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Connecting Parliament to the People in Timor-Leste

It was a bright morning on April 19 in Maliana town as participants gathered for an unusual meeting. The meeting brought members of Timor-Leste‘s Parliament to the capital of Bobonaro District, southwest of the capital Dili, to hear from members of the public. The public forum was part of USAID’s Fostering Meaningful and Responsive Representation project, implemented by the International Republican Institute (IRI). The project’s activities include support to political parties as they find effective ways to interact with constituents.

Timor-Leste is one of the world’s newest democracies, gaining its independence in 2002. Over the past 11 years, voters have participated in seven free and fair elections, most recently in 2012, when they elected a new president and new Parliament.

Citizens from Bobonaro District, southeast of the capital Dili, voice their opinions and concerns to members of the Timor-Leste Parliament at a USAID-supported public forum in April 2013. Photo credit: Paul Randolph, USAID

Seats in Timor-Leste’s Parliament are party-based, and on election day voters choose a party rather than an individual candidate. Members of Parliament are drawn from the party lists based on what percentage of the popular vote each party received. This means that parliamentarians don’t have specific geographic constituencies.

In every democracy, it’s crucial that parliamentarians meet their constituents regularly to explain how they are serving communities as their elected representatives and listen to the views of citizens to incorporate them into legislation and public policies.

That kind of interaction is often difficult in Timor-Leste, where the population of just over 1 million people is spread across the island in a dozen district capitals, many small towns and scattered rural communities. Roads to the capital are in bad condition and transportation costs are high. It’s often impossible for citizens to make their way to Dili to gain attention for their views and concerns.

With significant transportation challenges and a nationwide constituency, it’s not easy to reach out to citizens to get their input. So the USAID responsive representation project is finding effective ways to increase parliamentarians’ interaction with the public.

One way of facilitating more interaction between parliamentarians and citizens is through a public forum, like the Bobonaro meeting. This was the second in the project’s series of constituency outreach activities focused on “Listening to the People’s Voice.” The series itself is a first for this Parliament.

Parliamentarian Mateus de Jesus (CNRT) shows notes received from constituents during the “Listen to the People’s Voice” forum in Maliana, Timor-Leste, in April 2013. Photo credit: Paul Randolph, USAID

This forum enables members of parliament to meet and interact with citizens outside Dili. They can explain their party’s stance on major issues of public interest and, more importantly, listen to constituents’ viewpoints.  In particular, parliamentarians said that they are eager to hear feedback and local concerns because they were just elected in July 2012.

Four parties won seats in Parliament in the 2012 election. Three form the governing coalition: the National Congress of Timor-Leste Reconstruction (CNRT), the Democratic Party (PD), and the National Reconstruction Front of Timor-Leste (Frenti-Mudanca). The Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor-Leste (FRETILIN) is now the opposition party, having governed Timor-Leste from 2002 to 2007. Three of the four parties sent parliamentarians to the public forum.

The 100 participants in Maliana represented a typical cross section of Timorese society – students, teachers, community leaders, representatives from NGOs, women and youth organizations, local offices of political parties, and district offices of government ministries. Participants raised many concerns, including poor rural road conditions, poor quality of small infrastructure projects, a lack of medical supplies at the district hospital, and the need for ambulances. Students highlighted a lack of books in their schools and limited access to scholarships for rural students. Others talked about their concerns related to government social programs, such as pension payments for veterans and the elderly people that do not always reach their recipients. Many voiced their concerns about the government’s plan to adopt and implement a new decentralization policy.

Parliamentarians said that they shared most of the participants’ concerns, and promised to channel those concerns to the relevant government ministries. They also said they would urge the government to address those concerns appropriately.

At the end of the forum, both parliamentarians and participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to better communicate with each other. After the forum, Mateus de Jesus said this USAID-supported outreach activity was the first such opportunity for the current legislature, helping parliamentarians improve their outreach activities and connecting parliamentarian with their constituents. ” This forum was very important so that we can hear directly from the people living in the districts,” de Jesus said.  “As parliamentarians, we’re aware that most of the issues raised during the forum relate to government capacity.  However, as representatives of the people, we can channel these concerns to the relevant ministries or departments and demand accountability.”

Timor-Leste’s parliamentarians are demonstrating their commitment to reach out to constituents, helping to fulfill their role of overseeing the executive branch. As one of the participants said, “It’s good that today we have the chance to meet the parliamentarians in the district and convey our concern directly to them, but we hope that parliamentarians will conduct such forums regularly in the future as part of their own agendas, and that they must will their authority to ensure that our concerns are addressed.”

Based on this success, USAID’s representation project will help expand these opportunities to other districts in the next few months.

I hope that Timor-Leste’s parliamentarians and party benches will continue to schedule more frequent outreach forums themselves and develop their own best strategies for meeting constituents, listening to their feedback, and ensuring that their concerns are addressed appropriately.

As parliamentarians begin to strengthen these kinds of mechanisms, and development partners like USAID continue to assist, I think that it would not be a far-fetched hope that in the future the relationship between Timor-Leste’s parliamentarians and citizens will be as bright as the morning sun that day in Maliana.

Earth Matters Workshop Helps Nepali Journalists Link Environment to Socio-Political Dialogue

Given Nepal’s high vulnerability to climate change, one might expect reporters like Mangal Man Shakya, a veteran investigative journalist and chairman of Nepal’s Wildlife Watch Group, to find great demand for his environmental stories. Unfortunately, that isn’t the always the case.

“It has been a long time since I saw an investigative environmental report in the Nepali media,” Shakya said as he spoke at a recent “Earth Matters Workshop” for journalists in Kathmandu. Although many Nepali leaders recognize the need to take action on environmental issues, the preeminence of political and economic stories often means reporting on climate change and conservation gets buried on page 6. The environmental stories that do get published are typically limited in scope, rather than in-depth and linked to broader political, economic, or health issues.

Recognizing the media’s critical role in raising public awareness and influencing public policy, USAID, in partnership with WWF Nepal, organized a media Earth Day workshop called “Earth Matters,” designed to help journalists understand how environmental issues can be linked to broader socio-political issues in Nepal and produce content with more in-depth analysis. The workshop, organized through the USAID-funded Hariyo Ban (Green Forests) Program, invited Nepali journalists to engage with some of the nation’s top conservation experts, high-ranking policy makers, veteran media professionals, and an award-winning journalist from the United States, in sessions that often took on a press conference format.

Former Parliamentarian and Politician Gagan Thapa joined the “Earth Matters Workshop” to discuss the environmental issues and challenges in the Constituent Assembly and reiterated the important role media plays in raising public awareness and influencing policy discourse and action. Photo credit: Fungma Fudong, USAID Nepal

The 12 participants, selected from a large pool of applicants, shared the common challenges they face not only in accessing resources to pursue environmental reporting, but also in getting buy-in from newsrooms that do not care for, or do not understand, the country’s environmental issues. Such challenges make it even more important for journalists to link environmental stories to political and economic issues, which tend to receive greater coverage.

Speaking at the workshop, former Member of Parliament’s Natural Resources and Means Committee Gagan Thapa reiterated the influence that good reporting can have on policy: “Often, it was the media that brought many issues to our attention,” he said, discussing the relationship between reporters and the Parliament and Constituent Assembly. He added that, with Nepal’s current lack of a Parliament, it is all the more important for environmental reporters to be bold and vigilant.

“Environment issues are at the heart of Nepal’s socio-economic present and future problems and solutions, and it is high time Nepali politics recognizes this,” Kashish Das Shrestha, well-known environmental writer and moderator of the workshop, said. “An informed and responsible media is critical in helping to shape the political discourse accordingly.”

By the end of the workshop, one of the 12 participants had produced a radio show on the devastating effects of mining and deforestation in Nepal’s mid hills for Image FM 97.9, one of Nepal’s largest stations, and also published an article on the story. Another participant had produced a radio report for the Community Information Network, which includes more than 100 community radio stations throughout Nepal. These reports are just few of the bright sparks lit by the workshop.

In the second phase of the workshop, participants will head to the field to conduct research in the areas where Hariyo Ban operates. This interaction with those most affected by environmental issues is expected to inform and expand environmental media coverage. The workshop culminates on World Environment Day, June 5, when all participants—Hariyo Ban Champions—will share the work they have produced based on the workshop and field research.

USAID’s Hariyo Ban program has, since 2011, helped Nepalis prepare for and adapt to climate stresses. Hariyo Ban is a cornerstone of President Obama’s Global Climate Change Initiative in Nepal and is implemented by a consortium led by World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Other consortium members include: CARE, the Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal, and the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

Netbooks Empower Community Health Workers to Improve Health in Bangladesh’s Poorest Communities

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

With a population of 150 million, Bangladesh is a bustling country filled with vibrant people. On a recent trip to Dhaka and Chittagong we experienced first-hand the kindness and welcoming spirit of the country. The goal of our trip was to meet with various USAID implementing partners, and several units within the Ministry of Family Health and Welfareto find out more about their behavior change communication work. Developing high quality, evidence-based communication campaigns that promote healthy behaviors is quite a challenge for Bangladesh with their large population, numerous rural communities, and with so many health issues that need to be addressed. These health areas range from improved antenatal and postnatal care, family planning, nutrition, and child health. USAID implementing partners and the Ministry of Family Health and Welfare are now streamlining their health communications work, making sure their messages are in agreement, effective, and accessible to a range of people of all ages and educational backgrounds.

Community health workers receive training on the new netbooks. Photo credit: Bangladesh Knowledge Management Initiative

A key part in this new effort was the launch of a three-month eHealth pilot program, developed by Johns Hopkins University – Center for Communication Programs in partner with Eminence, the Bangladesh Center for Communication Programs, and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with funding from USAID. The pilot will take place in Sylhet and Chittagong where 300 community health workers have received a netbook computer loaded with several eToolkits that contain a digital library of communication materials in maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition, and eight eLearning courses. The eToolkit includes 116 materials and tools which were selected by a team after a detailed assessment and review. The eToolkit will improve the quality and effectiveness of counseling visits that the community health workers have with their clients, while replacing the heavy materials they previously carried from house to house. The eight eLearning courses on the netbooks are meant to supplement the training that community health workers currently receive. Each course also includes an assessment designed to measure changes in the knowledge and skills of community health workers.

Puspa Rani Paramdar, a community health worker, said she felt empowered with information and knowledge after she received the netbook. Photo credit: Bangladesh Knowledge Management Initiative

The eHealth pilot is one of the first large steps towards achieving a Digital Bangladesh by 2021. The use of digital resources will help extend the reach of key messages for health, population, and nutrition. In early April, colorful balloons and banners welcomed guests to the launch event for the pilot program in Chittagong. Here we witnessed the ceremonially hand-off of ten netbooks to community health workers before an audience of more than100 guests who were excited and engaged, asking interesting technical questions and offering suggestions for future iterations of the project.

On April 20-21, the first 30 community health workers attended an orientation, learned to use the netbook, and navigate the eToolkit and eLearning courses. Facilitators led an interactive orientation to ensure the community health workers felt comfortable operating the netbooks. There was much enthusiasm for the eHealth pilot program from the field workers during the orientation, who shared they felt empowered, informed, and energized to continue their important work.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Money & Microfinance

What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction? What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction?In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we discuss the important role that financial services play in reducing vulnerability to disasters and facilitating post-disaster recovery. We travel to Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean where USAID supports a number of efforts that increase people’s access to finance and also strengthens the preparedness capacity of the providers themselves. Photo by USAID.

Working to Preserve the Coral Triangle

During Earth Week, we’re exploring the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. 

Stretching across almost 6 million square kilometers of ocean and coastal waters in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, the Coral Triangle is considered the global epicenter of marine biodiversity. It is nearly half the size of the United States and home to over 500 species of reef-building corals and 3,000 species of fish and threatened marine species such as sea turtles. It is also home to some 363 million people, a third of whom depend directly on coastal and marine resources for their livelihoods.

These rich natural resources support livelihoods in the six countries of the Coral Triangle area—Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Yet they are increasingly under threat. Scientists warn that, by the year 2030, virtually all coral reefs in the Coral Triangle Region will be threatened by a combination of ocean warming and acidification as well as human activities. More than 80 percent of reefs will face high, very high, or critical threat levels, according to the Reefs at Risk Revisited report (PDF), by the World Resources Institute.

Communities in the Coral Triangle learn how to assess their vulnerability to sea level rise caused by climate change at a workshop organized by USAID’s US CTI Support Program. Photo credit: USAID

To grapple with this challenge, the six countries of the Coral Triangle area formed the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI). They committed to work together to stem the decline of the region’s marine resources and increase the social and economic resilience of coastal communities to climate change. With USAID support, they adopted the CTI Region-wide Early Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation for Near-shore Marine and Coastal Environment and Small Island Ecosystems in 2011. Under this action plan, the six countries are developing tools for communities on the front lines.

Among these tools is the Local Early Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit, a comprehensive set of cutting-edge scientific and social instruments that local governments and communities can use to conduct climate outreach to their constituents. It can be used to develop qualitative climate change vulnerability assessments and site-specific adaptation plans.

The toolkit provides critical information in a practical format. And it is catching on. By the end of 2012, at least 137 participants from six communities and government and academic institutions in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines were replicating the  Coral Triangle Initiative trainings and developing their own vulnerability assessments and climate change adaptation plans.

Many come from areas that are key marine biodiversity sites like Kimbe Bay, Milne Bay and Manus in Papua New Guinea and similar spots in the Western and Choiseul Provinces of Solomon Islands.

In Manus, Jenny Songan has started a Women in Conservation group to cultivate and plant mangrove seedlings and take other steps to mitigate against climate change. Residents of Ndilou Island in Manus have built seawalls and planted mangroves to reclaim beaches lost to erosion caused by climate change.

In the meantime, the governments of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (PDF), recognizing the critical need for these tools, agreed to create a national network of training teams to roll out the training—a critical need.

Local government officials believe the practical training is key to helping build resilient ecosystems and communities across the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity. “We have learned valuable tools and lessons which I know will further our work in country,” said Agnetha Vave-Karamui, Chief Conservation Officer for the Solomon Islands Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology. “We look forward to putting into use what we have learned.”

Follow @USAIDEnviro on Twitter to learn more about our work in the environment and global climate change.

Kazakhstan: Preserving Asia’s Bread Basket

During Earth Week, we’re exploring the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us. We start in Kazakhstan, the breadbasket of Central Asia and Afghanistan.

“Ас атасы – нан” – Bread is the head of all foods, Kazakh Proverb

Bread is the lifeblood of the Central Asian diet, so changes in the price and availability of wheat can have significant impacts on food security in the five Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan. In Tajikistan, for example, more than 50% of daily caloric intake comes from bread. While all the countries grow at least a little wheat, it is Kazakhstan—the world’s 7th largest wheat exporter—that occupies the central role in providing this critical staple crop to the entire region.

Bread is the centerpiece of the Central Asian diet. Photo credit: USAID

Yet, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of droughts in the wheat growing regions, increase extreme temperature events, and change seasonal precipitation patterns. These changes could significantly threaten Kazakhstan’s ability to serve as the region’s breadbasket. Climate change is expected to exacerbate challenges to food security by reducing water availability – critical for agriculture – and increasing natural disasters like droughts and floods. Harvests during drought years in Kazakhstan can be as much as six times smaller than harvests during normal years!

Despite these known trends, there is very little local awareness or concern about climate change in the region. While the Government of Kazakhstan has taken a progressive stance reducing the emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, adaptation to climate change is still a relatively new concept.

USAID is partnering with UNDP and a host of international experts and organizations to improve the climate resiliency of Kazakhstan wheat and Central Asian food security. The goal of our project is to catalyze the process of adaptation in Kazakhstan’s wheat sector, while also opening a regional dialogue around the challenges of climate change to Central Asian food security.

Flour has been a staple of food assistance to Kyrgyzstan, where over 700,000 people have been provided with humanitarian assistance from USAID since 2006. Photo credit: USAID

As the weather becomes more unpredictable and extreme in Kazakhstan’s wheat regions, climate information services that enable farmers, processors, and policymakers to take proactive measures are essential to lessening the harm of this increasing variability. USAID’s program is focusing on improving the understanding of expected climate impacts on wheat in Kazakhstan and developing the capability to provide critical information to key audiences. Our program is also working with the government, the private sector and the research community to mainstream resilience to climate change into their decision making processes, so the growth of the wheat sector in Kazakhstan happens in a way that withstands the changes climate change will bring.

The other Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan – the primary importers of Kazakh wheat – must also be prepared to respond to the impacts of climate change outside their own borders. We’re bringing these countries and Kazakhstan together to discuss risk mitigation strategies that can be taken at a national and regional level to buffer the region against the impacts of climate change on wheat production and food security.

Together with our partners inside and outside the region, USAID is working to ensure that the people of Central Asia and Afghanistan will have a stable, affordable supply of wheat far into the future. The respect accorded to bread and the role it plays in food security is too important to ignore.

Tracking Tigers for Conservation

The days of tiger hunting from the backs of elephants in the shadow of the Himalayas are thankfully over, but after years of overhunting and loss of habitat, the tiger hunt has taken on a new meaning in Nepal. Today, tourists can still head out on elephant back to spot tigers and the endangered rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, but the only shooting done is by camera. And now Nepali scientists, with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development, are using genetic research to track, identify and protect the remaining 125 tigers in this region.

A large adult male tiger seen in the Terai Arc Landscape. Tiger conservation is a top priority in Nepal, a source and transit point of poaching and the illegal trade of wildlife. Photo credit: Christy Williams, WWF

Over the last two years, the USAID-funded “Nepal Tiger Genome Project” has used an innovative genetic technology to build a comprehensive national DNA database of the endangered Bengal tigers living in Nepal’s Terai Arc Landscape—one of the few remaining tiger habitats on the earth—by collecting and recording a unique genetic fingerprint from each adult tiger’s scat.  This closely held information is used to identify every tiger and its territory.  The data is used to protect habitat, as well as inform law enforcement and protect the animals from poachers.

The project extracts each animal’s unique genetic code from non-invasively collected scat samples. To date, the project has collected over 1,100 samples from Nepal’s four major national parks. Findings of this research are expected to facilitate a better understanding of the genetic and population dynamics of Bengal tigers in Nepal. With valuable data of this nature, conservation policies and strategies at local, national, and international levels can be greater informed, and therefore, all the more effective.

“This is the first time systematic sampling was used to collect and build a comprehensive genetic database of Bengal tigers in Nepal. Although tiger genetic work has been going on in India and other countries, such elaborate data collection and archiving has not been tried with Bengal tigers,” stated Mr. Karmacharya who is the principal investigator for the project and also heads the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, a wholly Nepali-owned and managed by a non-profit private sector institute.

The project is a concerted effort between the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, with both Nepali and U.S. scientists involved in collecting samples and conducting genetic analysis. Dibesh Karmacharya and Kanchan Thapa are heading the project in close collaboration with Dr. Lisette Waits of the University of Idaho and Dr. Marcella Kelly from Virginia Tech.

Already, the technology is being replicated and expanded to gather genetic information of other species such as the one horned Asian rhinoceros, elephants and snow leopards, allowing conservation professionals to track, and better conserve, these fragile and endangered species not only in Nepal but in other parts of the world too.

In Tajikistan, Little Drops Make the River

This originally appeared on FrontLines.

In Tajikistan, there is a familiar proverb: “In every drop of water, there is a grain of gold.” Water is the most precious resource in this mountainous, landlocked nation that is slightly smaller than Wisconsin.

More than 70 years of Soviet industrialization depleted water resources; moreover, many of the collective farms that maintained irrigation systems were dissolved 20 years ago and water systems have fallen into disrepair. For villages that have water, it is often contaminated. About half of all Tajik rural households do not have access to safe, potable water. In many instances, polluted irrigation water is the only source of water for household use.

School children in Khatlon enjoy their first taste of drinking water outside their school. Photo credit: USAID

According to the World Health Organization, waterborne diseases in Tajikistan account for 60 percent of gastroenteritic disorders such as diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid. Repeated illnesses linked to poor quality water not only keep children out of school and contribute to poor health outcomes, including stunted growth, but it is estimated that, in recent years, one in six deaths among children under age 5 in Tajikistan were linked to waterborne diseases.

Previous local efforts to build or maintain water systems were unsuccessful due to a cumbersome legal framework, lack of clarity over management responsibilities and lack of funding. Operators of small water systems often did not have training, and local residents had low awareness of the dangers of waterborne illnesses.

But, as communities begin to understand the value of steady access to clean water, they are coming together with USAID and other partners to install and maintain pipe networks. These new networks, often co-funded by local communities and built by local citizens, are proving sustainable in ways that earlier networks never were.

A Holistic Approach

USAID recognized that any solution would have to be multi-faceted and cross multiple technical sectors. To be successful, the safe drinking water program would need to build the skills of engineers, increase community awareness on water and health, and partner with local governments to democratically maintain the water systems. In addition, through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s flagship food security initiative, USAID is partnering with local government officials in their efforts to increase the role and effectiveness of community-based water users’ associations and increase household consumption of nutritious food.

Jamoliddin Gulomov, chairman of Novobod Township, was eager to partner with USAID. His village in the southern province of Khatlon has never had access to clean water. Residents relied on the river, but the high price of fuel kept most people from boiling water before using it. USAID trained township specialists to maintain and repair the pipe network. The project also trained local peer educators to teach residents about health and hygiene practices. Finally, to ensure that the system was financially sound and sustainable, the Agency provided technical assistance and training to the local government to develop a transparent scheme for user fees.

Community members spoke up at local government meetings to set user fees, dug the pipeline, installed the pump station and, finally, celebrated the opening of the new system.

In addition to reporting a dramatic decline in the incidence of gastroenteritic diseases, Gulomov said, “We now have proven that the local government and citizens can cooperate to make life better for everyone.”

A Focus on Sustainability

Gulomov’s experience mirrors that of other communities involved in this project. Priority areas for this program were those that had received the least donor assistance and that had the worst health indicators. Local townships applied and were selected based partly on their capacity to sustain the improvements.

USAID partnered with a local university to train engineers in maintaining the new water systems. Students received internships to practice their engineering skills. Communities formed water, sanitation and hygiene committees to create a community health index report of baseline data and develop community health action plans based on the results.

Over the past three years, USAID has invested more than $1.7 million in improving 57 drinking water systems that provide access to clean drinking water to 150,000 people in Tajikistan…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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USAID in the News

Following up on his recent trip to Bangkok, Thailand, Deputy Administrator spoke to the Bangkok Post for an interview dedicated to LGBT issues. During the Q&A session, Steinberg explained that the agency is launching the “Being LGBT in Asia” project. The project, the first of its kind, “is a comprehensive research initiative focusing on six countries – China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines- to reach out to LGBT communities to find out from them what their priorities are or what kinds of discrimination they face and how we can most support their efforts to join the political, economic and social mainstreams of their countries.”

Deputy Administrator Steinberg speaks at gender equality event in Bangladesh. Photo Credit: USAID/Bangladesh

In an op-ed featured in Politico co-authored by Shelly Esque, President of the Intel Foundation, and USAID’s own Maura O’Neill, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Counselor to the Administrator, the authors emphasize the need for affordable broadband in the developing world. Comparing the same barrier of phone lines and electricity to rural America, Esque and O’Neill iterate that the same phenomenon could close the digital divide through the expansion of mobile broadband. “Much research has proven broadband to be a catalyst to transformation in economic growth, social inclusion and the delivery of essential services like education and health care when coupled with strategic economic and social development policies.”

The Pakistan Observer reported this week on the Entrepreneurs Project in Pakistan. Through the project, USAID will train 26,000 women embellishers across Pakistan to improve their skills and ultimately increase their income. “Through this project, USAID provides female artisans with the skills to improve their products, access better markets, and increase their incomes.” Already, one participant exclaimed: “Now I don’t have to think about what I will feed my children anymore. Instead, I can think about my children going to school and learning things I don’t know.”

 

The Growing Movement to End Preventable Child Deaths

Yesterday at an event hosted by AEI and the Center for American Progress, USAID Administrator Raj Shah spoke about President Obama’s vision to end extreme poverty through innovation and partnership. His remarks mentioned an important corollary goal – the end of preventable child deaths. The first audience question commended the visionary Child Survival Call to Action held in Washington last year and asked about progress at country-level. Administrator Shah responded that the movement to end preventable child deaths is nothing short of extraordinary.

Administrator Raj Shah earlier this month in India at their Child Survival Summit. Photo Credit: USAID/India

Since the Call to Action, 172 countries have now signed A Promise Renewed pledge to accelerate declines in child deaths.  More than 400 civil society and faith-based organizations as well as over 2,000 individuals have also pledged support. Each signature represents a renewed commitment to give every child the best possible start in life.  Governments are leading the effort to convene policymakers, technical experts, and development partners in a concerted effort to scale-up high-impact strategies for maternal, newborn and child survival. Below are a few highlights of countries leading and how USAID is supporting this important work.
Bangladesh

USAID and other donors are supporting the Ministry of Health to develop an action plan to end preventable child deaths in Bangladesh, particularly at district level.  This plan will identify priority actions and benchmarks to reach the goal of no more than 20 deaths/1,000 live births by 2035, or earlier.  A technical advisory group has been convened to discuss evidence-based interventions that can be deployed in Bangladesh to bend the curve. This includes programs to address Pneumoccocal and Rotavirus vaccines, corticosteroids, clean cord care, child drowning and Kangaroo Mother Care, among others.  Given the fact that 60% of child deaths in Bangladesh occur within in the first 28 days of life, there is a huge need for post-natal monitoring to reduce stubborn neonatal mortality rates.

Burma

Building upon the Child Survival Call to Action, USAID recently launched a public private partnership: Survive and Thrive. This partnership will expand the coverage of quality and high impact maternal newborn services starting with essential newborn care, and link pediatricians, midwives, and obstetricians from American professional associations to peer associations in Burma to build capacity in service delivery. Survive and Thrive will partner with civil society and professional and educational institutions, work within the Ministry of Health’s health system, support the programs of the 3MDG Fund, and maximize synergy with community-based programs of existing partners.

Ethiopia

At the African Leadership on Child Survival meeting hosted by the Government of Ethiopia earlier this year, the consensus reached by over twenty African countries present was both significant and historic. The participating countries declared, in a consensus statement, that they are committed to developing and implementing country-led roadmaps that integrate ongoing efforts to accelerate progress to end preventable deaths among children by 2035, and reduce the mortality rate to below 20 per 1,000 live births in all African nations. Recently, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Namibia. Officials from Namibia are undertaking a study tour to review Ethiopia’s health extension program.

India

At India’s recent Call to Action, the Government of India launched the Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child Health Adolescent health strategy (RMNCH+A), which serves as a roadmap for the States. India also released several guidance documents including implementation of newborn care as well as management of pneumonia and diarrhea. A National Child Survival Scorecard was showcased, and States were encouraged to develop their own scorecards and to monitor progress. USAID’s Maternal and Child Health Integrated Project (“MCHIP”) supported the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in organizing the recent India National Call to Action for Child Survival and Development, and USAID will continue to provide support in establishing quick response teams for Indian states with the highest child mortality that have committed to accelerating their efforts for child survival.

Indonesia

USAID supported a national newborn conference in Jakarta from Feb 26-March 1. The conference included international experts from India and the U.S. as well as representatives from the Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, key professional associations, academia, and district and provincial health leaders. This was the first such event in Indonesia focusing on newborn survival. Responding to Indonesia’s commitment to A Promise Renewed and the MOH’s call to accelerate progress toward the MDGs, this conference addresses one of the key indicators slowing achievement of MDG goal 4. DHS data from 2012 is now available and demonstrates no progress in newborn mortality since 2007. The rate remains at 19/1000 live births. Partners are committed to reducing this rate by 25% by 2017, in partnership with USAID, UNICEF and WHO, and an exceptionally strong collaborative relationship with the Ministry of Health.

Liberia

The Ministry of Health in Liberia is sharpening its child survival plan using evidence and aligning donors to support the plan.  There is great donor support and commitment to implementing the national plan through the alignment of programs. A launch for A Promise Renewed is being planned by the Government of Liberia. A steering committee led by the Government of Liberia and comprised of representatives from NGOs, house of representatives, representatives from different Ministries has been established and meets regularly to plan the launch event.  An expected key outcome of the launch is greater mobilization of support and resources at the counties, civil society organizations and community leaders around A Promise Renewed.

For more information about A Promise Renewed, please visit: apromiserenewed.org.

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