USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Asia

CITES Met in Bangkok To Protect At-Risk Plants and Wildlife

This originally appeared on Dipnote.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Floramet in Bangkok, and we are thrilled to be part of the 177 member governments for these important discussions. CITES is one of the largest international conservation agreements, and helps ensure that the international trade of wild plants and animals does not threaten their survival.

This trade — both legal and illegal — is worth billions of dollars each year. Because the trade crosses borders, regulation requires international cooperation. CITES facilitates this cooperation and protects more than 30,000 animals and plants.

Hundreds of millions of plants and animals are traded every year, ranging from living creatures to products derived from them. While the plight of elephants, tigers, rhinos, and other great animals get a lot of the attention, it’s important not to forget the thousands of other plant and animal species that have been threatened by human exploitation — sometimes to the point of extinction. Even for the many traded species that are not endangered, we still want to be proactive and ensure their protection for the future.

At Embassy Bangkok, illegal trafficking of wildlife and plants is an ongoing priority. Working through USAID, we partnered with the FREELAND Foundation to produce the iThink campaign to increase public awareness of how individuals can make a difference. USAID Asia has invested $16 million over the last decade to combat wildlife trafficking, and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs has sponsored a series of law enforcement training courses for the region’s customs and wildlife crime authorities. On a local level and with our CITES partners, we look forward to progress.

A Time for Action and Working Together to Improve Women’s Lives

This past week I traveled to India and Burma to meet with leaders of the private sector, civil society, and government who are charting their nations’ bright and prosperous futures. In Mumbai, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of courageous women advocates to discuss gender-based violence. It was especially meaningful to have this conversation leading up to International Women’s Day, particularly because this year’s theme is A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence against Women. It was only recently that thousands of young men and women took to the streets in India to protest the tragic death of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern who was the victim of a brutal gang rape in Delhi.

At our meeting, we discussed the opportunity to shift ingrained social and cultural practices that perpetuate sexual violence among women, girls, and boys and the importance of educating India’s future generations. We also talked about the need for better data, stronger laws, and expanded services to both prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

I was honored to inform them that the young woman known worldwide as “Nirbhaya” (Fearless) would be honored posthumously by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry at the Department of State’s Women of Courage Awards event this year.

In 2012 alone, Dr. Aye Aye Mu, who is part of USAID’s SUN Quality Health clinics in Burma, conducted over 5,000 reproductive health consultations, diagnosed and treated 107 pneumonia cases, diagnosed and treated 243 tuberculosis cases with a treatment success rate of over 80 percent. Photo credit: Richard Nyberg, USAID

A few days later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Aye Aye Mu, who has been practicing medicine in Burma since 1977. It quickly became clear that the Doctor and I share the same vision for development—beginning with the community level and drawing on the strengths of both private sector and civil society. Dr. Aye Aye Mu is part of a network of active health providers that is supported by our Agency and covers 217 of Burma’s 324 townships.

Through an innovative approach called “social franchising,” Dr. Aye Aye Mu helps encourage doctors running their own private clinics to improve the scope, quality, and accessibility of their services by joining the franchise called the SUN Quality Health Clinics. Started by our long-standing partner Population Services International in Myanmar, this network provides affordable, quality health care services nationwide.

Today, this network is contributing in remarkable ways to USAID’s ambitious yet achievable goal of ending preventable child death and improving the lives of women and children. In 2012 alone, Dr. Aye Aye Mu conducted over 5,000 reproductive health consultations, diagnosed and treated 107 pneumonia cases, and diagnosed and treated 243 tuberculosis cases with a treatment success rate of over 80 percent. By leveraging the local private sector to deliver health commodities and better quality, affordable health care services, she receives quality birth spacing products and anti-malarial drugs at subsidized prices and passes the savings to those who need it them most.

Our Agency is working hard to save lives, especially among children. Building upon the Child Survival Call to Action, USAID is introducing a global public private partnership, Survive and Thrive, which will be linked to local partnerships to increase coverage of high impact and high quality interventions delivered by midwives to women and newborns wherever births occur.  Working closely with our partners, these efforts will help improve the quality of maternal and newborn health by linking Burmese health care providers at the community level to their peers from American professional associations.

From India to Burma, these efforts advance the aspirations of the first-ever United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, which was released this past year. The strategy pledges to improve coordination across U.S. government agencies to improve the quality of our programming and strengthen our impact.  In a world where rates of gender-based violence show no signs of abating, it is increasingly important that we work together to improve women’s lives.

This past week has been an incredible experience. Even as we advance gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide, it is important to remember on this International Women’s Day that women and girls are not just victims. They are leaders, change-agents, and innovators, courageously improving lives and expanding opportunities around the world for individuals, families, and communities.  As our policies and initiatives gain traction and implementation gains speed, we will work beside them to ensure our aspirations translate into concrete results around the world.

Photos of the Week: USAID In Burma

In advance of Administrator Shah’s visit to Burma this week, our staff at the Mission have been taking photos and sharing with us. Follow the USAID Flickr Stream this week for more pictures from the ground in Burma.

What do you want to see in Burma? Let our Burma team know: follow them on Twitter!

 

Video of the Week: Women Mobile Phone Users in Indonesia

Todaythe United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with partners Qtel Group and AusAID, announced the winners of the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge, which aims to redefine the smartphone user experience for resource-poor women in emerging markets.

The GSMA mWomen Design Challenge was created to simplify the smartphone user interface to help overcome reading and technical literacy barriers for women. Twenty-two per cent of women surveyed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda who do not use mobile phones say it is because they do not know how to use them. Watch this video with women mobile phone users in Indonesia review the winning submissions to the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge.

USAID Helps Timor-Leste Communities Keep Kids in School

My country, Timor-Leste, is extremely young—only 10 years old. Our Timorese population is young, too. Almost 40 percent of our one million people are school-age—that is, between 5 and 19 years old. But school attendance rates are still low and many kids drop out of school.

One of the worst times for students to drop out is between 6th and 7th grades: about 20 percent of 6th grade students do not go on to start 7th grade, the first year of secondary school. USAID is focusing on this particular problem through the School Dropout Prevention Pilot (SDPP) project, which works with more than 10,000 kids in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades—the final grades in elementary school—along with their teachers, parents and the communities in which they live. The goals are to discover which kids might be in danger of dropping out and then to keep them in school with a range of fun activities that boost their skills and confidence.

Students in Timor-Leste play a learning game with the SDPP team at Ramahana Elementary School. Photo credit: Milca Baptista, USAID

A few weeks after the launch of the project’s in-school activities in October, I had the opportunity to visit three SDPP schools in remote areas of Timor-Leste, along with colleagues from our Mission in Dili and USAID headquarters in Washington. The schools we visited were in Viqueque District, far from where I live in the capital, Dili, so the trip also gave me an opportunity to understand people’s lives in parts of the country I had never visited before as well as to see the project teams in action.

The first school we visited was Bubulita Elementary School, near Timor-Leste’s south coast, about eight hours’ drive from Dili. We had to walk for two and a half hours from the nearest road to reach the school. In Bubulita, SDPP has had substantial success with an early warning system to identify kids at risk of dropping out—a system that means, for the first time in Timor-Leste, school administrators and teachers can track attendance, performance, and behavior to identify at-risk students. A key component of this system involves having a trained volunteer community team visit the parents of at-risk kids to convince them to keep their children in school.

“I appreciate the fact that this project is involving local community members, so they feel that they are also responsible, not just teachers and parents,” said Bubulita principal Mario da Cruz.

Since SDPP facilitators arrived at Bubulita, there has been perfect attendance. Before the activities started, three students were considered at-risk. One was older than the maximum school age, so had to quit. But the other two have come back to school. And now, local community volunteers visit the school twice a week to find out if any students are missing or late for class.

The introduction of SDPP’s extra-curricular activities has brought perfect attendance to Bubulita Elementary School in Viqueque. Photo credit: Milca Baptista, USAID

Not far from the district capital we visited the Kraras Elementary School. Because it is near the town, the school is in far better condition than others we saw. I talked with the principal and deputy principal who told me that the project is well-supported by the teachers, the students and the local community, who are all excited about the extracurricular activities that are run by SDPP project facilitators. These activities aim to keep at-risk students interested in school by boosting their confidence and their ability to participate with their peers. Activities include cooperative learning exercises and games to build basic literacy and numeracy skills. In most schools, SDPP extracurricular activities are the first they have ever had.

“This is the first time we have had extracurricular activities at our school. Although some of the children have to walk two hours to and from school, they stay to take part until the end of the activities,” said Kraras principal Claudino Ruas. He added that no students have missed class more than once since the project started.

On my trip to these remote areas of my own country, I found that even though the lives of people are extremely difficult, they all want their kids to receive a good education. In one remote village I learned that the people of the community had even built a school themselves to ensure that their children would have access to a school near their homes. As a Timorese, I admire their courage and determination to move my country forward even in that isolated place, and I am happy that USAID is helping these communities ensure that all kids receive the support they need to stay in school and build a better future for our young country.

Success in India Paramount to Ending Preventable Child Deaths Globally

Ariel Pablos-Mendez, PhD, is the Assistant Administrator for Global Health

I just returned from India‘s “Call to Action Summit for Child Survival and Development“, which took place in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.

India accounts for the largest number of deaths of children under five: nearly 1.5 million per year. This number is staggering, but there is good news. There has been a steady rate of decline in child mortality — even ahead of the global rate of reduction. As I told DevEx during the Summit, “success in India is paramount to see the global success and vision of ending preventable child deaths in this generation.”

Led by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Summit called for an accelerated response to decrease child mortality across the country. This event was a direct outcome of the Call to Action held in Washington, DC last year — where India joined Ethiopia and the United States with UNICEF to launch a global roadmap to end preventable child deaths globally. About 300 policymakers, public health practitioners, private sector, civil society and media representatives attended India’s Summit, including 27 international and 35 national experts. Notably 20 State delegations were present. U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell, a stalwart advocate for child survival, addressed the opening plenary on behalf of the United States.

The Summit had several main themes related to child survival and development: quality of newborn care, interventions for preventing diarrhea and pneumonia, social determinants of child survival, nutrition, strengthening health systems, improving accountability, communication for child survival, partnerships for improved maternal and child health, and leadership dialogue. The complete agenda and speakers can be found on the Summit’s website.

There was a rich discussion at the Summit along with solid deliverables. The Government of India launched the Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child Health Adolescent health strategy (RMNCH+A), which serves as a roadmap for the States. Also released were 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.

India’s Call to Action is the beginning of a national movement. Attendees demonstrated a passionate commitment to mobilize on behalf of India’s children — and to hold each other to account. India’s leadership and programmatic success will help galvanize the global response. USAID will continue to be a steadfast partner of “A Promise Renewed”, the sustained effort led by UNICEF to reach our global goal. Working together, ending preventable child deaths will be one of the greatest moral victories of our time.

Nurturing Rule of Law in Young Uzbekistan

Judge John R. Tunheim (U.S. District Court of Minnesota) has traveled to Uzbekistan nine times in the span of 10 years to share his experience in the areas of rule of law and human rights. He returned to Uzbekistan in October and November 2012 to conduct training with Uzbek prosecutors and to participate in a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the Uzbek constitution. His visits were sponsored by a USAID program to improve the technical knowledge and practical skills of justice system stakeholders in Uzbekistan. Judge Tunheim looks back on his experience in working with the Uzbek justice system over the past decade in the following blog.

When I first visited Uzbekistan more than 10 years ago, the purpose was to engage the Uzbeks —government officials, journalists, judges and advocates—in a dialogue about human rights and international standards.

In Tashkent and the lovely regional cities, usually over green tea, we talked. Independent judges, arrest warrants, treatment of prisoners, open courtrooms, criminal defense, free media—these were our topics.

The Uzbeks I have met have always been friendly and welcoming, with frank and open discussions. It takes time and patience to build trust and familiarity. Our wonderful discussions ended in 2005 when doors were closed. But the doors were not locked, and when I returned to Tashkent in 2008, Uzbekistan had made significant changes. The death penalty was abolished and judges must approve arrests. I was impressed!

Judge John R. Tunheim (second from right) and fellow trainer, former prosecutor David Hackney, relax with Uzbek prosecutors as they learn about the American judicial system. Photo credit: USAID

I recently returned to Uzbekistan for my eighth and ninth visits. It’s exciting; the door for conversation is opening and my old friends are talking once again. Working with USAID and its NGO partner, Regional Dialogue, we discussed human rights and the evolving legal system. The Uzbeks have plans for more positive changes.

The Republic of Uzbekistan is barely 20 years old, celebrating now the anniversary of its constitution. Progress may feel slow in a world accustomed to a faster pace, but Uzbekistan is young. It is my hope that we can nurture the rule of law with both patience and persistence. Judges, in particular, need and want human rights training.

I once heard an American diplomat say that we work with our principles and their practicalities. In Uzbekistan, I would modify that wise rule: world principles and Uzbek practicalities. When we understand each other and build trust, we make progress. And I am convinced that progress is ahead in Uzbekistan.

FrontLines Year in Review: Fighting Modern Day Slavery

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines January/February 2012 issue.

The opportunity was too good to pass up. Shantos was 20 years old when a group of men came to his village in Bangladesh. They promised him a job in India, a little less than $100 for 50 days of work as a mason. He believed them. It was only after leaving home that he realized what was going on. He came back scared and desperate, but wiser, after 28 months in an Indian jail, arrested after he could not produce his passport to a local police officer.

For Sonaly, who was only 16 when she was sold to a brothel, there was no place to come home to.

Fatema, at 22, was locked up in a room and tortured for 14 days before she found the courage to escape.

With USAID’s help, Shantos, Sonaly, and Fatema, three victims of human trafficking, have found new lives.

Human trafficking is today the third most profitable crime in the world after illicit drug and arms trafficking, resulting in an estimated $30 billion to $32 billion in profits worldwide each year.

USAID’s Actions to Combat Trafficking-in-Persons program works closely with the Government of Bangladesh to help survivors of human trafficking through counseling and life skills training. Photo credit: Winrock International

Since 2005, USAID and the Government of Bangladesh have collaborated to address human trafficking on two fronts: by preventing it and by alleviating the suffering of its victims.

Bangladesh is a major source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to both forced labor and sex trafficking. Men typically are fraudulently recruited to work overseas, especially to the Middle East and Gulf countries, and are subsequently exploited under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Bangladeshi children and women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced labor.

For the past three years, Bangladesh has been included on the Tier 2 Watch List in the Department of State’s Annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Under State’s tier placement system, rankings are determined based on the extent of a government’s actions to combat trafficking: Tier 1 signifies the highest degree of government action, and Tier 3 is the lowest ranking. Countries on the Tier 2 Watch List, like Bangladesh, are those whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the U.S. Government’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but are making significant efforts to comply.

Protection and Prosecution

In Bangladesh, USAID’s anti-trafficking program is implemented by Winrock International under the Actions to Combat Trafficking-in-Persons program (ACT), a four-year initiative that began in 2009 to reduce trafficking in men, women, and children in that country.

“The ACT program’s prevention efforts focus on protection and prosecution. The program works with government institutions to identify and prosecute perpetrators, empower survivors of trafficking and those at risk, provide viable economic alternatives to unsafe internal and cross-border migration, and expand public awareness and prevention efforts to include labor migration abuses and victimization of men,” said Habiba Akter, USAID/Bangladesh’s human rights and rule of law adviser, who manages the ACT program.

Still, the legal and justice systems need updating. Cases of human trafficking are seldom filed, and perpetrators are rarely sentenced for their crimes. In addition, the existing legal framework on trafficking ignores labor and internal trafficking, and acknowledges only women and children as potential victims. Sometimes law enforcement agencies prefer not to file a trafficking case due to mandated investigation timelines. Out-of-court settlements between perpetrators and victims’ families also hinder prosecution.

Since 2009, USAID’s ACT program has been working closely with the Government of Bangladesh to develop a comprehensive gender-sensitive, national anti-trafficking law and action plan on trafficking. The draft version of the law, with expected parliamentary passage in January 2012, is endorsed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her cabinet, an indication that the government is committed to preventing trafficking and punishing those convicted of the crime. An action plan for 2012-2014 is under development, and will guide monitoring to combat human trafficking in the country. [continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Judicial Reform and Economic Growth in the Philippines

Nisha Biswal is USAID’s assistant administrator for Asia. Photo Credit: USAID.

“[The judiciary] should be considered as a key element in the promotion of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth, especially for those who are poor and marginalized in developing countries,” Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said during a recent event that I participated in at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on the interconnections between a strong judiciary and predictable economic investment and growth.  Chief Justice Sereno—the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of the Philippines Supreme Court—is a key voice calling for the development of a strong and stable judiciary in the Philippines that creates a platform for continued investment and confidence in the country’s economy.

Chief Justice Sereno’s story is powerful – and one I wish we could tell more often. Appointed to the highest seat in the Philippine judiciary following the impeachment of her predecessor, she symbolized a meaningful call for change and a new face in the judiciary, with a fresh perspective. She also has a long track record on the issue of judicial reform: in 2007, she co-authored a survey-based paper that found that 84 percent of corporations surveyed stated that judicial inefficiency would cause firms to decide not to invest in the country.

Chief Justice Sereno spoke with conviction and determination about how an economy can only prosper if judicial reform is responsive, adequate, and sufficient in minimizing transaction risks and providing reasonable protection of business interests. The role of the courts is to honor bargains, settle controversies and interpret the rules of the market which allow for investors to place their trust in economic dealings.

This perspective aligns well with our own development efforts in the Philippines; judicial reform was raised as an issue in the constraints analysis conducted under the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth (PFG), a pathbreaking partnership that began over a year ago. The PFG constraints analysis amplifies the Chief Justice’s analysis that the quality of court services is a key determinant of inclusive and sustainable growth.

In concert with the PFG, our Judicial Strengthening to Increase Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) Project will assist in accomplishing many of the goals Chief Justice Sereno has set in her judicial reform agenda. JUSTICE, which just recently began in October 2012 and is being implemented by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, will improve court efficiency, primarily through docket decongestion and reduction of trial delays; strengthen contract and intellectual property enforcement to help ensure the predictability of market rules; and build confidence in the integrity of courts. The JUSTICE Project will work to improve intellectual property rights and contract enforcement by building capacity of courts to resolve priority commercial cases. USAID will also support organizations outside the government to address rule of law issues. More important, USAID will continue to engage leaders like Chief Justice Sereno to search for innovative ways of improving justice delivery.

Chief Justice Sereno remarked that, “There is a kind of renaissance going on in the Philippines, with a focus on judicial reform.” Seeing a vital issue like judicial reform in the Philippines get prioritized at the highest levels of government is exciting, and bodes well for the country’s economic development. We hope that Chief Justice Sereno’s efforts are successful and that USAID can contribute to this success through our own activities in the Philippines.

For more information on USAID’s work to support judicial reform in the Philippines, please visit our website.

FrontLines Year in Review: Apps for Afghanistan

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines September/October 2012 issue.

With a recent explosion in mobile phones, USAID engages Afghanistan’s best and brightest to grow mobile money.

Just a decade ago, Afghans had to travel to Pakistan to make international calls. The landline phone infrastructure had completely fallen into disarray during the civil war, and there were no mobile phone operators. The first American diplomats and U.N. workers to return to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban carried backpacks full of costly satellite phones for the new Afghan emergency government.

But smart, early regulatory decisions by Afghan lawmakers, based on technical assistance from USAID and other donors, engendered the rapid growth of a profitable and competitive sector, pushing down airtime prices well within reach of normal Afghans. Today, Afghanistan is awash in mobile phones, with more than 18 million active subscriptions in a country of 28 million.

This explosion of mobile users has created a network that bridges the country’s formidable urban-rural divide while transcending gaps in physical infrastructure, low literacy rates and pervasive insecurity.

An Afghan youth uses his mobile phone to take pictures in Musa Qala. Photo credit: Dmitry Kostyukov, AFP

The near-ubiquity of mobile phone coverage has allowed Afghanistan to join the vanguard of countries experimenting with innovative new uses for the mobile channel, using the networks to extend services and information cheaply to populations lacking access through other means. Among the most promising is mobile money—the ability to safely store and transfer “e-money” via SMS, avoiding the expense and danger associated with moving cash, while extending the reach of basic financial services from the 5 percent of the population with accounts in brick-and-mortar banks to the 65 percent of Afghans who use mobile phones.

Already, m-money trials facilitated by the U.S. Government, such as paying government salaries by mobile instead of cash, are demonstrating startling benefits: In Wardak province, police deployed in unbanked communities report “raises” of 30 percent when paid via mobile; cash payments of salaries in Afghanistan are exceedingly vulnerable to corruption. Equally promising applications to extend and repay micro loans and pay household electricity bills are beginning to roll out, delivering dramatic increases in efficiency.

As the mobile network operators increasingly focus on scaling their mobile money products and agent networks, USAID is working in partnership with the private sector to aggregate demand and provide consumer education to Afghans, most of whom are unfamiliar with or mistrustful of the formal banking system. In one novel approach, the Agency is working with the Association of Mobile Money Operators of Afghanistan to harness the creativity and energy of Afghanistan’s best and brightest to develop mobile money applications to address pressing problems faced daily by Afghans.

An Afghan Avalanche of Ideas

The overwhelming response to an app design competition this year among Afghan university students illustrated just how compelling up-and-coming young Afghans find mobile money—more than 5,000 students across the country submitted ideas, many of which focused on how mobile money on how mobile money could improve the Afghan Government’s ability to provide basic services transparently and efficiently.

Others put forward ways in which mobile money could help empower individuals by giving them tools to manage their own finances, a particular boon for women, who often rely on male relatives to conduct financial transactions on their behalf.

Such competitions can trigger a network effect, drawing students into the design process and drawing in new mobile money users—and expanding the mobile technology sector.

Afghan officials say the enthusiasm generated by the contest and subsequent avalanche of ideas bodes well for future uptake of mobile money in Afghanistan given the country’s demographics. With two-thirds of Afghans age 25 years or younger, Afghanistan is truly a land of potential early adopters…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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