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Archives for Disaster Relief

An Unprecedented Response to the Ebola Crisis

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. / Morgana Wingard

Today the world is facing the largest and most-protracted Ebola epidemic in history. Yesterday, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Obama declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a top national security priority and announced a clear, comprehensive, and global strategy to stop the outbreak.

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

The United States has been combating the Ebola epidemic since the first cases were reported in March, and we have expanded our efforts and increased personnel in the region as the crisis has unfolded. More than 120 specialists from across the U.S. Government are on the ground in West Africa to prevent, detect, and stop the spread of this disease. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team—or DART—to the region to oversee and coordinate the U.S. response, providing logistics, planning, program, and operational support to the affected countries; drawing forth critical assets and resources from several U.S. departments and agencies.

This crisis continues to escalate exponentially and requires an intensified speed and scale of response to address a rising rate of infection. It has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. Heroic doctors, nurses, and health workers are stretched to their personal and professional limits.

Against this landscape of overwhelming despair, there is hope. As the President declared in Atlanta:

“The world knows how to fight this disease. It’s not a mystery. We know the science.  We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it.  We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast.“

That’s why yesterday afternoon President Obama announced a significant expansion of our response.

In an Ebola crisis, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with.

In an Ebola outbreak, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with. / Morgana Wingard

Through a whole-of-government approach, we’re mounting an aggressive U.S. effort to fight this epidemic and have devised a clear strategy with four key pillars to stop this epic crisis:

  • Controlling the epidemic;
  • Mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls;
  • Coordinating the U.S. and broader global response; and
  • Fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond.

Our goal is to enable the most effective international response possible, using our government-wide capabilities to fight the epidemic on a regional basis. Our current efforts have focused on controlling the spread of the disease—bringing in labs for specimen testing; supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief supplies; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; supporting burial teams who are safely managing human remains to prevent transmission; and spearheading mass public awareness campaigns with communities to describe how to prevent, detect, and treat Ebola.

To complement these efforts, the President also announced the launch of the USAID-led Community Care Campaign, which will aim to provide every family and every community the critical information and basic items that can help protect them from this deadly virus.  Information will stress the importance of sick families members seeking help at a clinic or Ebola treatment unit and how to exercise basic infection control that can be life-saving, such as washing hands or not washing their dead relatives. Items like soap and chlorine can reduce transmission. Women are especially important to reach given their traditional role in washing the bodies of dead relatives — a prime transmission route of the virus. To reach people with low literacy, the campaign will train health volunteers and community leaders on how best to verbally provide messages to their neighbors.

Partnering with the affected countries, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and organizations on the ground, USAID will initially target 400,000 of the highest risk households in Liberia with this vital training and important tools.

The campaign is also rooted in a sobering reality. Half of all people who get sick don’t seek treatment at hospitals or Ebola treatment units. Many are frightened by rumors and deterred from traveling to hospitals where their friends and neighbors are taken and never return. A complex array of traditional beliefs and practices mean many of those who should seek help choose to stay in their homes – often putting those family members who care for them at risk.

The Ebola crisis is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola.

The Ebola epidemic is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola. / Morgana Wingard

This week, working alongside the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we will airlift 50,000 USAID-funded home health care kits to be delivered to some of the most isolated and vulnerable communities in Liberia. We will simultaneously work with every part of society to educate people on how to prevent and detect Ebola through mass public awareness campaigns supported by radio, text, television and community announcements. As we scale up our response, the only way the virus will be controlled is if we make concerted efforts to reach every community, and every home in the affected areas.

We know tough months lie ahead. It will require a coordinated effort by the entire global community to help stem this terrible public health crisis. But every outbreak of Ebola in the last 40 years has been stopped, and this one will be, as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Lindborg is the USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

On the Frontlines of the Ebola Response: an Inside Look at a Program to Help the Grieving

The West African Ebola outbreak is the worst outbreak in history, affecting four countries. The U.N. World Health Organization declared it an international health emergency

The West African Ebola outbreak is the worst outbreak in history, affecting four countries. The U.N. World Health Organization declared it an international health emergency / Christina Goldsmith, CDC

In Liberia, a country gripped by Ebola, the outbreak has not only taken its toll on health care workers but also on the professionals who comfort the grieving.

“The outbreak of Ebola was very shocking and overwhelming to our country,” said Jestina Hoff, a counselor with the Liberian Red Cross. “It brought a lot fear.”

As a counselor with the Liberian Red cross, Jestina Hoff must find ways to comfort Ebola victims or their families without getting close to them

As a counselor with the Liberian Red cross, Jestina Hoff must find ways to comfort Ebola victims or their families without getting close to them. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

The outbreak has also hampered Hoff’s ability to do her job. “As a counselor, I talk to parents who lost a child or to someone who has gotten sick with the virus,” said Hoff. “They are feeling so discouraged, and I have to help them accept the situation and comfort them, but without touching them.”

Francesca Crabu, a clinical psychologist with the International Committee of the Red Cross, explained that having close contact with those who are grieving is key to providing psychosocial support. But in Liberia and other parts of Western Africa, preventative measures require people to stay at arm’s length from each other.

“Here in Liberia, it is very painful that you cannot shake hands. If somebody is dying I cannot hug you,” said Crabu.

To make matters worse, once Ebola claims a life, the body is taken immediately, before families have time to mourn their loss, according to Eliza Yee-lai Cheung, a clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Red Cross.

Eliza Yee-lai Cheung (right) a clinical psychologist with the International Federation of the Red Cross, listens as counselors in Monrovia share stories about helping families cope with Ebola

Eliza Yee-lai Cheung (right) a clinical psychologist with the International Federation of the Red Cross, listens as counselors in Monrovia share stories about helping families cope with Ebola. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“They cannot hold a memorial service or burial according to their culture,” said Cheung. “That’s why it’s very hard for them.”

To give psychosocial counselors the tools to help grieving communities, the USAID Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is partnering with IFRC in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. Among other things, the DART and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working to raise public awareness of Ebola’s mode of transmission, teach disease prevention practices to communities, and train health workers and volunteers.

Training materials passed out to counselors will help them train others in the community

Training materials passed out to counselors will help them train others in the community / Dagny Olivares, CDC

In a classroom, 19 people—counselors with the Liberian Red Cross, staff with NGOs and social workers with the Liberian Ministry of Health & Social Welfare—are learning from Crabu and Cheung how to organize culturally appropriate activities to help families cope with their loss. They are also taught ways to keep themselves safe from the virus and how to provide support to each other. This group will then go on to train others in affected communities with the hopes that such efforts will help the country come to grips with Ebola.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Hoff. “But we have a goal. I have a goal. We have to serve our country. We need somebody to take a step to help others move forward. It’s scary, but there’s hope.”

Crises on Four Fronts: Rising to the Call

In a time of unparalleled need, the response from our nation’s humanitarians and our partners has been inspiring. Children and their families trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq are receiving U.S. military airdrops of food and water. In South Sudan, life-saving supplies are arriving by air to vulnerable communities cut off by violence. In West Africa, health workers are fighting the Ebola virus, even at great risk to themselves. And in the refugee camps on the Syrian border, we’re getting children into school so that this devastating crisis doesn’t rob them of their future.

USAID and The World Food Programme providing humanitarian aid to Iraq / USAID

USAID and The World Food Program provide humanitarian aid to Iraq. / USAID

From the Central African Republic to Gaza, from Burma to Yemen, millions of vulnerable people are relying on the life-saving assistance that the United States and our partners provide. Food to revive malnourished children. Hygiene kits to stop the spread of disease. Safe spaces for children to laugh and play.

This is the first time in our Agency’s history that we have been called on to manage four large-scale humanitarian responses at once—in addition to reaching other vulnerable populations worldwide and preparing communities ahead of natural disasters. We are not working alone. We are grateful to our U.N., NGO, and local partners, who have demonstrated exceptional fortitude and compassion in the face of relentless tragedy.

health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body

Due to the outbreak of Ebola virus, health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body. / Jean Louis Mosser, European Commission DG ECHO

They are epidemiologists who have flown into the epicenter of one of the world’s deadliest diseases to help track its spread. They’re logisticians who are coordinating with the U.S. military to airdrop food and water to families stranded on Mount Sinjar. They’re engineers who have helped design displaced persons camps so that women and girls can walk around at night without risking their lives. They’re doctors who are staffing clinics where children have arrived riddled with shrapnel or wasted by hunger.

Today, we are able to equip these heroes with new tools and technologies that have dramatically improved our emergency response, including satellite maps to forecast the risk of famine in South Sudan and debit cards that enable families to shop for their own food at local stores in refugee camps on the Syrian border.

USG Humanitarian Assistance to South Sudan

United States Government humanitarian assistance to South Sudan

These crises are far from over. We will continue to work closely with our essential partners, especially our fellow donor nations, to do more to save lives and foster lasting solutions. Despite the challenges, we remain committed to providing help in an emergency—regardless of danger or difficulty. It is one of the most profound expressions of who we are as the American people.

If you would like to contribute, I encourage you to make a monetary donation to a reputable humanitarian organization already working on the ground. Nothing will get there faster or help more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rajiv Shah is USAID Administrator. He tweets from @Rajshah

Responding to Dire Needs in South Sudan Three Years after Independence

Three years after the Republic of South Sudan’s exhilarating independence on July 9, 2011, following decades of civil war, the people of this young nation are facing their most dire crisis yet.

 Since fighting erupted in the capital of Juba in December 2013, thousands of South Sudanese have been killed or traumatized and more than 1.5 million have been displaced. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently told the U.N. Security Council that by the end of 2014, half of South Sudan’s population of 12 million will be in flight, facing starvation or dead.

When I returned to South Sudan in May for the first time since the crisis began, the significance of this tragedy was clear. Tension and fear permeate the capital, Juba. Women and children no longer fill the streets as they used to, walking safely to school and marketplaces. Some parts of town are empty of residents, who now live in crowded sites in squalid conditions, afraid to go home after violence they witnessed months ago. The U.S. Government is working with heroic South Sudanese staff and international partners to respond to this heartbreaking crisis with urgency within South Sudan and in neighboring countries that are hosting South Sudanese refugees, increasing our food and other lifesaving assistance and adjusting our existing development programs to respond to the current crisis.

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Unity State use water lillies as a primary food source. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Unity State use water lillies as a primary food source. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

In the desperate and crowded conditions where tens of thousands of South Sudanese are now taking shelter, hygiene and sanitation are a major concern, as illnesses such as cholera could spark an epidemic. Since April, the U.N. World Health Organization has reported more than 2,900 cases of cholera, including 67 deaths in South Sudan, primarily in Juba and surrounding areas. Through radio and innovative means of reaching displaced populations, such as loudspeaker announcements delivered by quad bike in compounds where displaced people have taken shelter, we are reaching tens of thousands of South Sudanese with important information on topics such as hygiene and how to prevent cholera. Ninety-eight percent of residents sheltering at the U.N. Tongping protection site are familiar with the program, a survey by our partner Internews showed, and two-thirds said they had changed their behavior, in hygiene or other ways, as a result of information from the program.

In Mingkaman, Lakes State, which hosts South Sudan’s largest displaced population, I saw the importance of USAID support for an FM radio station that broadcasts information to tens of thousands of people, including programs on available medical services and clean water, and safety issues such as the danger of crocodiles in the nearby river where people bathe. This station and other USAID-supported radio stations have call-in shows that give citizens a platform to say what they have been through – an important outlet in a traumatized society.

 In response to a nationwide stockout of essential drugs including antibiotics and anti-malaria medication, and with funds contributed by the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom, we are delivering desperately needed basic medicines to cover the entire population of South Sudan for one year. In the midst of conflict and the rainy season, which makes many areas impassable by road, this is no easy feat. But through our ongoing advocacy efforts, we have secured government permission to deliver to the most conflict-affected states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, where needs are greatest and tensions between opposing forces highest.

 As tens of thousands of children have fled their homes due to violence, we launched a new program with UNICEF to provide education to 150,000 displaced children, so that they have safe spaces and materials to learn. This effort includes targeting 60,000 girls for education, as part of USAID’s Let Girls Learn initiative. A grateful educator told me during the event in Juba where we launched the program that South Sudan’s children have the right to learn, despite the challenging circumstances they face, and that our investment in these children would last even if buildings and roads were destroyed during the fighting. Education creates an important sense of normalcy in the lives of children affected by violence. It is critical that the next generation in South Sudan is literate and gains life skills through education, which can help avert the cycle of violence that has defined South Sudan’s tragic history.

 Davorah Nyariera escaped fierce fighting in Bentiu, South Sudan, empty-handed with her children and grandchildren. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

Davorah Nyariera escaped fierce fighting in Bentiu, South Sudan, empty-handed with her children and grandchildren. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

In a polarized conflict situation, it is also important to enable many citizens’ voices to be heard and many viewpoints expressed. So we are helping to strengthen civil society in South Sudan, including by providing support to enable civil society organizations to participate in South Sudan’s peace process. What I heard repeatedly from all of the citizens I talked to was that peace is possible—and that it is the one thing that everyone could agree on.

And perhaps most urgently, famine conditions threaten up to 1 million people in parts of South Sudan. In addition to lifesaving humanitarian assistance including food, nutrition and clean water, USAID funds the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which is providing crucial information on crops and food availability. This information, along with other sources of information about the growing humanitarian crisis, galvanized the international community to provide more than $618 million in needed humanitarian funds at a conference in Oslo in May – nearly half provided by the United States.

We are continuing to provide assistance in agriculture, focused in the relatively stable Equatoria states, where agricultural potential is greatest. Before conflict erupted, USAID assistance to farmers in the Equatoria states helped them achieve a tripling of crop yields – an achievement we can build on to strengthen food security in South Sudan.

While the people of South Sudan have in many ways not yet reaped the benefits of their independence, I came away from my latest visit reassured that the efforts of those responding to the crisis are saving lives, and that many more people in South Sudan are committed to peace and an inclusive future than those who are content to tear their nation apart. I was asked by a reporter on the day I was leaving South Sudan if the United States thought it could save South Sudan.  After hearing the stories of a diverse, proud, and resilient nation of people, I was able to respond that we could be part of the solution that the South Sudanese people are fashioning for themselves.

As we reflect on South Sudan’s third anniversary of nationhood, USAID remains more committed than ever to the people of South Sudan and we will continue to help them build the peaceful and secure future they deserve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Etim is Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, overseeing the Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs and the Office of East African Affairs. She most recently traveled to South Sudan in May.

 

Rebuilding Livelihoods in the Philippines Post-Typhoon Haiyan

On November 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines and affected 16 million people, killing thousands and displacing millions.

Entire villages and cities were destroyed, but the rebuild effort began quickly thanks to a global response.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. military were the first to deliver life-saving support, including the provision of emergency shelter, food assistance, relief commodities, and water and sanitation support. To date, the U.S. Government has provided over $90 million in aid.

Seven months later, humanitarian efforts are ongoing. An estimated 5.6 million workers have seen their livelihoods affected and many of them still need assistance. Schools opened on June 2 but thousands of children returned to classrooms that have been destroyed or damaged. Millions of people still require shelter.

“With the Principal & the Foreman of a school torn to shreds being rebuilt by USAID to get the kids back to life again. They said all the books and computers were swept away and they are finding them destroyed all over the place far away.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

“With the Principal & the Foreman of a school torn to shreds being rebuilt by USAID to get the kids back to life again. They said all the books and computers were swept away and they are finding them destroyed all over the place far away.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

Late last month, I had the opportunity to see the recovery efforts firsthand during a visit to the island of Leyte, home to Tacloban — the epicenter of the storm.. Tacloban City was completely obliterated, leaving only tents, makeshift “squatter” living conditions and other sorts of temporary housing all around, with signs of destruction in between.

But massive clean up efforts had taken place over the last six months with piles of somewhat organized garbage and debris scatteredd everywhere. Organizations and work crews were still cleaning up while I was there, repairing houses that could be fixed, and building new homes from scratch.

I heard many stories of hardship and resilience, but was particularly struck by that of Mang Danny — a driver from San Jose, Tacloban City. Mang Danny lost his wife and child to the disaster, and struggles to support his other children and rebuild the house he lost to the waves in Tacloban. USAID is helping to rebuild houses for millions of survivors like Mang Danny.

During my visit I was even able to help build houses myself in a village just south of Tacloban called Tanauan. I worked with Gawad Kalinga, an organization that brings together volunteers to build homes in the Philippines. With the Philippine Red Cross, I visited Sition Gubat, where they have built 56 new houses. This little town is part of the overall target of 20,000 new houses for Leyte.

“#USAID doing tremendous work here in #Tacloban helping the community build shelters quick before storm season starts in the next month. I built houses with an organization called Gawad Kalinga.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

“#USAID doing tremendous work here in #Tacloban helping the community build shelters quick before storm season starts in the next month. I built houses with an organization called Gawad Kalinga.” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

Today, USAID is continuing to lead the charge to provide durable solutions to the recovery and reconstruction needs in the devastated areas of the Philippines. One of the ways is through encouraging public partnerships—several of which are already helping rebuild lives. One USAID partnership with Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola helped rebuild sari-sari stores, or small community stores. USAID in the Philippines has also demonstrated successful partnerships with many private organizations including the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Philippine Development Foundation, Smart Communications and Petron Corporation. With each success there is an opportunity to further implement a working strategy and improve conditions.

And on May 20, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — together with USAID — brought together foundations, organizations and corporations and the Filipino diaspora community to discuss how to create more partnerships for the Philippines’ recovery. Participants committed to partnerships on disaster mitigation and small business projects in the Philippines, and continuing such collaborations long term.

“Meet my cute family aka my dance troupe aka my eating partners in the Islands of the Philippines!” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

“Meet my cute family aka my dance troupe aka my eating partners in the Islands of the Philippines!” / From the Instagram of Billy Dec

The Philippines has made great progress since Haiyan. But the typhoon season will start again, and there are still thousands of people living in tents and residing in dangerous areas. There are tens of thousands of young children who will have to study inside tents and improvised classrooms. There are thousands of farmers and fishermen that have yet to restart their livelihoods, and thousands of workers who have yet to replace the assets they lost in the storm.

Although there was much sorrow for the loss of the Filipinos hit by the typhoon, witnessing the complete destruction of homes and communities and getting to meet many survivors, I saw firsthand the strength and determination in the Philippines. The U.S. Government is working to ensure that months after the brutal devastation of Haiyan, Filipinos like Mang Danny have a chance to rebuild, start again, and move on.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Billy Dec is a member of President’s Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. You can follow him at @BillyDec

By Preparing for Disaster, Chile Remains Resilient

A powerful magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck near the northern coast of Chile on April 1, prompting a tsunami and a series of strong aftershocks. Yet, nearly 1 million people were safely evacuated from harm’s way thanks to Chile’s disaster response preparations and early detection of the tsunami.

A magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit Chile in 2010 causing extensive damage and hundreds of deaths. / Larry Sacks/USAID

A magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit Chile in 2010 causing extensive damage and hundreds of deaths. / Larry Sacks/USAID

Chile is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, and last week’s tremor was the most significant seismic activity since 2010, when a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit central Chile. Chilean officials were able to detect the earthquake and track tsunami waves before landfall, allowing them to respond swiftly and evacuate people in potentially affected areas. The result was very few casualties in contrast to the 2010 earthquake, which tragically took more than 550 lives.

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) has worked with the Government of Chile for more than two decades to strengthen its ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. Since 2010, an emphasis has been placed on helping Chile establish a national monitoring system that allows local experts to study and track seismic activity in the region. Additionally, USAID and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped Chile develop a tsunami early warning system that has bolstered the country’s ability to detect tsunamis in advance and alert people when needed, including for evacuations.

USAID teams up with local disaster first responders in Chile to teach collapsed structure rescue methods. / Mariela Chavarriga/USAID

USAID teams up with local disaster first responders in Chile to teach collapsed structure rescue methods. / Mariela Chavarriga/USAID

USAID/OFDA also supports training workshops for local and emergency responders in Chile that focus on tsunami response exercises as an effective preparedness tool, as well as bolstering skills in medical aid, urban-search-and-rescue capabilities, and coordination during a disaster.

Underscoring the importance of disaster preparedness, geologists predict that Chile will experience more earthquakes in the future. However, the Chilean Government’s response to this most recent disaster demonstrates the lifesaving power of disaster risk reduction work.

 

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Peru

Community members living in high-altitude neighborhoods of Puno map hazards and emergency response actions.

Community members living in high-altitude neighborhoods of Puno map hazards and emergency response actions.

In this next installment in the Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to the southeastern regions of Puno and Cusco in Peru. Here USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance has been working through its partners with the government and the private sector to help communities prepare for future disasters. Villages that never before received local weather information now benefit from daily forecasts as well as early warnings and alerts to severe weather. These same communities received disaster preparedness training and may even one day benefit from the work to design climate-appropriate transitional shelters should the need arise.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Today, we are faced with great challenges brought about by increasing population and urbanization, a changing climate, and a demonstrated increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters. To continue to tackle these challenges, what has become clear is this: We need more than an ounce of prevention; we need pounds of prevention! Read more >>

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on South Africa

Members of Rescue South Africa prepare to deploy to the Philippines in response to Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. Photo courtesy of Rescue South Africa.

Members of Rescue South Africa prepare to deploy to the Philippines in response to Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. Photo courtesy of Rescue South Africa.

In this Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to South Africa where thirteen years ago, USAID took notice of a nascent first responder organization based in Johannesburg. Rescue South Africa is now an internationally recognized rescue team.  Read more >>

USAID Remains Focused on Typhoon Response in the Philippines

Excerpts from remarks made by Greg Beck on January 8, 2014, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on the U.S. response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

I’m always worried that after the first month or two, on a large emergency such as Typhoon Haiyan, that the attention fades because there are so many other pressing issues and disasters around the world. It’s really important to remain focused on our efforts going forward.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Greg Beck discussing continuous Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda relief operations with a DSWD representative. Photo credit: USAID.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Greg Beck discussing continuous Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda relief operations with a Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development representative. Photo credit: USAID.


I was in Tacloban a few weeks ago, and I was able to see the immediate impacts of a long-term partnership with the Government of the Philippines. I was able to see the impact of our initial investments over the last five years in building up their capacity to mitigate the effects of these large natural disasters. I also was able to see how we’ve been working very strongly with diaspora groups, NGOs, local groups and the private sector to build the long-term relationships that we were able to put into action on day one.

USAID had been tracking the typhoon and saw that it was becoming incredibly powerful about a week before it hit land. We prepositioned a number of disaster assistance staff in Manila from our regional office in Bangkok. Within the first day, they were in Tacloban and immediately working with our colleagues from the Department of Defense (DOD), who deserve recognition for contributing to strong interagency coordination. Without the “air bridge” support DOD provided, we would not have been able to effectively deliver all the supplies that we brought in from our bases in Dubai and Miami. Over 2,000 metric tons of critical relief supplies were brought out to the secondary and tertiary distribution sites because of the air bridge — because of the C-130s, the Ospreys, the choppers, and the operational support that the Defense Department gave to the Government of the Philippines. It was incredibly critical.

Having worked in Asia for over a decade and responded to a number of natural disasters that have happened, I have to say this really was a textbook response. We had been working for a number of years to build up the network and partnerships to have the capacity to immediately respond, no matter the size of the scope of the emergency.

We are now beginning our pivot to the early recovery stage and we will continue to focus on some critical areas. Transitional shelter, livelihoods, health, cash-for-work, microfinance, temporary schools, and the rebuilding of rural health units will be very important focus areas for us over the next three to 12 months. When Secretary of State John Kerry was in Tacloban on December 18th, he announced a terrific USAID partnership with Coca Cola and Proctor & Gamble to rebuild 2,000 sari-saris — small convenience stores that provide access to important basic supplies for people who are living on less than a dollar a day. Reestablishing sari-sari stores creates income and livelihoods for families, and it is our priority to get those up and running very quickly.

It is a heavy lift going forward. We have some critical areas to address, especially in shelter, as we saw in the Washington Post article over the weekend. We’ll be working with Leyte Province and developing a Green Plan so that we’re building back not only better, but building back safer, building back healthier. The Government of the Philippines has been building their capacity and their ability to respond quickly and effectively over the last decade. We’ll continue to work very closely with the government to further strengthen that capacity, recognizing that this is not the last of the emergencies that we’re going to be seeing.

Haiti’s Recovery Won’t Happen Overnight

This blog post originally appeared on Devex.

Each morning, the bulky, unwieldy vehicle navigates an uneven, rocky path that in some areas of Haiti is a common road. Only my seatbelt keeps me from hitting the roof as I make my way to the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince.

A row of damaged houses and buildings in the Cité Soleil neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Four years after the disaster, almost 75 percent of earthquake rubble has been removed and 89 percent of the 1.5 million displaced population have left camps for alternative housing options.

A row of damaged houses and buildings in the Cité Soleil neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Four years after the disaster, almost 75 percent of earthquake rubble has been removed and 89 percent of the 1.5 million displaced population have left camps for alternative housing options. Photo by: Andre Mellagi / CC BY-NC-ND

A newcomer to the country, I see each day during my journey a small remaining camp for Haitians displaced by the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Living in temporary tent shelters, they, children among them, are still waiting for a new place to call home. Then, recently, I noticed that the camp was emptying.

Almost four years after the earthquake, 89 percent of Haiti’s 1.5 million internally displaced persons have left the tent camps for alternative housing options. Almost 75 percent of earthquake rubble has been removed. Security throughout the country has improved and, recognizing the importance of employment, the government is committed to attracting foreign investment, with agriculture, tourism and the apparel industry the most promising growth areas. Health indicators are up, with improvements in infant and child mortality rates and more public access to health services.

International donors — among them the U.S. Agency for International Development — have learned lessons along the way in Haiti in terms of how we can do better.

As the country leaves behind the era of post-earthquake relief and focuses now on longer-term development, USAID is striving to build the capacity of local organizations to lead and manage development initiatives.

This necessarily involves building public and private institutions so Haitians can lead and manage their own development. On our part, we are enhancing the capacity of the Ministry of Health to manage a national healthcare system using its own human and financial resources, so it will no longer be dependent on donors. Similarly, efforts are underway to build the financial and programmatic capacity of local NGOs to provide services and advocacy that are too often provided by international organizations. The country must also advance the rule of law, a prerequisite to the creation of durable institutions and economic growth.

Every USAID mission director’s goal is to help the host country one day reach a point when it no longer needs foreign economic assistance. Indeed, all donors and development organizations should be devoted to that goal. In Haiti, this will not happen overnight. But four years after the earthquake, Haiti remains a U.S. government priority to continue and improve our efforts to help Haitians building the opportunity and prosperity they are capable of and that they are so deserving.

John Groarke is USAID Mission Director in Haiti since August 2013. An expert in international law and counter-insurgency, he previously served in hotspots like Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco, as well as senior legal advisor for West Africa and South Asia.

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