Archives for Disaster Relief
We offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the fires. USAID, through its partnership with the U.S. Forest Service’s Disaster Assistance Support Program, is deploying a team of experts to join their Israeli counterparts to help combat the fires. We are also sending 45 metric tons of Fire-Trol fire retardant and 12,000 liters of WD881 Class A foam, both of which are valuable tools in the suppression of wildland fires. The United States stands prepared to provide additional assistance should it be necessary.
For individuals and organizations who would like to provide assistance, we encourage you to make a cash donation to a reputable humanitarian organization working in the affected area. Cash donations are best. Nothing will get there faster or help more at this time.
In Pakistan, we will hand over medical equipment to 1500 female health workers. These practitioners will receive a set of equipment to create makeshift health units and provide health services in flood-affected areas of Pakistan.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we will launch The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). Under the 2008 Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde Global Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act (Lantos/Hyde Act) funding for PMI was expanded to two additional countries – DRC and Nigeria becoming the 16th and 17th focus-countries.
In the Philippines, we will hold a Clean Energy Business Plan Competition. USAID will partner with the Private Financing Advisory Network (PFAN); a global public-private partnership that matches innovative clean energy projects with sources of financing.
At the USAID distribution site at a flood relief camp in Sindh province, a young woman queuing up with her teenaged son to receive her food donation somehow stood out in the crowd and caught my attention.
It could have been the slippers on her feet, while most others were barefoot, or perhaps the dignified way she waited in line. I approached her, and she told me her name was Murada and that Larkana, her village, had been totally wiped out by the flood. As she chattered about all the land she used to own and crops she had cultivated, much like we were two neighbors having afternoon tea, an expected rush of emotions came over me.
“I miss my rifle the most, you know,” she said matter-of-factly, my eyes widening as she explained that she was a widow, and her late husband had taught her to use the firearm.
“A Russian single barrel,” she added proudly, “to protect myself of course.” I shook my head as I contemplated that though Murda had lost her home, fifteen acres of land including ten under cultivation, and six bovines, she preferred to discuss her missing rifle.
Amazing indeed, that this woman, until recently comparatively wealthy, was now collecting a food sack marked “USAID,” and recounting a heartbreaking story in such a sprightly manner. It was only when I asked “so what about the future?” did the façade crumble, and a look of abject grief came over her face. My heart sank as I realized that despite her sunny demeanor, she was just one more victim of this terrible tragedy.
From rugged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the fields of Punjab, down to the coastal plains of Sindh, I witnessed the same horror and devastation of total loss in three weeks of monitoring visits. Beyond their possessions, some have literally lost their land – washed away by the mighty Indus River after it broached its embankments for hundreds of miles.
Over and over I heard tales of hopelessness – no agency, representative, not even a landlord who was willing to take responsibility for their welfare and survival. In such a state, they were more than eager to voice their frustration to a representative of a donor agency in the hope of finding someone who might actually help them.
Through my work with USAID, I could offer some degree of help in the form of the thousands of donated relief kits that included two weeks worth of food, cooking utensils, buckets for collecting water and soap to wash. They were eager to narrate their harrowing experience to someone working for the American government, which many called their savior.
As I opened each parcel to verify its contents before distributing the kits, I could see the appreciation in their eyes, gratitude that someone was concerned enough to ensure that they receive each and every item that was sent for them – and just lend them a sympathetic ear.
Aside from different regional languages and attire, my experience in three provinces was pretty much the same everywhere I went. Much as I tried not to cry, recurring scenes of poverty and helplessness invariably brought tears to my eyes.
Yet at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling another emotion welling up inside: hope. Women like Murada, who spoke bravely about her loss and even tried to stay well-dressed amid the squalor, seemed to me to represent the glimmer, however small, of a better future.
I was able to play a small part by promising those with whom I spoke that the American people would not abandon them in their hour of need. I was grateful the people of America provided a platform to help make a difference in the lives of so many in need. The difference hope brings.
Naazlee Sardar serves as USAID Pakistan Senior Education Advisor, and spent three weeks in October monitoring USAID-supported relief activities in flood-affected areas across Pakistan.
More than 100,000 Beninese have been made homeless due to massive flooding caused by the country’s worst rains in a half century. According to the United Nations, 360,000 people have been affected, while 50,000 homes and 276 schools have been flooded or destroyed. In this Pennsylvania-sized west African country of 9 million people, the effects have been devastating.
After the U.S. Embassy declared a disaster, USAID responded immediately, granting Catholic Relief Services $50,000 to purchase and distribute water storage units and water purification kits to flood victims in Sô Ava county—one of the worst affected areas that has been under water since the beginning of September. This assistance will provide 3,000 people with clean drinking water for three months, a crucial step in preventing the emergence and spread of disease.
USAID also donated plastic sheeting that will be used to construct 1,700 emergency family shelters and will soon provide an additional grant of $1.5 million to assist families in resuming their livelihoods and to help communities rehabilitate their infrastructure.
Throughout the disaster, USAID has been closely coordinating with the United Nations and the Government of Benin to ensure that aid is coordinated and reaches those most in need.
A reception in a downtown hotel in Port-au-Prince is buzzing with excitement. Fellow classmates are chatting about their plans after graduation. Many are dressed in their Sunday best to mark the proud day.
One hundred and fifty newly trained masons successfully graduated a joint program sponsored by USAID/KATA and CEMEX, a building materials company. The program trained young people living in poor neighborhoods on how to create quality masonry blocks. Of 150 graduates, 75 of them are people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
“The program helps them learn valuable skills and empowers them to improve their lives and the lives of their families,” said CHF International’s Haiti Director Alberto Wilde.
The graduates underwent a three month training that exposed them to masonry best practices and techniques. They also learned entrepreneurial skills to help them start micro enterprises. All students received molding, cement, sand, and a masonry guide at the end of the program.
“When I was working under somebody else I was making 2,500 gourdes ($62.50). But with my own business I make about 5,000 gourdes ($125). Of these 5,000 gourdes I have reinvested half in order that my business grows further. Now, I am planning to have a laborer in order to have even bigger productivity,” said Alcide Delcy, age 23.
The small business created by the USAID/KATA and CEMEX graduates can help support Haiti’s economic recovery. Their training also helps support the country’s efforts to build back better as homes and other buildings are constructed using higher quality blocks.
At the ceremony, CEMEX Representative Linda Gaillard said to the graduates, “You have the training in your heads and the tools in your hands. Now go out and do your best work.”
These words were met with loud cheers and big smiles.
Cherilien raised a potato into the sunlight for a gathering crowd of Haitian farmers and visitors to see. Cherilien explained that he normally produces 110 pounds of potatoes each year, but this year he produced 440 pounds.
Cherilien disappeared into the group of farmers as another Haitian farmer, Marisette, chimed in, “We used to not have good yields, but now we have good yields.”
Cherilien, Marisette, and other farmers joined representatives from USAID and the government of Haiti at the Wynne Farm, a mountaintop training facility for farmers in Haiti, to discuss their successful Spring 2010 crop season. USAID announced that crops averaged an increase of 75 percent over the previous year for sorghum, corn, beans and potatoes.
The good news is giving farmers hope despite the recent decline in Haiti’s agricultural sector. Sixty percent of Haitians are employed in agriculture, and still, a whopping 23 percent of Haitian imports are food. Experts cite many reasons for the struggling sector from erosion and deforestation to Haiti’s mountainous geography.
A photo taken at Wynne farm by my colleague, Kendra Helmer, shows rows of vegetables wrapped around a mountain ridge. The landscape looks like something out of a Salvador Dali painting, and one can imagine that farming these steep slopes challenges even the most sure-footed agrarians.
So, how did the farmers who gathered at Wynne Farm defy the odds? Because they are hard working, of course, but also because they are participating in the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources program. WINNER, for short, is a five-year, $126 million program funded by USAID to increase productivity in the country’s ailing agricultural sector.
WINNER advisers at Wynne Farm work with Haitians to teach them innovative farming techniques, strengthen farmer associations, and provide access to expertise and vital supplies (seeds, fertilizers, credit and tools). Among the more impressive features of Wynne Farm is the greenhouse, the training ground for farmers to learn innovative techniques like vertical agriculture.
WINNER works in other parts of the country, too, with more than 250 community-based organizations that represent 50,000 small farmers. The program is increasing food productivity, dredging and widening rivers, constructing small dams and water catchments, treating ravines, and reforesting the land.
Mark Feierstein, USAID’s new Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, was present at Wynne Farm to announce the exciting news about WINNER’s increased productivity, but truth be told, he seemed more interested in hearing from farmers like Cherilien and Marisette than talking himself. One thing he made clear was that agriculture will remain a priority for USAID’s work in Haiti – a sentiment that seemed to conjure a sense of relief and hope among the farmers.
Funky beats and roaring laughter echoed through Cap Haitien’s town square as local dancers, poets, comedians, and musicians performed at the city’s cultural festival over the weekend. Thousands of Haitians attending the festival danced, sang and laughed as performances stretched into the wee hours of the morning.
USAID cohosted the two-day festival with local authorities to boost civic pride and mark a renewed focus on economic growth in Cap Haitien. The festival fell on a holiday dedicated to King Henri Christophe, Cap Haitien’s most well-known historical figure, and featured some of Haiti’s most popular performers. Kompa band Tropicana, comedian Jesifra and dance troop Dahomey were among the audience favorites.
Despite a heavy storm that flooded the streets, Haitians rushed into the town square as the rain let up and the water receded. Locals called the festival Cap Haitien’s biggest event in recent memory and estimated that three to four thousand residents attended.
Some Haitians set up shop on the square’s perimeter to sell steaming food, frosty drinks and hand-made crafts. Others climbed trees or sat atop cars to get a better view of the stage.
The hopeful tenor of the audience showed Haitians’ resilience in spite of their hardships. Extreme poverty was commonplace for Cap Haitien residents even before the earthquake nine months ago. The northern port city lies far outside the range of the earthquake, but many Haitians sought refuge in Cap Haitien after their homes were destroyed in and around Port-au-Prince. As a result, Cap Haitien’s population swelled in the disaster’s aftermath, straining the city’s already sparse resources.
The Government of Haiti and international community see an opportunity to reinvest in Cap Haitien. A number of USAID projects are already in the works. USAID partner, Development Alternatives Inc., is implementing many of those projects including cash-for-work programs that provide short-term employment for women, agriculture projects that boost incomes from farming, and infrastructure projects that increase the number of students attending school.
I arrived in Haiti just two days before the cultural festival, and the weekend-long celebration shaped my first impression of the country. I witnessed many struggles in Haiti, but I also witnessed proud, hopeful Haitians working hard to overcome these challenges.
I have been in the Foreign Service with USAID for 24 years and currently have the honor of leading the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Thursday I returned from Pakistan where I saw USAID’s team and the NGOs we support on the ground providing hope to millions of Pakistanis after the floods that devastated 20 percent of the country.
The United States Government, through USAID, requires the NGOs we fund to ”brand” the assistance they provide to people in need with the Agency’s handshake logo and the words “from the American people” in local languages. Branding is not just required by law; it ensures transparency when America provides aid. We believe that the people we help have a right to know where their assistance is coming from.
In fact, many Pakistani people often criticize USAID for not being more aggressive when it comes to branding our aid. The USAID handshake is an enduring symbol of America’s support for Pakistan, well known by many who saw it as children when the Agency was a major contributor to important infrastructure projects, including dams and hydro power plants that provided millions with crucial transportation links and power. During my visit last week, Pakistani NGOs urged me to better make our efforts known to the flood-affected victims, so they are able to appreciate that no country is doing more to help them than the United States. The U.S government , through USAID is the largest overall donor in Pakistan, and it is important that we are able to communicate those efforts to the people we are helping.
At the same time, USAID is highly sensitive to the risks of branding in environments where one’s association with foreigners can turn a humanitarian worker into a target. We are in constant contact with security personnel in country; and where the security risks warrant it, we will continue to grant waivers to the branding requirement for certain areas and limited periods of time.
For example, in Pakistan today, I have granted waivers for NGOs working in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. But Pakistan is a vast country and not a monolith. In other parts of the country ravaged by the floods, where security has not been an issue, we continue to require branding on our aid.
Weighing the balance between carrying out our mission with transparency and ensuring the security of our workers and our NGO partners in the field is a constant challenge. We welcome the opportunity to work with all of our implementing partners to ensure that we get the balance right.
In Albania, we are promoting World Contraception Day (September 26th). USAID’s two maternal and child health programs have partnered with Albania’s Institute of Public Health to raise awareness of using modern contraception to mark World Contraception Day. USAID will send out 20,000 text messages to Albanian adults 18-35 years old with the message, “It’s your life, it’s your choice – Use modern contraceptive methods to avoid unplanned pregnancies”. According to the 2009 Demographic Health Survey, Albania has one of the lowest levels of modern contraceptive use in the world; with only one in nine married women age 15–49 using a modern method of family planning. Modern contraceptives not only prevent unwanted pregnancies but are better for women’s reproductive health.
In Paraguay, we will recognize 90 municipalities improved performance under a local government assistance program. Since 2006, around 100 municipalities in Paraguay have been participating in a performance improvement process developed with local NGOs and the support of USAID. The project, called MIDAMOS (Let’s Measure in Spanish) aims at having municipalities open their institutions to to evaluate their performance and identify areas that must be improved in order to offer better services to citizens.
In West Sumatra, Indonesia, we will commemorate the Padang Earthquake Anniversary on September 28th. We will hold a brick laying event as part of the first anniversary of the West Sumatra Earthquake reconstruction efforts in which we have partnered with both the Australian and Indonesian Governments to support a large education program. The event will be located in a primary school in Kota Padang. USAID/ AusAID have committed to rebuild 34 primary schools in the area.