USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Asia

The US-Burma Partnership

Nisha Biswal serves as the assistant administrator for USAID Asia.

This post originally appeared on CSIS’s Asia Policy Blog.

On November 19, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma.  It was a historic visit, not just because it was inaugural but because it underscored the truly remarkable journey on which Burma has embarked.

During the visit, the President announced a joint US-Burma partnership to advance democratic reform, and lay the groundwork for a peaceful and prosperous future for Burma for generations to come. President Obama also pledged $170 million dollars over the next two years to support this critical effort.

The partnership will deepen the engagement with the people of Burma, their government, and civil society by strengthening democracy and human rights, promoting transparent governance and rule of law, and advancing peace and reconciliation.  As the President remarked during his speech at the University of Yangon, the most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen.

While we work to accelerate reforms, we also know that improved health and expanded economic opportunities are key to advancing stability and sustaining democratic reforms, which is why we’ll also address urgent humanitarian needs, strengthen health systems, and support broad-based economic growth through agriculture-led development and improved nutrition.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the University of Yangon in Burma. During his historic visit, Obama announced a joint US-Burma partnership to advance democratic reform. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State

In the weeks and months to come, the U.S. and Burma will affirm a joint statement of principles in support of the democratic transition and develop a joint action plan prioritizing key areas.  In addition to honoring the joint action plan, the Government of Burma has announced its intention to join the Open Government Partnership, a global effort to make governments more transparent, effective, and accountable; and to advance a Joint Plan on to combat trafficking in persons.

It’s truly a remarkable milestone during an already historic transition.  I’m proud to say that USAID will play a substantive role in advancing the goals of the partnership during this important time in the evolving relationship between the United States and Burma.  We are building new communities while strengthening existing partnerships, bringing together the excellence and expertise of government agencies, private sector, NGO community, and university networks to achieve transformational results in democracy, human rights, governance,peace and reconciliationfood security, and health.

Still, transition must come from within.  We are supporting country ownership and local institutions to ensure that all Burmese people play a vital role in their country’s development and the expansion of equal opportunities for their families and communities.  Founded on mutual accountability, this partnership will ensure that U.S. assistance is met by commensurate Government of Burma actions.

During the President’s visit, he and Secretary Clinton also dedicated the re-opening of USAID’s mission in Burma, a first time in the Agency’s history though not surprising by a President who has truly elevated the role development in advancing peace and prosperity around the world.  The re-establishment of USAID’s mission reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the people of Burma.  That commitment was reinforced when President Obama said to a rapt audience at the University of Yangon, “Something is happening in this country that cannot be reversed, and you will have in the United States of America a partner on that long journey.”

Nisha Biswal is on Twitter, follow her @NishaBiswal

America Extends a Hand to Burma

Chris Milligan serves as mission director to USAID Burma Photo Credit: USAID

Yesterday, the streets of Rangoon were lined with huge crowds of enthusiastic well-wishers, holding signs welcoming President Obama as his motorcade sped to the last stop – Rangoon University – for a major speech.  The excitement, building here since the trip was announced, was now electric.

Even just a few months ago, this visit was likely unimaginable to the people of Burma.  In the President’s speech to a spellbound audience at the University’s historic Convocation Hall, he said, “When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear:  We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist… so today, I have come to keep my promise, and extend the hand of friendship.”

It was also unimaginable to me that I’d be standing by a U.S. President as he dedicated a USAID mission, a first time in the Agency’s history.  It’s been over 50 years since the inaugural U.S.-Burma Economic Cooperation Agreement was signed.  In the decades that followed, our two countries have shared a long and, at times, tumultuous history.  Yet, President Obama began a new chapter when he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma, highlighting the country’s historic shift to democracy and the partnership of the United States in this effort.

Burma is in the process of a remarkable transition, moving from military, authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy; negotiating ceasefires after decades-long conflicts; and shifting to a market-oriented economy.  And, as President Obama said, this remarkable journey has only just begun.

Yet, what an incredible start.  As a Foreign Service Officer for 23 years, I can tell you that helping countries chart a more prosperous future is not always easy. We know there is hard work ahead, but yesterday we got a huge lift. That momentum will only strengthen the optimism and resilience of the Burmese people.  I’ve never been prouder than when the President said to those listening all across Burma, “America is with you every step of the way.”

Thai Students Win Mobile App Contest

A group of five first-year Thai engineering students won the USAID Asia Students with Solutions 2012 Mobile App Contest last week. The contest challenged Thai university students to create mobile applications (“apps”) to help solve development issues.

The winning group, Team Optimo from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), received a cash award of 50,000 Thai baht (equivalent to $1,625) and tablet computers. The team designed an app called “FloodFinder” that provides real-time data on water levels by using a smart phone’s built-in capability for high-quality photos, GPS and 3G connection, to be available on the market by next April. They were inspired to create the app by the historic flooding that occurred in Thailand in 2011 “to help save people’s lives and improve the quality of life,” said Nuntipat Narkthong, of Team Optimo.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie A. Kenney, USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia Director Michael Yates, and KMUTT Vice President Assistant Professor Bundit Thipakorn posed with the Students with Solutions 2012 winner, Team Optimo, and members of six finalist teams after the final presentations at Hitech Digital Live Studio, Digital Gateway, Siam Square. Photo credit: Jakkapong Mangmool

Team Vana, consisting of four computer engineering students from KMUTT, won the contest’s popular vote with more than 2,900 “likes” for its deforestation app called “A-Eye” on Facebook, which available on the market next year. The app is designed to capture details of illegal logging and report the information to park officials, and to provide helpful information to park tourists.

Organized by USAID Asia, the Students with Solutions 2012 Mobile App Design Contest launched in June and focused on encouraging university students to think of creative ways to address disaster resilience and response, deforestation and forest degradation, and human trafficking. Six teams were chosen from the original applicants for the final round of the contest. U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie A. Kenney announced the top winning teams at the final event, based on a decision by an expert panel of judges.

“The Students with Solutions contest looks to Thailand’s brightest to develop answers to their country’s most pressing development challenges,” Kenney said at the event. “Realizing that mobile phones have transformed our lives, apps like these can provide easy ways to share information and create greater access to services.”

Read about the Students for Solutions 2012 Mobile App Design Contest from one of Thailand’s online newspapers.

The White House (Blog): Supporting Human Rights in Burma

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Yesterday’s announcement that President Obama will become the first U.S. President to visit Burma marks an historic step in the United States’ engagement with Burma. In the past year, since President Obama first noted “flickers of progress” in Burma – and since Secretary Clinton became the most senior U.S. official to visit since 1955 – we have seen continued progress on the road to democracy. Several opposition political parties have been permitted to register legally for the first time and their members – including Aung San Suu Kyi – have been elected to parliament. Restrictions on the press have been eased. Legislation has been enacted to expand the rights of workers to form labor unions, and to outlaw forced labor. The government has signed an action plan aimed at ridding its army of child soldiers; it has pledged to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to help ensure that Burma’s natural wealth is not squandered to corruption, and it has announced fragile ceasefires in several longstanding ethnic conflicts.

Seeing these signs of progress, we have responded in kind, with specific steps to recognize the government’s efforts and encourage further reform. We have eased sanctions, appointed our first ambassador in 22 years, and opened a USAID Mission. At the same time, we have also updated sanctions authorities that allow us to target those who interfere with the peace process or the transition to democracy, and we created a ground-breaking framework for responsible investment from the United States that encourages transparency and oversight.

We are clear-eyed about the challenges that Burma faces. The peril faced by the stateless Rohingya population in Rakhine State is particularly urgent, and we have joined the international community in expressing deep concern about recent violence that has left hundreds dead, displaced over 110,000, and destroyed thousands of homes. There is much work to be done to foster peace and reconciliation in other ethnic conflicts, develop the justice sector, and cultivate the free press and robust civil society that are the checks and balances needed in any stable democracy. But we also see an historic opportunity both to help Burma lock in the progress that it has made so far — so that it becomes irreversible — and to meet the many challenges in front of it. In May 2011, as the Arab Spring took hold, the President noted that America’s interests are served when ordinary people are empowered to chart their own political and economic futures. And to governments, the President made a promise: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.

Last month, as part of our effort to fulfill that promise, the Obama administration held the first-ever official bilateral dialogue on human rights with the Government of Burma. Led by Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor, the purpose was to initiate a new channel between our two countries to discuss challenges ahead – a high-level exchange on urgent and delicate issues that would have been unthinkable a year ago. Our delegation included not only Posner, Ambassador Derek Mitchell, and other State Department officials, but also senior officials from the White House, the Vice President’s office, USAID, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense, including both civilian officials and uniformed military. The delegation included experts on labor rights and economic development, rule of law and political reform, ethnic conflict and reconciliation, land-mine removal and criminal justice. Our hosts included senior advisors to President Thein Sein and ministers and senior officials from across the Burmese government and military. Aung San Suu Kyi attended in her capacity as a member of parliament and the chair of a new legislative committee on the rule of law.

Before the official dialogue began, the U.S. delegation spent three days in Rangoon meeting with former political prisoners, ethnic minority leaders, labor advocates, LGBT organizations (who said that this was the first time any government had ever invited them to meet together), and other members of Burma’s nascent civil society. When we sat down for our official dialogue in Naypyidaw, we were able to convey the concerns raised in these meetings to our counterparts, and also stress the importance of their building an inclusive reform dialogue that will seek input from Burmese civil society.

The U.S. government engages with many countries around the world in official dialogues on human rights. While these discussions are often a useful forum for diplomacy, it is fair to say that these conversations can sometimes be stilted, characterized by predictable presentations rather than a spontaneous back-and-forth in which uncertainty can be expressed. The U.S.-Burma dialogue was unusually high-energy and candid.

We both recognized the need to empower reformers in and out of government, protect against backsliding, and ensure the broader Burmese public feels the changes afoot. One of the most challenging aspects of reform is enlisting the country’s military, which governed the country through authoritarian rule for five decades. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Francis Wiercinski drew on his own experiences to make a powerful case to senior officials from the Burmese Defense Ministry that national security is helped rather than hindered by transparency and independent monitoring, and by compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. The discussions, which emphasized areas where commitments to reform are necessary – including on child soldiers, forced labor, and in conflict areas – underscored that the gradual process of normalizing our military-to-military relationship will hinge on progress on human rights.

Many of the issues that we discussed in detail will likely feature in the President’s upcoming trip to Burma. These included:

  • Prisoners of conscience. The release of more than 700 political prisoners in the last year has been unprecedented. But as Secretary Clinton has made clear, for the United States, even one prisoner of conscience is too many, and the State Department has passed along a list of those we are concerned remain imprisoned. In addition, as one ex-prisoner put it, “we have been released, but we are not free.” The released prisoners have a huge amount to offer a democratic Burma, but, as we noted, the government will need to lift outstanding travel and other restrictions in order for them to participate fully in society.
  • Political reforms. Reforms have begun to change the political landscape, particularly as parliament has become more inclusive, and as representatives are increasingly answerable to their constituents. But efforts to build civil society, make government ministries responsive to the public, and create a more inclusive political process have just begun. In particular, the central government needs to tackle the challenge of ensuring that any reforms that are made by the parliament and central government are felt at the local level and especially in Burma’s border areas where the majority of the country’s ethnic minorities reside.
  • Rule of law. The parliament and the executive branch have tackled part of an ambitious agenda for remaking Burma’s law and legal institutions. But the judicial branch remains the least developed of Burma’s political institutions. Judicial reform, repealing outdated and restrictive laws, educating citizens of their rights, creating a vibrant civil society to protect those rights, and remaking the legal system and the legal profession all are required to lay the foundation of rule of law in Burma, and all have a long way to go.
  • Peace and reconciliation. The challenge of ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence – including in Shan State, Kachin State, and Rakhine State – remains an area of deep and ongoing concern. If left unaddressed, it will undermine progress toward national reconciliation, stability, and lasting peace. Serious human rights abuses against civilians in several regions continue, including against women and children. Humanitarian access to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons remains a serious challenge and on-going crisis. The government and the ethnic nationalities need to work together urgently to find a path to lasting peace that addresses minority rights, deals with differences through dialogue not violence, heals the wounds of the past, and carries reforms forward. The situation in Rakhine State and the recent violence against the Rohingya and other Muslims last week only underscores the critical urgency of ensuring the safety and security of all individuals in the area, investigating all reports of violence and bringing those responsible to justice, according citizenship and full rights to the Rohingya, and bringing about economic opportunity for all local populations.

Ultimately, Burma’s reforms will succeed or fail based on the efforts of the Burmese people themselves. President Obama’s policy approach has been to support reform and those championing it – an investment in Burma’s future that the President will personally reinforce later this month in Rangoon. Behind this investment is a commitment to helping the Burmese people see the promise that lasting reform holds for their country. As they take charge of their destiny, the American people stand ready to help.

Samantha Power is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council

Hope Springs in Burma for Maternal and Child Health

Ariel Pablos-Mendez is the Assistant Administrator for Global Health

With an economy of more than $80 billion, growing at over 5 percent annually, Burma presents unique challenges and opportunities for development as it transitions to an open society. Inequality, ethnic strife and migrants in border areas, as well as authoritarian vestiges of the military regime and crony capitalism, are some of the challenges. While women are relatively empowered thanks to low fertility, Buddhism underpins a rich culture, and a socialist past left reportedly high levels of literacy and very low crime rates.

Under the leadership and vision of President U. Thein Sein, his partners in government, and an energized Parliament that notably includes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the reform agenda moves forward.

This month, Robert Clay joined me on a visit to Burma – the first of its sort for global health. We were generously hosted by ThuVan Dinh, our new health advisor in Rangoon, and Dr. Aye Aye Thwin, the health office chief from the regional mission in Thailand, with great support from USAID Mission Director Chris Milligan and U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell.

Health statistics are mostly unreliable – the result of poor health information systems and no census since the late 1980s. Add regions in conflict, and a central bureaucracy and peripheral culture that demanded positive reports, challenges seem aplenty. But at least in Rangoon and nearby townships, things look better than in many low-income countries and are ripe for smart development. Hope springs anew for a transformative era of peace, prosperity and development for a country that’s just emerging from isolation from the international community.

We met the Minister of Health and officials in other ministries in Naypyitaw, the brand new capital city as well as with several other governmental institutions in Rangoon and nearby townships, and partners (implementing NGOs, U.N. agencies, bilateral donors, private sector organizations, etc.) Our calling card was the integrated and joint priority of reducing child mortality by 30 percent in five years. And while maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria are obvious targets for investment, there was a strong emphasis on the importance of strengthening health systems and stemming the growing problem of chronic diseases and injuries: of the approximately 500,000 annual deaths, 40 percent are due to chronic conditions and 30 percent to injuries according to estimates.

Pablos-Mendez talks with health workers in Burma. Photo credit: Leek Deng.

New commitments in health hold promise for the Burmese people. Soon, health officials plan to roll out the pentavalent vaccine – a combination of five vaccines in one: diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type b (the bacteria that causes meningitis, pneumonia and otitis) for children in the country under the age of 1. Leadership has pledged to hire as many midwives as needed, and efforts are underway with Parliament to raise a meager health budget.

Add possibilities of new U.S. investment in Burma’s first Demographic Health Survey, a public private partnership to increase neonatal survival by offering evidence-based training and high quality affordable resuscitation devices to birth attendants to Help Babies Breath, and technical assistance on financing reform towards Universal Health Care (UHC), there is great momentum and transitions afoot.

Follow USAID on Global Health on Facebook and Twitter.

Stemming the Tide of Labor Migration in Nepal

On any given day, the departure terminal in Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport fills with crowds of young Nepalese leaving the country to find better economic opportunities elsewhere. There is little wonder why: in 2008, Nepal’s unemployment rate was estimated at 46 percent. Each year, approximately 300,000 youth leave the country to become migrant laborers abroad, draining the country of some its healthiest, most productive workers.

Lila Chaulaune repairs mobile phones after learning skills at EIG’s vocational training in Salyan District. Like others, Chaulaune shared her skills with her husband, and together they opened their mobile phone repair shop and are now in business together. Photo credit: Kashish Das Shrestha

Over the past five years, however, a USAID project has helped tens of thousands of youth not only find skills-based work at home but also become employers themselves. USAID’s Education for Income Generation (EIG) project, developed in close coordination with the Government of Nepal and many local partners, began in 2008 just as Nepal was emerging from the shadows of its longstanding political conflict. The program was designed to help marginalized communities, especially in western Nepal, fully participate in the country’s economy and society.

Today 74,000 disadvantaged youth who were trained in entrepreneurial literacy, vocational skills, and agricultural productivity and enterprises are reaping benefits, with higher incomes, raised living standards, and substantially increased food security.

Rina Chaudhary, a former Kamalari (bonded laborer), clutches her entrepreneurship literature text book outside the classroom. She is a graduate of two training programs under USAID’s EIG program—the Business Literacy Program and the Agriculture Productivity Training Program. Once entirely dependent on her husband’s income, she now earns enough that they can designate a portion of their income to savings. Photo credit: Kashish Das Shrestha

The EIG program ends this week, but its investment in furthering opportunities for disadvantaged communities will continue to pay off. Many of the successful approaches and lessons learned developed through this project are continuing under the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future (FtF) activities and other related programs, and most of EIG’s local partners are continuing with follow-on work under FtF.

In agriculture alone, 54,000 beneficiaries have been able to grow and earn more through diverse, high-value crops. All in all, these beneficiaries, of whom 82 percent are women, have seen their incomes grow by about 250 percent. In Karnali, a notoriously food-insecure district, an estimated 9,000 youth have directly benefited from improved food security.

The program, with the help of its partners, designed its vocational skills trainings after studying the market’s needs. As a result, more than 11,000 youth were trained in skills ranging from masonry to mechanics, carpentry to industrial wiring, mobile and air conditioner repair, and more. Within six months, about 80 percent of the beneficiaries were either employed or had managed to establish businesses in which they had employees of their own.

In the region’s disadvantaged Dalit community, EIG offered 421 scholarships for professional degree certificates in teaching and nursing, which empowered these beneficiaries to serve as role models in their communities. And in four districts across the mid-western region of Nepal, the program established 80 distillation units to process non-timber forest products like lemongrass and citronella into essential oils. The raw materials are largely grown and harvested by women’s groups and, with EIG’s help, these products are now sold in the export market.

None of these accomplishments will come to an end, even though EIG does this week. And although young workers continue to fill Nepal’s international airport terminals, the project’s tens of thousands of beneficiaries in western Nepal have shown that Nepalese youth who are willing to work hard can make a life in their own towns and villages, with their families and loved ones …and can contribute to their own country’s future.

 

More photos from EIG have been posted on the USAID/Nepal Facebook page, and a video about the project is available on YouTube.

Reflections on Burma

Reflective lakes, green mountains, golden pagodas, and friendly people.  These are some of the lasting images from my first visit to Burma, also known as Myanmar, this past month.  Clearly, Burma is a country on the move, making up for lost time when it was largely isolated from the rest of the world.  While there to determine how USAID could best work with the national government and the local partners on health priorities, people wanted to know about our “window to the world” at every stop.  Top requests—training and insights on how to improve the quality of information.  Despite Burma’s long isolation from the West, Rangoon was very developed much to my surprise, clearly showing its connection to the southeast “Tiger countries,” particularly their next door neighbor—Thailand.

Robert Clay and Ariel Pablos-Mendes, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, on their recent trip to Burma, also known as Myanmar Photo Credit: Leek Deng, USAID

But I had a nagging feeling this did not reflect the true Burma, so the next time I visit, I’d really like to see what is beyond the city.

With that said, it proved to be an incredibly productive trip.  I traveled with the Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Global Health Bureau, Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, and we spent most of our time meeting with government officials, technical experts, local civil society organizations, and other donors to hear from them about their experiences and thoughts for continuing to move Burma forward.  It quickly became clear to me that there is a great need in health, but Burma also has the potential to use donor assistance to build their country programs.  Our visit to a local township hospital and private clinics pointed out the need to improve decentralization, especially decision-making and data quality.

A few highlights

A visit to the Shwedegon Pagoda after a long day of meetings ended being one of my favorite highlights of Rangoon.  Imagine a village of temples, crowded with people celebrating the Buddhist Festival of Lights holiday, and the amount of excitement filling the streets.  Truly an experience I will not soon forget.
We also spent a day in the new capital city, Naypyitaw, meeting with the Minister of Health and his staff.  They were very gracious with their time and it was clear that USAID already enjoyed a good partnership.  The capital is quite a contrast to Rangoon.  The government built it just 7 years ago for a much larger population than what exists today, for example 12 lane roads without many cars.  And the flight up and back from Rangoon gave us some idea of the lush landscape of the rural area.

Finally, my most impressionable moment came while looking out my hotel room window over a beautiful lake and political activist, Aung San Suu Kyi’s, house.  It is hard to believe she was held there under house arrest for almost 15 years.  The world must look quite different for her, as she works tirelessly to help shape democracy for her country.  My hope is that our assistance will help Burma have both a vibrant democracy and a healthy society.

Video of the Week “Opportunities Created, Lives Transformed in Nepal”

Check out this  incredible video on opportunities created, lives transformed in Nepal. Over the past five years, USAID’s Education for Income Generation program has helped tens of thousands of youth not only find skills-based work at home but also become employers themselves. Today, 74,000 disadvantaged youth are reaping benefits, with higher incomes, raised living standards, and substantially increased food security.

From the Field: Bangladesh Mission Celebrates International Day of the Girl

In honor of International Day of the Girl, USAID collaborated with the American Center of the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to gather more than 40 students (girls and boys) from a USAID education program and a local school to spotlight the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The attendees, ages 6 to 14, engaged in a fun interactive game using a poster entitled “Promoting Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence in Girls.” The poster depicts “Tuktuki,” a girl character from the USAID-funded Sisimpur (Sesame Street) television show, working in different professions and participating in various activities. The poster also serves as a board game, and will be distributed in at least 1,500 schools across Bangladesh with the purpose of engaging students to raise awareness about girls’ empowerment and to learn the different roles that girls can play in society. The participants at the event were actively involved in the game and took pictures with Sisimpur characters Tuktuki and Halum.

In Bangladesh, girls are vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and violence, including domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, acid throwing and dowry-related crime. However, there are also many success stories of women and girls in Bangladesh overcoming these challenges. One program that was highlighted during the event was USAID’s five-year long Protecting Human Rights (PHR) project, implemented by Plan Bangladesh in partnership with Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, International Center for Research on Women and 18 local non-governmental organizations. The program aims to reduce the high prevalence of domestic violence in Bangladesh and to address other human rights violations, among them sexual harassment, child marriage and other root causes of domestic violence.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on the Philippines

In this installment of Pounds of Prevention (PDF), we take a look at how one community in the Philippines-Mabitac-has reduced the negative impacts of floods, even in the midst of what occurred in August 2012.  Through timely, concerted efforts, the municipal authorities and residents have turned potentially life-altering disasters into manageable challenges for which they can prepare and move beyond more quickly.

We invite you to  read more about the specific waste management and emergency preparedness activities undertaken, and the important role USAID and partners have played in the process.

Page 9 of 21:« First« 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 »Last »