USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Cross-Cutting Programs

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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Photo of the Week: 2012 in Pictures

This week’s “Photo of the Week” is a compilation of photos from major events throughout 2012. It was a busy year to say the least. We continued to work to combat drought in the Sahel region, we successfully launched the Child Survival Call to Action,hosted the Frontiers in Development Conference, we closed our USAID mission in Panama, and continued our efforts in providing assistance all around the world. Stay tuned this new year for our weekly blog feature “Photo of the Week”.

 

Aid Effectiveness and USAID’s New Resilience Policy

This originally appeared on the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition blog.

As policymakers discuss how to avoid the fiscal cliff, including sequestration, U.S. development agencies are continuing to take steps to make development and humanitarian assistance more effective. In the wake of the famine in the Horn of Africa, a typhoon in the Philippines, and even Hurricane Sandy at home, USAID’s new policy (PDF) – one that actually isn’t an acronym – “Resilience” is about using existing development dollars more effectively in disaster prone regions, so that less humanitarian assistance is needed in the future.

Almost half our funding consistently goes to countries classified as “long term recipients” of U.S. humanitarian aid, with 75% of USAID’s humanitarian aid going to 10 countries over the last decade. Making it easy to predict “where and who” is likely to be affected: Sub-Saharan Africa. Tragically, this region has experienced more than “1,000 disasters” over the past four decades. These fairly cyclical humanitarian crises disproportionately impact areas defined by chronic poverty and conflict.  Such despair can strip humans of their dignity and create conditions that extremists exploit – something that rings all too true in the Horn of Africa.

USAID/OFDA, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services, also provided hygiene kits, water containers, sleeping mats, and water purification tablets to families in a village on the outskirts of New Bataan city which bore the brunt of the storm. Photo credit: Lisa Gabriel, USAID/OFDA

The cycle, however, also includes America’s response – the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor – complete with public awareness campaigns (e.g., “FWD Campaign”, USAID’s multimedia response to the 2011 drought).  The American public’s generosity is extraordinary, as is the dedication of those working on the frontlines of humanitarian disasters. But this new policy is about getting at the root causes of the circumstances that can lead to the need for humanitarian interventions and then, deploying new technologies and forging new partnerships to break this cycle.

And as we saw in Ethiopia, it is possible. In 2005, Ethiopia began a resilience program, Productive Safety Nets Programme. As a result, when the worst drought in 60 years hit Ethiopia and its neighbors and plunged over 13 million people in East Africa into crisis, the resilience program paid off.  This collaborative initiative between the Ethiopian government and international donors – including USAID – resulted in noticeable improvements to the program’s targeted areas during the 2011 drought and a more cost-effective response of $53 per person.  This compares with $169 per person during the United Nations and NGO-managed response to the crisis – in spite of earlier warnings (PDF) of the impending disaster.

But what’s the ultimate goal? USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah says success will be measured by whether USAID is able “to put ourselves out of business” by reducing the number, volume, and length of time of the “infusions of humanitarian assistance needed in the future.” Translating it down to the local level, as His Excellency Elkanah Odembo, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, told the audience at the policy’s launch event, a key indicator will be whether the next drought to strike the Horn of Africa – and you can count on one – leads to smaller numbers of displaced persons crossing the border into his country.

As America strives to get our own fiscal house in order, the fact of the matter is that we’re also nearing a critical mass for relief and development funding.  Meaning, “doing more of the same,” to quote Administrator Shah, is no longer an option.  Nor should it be.

A Roadmap to Protecting the World’s Most Vulnerable Children

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Photo Credit: Dept. of State

Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation in September 2012, President Obama reaffirmed America’s commitment to promoting “a sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited.” Yet around the world, we know that modern slavery victimizes so many children, whether it is a girl sold by her parents as a domestic servant, a boy forced to beg on the streets, or children prostituted in brothels. As Ambassador-at-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons, I echo the President’s call and I urge governments to ramp up action and enhance accountability to protect children around the world from this sort of abuse.

The first U.S. Government Action Plan (PDF) on Children in Adversity provides an important framework through which to guide and galvanize U.S. government agencies to protect the world’s most vulnerable children. The Action Plan underscores the plight of children in the most dire straits: those living on the streets, participating in armed groups, and displaced by natural disasters or political unrest. We recognize that children in these situations are particularly vulnerable to one of the most far-reaching crimes against children: human trafficking.

I am enthusiastic about this Action Plan because it provides a critical roadmap to address collectively the global needs of trafficked and other vulnerable children. It is a powerful example of American leadership and commitment to protect and to ensure a brighter future for all our children.

In May 2009, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca was appointed by President Obama to coordinate U.S. government activities in the global fight against contemporary forms of slavery. He serves as Senior Advisor to the Secretary and directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which assesses global trends, provides training and technical assistance, and advocates for an end to modern slavery.

 

Strong Families Equal Strong Nations

Kathleen Strottman is the Executive Director at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Photo Credit: CCAI.

Business giant, Lee Lacocca once said, “The only rock that stays steady, the only institution that works is the family.” This simple, yet profound, principle is one that has not only withstood the test of time but is also the foundation of emerging brain science.

Here is what we know: We know that strong families are the building blocks of strong communities, and strong communities are the building blocks of strong nations. Thanks to leaders like Dr. Jack Shonkoff, we know that relationships with other human beings are not a luxury for children, but an absolute necessity.  But you do not need to be a Nobel Prize-winning economist or a world-renowned neurologist at Harvard to be able to recognize that children do best when raised by loving and protective parents.  For many of us, we need only to reflect on our own life experience to understand the impact that a loving embrace or encouraging words have in times of stress.

Despite these certainties, millions of children in the world are growing up without the care of a protective and permanent family. These children live in institutions or on the streets; they have been torn from their families because of war or disaster; or they have been bought and sold for sex or labor. And worst yet, the number of children who suffer such fates is rising. For this to change, governments of the world need to not only recognize that children have a basic human right to a family; they must also establish and enforce laws and systems to protect this right. It is for this reason that the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) is proud to support the U.S. Government’s Action Plan on Children in Adversity.

Under the plan’s tenets, the millions of children outside of family care will have the opportunity to benefit from programs that prevent them from being separated from their families and quickly reunify them when separation proves inevitable. The Plan also makes the commitment to pursue adoption, foster care, kinship and guardianship for children whose biological families are unable or unwilling to care for them. This is a major step forward and holds promise not only for the futures of children, but the future of nations.

Kathleen Strottman is the Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Prior to working at CCAI, Kathleen served for nearly eight years as a trusted advisor to Senator Mary Landrieu and then as an associate at Patton Boggs, LLC. As the Senator’s Legislative Director, Kathleen worked to pass legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act, The Medicare Modernization Act, The Inter-Country Adoption Act, The Child Citizenship Act of 2000, The Adoption Tax Credit and the Family Court Act. Throughout her career, Kathleen has worked to increase the opportunity for positive dialogue and the exchange of best practices between the United States and countries such as China, Romania, Russia, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Ethiopia and India. Kathleen regularly presents at national and international child welfare conferences and has appeared on CNN, FOX News, CBS, NBC, C-SPAN, PBS and numerous other media outlets. She is also a regular contributor to Adoption Today magazine.

Changing the World for Children

My life changed on that cold January day. It was the day my husband and I walked away from the orphanage, hand-in-hand with the first two – of our ten total – adopted children, having stepped into a realm where it is often winter and seldom Christmas.

Susan Hillis and her family. Dr. Hillis is a senior advisor for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo Credit: Susan Hillis.

That, though, is not what caused “The Change” to which I refer. What changed me is this: I turned around and looked back, to see a sea of faces peering through the chain-linked fence capped by barbed wire.  And this is what their hands were holding: that cold wire fence. That day I decided to do my part to change the world for children – not just my children, but all vulnerable children.

A dream this monumental would only become real if leaders around the world could see it, too. Today, this historic launch of the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity makes me believe that my dream has become yours, and that, together, we will see our dream become real.

We will see nurture replacing violence; light replacing darkness; hope replacing despair. United with global leaders in governments, civil society and business, we will walk hand-in-hand – devoted to changing the world for children.

Dr. Susan Hillis has served in many roles, including mother, nurse, university professor, government official and scientist. Personally, she and her husband have 10 children, eight of whom were adopted from orphanages at older ages. Her experience suggests that hope transforms the storms of life. Currently she works as a Senior Advisor for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her research over two decades has led to 100 publications addressing topics such as adverse childhood experiences, violence, vulnerability and HIV, in the United States and around the world. 

A Conspiracy of Goodness

Neil Boothby is U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the Administrator on Children in Adversity. Photo Credit: Columbia University.

I’ve found there are some things on which everyone can agree.

  • Children need strong beginnings – health, nutrition and nurturing care – to live their most productive lives;
  • Children grow up best in the care of loving families;
  • Children have the right to live free of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

These truths offer a simple moral imperative, but they are also backed by science. Neuroscientists, pediatricians and economists alike have demonstrated that a promising future belongs to those nations, communities and families that invest wisely in their children. I’ve studied the irrefutable links between the wellbeing of children and the economic and social progress of nations – they provide a compelling agenda for strengthening policies and investments to ensure that all children grow up within protective family care, and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.

Following the genocide in Rwanda, over a million reed-thin and weary refugees poured into the Goma refugee camp in what was then Zaire. In the midst of cholera, relief workers brought infants and children to make-shift orphanages in an effort to save lives. Little babies were lined up like loaves of bread on cots, given vaccines to stave off preventable illnesses and fed routinely through IVs. Yet they still died by the hundreds. It’s called “failure to thrive”—the lack of human contact and nurturance required to live.

I looked into the eyes of many of these Rwandan babies who “failed to thrive”. It was an experience that continues to haunt me to this day. In a brief moment, I witnessed the flicker of God-given potential dim – a desperate fight at first, then resignation and a ghost-like stare until death. It’s the opposite of when I looked into my own son’s eyes and, for the first time, he recognized me and responded with delight!

Last year 6.9 million children died from preventable causes. We have the science to explain what happens within the bodies and brains of children who face deprivation, exploitation and danger. We have the evidence that demonstrates how early intervention break cycles of poverty, inequality and violence. We have empirical data that shows investments made early in the lives of children yield greater returns than at any other point in the life cycle. We have other champions and partner organizations on the ground prepared to roll up their sleeves and scale up what is proven to work. We work with governments all over the world that are prepared to partner to do more and better on behalf of their children in need.

In June, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, hosted the Child Survival Call to Action. As an important follow on to this global effort, this week the first-ever U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (PDF) will be released. It is a testament to the fact that the U.S. government takes the science – and the investment – seriously. With significant investments in international development, the technical expertise and research capabilities embedded within key agencies, and diplomatic outreach, the U.S. government is well positioned to lead and mobilize around this sensible and strategic global agenda for children in adversity – children who face poverty, live on the streets or in institutions, are exploited for their labor or sex, recruited into armed groups, affected by HIV/AIDS, or separated from their families as a result of conflict or disaster.

The Action Plan I have helped to develop outlines objectives that will deliver ambitious and positive results for children. It also identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change.

Yet, this work is about more than science, or sound economic investments. It is about the miracle and potential of each child, and our profound duty to care for our children, and in so doing, protect our future.

I have spent 40 years working to create a world in which all children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger. The U.S. Government Action Plan moves us closer towards this vision. I invite you to join this global conspiracy of goodness.

Dr. Boothby has taken a leave of absence from Columbia University, where he is the Allan Rosenfield Professor of Clinical Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, he has lead several research initiatives, including the Child Protection in Crisis (CPC) Learning Network—a constellation of over 150 agencies working in 32 countries on the development of an evidence base for efficacious child health and protection programming. Through the CPC Network, Dr. Boothby established university based research centers and graduate training programs in Africa, Asian and the Middle East.

Giving Youth a Real Voice in Development

Giving youth real decision-making power and leadership roles in development processes and programs is a challenge in practice. We know from both our practice and research efforts that effective youth development needs to put meaningful youth participation at the forefront. RTI International’s experience working with youth around the globe in the areas of education, employment, health and governance for the past 30 years directs our strategy in placing them in key partner roles to solve global development challenges. With that in mind, we, along with other members of Alliance for International Youth Development (AIYD), strongly support the new USAID Youth in Development Policy (PDF), launched in November 2012.

The engagement of youth in development has been inconsistent. There are cases where youth are consulted on their needs and expectations and are invited to attend planning workshops or conferences. While these are important steps for youth participation, oftentimes they fall short of creating active roles in leadership. At worst, they provide the illusion that youth actually have a stake in the decision-making process.

The Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011 showed many governments the importance and impact that youth can play in civil society. This was clearly reflected in the passing of the new Moroccan constitution in July 2011, which emphasized good governance, accountability and citizen input into government affairs.

This past May, youth leaders convene with Moroccan government representatives to offer recommendations on the new Consultative Council for Youth and Community Work. Photo Credit: USAID Morocco Local Governance Program

Capitalizing on this unique context, RTI began working with commune councils and existing youth associations in the Moroccan cities of Safi, El Jadida, Séfrou, Sidi Harazem, and Ain Chgag to create seven Local Youth Councils that represent 134 youth associations in their cities.  RTI’s current implementation of the USAID Morocco Local Governance Program (LGP), “A Platform for Dialogue between Citizens and their Commune”, offers some lessons learned on giving youth a real voice in development.  LGP is taking an innovative approach in creating formal mechanisms for meaningful participation of youth in local affairs.

LGP is training young people in critical skills such as communications, participatory planning and negotiation in order to participate in roundtable discussions with commune council members. Together they discuss civic participation, youth employment, education and the communal charter.

The results are encouraging. Youth are engaged in local governance and are better organized as an important political constituency. They discuss and advocate their priorities to elected officials. But they want more, and are expressing that they want to see this heightened dialogue translate into concrete changes such as different decision-making patterns and results on youth issues.

A real opportunity for enhanced youth leadership and decision-making is before the Youth Councils and the Moroccan government. The new Moroccan constitution calls for the formation of an institutionalized Consultative Council for Youth and Community Work to play an advisory role to the government on youth policies. This past May, youth leaders from the LGP-formed Youth Councils hosted a forum with civil society experts, local government representatives and Parliament officials to provide concrete recommendations on how the Consultative Council should be created, what it should be implementing and how it can represent young people in the democratic process.

According to a youth leader from Safi, “Our proposals for the new Consultative Council are based on real discussion among youth leaders. Nobody told us what to do or what not to do. We do not want this to be just something that is designed in the capital. Instead, it should represent the vision of the youth across the country.”

An important focus for LGP in the next two years is to help the Youth Councils continue to work to influence the formation and agenda of the new Consultative Council, and to consolidate the existing seven (soon to be 10) youth councils into an institutionalized political structure that can be sustained beyond USAID-funding support.

RTI has learned that forming Youth Councils and training youth in the leadership skills they need to affect change takes significant time and resources. Often, the fruition of these efforts – marked by transformation into formal decision-making power and active leadership – is difficult to achieve in typical three to five year programmatic cycles.

Over the next few years, it will be critical to take a long-term perspective in achieving a real youth voice in Arab Spring countries, as well as other developing countries. This means sustaining youth dialogue and participation mechanisms from one program cycle into the next and institutionalizing youth bodies into formal political structures.

We are optimistic that the release of the Youth in Development Policy will encourage more missions, especially in countries with large and growing youth populations, to prioritize greater youth participation in development. RTI and the other AIYD members are committed to helping fulfill the Policy’s goal of equipping local youth leaders with skills and tools to create their own solutions, and to institutionalize their efforts in their countries’ development processes.

Toward a 21st Century Social Contract: Making All Voices Count

In a small office on East 20th Street in New York City, Reboot is working toward a social contract for the 21st century because the rules of the game are changing. An emboldened global citizenry, empowered by increased connectivity, is demanding more from its leadership: justice, accountability, a shot at a decent life and a livelihood with dignity. It’s demanding that all voices count.

And, frankly, because we can do better.

Too many of the world’s people live in difficult, debilitating circumstances. Some factors are beyond our control. We cannot prevent the occurrence of droughts, floods and earthquakes. Luck of the draw dictates whether we are born into a rich country or a poor one, with fertile soil or famine, with clean drinking water or waterborne diseases.

But many disasters are not random acts of fate. They are man-made, the products of bad decisions and ineffective systems that compound the negative effects of unpredictable events. Hurricane Katrina was unavoidable. The socio-economic breakdown in New Orleans that ensued from an inadequate, poorly planned government response was not. As development practitioners, we share a responsibility to mitigate what factors we can, and not just out of a desire “to do good” but to actively minimize harm.

The good news is that we already have the tools to do so. Technological innovation has made contributions to governance processes, and they are now a more easily understood and accessible affair. New channels for constructive engagement are redefining the relationships between service providers and their users, opening myriad opportunities to deliver better outcomes. This is the promise of open governance and the foundation of a 21st century social contract – where all voices count.

A woman uses her mobile phone during a community meeting in northern Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Joshua Haynes

The Making All Voices Count Grand Challenge for Development, cofounded by SIDA, DFID, USAID and Omidyar Network, takes advantage of this good news to challenge the communities of solvers, technologists, academics, development specialists and others to think different about accountability, transparency, and transitioning the way government and citizens interact.

Reboot is working on the frontlines of these transitions – we believe the most concrete means of improving livelihoods is to provide “good services” that allow people to lift themselves out of poverty, to make their voices heard, to live better lives.

Technology is an important enabler of good services. A recent United Nations report estimated that 86 percent of the world’s population—some six billion people—now uses a mobile phone. These are exciting statistics when considering the deployment of mobile-based systems for political participation, social accountability, financial inclusion, education, health care, justice and more.

Still, the key word here is “enabler.” The provision of better technology is not an end in itself. The most state-of-the-art systems, fastest computing, and best mobile apps offer no guarantee for a better tomorrow, nor do they resolve a more fundamental chasm between institutions and the individuals whose lives they hope to improve. Service providers and their users often inhabit two very different worlds.

Reconciling this disconnect requires innovation of a different sort: empathy.

Reboot believes that good services are rooted in ground realities and driven by human needs and aspirations. Discovering these qualities is a process that foremost begins with humility—toward both users and service providers—to understand people and the environments they inhabit. In the age of Big Data, we advocate face-to-face interaction to surface actionable insights on human behavior that the bias of statistical certainty might otherwise overlook.

A group of women composes a text message in rural Niger. Photo Credit: Joshua Haynes

Ours is a time-consuming, difficult process. But a “people first” approach ensures that the services we deliver are well calibrated to the organizations that aim to implement them and the communities that hope to use them. Nowhere is this more apparent than our current efforts in Nigeria. Working with the Government of Nigeria and the World Bank, we have engaged individuals at all levels of civil society—from farmers’ community groups to traditional village leadership—to design a social accountability program that is both innovative and realistic. The program allows citizens to input on the quality of public service delivery via basic mobile phones, and creates incentives for government to provide timely, tangible responses.

This is one example of the work we do globally and among our contributions toward a more open, inclusive and participatory tomorrow.

The challenges plaguing our world are many, and the search for solutions is difficult. But a 21st century social contract offers the promise of a collective group of individuals and institutions engaging together to produce better outcomes. This is a vision of the future where we all have a fighting chance, because our voices have been taken into account. This is a future where we are stewards of our circumstances and not prisoners of fate. And this is a future that should be available to all of us, irrespective of whether we are born into a rich country or a poor one, with fertile soil or famine, with clean drinking water or not.

Join our Grand Challenge on Facebook and let your voice be heard on Twitter.

Putting People at the Heart of Resilience

Since 2000, it is estimated that floods, cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural hazards have cost the world more than $1 trillion. These disasters have triggered significant social, ecological and economic devastation well beyond their immediate points of impact. As the President of Oxfam America, a humanitarian relief and development organization, I am often asked which characteristics makes one community more resilient than another and what can communities do to better prepare for natural disasters?

Under Administrator Raj Shah’s leadership, USAID has been trying to answer these questions and today released its first ever policy and program guidance (PDF) on building resilience to recurrent crisis. This guidance should be considered a breakthrough, and Oxfam congratulates USAID on a very thoughtful framework to saving lives and creating conditions where families and communities can prosper. The guidance outlines a real commitment to link short-term humanitarian response interventions with longer-term development programming by creating joint planning cells that work comprehensively to address both humanitarian and development needs in close coordination. This is not an easy undertaking. Oxfam, too, is trying to do a better job at linking humanitarian and development programming in countries where we work.

Medhin Reda in her teff field at her home in Tigray, Ethiopia. Oxfam America and partners are working on the Rural Resilience Initiative, which offers the poorest farmers a chance to buy weather insurance. For those too poor to have cash, they can pay for their premiums by working on community projects. The initiative also promotes a variety of tools that will help rural families build their resilience, including access to credit, encouragement to save, and steps to reduce the risk of disaster. Photo Credit: Oxfam America

For me, what makes some more resilient than others comes down to people’s rights. The question is: rights – who has them, who doesn’t and why? Risks and vulnerabilities are never equitably distributed:  poor men and women are more vulnerable because of the structure of their societies and economies.  Lack of access to economic assets, essential natural resources, or to political power translates into greater risk and vulnerability when crises hit. That is why it is essential that when we talk about resilience, we must also talk about issues of rights and equity and how they contribute to resiliency.  As USAID goes about implementing its new guidance throughout the world, this interrelationship should be at the core of the new framework.

As an example of how resilience, rights and equity relates in El Salvador, located in one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to natural disaster, Oxfam has been part of disaster risk reduction programs in which community organizations have not only led projects to prepare communities to evacuate, but have also taken measures to reduce the chance of floods. Those same groups have helped bring about the enactment of civil protection laws, which has subsequently enhanced government investment, in risk reduction infrastructure for communities where it is needed most.

The new USAID guidance comes at a critical juncture when the world is looking more deeply than ever at how to assist people and their societies withstand and recover from a growing number of natural disasters. In many cases, national governments and the poorest and most marginal communities already have found ways to increase their resilience, and we should be doing more to enhance their capacity to prepare for and respond to crises. We would be remiss to not only support local capacity but to ensure communities’ successful approaches and methods to weather disasters are at the heart of our operational principles.

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