID, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — organizations highly concerned by the emergence of artemisinin-resistant malaria and the impact that this may have on regional and global efforts to control and eliminate this disease. We continue to work with these agencies and with the World Health Organization and the Global Fund in the region to speed up efforts to reach all populations at risk with effective treatment and prevention. Our support for the President’s Malaria initiative has been at the forefront of efforts in the region to protect drug quality and efficacy by detecting and banning counterfeit and sub-standard drugs and providing effective treatment to vulnerable populations. Significant progress has already been made, for example, in western Cambodia, where malaria transmission has decreased markedly since the problem of artemisinin resistance was first identified there.

Also, earlier this year, the United States, Thailand and Burma signed a Mutual Declaration for cooperation on malaria prevention and control in the Thai/Burma border region. This is especially important as Burma opens its doors to the international community. Burma has the greatest malaria burden in the Mekong region at 591,000 suspected cases a year — three times the number of cases in Laos, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand combined. Activities under the new trilateral program are expected to include training health care workers in Burma, piloting innovative service delivery strategies, and facilitating information sharing between twin cities.

Our regional cooperation includes the opportunity to highlight innovative advancements from research, science and technology. This is core to USAID’s development programming that harnesses the efforts in the region as well as in the United States to most effectively and efficiently address development challenges. As a result of our investments in science and technology through LMI, eight veterinary and 17 public health diagnostic laboratories in the lower Mekong region have enhanced capacity for safe, accurate and rapid diagnosis of significant endemic and emerging infectious diseases.

Like our deepening engagement in the region, LMI continues to grow. LMI reflects the commitment of the United States to the well-being of the people and the long-term success of countries in the region, and we look forward to continued shared progress.

Learn more about the Lower Mekong Initiative.

 

Video of the Week: POTUS on Typhoon Haiyan

This originally appeared on whitehouse.gov/typhoon.

On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan—known as Yolanda in the Philippines—made landfall in the central Philippines, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that have resulted in flooding, landslides, and widespread damage.

According to USAID, the storm affected an estimated 9.7 million people, and damaged or destroyed approximately 23,200 houses, as well as public infrastructure and agricultural land. Those numbers are expected to increase in the coming days as more information becomes available.

Learn more about how you can help and the Statement from USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah on Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Resources:

Click on the image view USAID's latest fact sheet on response and recovery efforts.

Click on the image view USAID’s latest fact sheet on response and recovery efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Click on the map to view areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

 

 

Video of the Week: Adapting to Melting Glaciers: A Partnership Approach

Through the USAID-supported High Mountain Partnership (HiMAP), Peru and Nepal are addressing the impacts and risks of rapidly melting glaciers in high mountain areas. The HiMAP brings scientists, governments officials, and local people together to share lessons learned on managing high-risk, high-impact floods caused by rapidly melting glaciers.

Learn more about USAID’s work in climate change and promotion of development based on climate-smart planning and clean technologies.

Harnessing S&T for Global Development

This originally appeared on the White House Blog

Recently, I interviewed Dr. Andrew Sisson, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director in Indonesia, who is leveraging science and technology (S&T) and innovation to help tackle development challenges in Indonesia.

Why is USAID focusing on S&T and innovation in Indonesia? What are some of the economic and societal challenges that S&T can help address?

Science, technology, and innovation have the potential to solve important global development problems. S&T can help communities and governments control the impact and spread of infectious diseases; protect marine environments; strengthen resilience to natural disasters and climate change; and much more. In just one example, we are working with the Indonesia National Tuberculosis Program (NTP) to test a new, simple and rapid tuberculosis (TB) diagnostic called GeneXpert. The goal of this technology is to increase the rapid detection and treatment of TB in HIV patients. The results of pilot testing in 17 locations across Indonesia will be published soon and, with support from the Global Fund and TB REACH, the Indonesia NTP has already expanded  use of the new diagnostic to private-sector hospitals.

Indonesia Laboratory technical at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung (West Java) performs multi-drug resistant TB tests using GeneXpert as part of a pilot project supported by USAID. Photo credit: Roni Chandra

Indonesia Laboratory technical at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung (West Java) performs multi-drug resistant TB tests using GeneXpert as part of a pilot project supported by USAID. Photo credit: Roni Chandra

What is the mission’s strategy around S&T over the next few years?

USAID is partnering with the Government of Indonesia to use new and innovative approaches to achieve Indonesia-specific development goals. We’ve also decided together to focus part of our investment on developing components of Indonesia’s “scientific ecosystem,” including by developing merit-based research systems and strengthening the scientific evidence-to-policymaking cycle. Our joint work also includes scholarship opportunities, joint research between Indonesian and American scientists, and private-sector partnerships to adopt advanced technologies for development goals.

What are some opportunities to strengthen collaboration between Indonesian and American scientists?

Indonesia and the United States have many overlapping scientific interests: climate change, marine conservation, healthcare diagnostics, renewable energy, disaster risk reduction, and more. And so we’d like to open more doors for scientific collaborations to take root in these areas. The State Department has established an official dialogue with Indonesia on making scientific exchanges a top priority. But, it can’t only be a government-to-government effort. For scientific collaboration to flourish we’ve got to place it in the hands of our top scientists and students – and so networking among students and universities in both countries has also been a promising area of partnership.

Can you give an example of an individual or project that exemplifies USAID and Indonesia’s collaborative work in S&T?

What’s been incredible to see is how quickly an international network of scientists can come together to create something big when given the opportunity. One great example is the broad network for biodiversity research that has been created by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Udayana University in Bali, and the State University of Papua through the support of USAID and the National Science Foundation. Some of the researchers that are part of this network converge at the Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center – a facility in Indonesia where American and Indonesian students come together every summer to get trained in the latest genetic techniques for applications in marine biodiversity and conservation.

What advice do you have for other USAID Missions that are interested in elevating S&T efforts?

We’re still on the early part of the curve so there is a lot to learn, but we’re eager to share as we move forward. What’s been very important in our strategy development are the ongoing conversations and consultations with Indonesian counterparts who are helping define what areas of science and technology we can work on together. For this to be a successful and sustainable part of the U.S.-Indonesia long-term relationship means that Indonesia will be an equal partner each step of the way, as a collaborator and co-investor – and I believe we are making good progress down that path together.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP

A Tale of Two Cyclones

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

In October 1999, a massive cyclone slammed into the eastern coast of India, killing at least 10,000 people. A few weeks ago, a very similar cyclone, Phailin, struck the same region. The news coverage ahead of Phailin painted a frightening picture of a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina poised to wreak havoc on India and potentially repeat the grim toll of the 1999 storm. Yet when all was said and done, Phailin resulted in around 50 fatalities–just a fraction of what was feared. This reduction in fatality levels from the tens of thousands down to the tens is no accident–it is a powerful example of how good disaster risk reduction efforts can save lives on a massive scale.

Media reports since this storm have noted the intense effort by the Indian government to mitigate the threat Phailin posed–from giving storm warnings days in advance to evacuating close to 1 million citizens out of harm’s way. But the untold story behind those headlines is how a U.S. Government partnership helped India to develop that capacity.

Over the past 15 years, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, which I lead, has been working with the Indian government to help strengthen its ability to prepare for and respond to disasters. USAID has helped train thousands of Indian emergency personnel, civil servants, and officials. The Agency invited Indian colleagues to tour its Operations Center in Washington, D.C., and learn about the Incident Command System (ICS), the U.S. Government’s own framework for disaster response management. With USAID’s assistance, the Government of India adapted the ICS for its own emergency response system. USAID has also supported collaboration between Indian and American meteorologists, which has strengthened the forecasting and early warning that proved so critical earlier this month.

USAID also supports a project to increase first responder capacity in India called the Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response (PEER). PEER offers trainings in areas such as medical first response, urban search and rescue, and hospital preparedness; it was so well-received that India’s National Disaster Response Force has adopted the training curriculum for its own battalions. Many of those same battalions helped lead the response to Phailin.

While much now remains to be done to help bring relief and recovery to those affected by the storm, Cyclone Phailin has shown India’s ability to address a major disaster using its own disaster management institutions. The Indian government deserves enormous credit for its investment in these systems, and the U.S. can take pride in knowing that our investment in this partnership with India has now paid off in a big way.

Learn more about USAID’s disaster assistance to India in the recent release of Pounds of Prevention: Focus on India

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