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Archives for Disaster Relief

USAID Provides Training to Masons in Haiti

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.

Haitian Farmers Seeing Sprouts of Success

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.

Cultural Festival in Haiti Kicks Off USAID’s New Development Projects and Promotes Civic Pride

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.

USAID Assistance in Pakistan

Day in and day out, the men and women of the United States Agency for International Development provide development assistance throughout the world, in environments that are not always safe.

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.

From the Field

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.

USAID Provides Shelters in Haiti

Inside one home, a toddler snoozes on the floor. Around the corner at another home, a dozen men laugh and cheer at a soccer match on TV.

The newly constructed homes – in colorful hues of yellow, blue, pink and green – are transitional shelters (t-shelters) for families affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

The shelters in Carrefour, a densely populated municipality just west of Port-au-Prince, were provided by ADRA, one of USAID’s partners who receive funding through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Even before the earthquake destroyed much of Carrefour, many families in the area lived in shelters averaging 28 square feet. ADRA’s 46-square-feet shelters can house up to five family members.

To determine beneficiaries, ADRA works with the community to identify the most vulnerable people, including women-headed households, the elderly and handicapped.

“I am really impressed with the way ADRA has worked with community leaders to provide space for t-shelters and accommodate the newest members of the community,” said Lynn Marie Thomas, Senior Humanitarian Advisor for OFDA Haiti.

At the ADRA warehouse in Carrefour, laborers cut and paint wood and prepare materials such as metal hurricane strips to stabilize roof beams. ADRA helps beneficiaries prepare the site, then sends mobile teams to construct the shelters – about 1,800 of them over the past five months.

As of Sept. 13, international relief agencies, including USAID/OFDA grantees, had constructed more than 13,000 t-shelters. The humanitarian community has funds for construction of more than 11700,000 additional t-shelters.

Photos of ADRA’s t-shelter production site and t-shelters are on Flickr.

USAID @ UNGA: Addressing the Global Water and Sanitation Challenge

Submitted by Chris Holmes

This morning at an event at the UN Summit titled, “Addressing the Global Water and Sanitation Challenge: The Key to the MDGs,”  USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah discussed the United States’ efforts and renewed attention to ensure water security world-wide. Perhaps no single issue is as important to achieving all of the MDGs as water and sanitation.

Today, one and a half million children die each year from preventable water and sanitation–related diseases. Water scarcity is becoming a growing impediment to food security and economic growth; Floods and droughts continue to kill thousands and displace millions; and there are increasing signs that water is becoming a greater factor in violent conflicts throughout the world.

At this year’s summit, USAID will rededicate itself to building a water-secure future – a future where people have the water they need, where they need it, when they need it. A future where no child dies from a water related disease, where food security and economic growth are not limited by the availability of water resources, and where no one has to fight to secure the water they need for their families.

USAID at UNGA: How we are Impacting Lives in Pakistan

This week I’m attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and I’m looking forward to joining a broad and historic international body to discuss the wide spectrum of global issues we face today.  My week at UNGA began with a meeting about a topic of immediate urgency – relief and recovery efforts for the more than 20 million Pakistanis affected by the devastating flooding.

On my recent visit to Pakistan, I witnessed the severe devastation and unimaginable loss experienced by the flood victims.  I’m proud to say that from the beginning, USAID has been at the forefront of the U.S. government response along with our colleagues at the Department of State and Department of Defense.  To date, the swift and immediate response has addressed the wide range of needs in Pakistan, from sending in emergency food supplies and water purification units to ensure safe drinking water, to facilitating waterborne disease warning detection systems and funding anti-malarial medications.

In mid-October, The World Bank and Asian Development Bank will present a Damage and Needs Assessment to give us a more comprehensive picture of the scale of the damage.  Undoubtedly, that picture will be grim and the upcoming months will be daunting, especially as winter descends on Pakistan. But as we face the extreme scale of the disaster, the most critical question we will be asking ourselves is:  How are we improving the lives of Pakistanis? USAID is committed to a long-term relief, recovery, and reconstruction.

USAID will continue responding to these situations on the ground, and work closely with the Government of Pakistan and our partners. We are committed to a long-term relief, recovery and reconstruction effort. This week, on the world stage of the United Nations General Assembly, we will continue to work with the international community and the Government of Pakistan as they rebuild their country.

To find out more about what USAID has done on the floods so far, see USAID’s work in Pakistan.

To contribute to humanitarian and relief operations: www.interaction.org

USAID Eases Hardships of Haiti’s Earthquake Survivors

After the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, an estimated 1.5 million people were displaced from their homes. Approximately 100,000 earthquake survivors fled Port-au-Prince to Haiti’s Central Plateau.

While the area was one of the country’s poorest regions even before the earthquake, it’s seen an influx of survivors who’ve come to live with family and friends, straining already limited resources.

To ease the hardships in the Central Plateau, USAID partner Mercy Corps is providing immediate financial assistance through cash-for-work programs for both the displaced earthquake survivors and the families who took them in.

With USAID/OFDA support, Mercy Corps is providing livelihood opportunities to 2,000 people per week in the Central Plateau. An additional 20,000 people are on track to benefit from the cash-for-work program.

These projects give a member of each household 30 days of employment on a community-selected project geared at improving infrastructure or agricultural production, such as rehabilitating roads, farmland or irrigation systems. Some have used their salary and tools from the programs to start more sustainable small businesses.

Under USAID’s Food Security Program in Haiti, Mercy Corps will also provide food vouchers to 100,000 in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite region. This new initiative provides grants, cash or vouchers to buy desperately needed food.

In the town of Mirebalais, Mercy Corps employs Haitians to clear debris from canals and other public spaces to mitigate flooding during hurricane season. Watch a video on this important program.

View photos of Mercy Corps’ work in Mirebalais on Facebook and Flickr.

Tragedy and Hope in Kalam

Submitted by Richard Zack Taylor

Bhan, Pakistan: As the eldest of five siblings with a father working overseas, 10-year-old Olfata had a lot of responsibility helping to look after her four younger brothers and sisters, while lending a hand on her extended family’s potato farm and apple orchard in mountainous north of the country.

Seema, Olfata holding Sidiqa, and Faisal have been affected by the floods in Pakistan, but are receiving help. Photo Credit: USAID/Pakistan

One day in late July, she heard shouting and yelling coming from neighbors up the river:  her village was directly in the path of a flash flood just minutes away. She tried to remain calm, and helped gather up her brothers and sisters and a basket full of apples, the first objects of value she could find.

Amid a great tumult in the village, Olfata was shepherding the little ones to higher ground when a panicked stray dog lunged toward her, toppling the apples and sending her siblings Seema, 9, Fozia, 7, and five-year-old Faisal in various directions while she clung to 16-month-old  Sadiqa with her free hand.

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