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Canines Deployed with USAID Help in Search for Survivors in Nepal

Rescue canine siblings Phayu and Port and their handlers Jennifer Massey of Bristow, Va., and Teresa MacPherson of Catlett, Va., deployed to Nepal as part of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team last month. / Kahish Das Shrestha for USAID

Rescue canine siblings Phayu and Port and their handlers Jennifer Massey of Bristow, Va., and Teresa MacPherson of Catlett, Va., deployed to Nepal as part of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team last month. / Kahish Das Shrestha for USAID

Even though it was their first tour of duty overseas, one pair of heroic canine siblings stepped into the frontlines of the recovery efforts in Nepal with the confidence of old pros.

Phayu and Port, 3-year-old Labrador Retrievers from Virginia, deployed with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) immediately after last month’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake catapulted Nepal into crisis.

With more than 760,000 homes destroyed or damaged by earthquake, the superhuman attributes of canines like Phayu and Port played an important role in finding survivors injured and trapped beneath rubble.

“Technology helps us see and hear people who may be trapped, but the dogs allow us to smell,” said Phayu’s handler Teresa MacPherson of Catlett, Va. “They can detect the scent of human breath.”

Phayu and Port helped search for survivors the in the rubble after Nepal’s devastating earthquake. / Kahish Das Shrestha for USAID

Phayu and Port helped search for survivors the in the rubble after Nepal’s devastating earthquake. / Kahish Das Shrestha for USAID

Part of the family

Phayu and Port were among the 12 canines that deployed with the Fairfax and Los Angeles County urban search-and-rescue teams to help in the search for survivors.

Working with the Government of Nepal and local and international search-and-rescue crews, USAID’s urban search-and-rescue specialists led canine responders to locations in the field to hunt through rubble and debris. The nimble rescue dogs navigated tight spaces that could not be reached by humans.

Phayu and Port’s handlers describe them as bold, confident, athletic and driven — attributes that any human leader might embody. It is this drive and determination that allowed the dynamic duo to focus intently on the search process, even in chaotic situations.

As days passed, hope for finding survivors dwindled. But then the urban search-and-rescue members of the DART helped pull a 15-year-old boy out of the rubble, five days after the earthquake.

After a powerful aftershock rocked the country two and a half weeks later, the USAID rescue teams jumped back into action, rescuing a 41-year-old woman.

On April 30, the USAID DART's urban search-and-rescue teams helped pull 15-year-old Pemba Tamang from the rubble, five days after the Nepal earthquake. / Chief Chris Schaff, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

On April 30, the USAID DART’s urban search-and-rescue teams helped pull 15-year-old Pemba Tamang from the rubble, five days after the Nepal earthquake. / Chief Chris Schaff, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

Finding survivors wasn’t the only reward for canine search dogs.

“To them searching is fun,” said Massey, comparing the process to a game of hide and seek.

“We select dogs with high ‘toy drive,’ ” added MacPherson, of what a trainer looks for a rescue dog. “In a way, the dogs actually select us by how they behave when they are young.”

On May 16, all the urban search-and-rescue members of the DART — including Phayu, Port, and the 10 other rescue canines — returned home.

The DART, which now comprises 15 USAID disaster experts, continues to coordinate closely with the Government of Nepal and international partners to ensure that urgently needed relief supplies reach remote areas.

Teresa MacPherson of Catlett, Va., with canine responder Port in Nepal. /</i> <i>Kahish Das Shrestha for USAID

Teresa MacPherson of Catlett, Va., with canine responder Port in Nepal. / Kahish Das Shrestha for USAID

When not on a mission, Phayu and Port live with their handlers.

MacPherson has been working with canine teams since 1990, including responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Japan earthquake and tsunami

Although Massey works full time at the U.S. Federal Reserve, she has trained and managed three canine search-and-rescue animals.

USAID’s DART team knows that it’s all “paws” on deck when a large-scale catastrophe occurs and thanks to the work of rescue canines like Phayu and Port, human volunteers have invaluable partners at their sides.

This week, USAID announced an additional $9 million to assist in Nepal earthquake response and recovery efforts, bringing the total amount of U.S. humanitarian assistance for the disaster to nearly $47 million.

The new funding will go toward more emergency shelter materials, safe drinking water, hygiene kits, and improved sanitation to the most critical areas and also support programs to address psychosocial needs and the protection of earthquake survivors, including women and children.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Bluma is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs at USAID. Follow her @stephaniebluma.

USAID Arrives in Nepal, Earthquake Response Efforts Begin

As the world watches, Nepal continues to face tragedy, destruction and chaos in the wake of Saturday’s devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake. By current estimates, more than 5,500 people have died and nearly 11,200 more are injured. A total of 8 million people have been affected by the disaster. As rescue efforts continue, these numbers are expected to rise.

On Tuesday, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) — comprising more than 130 humanitarian experts and urban search and rescue personnel — landed in Nepal with 90,000 pounds of equipment to coordinate the U.S. Government’s earthquake response efforts. Immediately, the DART began conducting disaster assessments and established a base of operations from which teams will work to help locate survivors. A Washington D.C.-based Response Management Team from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has also been activated.

Total U.S. humanitarian assistance for the Nepal earthquake response now stands at $12.5 million. USAID provided $10 million to address immediate life-saving priorities, including search and rescue efforts and the provision of shelter, safe drinking water, sanitation, emergency health care, and additional needs that emerge in the coming days. The remaining $2.5 million will go to the United Nations World Food Programme to buy 1,390 metric tons of rice, which is expected to help 120,000 people for one month.

Days after Saturday’s earthquake, women look on at the destruction in hard-hit Bhaktapur. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

Days after Saturday’s earthquake, women look on at the destruction in hard-hit Bhaktapur. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

Countries across the world are coming together to help the people of Nepal. The United Nations, international organizations, governments and NGOs are coordinating closely with the Government of Nepal to work quickly and save lives.

“This is a pretty well-oiled machine, actually,” Jeremy Konyndyk, director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, said during an interview with MSNBC two days after the earthquake. “There is a whole international system for deploying and coordinating search-and-rescue teams.”

A member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team -- from Fairfax County’s urban search-and-rescue team -- works with a canine to search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building in Bhaktapur, Nepal. / Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

A member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team — from Fairfax County’s urban search-and-rescue team — works with a canine to search for survivors in the rubble of a collapsed building in Nepal. / Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

However, the earthquake response effort is not without challenges. Some aid teams have had trouble landing in Nepal; the already-small airport has had to restrict flight volume. Also, with aftershocks likely to continue in the following days, people are afraid to go back into their homes, and resulting avalanches could block roads — preventing aid workers from accessing some communities.

USAID is developing strategies to deal with these challenges. We are working with the U.S. military on ways to reach hard-hit areas and speed up the delivery of critical supplies. We’re airlifting 700 rolls of plastic sheeting from our warehouse in Dubai to help up to 17,500 people with emergency shelter needs. We’re coordinating closely with our partners to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected from harm.

Mike Davis, a member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, speaks with the Nepalese Army and the community in Bhaktapur, Nepal to figure out where people may be trapped. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

Mike Davis, a member of USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, speaks with the Nepalese Army and the community in Bhaktapur, Nepal to figure out where people may be trapped. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

USAID has a long history of support to Nepal. In addition to numerous programs addressing education, global health, food security and more, the Agency has supported disaster risk reduction efforts in Nepal for more than two decades.

In partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Government of Nepal, USAID has helped identify, prepare, and preserve 80 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to serve as distribution centers or warehouses in the event of crisis. After Saturday’s earthquake, this program allowed IOM and the Nepalese Government to identify sites that are now being used to shelter displaced people.

DCHA Nepal Earthquake Map

Critical emergency relief supplies have been pre-positioned, allowing communities to have their immediate needs rapidly addressed. Much work has been done to strengthen the ability of Nepal’s government to respond to an earthquake like this one.

USAID is also no stranger to large-scale disaster response. USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds to an average of 70 disasters in 56 countries every year, delivering aid to those in need during times of emergency, conflict and crisis. In past year alone, USAID has led the global Ebola response, supported food security during times of drought, responded to floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continues to provide life-saving assistance to people affected by ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan.

In the coming days, weeks and months, USAID will stand by the people of Nepal and the region during this time of need to help individuals, families, and hard-hit communities. Click here to learn about ways you can support the organizations responding to the earthquake.

Clara Wagner contributed reporting to this article.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Chuck Setchell is the Response Manager for the USAID Nepal Earthquake Response Management Team.

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How Guinea’s Journalists are Fighting to Win the War Against Ebola

Before coming to USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, I worked as a TV news correspondent for more than 12 years. I covered everything from school shootings to presidential inaugurations and worked alongside some pretty incredible journalists.

But, while serving on the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Guinea, I met a group of local reporters who, with help from USAID, is taking dedication to news reporting to a whole new level. Here are three reasons why they are so amazing.

Meet the Ebola Chrono news team! Their radio show is breaking new ground as they were the first Guinean journalists to report from inside an Ebola treatment center. / Internews

Meet the Ebola Chrono news team! Their radio show gained more listeners and respect after they reported from inside a busy Ebola treatment center. / Internews

1. They are Breaking New Ground

Since January 2015, USAID has been partnering with a non-governmental organization called Internews to work with journalists in Guinea to produce a news magazine show called Ebola Chrono. Televisions are scarce, so radio is the best source of news here. Ebola Chrono is broadcast in French by 56 radio stations across the country.

In Guinea, where Ebola rumors abound and suspicions about the response are the talk of the street, the eight-member Ebola Chrono news team wants to set the record straight. The team’s mission aligns with one of USAID’s main priorities in the Ebola response: strengthening the communication of information about the outbreak.

According to Pierre Mignault, a veteran journalist now working with the team, Ebola Chrono is filling a gap he feels existed on the Guinean airwaves.

“What was missing here was solid, factual information about the response,” Mignault explained.

Five days a week, the news team produces in-depth stories about the Ebola response, covering topics such as vaccine trials, community resistance and Ebola containment efforts along the border. Reporters routinely hit the road to pursue leads and get interviews from people affected by the disease. The goal of the show is to bridge the information gap and present Guineans with reliable stories in a way that speaks to them.

“I don’t see what I do as just a job,” News Director Afiwa Mata Ahouadjogbe told me. “Everyone is concerned about Ebola. If I can contribute to help people, to empower people to get rid of Ebola, then it’s my duty to do it.”

2. They are Venturing into Unchartered Territory

In Guinea—and in the rest of the world, for that matter—fear of Ebola runs rampant. Many Guineans believe the disease is part of a wider conspiracy to kill unsuspecting citizens and harvest their organs. Ebola treatment units, or ETUs, are rumored to be the place where such alleged atrocities take place.

Enter Asmaou Diallo who is among that special breed of reporters who go the extra mile to get the story, even if it means possibly putting herself in harm’s way. When Asmaou and her team reported from inside Donka—one of Conakry’s busiest ETUs—people tuned in.

Reporter Asmaou Diallo goes the extra mile to get the story. After she filed in-depth reports from inside an Ebola treatment unit, other reporters followed her lead. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Reporter Asmaou Diallo goes the extra mile to get the story. After she filed in-depth reports from inside an Ebola treatment unit, other reporters followed her lead. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“That was revolutionary because nobody had ever been in the center. No one would go into a place like that,” said Diallo. “But we wanted people to have confidence in the system.”

Diallo and her team produced a three-day series that gave a step-by-step, first-hand account of everything that goes on inside an Ebola treatment center, from triage to treatment and beyond. The team also covered what happens to those who die, explained the process of safe and dignified burials, and interviewed Ebola survivors and family members of the sick.

Ebola Chrono reporter Asmaou Diallo interviews a health care worker from inside the Donka Ebola treatment center in Conakry. / Internews

Ebola Chrono reporter Asmaou Diallo interviews a health care worker from inside the Donka Ebola treatment center in Conakry. / Internews

But just as compelling as her reports was the fact that Diallo entered an Ebola clinic and came out alive. This not only raised eyebrows, it also raised the bar for reporting as other reporters soon followed her lead.

“A lot of things have changed,” Diallo explained to me. “We went to Donka, and we deconstructed the rumors around the centers. Other reporters are now doing the same thing. The impact is that more people know what is happening inside, and now more people go to the centers to get treated.”

3. They are Making an Impact

Many members of the Ebola Chrono news team were local radio reporters prior to being selected to take part in the USAID-funded program. But they tell me their mentor Mignault is helping them to become stronger journalists.

During the morning editorial meeting, reporter Mohamed Komah talks about the story he’s working on.  Pierre Mignault with Internews (left) says this is the best team he’s worked with. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

During the morning editorial meeting, reporter Mohamed Komah talks about the story he’s working on. Pierre Mignault with Internews (left) says this is the best team he’s worked with. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“I learned ways to strengthen my reporting, like how to use interviews and ambient sound to make stories come alive,” said Diallo. “I also learned the importance of going out to gather content and verifying the information I receive.”

When I asked Mignault whether all this hard work is paying off, he told me there’s a growing appetite in Guinea for solid news reporting. Case in point: some radio stations are airing Ebola Chrono more than once a day. Others are broadcasting the program during primetime slots. And more listeners have been texting or calling in questions about the stories they hear.

Announcer Amadou Korkabah (right) and chief technician Kone Mamadou do a sound check inside a homemade studio built by Mamadou. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Announcer Amadou Korkabah (right) and chief technician Kone Mamadou do a sound check inside a homemade studio built by Mamadou. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“As far as I’m concerned, this is the best team I’ve worked with,” said Mignault. “They’re very strong, dedicated. They believe they have a rendezvous with history. They know they can make a difference.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Han is the Strategic Communications Team Leader with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

From Hyogo to Sendai: A New Action Plan for Resilience

Ten years after the Hyogo Framework became the global blueprint for disaster risk reduction, so much has changed about the way we approach disaster risk reduction. Today, our work focuses not only on disaster preparedness, but on building resilience by helping communities mitigate the inevitable disasters they will face before, during, and after they strike.

This week, I led the U.S. delegation to the Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. Joined by partner agencies, including USAID, the State Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), FEMA, NASA, and USPS, we set out to renew our commitments to reduce the risk of disasters at home and abroad. The result: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.  Establishing ambitious targets, this framework includes goals of reducing mortality, minimizing economic and infrastructure losses, and getting countries to commit to disaster risk reduction strategies.

Three themes were front and center at Sendai and are critical to making the world a safer place in the next 15 years.

1. Building Resilience

Reducing disaster risk is not enough. We must build resilience by helping communities build the capacity to bounce back from the inevitable shocks they face. We must move from a preoccupation with mega-disasters — tsunamis and earthquakes — to also deal with chronic shocks and stresses — from frequent floods and droughts to rapid urbanization and chronic food insecurity — that keep communities locked in a cycle of crisis. To do so, we have to break down silos, bringing the humanitarian and development communities together to invest in long-term solutions that build resilience among the world’s most vulnerable. Many governments and donors at Sendai recognized the importance of this, and as a result, the Sendai Framework elevates resilience as a priority.

USAID’s resilience programs in the Sahel are helping pastoralists to diversify their livelihoods so that they are not solely reliant on the land and are better prepared to cope with dry seasons. Sahra Osman Ibrahim received a loan to open up a shop through the USAID-supported Somali Microfinance Share Company. / USAID Ethiopia.

USAID’s resilience programs in the Sahel are helping pastoralists to diversify their livelihoods so that they are not solely reliant on the land and are better prepared to cope with dry seasons. Sahra Osman Ibrahim received a loan to open up a shop through the USAID-supported Somali Microfinance Share Company. / USAID Ethiopia.

Since 2012, USAID has been a leader in mobilizing a global conversation on resilience. We have brought our humanitarian and development teams together to co-design programs that help communities build adaptive capacity across a range of areas, from diversifying their livelihoods to providing access to early warning and risk insurance. Conference participants were eager to hear about USAID’s approach to resilience and our bold new Global Resilience Partnership, which will help catalyze innovations and scale up solutions to the toughest resilience challenges in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. We look forward to working with partner governments and other donors to coordinate our investments in resilience.

2. Promoting Local Solutions

The Tecpán Municipal Disaster Reduction Committee meets to discuss risk reduction priorities for the 2012 rainy season. / Auriana Koutnik, USAID.

The Tecpán Municipal Disaster Reduction Committee meets to discuss risk reduction priorities for the 2012 rainy season. / Auriana Koutnik, USAID.

Locally-driven solutions are crucial for lessening disaster risks. Many civil society organizations were present at Sendai, sharing how their communities have been affected by disasters and part of the solution to building preparedness and resilience at the local level. They will continue to play a critical role in holding governments accountable for their commitments. At USAID, we have invested heavily in community-led disaster risk reduction programs. For example, in Guatemala, we trained 27 remote communities in Tecpán to prepare for and respond to disasters. As part of our Resilience in the Sahel—Enhanced program, we are working with local women to diversify their livelihoods, so that they are not solely reliant on one source of income when disaster strikes. We expect our Global Resilience Challenge teams will unlock new ideas for fostering locally-led solutions to building resilience. USAID will continue to work in strong partnership with local communities and civil society to advance these goals.

3. Fostering Inclusion

Thomas H. Staal, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, participates in the Children and Youth Forum in Sendai, Japan. / Cynthia Romero, USAID

Thomas H. Staal, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, participates in the Children and Youth Forum in Sendai, Japan. / Cynthia Romero, USAID

During a disaster, women, youth, the elderly and people with disabilities have different needs and often fare worse than others. I was glad to see the inclusion of these critical stakeholders in the Sendai Framework. During the conference, I participated in the Children and Youth Forum, where I shared some highlights from USAID’s youth programs on disaster risk reduction in Jamaica and Nepal. While youth work is important, we also work with the elderly, who bring their own unique perspectives and capabilities to bear. When we invest in disaster risk reduction worldwide, we must make sure no community is left behind, and that we are taking the unique needs and strengths of each community into account.

Without a doubt, reducing the risk of disasters and building resilience is critical to protecting the gains made in sustainable development. As we look towards the post-2015 development agenda, Sendai reminded us that we must make risk-informed investments if we are to achieve our goal of ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas H. Staal is acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA). Follow the DCHA Bureau @USAID_DCHA.

How 3D Printing Can Help Save Lives

It takes just 6 inches of moving water to knock a person to the ground. Flash floods, as their name suggests, come on quickly. But given the proper tools, experts can make flood predictions using real-time measurements and give warnings to get people out of harm’s way.

The problem is, many flood-prone countries cannot afford enough of these expensive weather systems to properly monitor the weather.

Floods were the most deadly natural disaster in 2013, accounting for nearly half of the natural disaster-related deaths. / Ben Hemingway, USAID/OFDA

Floods were the most deadly natural disaster in 2013, accounting for nearly half of the natural disaster-related deaths. / Ben Hemingway, USAID/OFDA

Since 1997, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) has been partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to find an affordable way to help developing countries predict and prepare for bad weather. Recently, they’ve been looking for ways to improve weather observation.

Commercial weather stations can have a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars, with maintenance and repairs piling on additional costs. Repairs also require expensive technicians, if replacement parts are even available. To make matters worse, critical pieces often become discontinued, forcing countries to purchase a completely new weather station

New technology is providing a solution. As it turns out, 3D printers are able to produce almost all the parts needed to manufacture reliable, accurate weather stations. Add in low-cost electronic sensors, and you’ve got a station–all for around $200.

Kelly Sponberg, a program manager with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Joint Office of Science Support (JOSS) working with NOAA, spearheaded the Micro-Manufacturing and Assembly project to develop a range of affordable meteorological tools.

“In the U.S., weather is very accessible,” Sponberg said. “You can turn on the news, look online, or use an app on your phone. It’s easy to take for granted the ability to check the weather. But in many developing countries, weather forecasting has been limited because of the high cost of weather systems. I wanted to change that by finding an affordable way for countries to predict and prepare for weather.”

The 3D printing technology will be showcased this week at the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, where thousands have gathered to discuss the best ways to reduce the catastrophic toll of disasters.

Don’t let its humble looks fool you - this 3D-printed weather station will help developing countries forecast weather-related disasters and save lives. / Kelly Sponberg, NOAA

Don’t let its humble looks fool you – this 3D-printed weather station will help developing countries forecast weather-related disasters and save lives. / Kelly Sponberg, NOAA

Here’s how it works. First, Martin Steinson, a UCAR JOSS project manager and mechanical engineer, creates 3D computer designs for every part of a weather station. Then, a microwave-sized 3D printer turns these designs into reality–melting thick coils of plastic into thin threads that layer on top of one another to form the components of a fully functional, sophisticated weather station. The printing is so precise that once all the pieces are printed, they can be assembled by hand and the new weather station finally brought online.

In the field, the station collects measurements related to temperature, pressure, humidity, rainfall and wind that are stored in a tiny computer about the size of an iPhone. From here, the data can be transmitted to weather experts, who will use it for their forecasts. As the program evolves, additional sensors may be added, like ones to take soil measurements, which could be used to help farmers increase their yields.

 Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of an iPhone, can hold a year’s worth of weather information collected from a 3D-printed station. / Heather Freitag, USAID/OFDA.

Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of an iPhone, can hold a year’s worth of weather information collected from a 3D-printed station. / Heather Freitag, USAID/OFDA.

“The bottom line is that 3D printing will help to save lives,” said Sezin Tokar, a hydrometeorologist with USAID/OFDA. “Not only can they provide countries with the ability to more accurately monitor for weather-related disasters, the data they produce can also help reduce the economic impact of disasters.”

The 3D-printed weather stations are undergoing testing to make sure they are durable and will meet international standards. Once testing is complete, pilot projects will be established in one or two countries.

The hope is that Zambia will become the first country to work with the Micro-Manufacturing and Assembly project. This summer, after receiving extensive training, Zambia’s National Weather Service will be provided with laptops loaded with the 3D designs for each individual part, along with several 3D printers and all the tools and materials required. Countries will have the flexibility to print additional weather stations whenever their budget allows. And if any piece breaks, partners will be able to print a new one. Then, Sponberg said, it’s “as simple as switching out a lightbulb.”

From March 14 to 18, USAID staff have joined thousands at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan to discuss the best ways to reduce the catastrophic toll of disasters. In 2013 alone, natural disasters took the lives of more than 22,000 people, affected nearly 97 million others, and caused almost $118 billion in economic damages.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Freitag is an Online Communications Specialist with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

New Steps in Disaster Risk Reduction

In 2013 alone, natural disasters took the lives of more than 22,000 people, affected nearly 97 million others, and caused almost $118 billion worth of economic damages.

To tackle this problem, I’ve joined the thousands of people gathering in Sendai, Japan this week for the Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. As a member of the U.S. delegation–led by USAID’s Thomas H. Staal–I’ll be taking part in discussions on the best ways to reduce the catastrophic toll of natural disasters.

Heavy rains fell over nearly all of Cambodia in the fall of 2011. Floodwaters spread across 18 of 24 provinces, affecting 1.5 million people, and destroying nearly 10 percent of the nation’s crops. / Brian Heidel, USAID

Heavy rains fell over nearly all of Cambodia in the fall of 2011. Floodwaters spread across 18 of 24 provinces, affecting 1.5 million people, and destroying nearly 10 percent of the nation’s crops. / Brian Heidel, USAID

What is Disaster Risk Reduction?

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is everything that we do to prevent or reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and storms. Recognizing the need to increase DRR efforts, nearly 170 countries adopted a 10-year framework in 2005 to make the world safer from natural hazards called the Hyogo Framework for Action.

That framework expired in 2014. The conference this week is an opportunity for world leaders, government agencies, NGOs and international organizations to come together and reflect on the progress made over the last decade. However, our most important agenda is in looking forward to what remains to be done and assessing how we can address shifting needs.

In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, destroying entire towns across the country. Thanks to disaster risk reduction and preparedness efforts, when Super Typhoon Hagupit hit the Philippines just a year later, damage was minimal. / Chuck Setchell, USAID
In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, destroying entire towns across the country. Thanks to disaster risk reduction and preparedness efforts, when Super Typhoon Hagupit hit the Philippines just a year later, damage was minimal. / Chuck Setchell, USAID

Building Resilience

Through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), USAID responds to an average of 70 disasters in 50 countries each year. In just the past 10 years, we’ve responded to the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, super typhoons in the Philippines, earthquakes and hurricanes across Latin America, and large-scale floods and an earthquake in Pakistan.

But we don’t just respond. USAID also works to build resilience by helping vulnerable communities prepare for disasters before they strike.

We do this by strengthening early warning systems and preparedness, like in Latin America; integrating DRR with disaster response, as we did in Bangladesh; providing training such as improved farming methods in Afghanistan to help people withstand future disasters; and helping build resilience to the effects of climate change, as in Vietnam and Mozambique. In the last decade, OFDA has provided nearly $1.2 billion in DRR funding to 91 countries and 162 partners.

What’s Next?

The goal of the conference is to build on the foundation of the previous framework and establish a new way forward to encourage everyone to take further steps toward reducing risks. Given the trends of increasingly devastating natural disasters, focusing on DRR has never been more important.

In the coming years, disasters are expected to become more numerous and take greater tolls due to climate change, a growing world population and more people settling in hazard-prone areas.

With each disaster, development gains are threatened as infrastructure is destroyed, poverty increases, and economic opportunities are interrupted or lost. But we are not resigned to this fate. OFDA’s mission is to save lives, alleviate human suffering, and reduce the social and economic impacts of disasters. As long as disasters threaten lives and livelihoods, DRR must play a key role moving forward.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sezin Tokar is a Hydrometeorological Hazards Adviser with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

USAID Takes to the High Seas to Bring Reinforcements to Guinea’s Ebola Fight

In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need more than personal protective equipment and training to keep safe. / Morgana Wingard, USAID
In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need more than personal protective equipment and training to keep safe. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need personal protective equipment — overalls, gloves, goggles and boots; training on infection prevention and control; and plenty of something called HTH.

HTH stands for high test hypochlorite. It’s chlorine in concentrated granular form and so potent that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only a few tablespoons in a 5-gallon bucket is sufficient to kill the Ebola virus and disinfect contaminated surfaces. The substance is often used to sanitize pools.

The downside is that HTH is volatile and can cause explosions. So instead of transporting the chlorine by plane—as was done with other Ebola response commodities—USAID arranged for a cargo ship to safely move more than 53 metric tons of HTH to Guinea and another 38 tons to Sierra Leone. Combined, that equals the weight of almost 70 compact cars.

The cargo ship arrived at Port of Conakry on Feb. 24, and the more than 9,700 drums of HTH were transferred by truck to a warehouse managed by the Central Pharmacy of Guinea to be distributed to health care facilities across the country.

From obtaining the the chlorine to ensuring its safe delivery to Guinea and Sierra Leone, USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) played a crucial role in making sure this operation went off without a hitch.

In late February, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance sent 53 tons of chlorine to Guinea by ocean freight rather than airlifting the supplies by plane due to safety protocols. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

In late February, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance sent 53 tons of chlorine to Guinea by ocean freight rather than airlifting the supplies by plane due to safety protocols. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


High test hypochlorite (HTH) is a concentrated form of chlorine; only a few tablespoons in 5 gallons of water are enough to kill the Ebola virus. But HTH is also volatile and can cause explosions. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

High test hypochlorite (HTH) is a concentrated form of chlorine; only a few tablespoons in 5 gallons of water are enough to kill the Ebola virus. But HTH is also volatile and can cause explosions. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) member Emily Betz Close lifts a 55-pound drum of highly concentrated chlorine. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) member Emily Betz Close lifts a 55-pound drum of highly concentrated chlorine. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


In total, more than 9,700 drums of high test hypochlorite (HTH) were safely stored for further distribution to medical facilities across Guinea. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA.

In total, more than 9,700 drums of high test hypochlorite (HTH) were safely stored for further distribution to medical facilities across Guinea. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA.


Despite the back-breaking work, these warehouse workers manage to stay positive. USAID is happy to be working in partnership with Guinea in the fight against Ebola. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

Despite the back-breaking work, these warehouse workers manage to stay positive. USAID is happy to be working in partnership with Guinea in the fight against Ebola. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is overseeing the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the U.S. Government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

Guinean Doctor Survives Ebola, Pays ​I​t Forward

Participants in an infection prevention and control training in Guinea learn key skills. / Jhpiego

Participants in an infection prevention and control training in Guinea learn key skills. / Jhpiego

Conakry, Guinea—Dr. Thierno Souleymane Diallo is a formidable ally in Guinea’s race to prevent and contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. As a survivor of the disease, he is championing with colleagues the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) skills that can save lives.

Last August, Dr. Thierno contracted Ebola during his rotation in the maternity ward at the Ignace Deen National Hospital. The 35-year-old father of three was infected while treating a pregnant patient who showed no Ebola-related symptoms, but who later tested positive for the disease. The doctor candidly admits that he could have avoided infection if he had known “to take every precaution.”

However, because the hospital failed to follow recommended IPC practices while caring for the patient, Dr. Thiero and five team members had to be isolated after contact. “I was the only one of the team to develop the disease,” he said.

Thierno spent 21 days in an Ebola treatment center run by Doctors Without Borders, suffering from bloody diarrhea, nausea, body aches and constant 104-degree fevers. “Sometimes I prayed to God to let me sleep, to forget my state…and when I woke up,I felt like my entire body was full of lead,” he said.

When he received a visit from his wife during this period, he was so disoriented that he at first didn’t recognize her. From the designated visitors’ area of the center, Dr. Thierno and his wife had to call out to each other from a distance of about three meters—over a wire fence and across an empty lane. Dr. Thierno remembers little or nothing of this visit.

After his release, Dr. Thierno spent another two and a half months at home recovering from severe joint pain. Upon returning to work he participated in an update and refresher training for health workers during which he learned the importance of following proper IPC practices, especially during the Ebola outbreak.

The five-day training was organized by the USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) in conjunction with the Ministry of Health in Guinea. The training used lectures along with simulated practical sessions and health facility site visits to allow for hands-on demonstrations of proper IPC.

Dr. Thierno is now among 27 providers with updated skills who are managing a large-scale training—under the guidance of the USAID team—for 2,200 Guinean health care workers in IPC practices adapted for Ebola-impacted countries. They are also providing follow-up supportive supervision to these workers every two weeks as part of Ministry of Health efforts to keep front-line health workers safe and prepared to serve Guineans who may become ill.

“This training has closed the door on ignorance related to infection prevention and opened a door on behavior change,” he said.

Rachel Waxman contributed to this article.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jacqueline Aribot and Alisha Horowitz are the Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor and Associate Editor for USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program, implemented by Jhpiego 

Anatomy of a Logistics Operation: How USAID is Equipping Ebola Fighters on the Frontlines

Transporting vital supplies and critical commodities quickly to the epicenter of an international disaster is what USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance does every day. However, the Ebola response has proved especially challenging for USAID’s disaster experts.

A USAID-chartered plane lands in Monrovia, Liberia, transporting critically-needed medical supplies to the frontlines of the Ebola response. Photo courtesy: Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

A USAID-chartered plane lands in Monrovia, Liberia, transporting critically-needed medical supplies to the frontlines of the Ebola response. Photo courtesy: Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“Most disasters we respond to are either natural disasters—such as an earthquake, where the acute needs peak and then go down very quickly—or it’s a war,” explained Kelly Bradley, a logistician with USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). “Ebola is essentially a brand-new type of response because outside of a few groups, no one has dealt with it on a large scale before.”

Inside the cargo hold, thousands of sets of protective equipment (PPE) to protect Ebola health care workers. As of January 2015, the U.S. has transported more than 400 metric tons of medical and disaster supplies to West Africa. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Inside the cargo hold, thousands of sets of protective equipment (PPE) to protect Ebola health care workers. As of January 2015, the U.S. has transported more than 400 metric tons of medical and disaster supplies to West Africa. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

One major obstacle: Affected West African countries did not have robust infrastructure in place to receive and distribute all the goods pouring into their airports. As a result, the United States found itself in the unique position of moving an unprecedented amount of medical supplies to a region while simultaneously working to build a logistics supply chain almost from scratch—all to ensure that health care workers are able to get what they need to save lives.

USAID Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) logisticians Kelly Bradley and Rogers Warren receive medical supplies at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, Liberia. In addition to airlifting critical commodities, they had to help build a supply chain to ensure that the medical supplies got to areas of need. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

USAID Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) logisticians Kelly Bradley and Rogers Warren receive medical supplies at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, Liberia. In addition to airlifting critical commodities, they had to help build a supply chain to ensure that the medical supplies got to areas of need. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“We were getting requests left, right and center,” said Bradley. “People didn’t know what they were asking for. We didn’t know what was coming in a lot of the time. Even the experts who do medical responses didn’t fully understand the scope of the need.”

Inside a warehouse in Monrovia, the U.S. military and USAID put together “starter kits” of medical and cleaning supplies to sustain U.S.-supported Ebola clinics for the first critical days of operation. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Inside a warehouse in Monrovia, the U.S. military and USAID put together “starter kits” of medical and cleaning supplies to sustain U.S.-supported Ebola clinics for the first critical days of operation. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Much of the need centered on delivering enough personal protective equipment (PPE) – including gloves, goggles, coveralls, masks and boots—to health care workers. Enter the U.S. military, which has been working closely with USAID to airlift more than 1.4 million sets of PPE to Monrovia, the country’s capital.

However, once the supplies were flown in, there was no dedicated system in place to transport them to the Ebola treatment units (ETUs) being constructed and staffed by the United States.

USAID funded the UN World Food Program (WFP) to build a system of warehouses in five strategic locations throughout Liberia. Photo courtesy: Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

USAID funded the UN World Food Program (WFP) to build a system of warehouses in five strategic locations throughout Liberia. Photo courtesy: Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

That’s when USAID partnered closely with the UN World Food Program (WFP) and supported its work to build a system of warehouses throughout the country and develop a supply chain of medical equipment to ensure ETUs received ample resources to open its doors and stay operational.

With this supply chain in place, PPE and other medical supplies could now be transported by truck to logistics bases located in five strategic Liberian cities, close to U.S.-supported ETUs.

In addition to supplying Ebola Treatment Units with medical equipment, USAID has been providing communities with household kits containing bleach, masks, soap and gloves so that families taking care of sick loved ones could be better protected against Ebola. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

In addition to supplying Ebola Treatment Units with medical equipment, USAID has been providing communities with household kits containing bleach, masks, soap and gloves so that families taking care of sick loved ones could be better protected against Ebola. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Mira Baddour, a logistician with WFP in Liberia, admits that getting all the main players on the same page was initially very challenging.

Coordination in action: U.S. Army logistician Terri Mcfadden (center) consults with USAID logistician Kelly Bradley (right) at a WFP warehouse in Harper, Liberia, on best ways to transport supplies to U.S.-supported Ebola clinics. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Coordination in action: U.S. Army logistician Terri Mcfadden (center) consults with USAID logistician Kelly Bradley (right) at a WFP warehouse in Harper, Liberia, on best ways to transport supplies to U.S.-supported Ebola clinics. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“For us, for WFP, we usually deal with delivering food,” Baddour explained. “Now, we were dealing with unfamiliar concepts like ETUs and working with different partners. But [being here] is really a great experience for me… and everyone is now working very well with each other.”

“It’s a totally different crisis,” said WFP logistician Mira Baddour at one of the warehouses in Liberia that her agency is running. “It has been challenging, but at the same time it is a really great experience for me.” / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“It’s a totally different crisis,” said WFP logistician Mira Baddour at one of the warehouses in Liberia that her agency is running. “It has been challenging, but at the same time it is a really great experience for me.” / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

USAID’s Kelly Bradley, who is a veteran of several disasters, agrees that the experience has been personally rewarding.

“Think about the sheer volume of personal protective equipment that [has been] coming in,” said Bradley. “My unit is directly responsible for making sure that it gets to our partners… the Ebola health care workers on the frontlines. It’s a really big responsibility and a really rewarding thing to be a part of it all.”

Meet the team of experts with USAID, the U.S. military, and the UN World Food Program that have been working around the clock to transport, track and deliver critical medical supplies for the Ebola response. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Meet the team of experts with USAID, the U.S. military, and the UN World Food Program that have been working around the clock to transport, track and deliver critical medical supplies for the Ebola response. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is overseeing the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the U.S. Government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

Related Links:

Training the Next Generation of Ebola Fighters

To learn how to safely treat Ebola patients while staying alive, doctors and nurses must learn how to navigate an Ebola “maze” run by the U.S. military in Liberia. / Carol Han, USAID

To learn how to safely treat Ebola patients while staying alive, doctors and nurses must learn how to navigate an Ebola “maze” run by the U.S. military in Liberia. / Carol Han, USAID

Walk into the gymnasium of the Liberian National Police Training Academy and you’ll come across a maze so bizarre—and as it turns out so high-stakes—that  successfully navigating it could mean the difference between life and death.

Welcome to the nerve center of the U.S. health care worker training program. It’s a replica of an Ebola treatment unit (ETU), where doctors, nurses, hygienists, and others learn how to safely care for Ebola patients while staying alive.


The U.S.-run Ebola health care worker training takes place at the Liberian National Police Academy, where the gymnasium has been transformed into a mock Ebola treatment unit.  / Carol Han, USAID

The U.S.-run Ebola health care worker training takes place at the Liberian National Police Academy, where the gymnasium has been transformed into a mock Ebola treatment unit. / Carol Han, USAID

“Everything is about safety—the safety of the staff and the safety of the patients,” said U.S. Army Colonel Laura Favand, who helps oversee the Ebola health care worker training program.

During the week-long class, students first spend three days in the classroom where U.S. military doctors, nurses and medics teach them every aspect of Ebola care, from diagnosis and patient recordkeeping to proper disinfection techniques and safe handling of the dead.

Cross-contamination is the biggest threat in an ETU, which is why there’s an entire class dedicated to proper hand-washing techniques. Another critical lesson: how to take off protective suits, goggles, and gloves without inadvertently contracting the disease.

According to Colonel Favand, this is one of the most vulnerable times for Ebola health care workers.


Taking off protective suits—like what’s being done here at a USAID-supported ETU in Sierra Leone—is a vulnerable time for health care workers. That’s why so much time is spent teaching health care workers how to prevent cross-contamination.  / Carol Han, USAID

Taking off protective suits—like what’s being done here at a USAID-supported ETU in Sierra Leone—is a vulnerable time for health care workers. That’s why so much time is spent teaching health care workers how to prevent cross-contamination. / Carol Han, USAID

“You’ll see someone getting ready to take their gloves off and their hands are shaking,” said Favand. “They know how important this is.”

Classroom time is followed by two days spent in the “mock ETU” where students are taught how to navigate in a clinical setting and practically apply all that they have learned. Actual Ebola survivors play the role of patients, offering invaluable insight into what actually happens in an ETU. According to participants, the survivors also help teach them how to communicate with patients.


Actual Ebola survivors play the role of patients at U.S. Ebola health care worker trainings, providing invaluable insight. Here, a student assesses a child patient and Ebola survivor during a training session in Greenville, Liberia under the watchful eyes of the instructor. / Col. Laura Favand, U.S. Army

Actual Ebola survivors play the role of patients at U.S. Ebola health care worker trainings, providing invaluable insight. Here, a student assesses a child patient and Ebola survivor during a training session in Greenville, Liberia under the watchful eyes of the instructor. / Col. Laura Favand, U.S. Army

“We learn some different terms in Liberian English that allows us to have a more accurate perception of the patient,” said Ephraim Palmero, medical director for the International Organization of Migration, an organization being supported by USAID to run three U.S.-built ETUs in Liberia.

“For example, instead of saying ‘how are you,’ Liberians ask, ‘how’s the body,’” Palmero explained.


On the Road: The U.S. military has deployed mobile training teams throughout Liberia to offer the same course to those who can’t travel to the main training site in the Monrovia metro area. / Carol Han, USAID

On the Road: The U.S. military has deployed mobile training teams throughout Liberia to offer the same course to those who can’t travel to the main training site in the Monrovia metro area. / Carol Han, USAID

Besides running the training at the Liberian police academy, the U.S. military deploys four mobile training teams throughout Liberia to offer the same course to health care workers who are unable to make it to Monrovia.  Liberian health officials — in charge of training the next generation of Ebola health care workers — also take the class.

“I love doing this mission,” said U.S. Army Captain Alex Ailer. “I like that people here are being helped and that we are also helping local people help themselves.”


U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Muniz and U.S. Army Captain Anna Bible take a break while teaching an Ebola health care training course in Harper, Liberia. They are part of a mobile training team. / Carol Han, USAID

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Alexander Muniz and U.S. Army Captain Anna Bible take a break while teaching an Ebola health care training course in Harper, Liberia. They are part of a mobile training team. / Carol Han, USAID

As of early January 2015, more than 1,500 Liberian and international health care workers have taken part in the training, including several USAID partners that are now running the U.S.-built ETUs.

“The training was incredible and great for me because it alleviated my fears,” said Micaela Theisen with the International Organization for Migration. “It [made] me feel good and ready to get to work.”

Her colleague Catherine Thomas agreed.

“The staff there, their medical knowledge was very comforting to us who were just starting out.” said Thomas. “They were just great.”


(from left to right) Health care workers Catherine Thomas, Micaela Theisen, and Rene Vega—all working at USAID-supported ETUs—have taken the U.S. Ebola health care worker training course. “The training was incredible and great for me because it alleviated my fears,” said Theisen.  / Carol Han, USAID

From left to right: Health care workers Catherine Thomas, Micaela Theisen, and Rene Vega—all working at USAID-supported ETUs—have taken the U.S. Ebola health care worker training course. “The training was incredible and great for me because it alleviated my fears,” said Theisen. / Carol Han, USAID

 


The Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is overseeing the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Han is a Press Officer for the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which oversees the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

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