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Archives for Disaster Relief

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on South Asia Monsoon Flooding

As South Asia approaches the start of monsoon season, let’s take a moment to learn more about these seasonal winds and the rains they bring. In this installment of USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we explore how monsoon rains are both a vital part of life and a potential source of floods. When the hazards a community faces and the underlying causes of disasters are understood and addressed, a community can better withstand negative events. To this end, USAID is supporting a range of activities in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka that help keep people safe and minimize damage from potential flooding.

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

Photo from Robert Friedman, USAID.

U.S. AID Supports Disaster Risk Reduction, Resiliency and Climate Adapation Engagement in Asia Pacific

Originally featured on The Center for A New American Security‘s blog

The Center for A New American Security is currently hosting a working group series ‘Climate and Security in Asia’ the purpose of which is to explore opportunities to advance U.S. security and foreign policy in the Asia Pacific through climate engagement, particularly projects that seek to reduce risks of natural disasters, improve disaster planning and response, and enhance infrastructure resiliency.

USAID is funding the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center’s Disaster Monitoring and Response System (DMRS) through the Pacific Disaster Center to develop a multi-hazard early warning and decision support system. Photo Credit: CNAS

Last month, we were honored to have Greg Beck, deputy assistant administrator for Asia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visit the group to share details about USAID ‘s on-going  disaster risk reduction  (DRR), resilience, and climate adaptation related-engagement in the Asia Pacific and the related State-USAI Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific.

As Beck shared, USAID recognizes that environmental degradation and resource scarcity can undermine a country’s efforts to achieve economic security and political stability. Like those in the security community, decision makers at USAID acknowledge that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier.’ Beck noted that these emerging conditions and threats are recognized within the State-USAID Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific, which is a part of the U.S. Government’s efforts to rebalance our foreign policy focus to reflect the growing prominence of Asia in the world. The State Department and USAID recognize that addressing climate change is critical to mitigating non-military threats to the U.S. and to reducing regional instability which can undermine democracy and economic stability.

Interestingly, just a week prior to Beck’s visit to CNAS, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) and the Australian Department of Defence (A DoD) gathered 85 delegates representing 18 countries at the 2013 Pacific Environmental Security Forum, the goal of which was to build military readiness in response to impacts of extreme weather events on regional peace, security and prosperity. The takeaways from the conference were the need to improve information sharing across countries and to build partner capacity (BPC).

Based on Beck’s summary of what USAID is doing in the region, it is clear that USAID is making great strides in the Asia Pacific Region doing just that –building local capacity to reduce risk to natural disasters and improve disaster planning and response, and promoting collaboration and information sharing among partner nations. In FY2012, USAID provided $481 million for Global Climate Change of which of which $96 million was for the Asia Pacific region.  Below, we highlight some of USAID’s ongoing efforts in the region.

Building Capacity around Disaster Risk Reduction and Resiliency (DRR)

Currently, USAID is funding the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Center’s Disaster Monitoring and Response System (DMRS) through the Pacific Disaster Center to develop a multi-hazard early warning and decision support system. The DMRS will compile and transform information from national and international hazard monitoring and disaster warning agencies on events such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and other natural disasters into a regional, event-tracking and decision-support tool that utilizes maps and modeling applications. The Centre is critical because it seeks to coordinate activities with the national disaster management offices of all ASEAN Member States.

USAID provides assistance to 12 Pacific Island nations (Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu), which are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts including more frequent and extreme weather events and sea level rise. To build capacity around disaster risk reduction and resiliency, the USAID is collaborating with two of the South Pacific’s regional organizations: the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). USAID works with the SPC to strengthen food security among farming communities in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Specifically, USAID support enabled Fiji, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tonga to develop GIS data and land-use/vegetation cover maps for to identify food security hot spots, inform stakeholder engagement, and assist in identifying adaptation measures. USAID also supports the SPREP to improve the resilience of water resources in Kiribati’s outer island communities and promote healthy ecosystems in the Solomon Islands.

More generally, USAID supports the Coastal Community Adaptation Project which aims to build the resiliency of vulnerable coastal communities in the region to adapt to climate change impacts. The program supports rehabilitating or constructing new, small-scale community infrastructure; building capacity for community engagement for disaster prevention and preparedness; and integrating climate resilient policies and practices into long-term land use plans and building standards.

USAID has played an instrumental role helping the six Coral Triangle (CT) countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste) develop a powerful new platform and model of partnership to address the CT’s transboundary environmental resource management and economic security concerns. In 2009, the six nations formed the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and launched a ten year regional plan of action.  Viewed as one of the most innovative ocean governance initiatives, these nations are working collaboratively to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.
More recently, in the wake of Burma’s political opening, USAID’S Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is working closely with the country’s coastal communities on issues of disaster risk reduction. In FY2012, USAID/OFDA initiated a program that is supporting the creation of village disaster and contingency plans, establishment of village disaster preparedness committees and associated training, and rehabilitation of mangroves, which can serve to mitigate natural disasters by greatly reducing the strength of tsunamis or cyclone waves.

Finally, as part of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), which was created in response to the July 23, 2009 meeting between then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of the Lower Mekong Countries (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam), USAID supports several disaster risk reduction and infrastructure resiliency projects. In particular, USAID’s is collaborating with LMI partner countries to advance innovations and international standards in infrastructure development to mitigate environmental and social impacts of major investments in hydropower, oil and gas sectors, and transportation systems.  Central to all of these projects is the emphasis on facilitating knowledge sharing among countries and improving the management of national and transboundary natural resources.

USAID’s focus on disaster risk reduction and preparedness programs makes good business sense. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) released its Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction report last week, which reported that “direct losses from disasters are in the range of $2.5 trillion” in this century alone. The total average loss from earthquakes and wind damage from tropical cyclones is estimated to be more than $180 billion per year. Clearly, investing up front to help countries prevent and prepare for disasters
and inject more resiliency into their infrastructure systems is a good business decision.  However, as a recent Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report notes, historically, only a small percentage of total foreign assistance has been directed to disaster prevention and preparedness. According to ODI, over the past two decades, the international community has pledged more than $3 trillion in aid; of that, $93.2 billion was spent on disaster relief and reconstruction while $13.5
billion was devoted to prevention and preparedness.

Climate related projects can advance U.S. security interests, particularly when the investments and technical assistance help countries reduce risks of natural disasters, improve disaster planning and response, and enhance infrastructure resiliency. The projects that Greg Beck and others at USAID are shepherding serve those ends and will be instrumental in helping U.S. successfully meet the ambitious goals of its Joint Regional Strategy for East Asia and the Pacific.

How Rap Music is Saving Lives in the Caribbean

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

The Caribbean is one of the most hurricane-prone regions in the world, killing people every year and making communities more vulnerable with each and every storm that hits. But it wasn’t a hurricane that put Yen Carlos Reyes at risk.

Reyes’s father dealt drugs in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Dominican Republic and rival gang members routinely raided his home. His mother abandoned Reyes, leaving him to bounce around from one relative’s house to another. At age 17, he was a street fighter in the Dominican Republic, headed for jail—or worse.

Members of the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a voluntary youth club in Jamaica, engage in a map reading session through a disaster preparedness program led by USAID’s partner, Catholic Relief Services. Photo credit: Catholic Relief Services

Reyes’ story is one that resonates with many youth across the islands, where a lack of opportunities leads teens to partake in the crime and violence that plagues their communities. But now, in some of the toughest neighborhoods across the Caribbean, the energy and creativity of at-risk youth are being channeled to help them make the leap from neighborhood trouble-maker to community life saver.

The Youth Emergency Action Committees (YEAC) program led by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with support from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) is one that transforms teens like Reyes into disaster-preparedness leaders. It teaches young people how to plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. In dedicating himself to the program, Reyes just may have saved his own life.

Started in September 2009 in four of the most hazard-prone and marginalized neighborhoods of inner-city Kingston, Jamaica, CRS began engaging youth through an ‘edutainment’ approach—education plus entertainment. Teens write music, create skits, and perform them to raise community awareness about disaster preparedness while simultaneously learning life-saving skills. Rap music, in particular, has been a big hit, with the group  coming up with lyrics such as, “Send in the broom and the shovel. Don’t bring the violence, please leave the trouble.” Because the program was so successful, CRS expanded it to the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Grenada.

Reyes says his priorities shifted and his life changed when he joined YEAC. With his teammates, Reyes helped build new homes and rehabilitate old ones for families whose houses were not able to withstand natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy hit Puerto Plata, Reyes and the others on his committee—named El Esquadron, or the Squadron—were ready, helping to relocate 80 families to emergency shelter and implementing a disaster response plan for their community. Reyes says he has a whole new set of goals including going back to school, thanks to the confidence YEAC has given him.

“Little by little, I started to see that I had value and that the other kids weren’t judging me. The work we did within the communities made me feel like I had something to offer and I started to see that my neighbors were looking at me different too,” said Reyes.

Watch this video for an in-depth look on how the program made a positive impact in Jamaica.

 

Helping Others During Hurricane Season

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially begins on June 1 and is expected to be very active. Preparing your family and home for hurricanes is important.  But what about preparing yourself to assist others–do you know how to effectively help those who are impacted by disasters? The best way to help is easier than you think and works 100% of the time.

The simplest disaster readiness activity is also the most cost-effective and the least time-consuming for donors–monetary donations to credible relief organizations working on-site. Each disaster is unique and affects people and infrastructure differently. Monetary donations enable relief workers to respond to evolving needs as those affected migrate to safety, resettle, and eventually rebuild their communities.

Unsolicited donations delivered to Samoa after the 2009 earthquake and tsunami took up space needed by relief organizations to sort and deliver vital emergency supplies. Photo credit: Richard Muffley, USAID CIDI

Most people react to disaster events overseas by collecting clothing, canned food and bottled water for survivors. While well-intended, many of these items actually remain in the U.S. because of the high fees and cost required to transport the donated goods to a foreign country.  Others items are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization or are deemed inappropriate. For example, thirty-four countries have banned the importation of used clothing and may decline collections that arrive. In reality, needs of disaster-affected people are carefully assessed by relief professionals on-site, who provide the right goods in sufficient quantities at the right time.

USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information recently rolled out a Greatest Good Donations Calculator, created by the Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island. This calculator illustrates the costs of sending unsolicited donations. For example, let’s say someone purchases a teddy bear for $19.99 in Washington, D.C., intending to send it to Apia, the capital city of Samoa. According to the calculator, the total cost to send this bear (including transportation and other fees) would be a whopping $273.43! By contrast, the same amount of money could be used by a relief organization to purchase 54,686 liters of clean water locally, helping more than 27,300 people.

Monetary contributions to established relief agencies in affected areas purchase exactly what survivors need when they need it. They support local merchants and local economies, and ensure that beneficiaries receive supplies that are fresh, familiar, and culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate.

For more information on effective donations, visit USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information.

Troubling Trend: IDP Numbers Due to Conflict, Violence at All-Time High

New numbers released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) show a troubling increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world. Today, 28.8 million people are displaced within their home countries due to conflict and violence—the highest number ever recorded by the IDMC.  This is due in large part to the conflicts in Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). More than 6.5 million of these people were newly displaced in 2012, almost twice as many as the year before.  In addition, natural disasters displaced 32.4 million people around the world over the course of 2012.

This jump in global IDP numbers is sobering and shows the extent to which internal displacement is a significant factor in all the crises that USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) responds to—from Syria to DRC, from the Sahel to Pakistan.

IDPs are a particularly vulnerable population, having been forced to flee their homes and enduring physical and emotional trauma before or during their flight. However, because IDPs don’t cross international borders they are not considered refugees and therefore do not receive the same protection provided to refugees by international law.

Two displaced Kenyan children receive USAID assistance

Two internally displaced children in Kenya receive USAID assistance to rebuild their home. Photo Credit: Anita Malley/USAID

 

A good humanitarian response to internal displacement requires careful analysis and a nuanced approach to assistance, which is why USAID/OFDA supports organizations—like IDMC—that monitor and analyze the causes, effects and responses to internal displacement. The Office simultaneously continues to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of IDPs through providing food, clean water, shelter, health care, and protection services.

Responding to internal displacement situations always has its challenges. Some IDP populations have been displaced not once, but twice or even multiple times as is the case in eastern DRC. To address this type of displacement, USAID/OFDA supports rapid response mechanisms that swiftly identify and assess new displacements in order to provide urgent assistance while avoiding creating dependency.  Humanitarian access can also be extremely limited, such as in Syria, making it difficult to assess IDP needs and provide assistance.

USAID is revising its IDP policy to advance the U.S. Government’s response to internal displacement and to reflect current best practices for IDP assistance. Displacement doesn’t necessarily end once a crisis is over, and this policy also further strengthens USAID’s commitment to help IDPs either return home and reintegrate or resettle in other parts of the country. The goal of this policy is to find durable solutions to ensure that when it comes to the number of IDPs, the global community doesn’t hit another all-time high.

 

Using Science to Warn Countries About Deadly Flash Floods

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal side effect of hurricanes. They kill thousands of people every year and cause millions of dollars in damage by destroying buildings and bridges, uprooting trees and overflowing rivers within mere minutes.

Flash floods occur when excess water caused by heavy and rapid rainfall from tropical storms or hurricanes cannot be quickly absorbed into the earth. This fast-moving water can be extremely powerful, reaching heights of more than 30 feet. But it takes only six inches of water to knock a person to the ground or 18 inches to float a moving car.

USAID responds to more floods than any other type of natural disaster, like this one in Trinidad, Bolivia in 2003. Photo credit: USAID

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance recognizes that while flash floods are deadly in even the most developed countries, they can really wreak havoc in densely populated regions around the world that lack strong infrastructure. Hurricane-prone regions throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are especially vulnerable, which is why USAID works with host countries year-round to help them prepare.

Even though the onset of flash floods is almost immediate, it is possible to give up to a six hour window of advanced notice—just enough time to save lives.

The advanced warning is given through the Flash Flood Guidance System, a scientific method of accumulating rainfall data and analyzing the rate at which the ground absorbs it. USAID works closely with meteorological experts in hurricane-prone countries, training them on how this system works so that they can be on the lookout for potential flash floods. Using the system gives disaster-prone countries the opportunity to use those crucial six hours before a flash flood hits to implement emergency plans and move as many people out of harm’s way.

Six hours may seem like a lot of lead time, but it’s actually not when you’re rushing to alert remote and heavily populated villages—with limited communication—about an approaching disaster. Flash floods can’t be prevented, but USAID is committed to helping people better prepare for and recover from them. Because when it comes to saving lives and alleviating suffering, every minute counts.

Photo of the Week: 2013 Hurricane Preparedness Week

As America saw with Hurricane Sandy, it takes just one bad storm to wreak havoc, kill and injure hundreds and inflict billions of dollars of damages. If one hurricane can do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

Forecasters are predicting an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. During this week, we will be highlighting USAID’s work—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—to prepare disaster-prone countries and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean for hurricanes.

The photo above is of children playing in the streets of a camp for internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after Hurricane Tomas made landfall in November 2010. Photo is from Kendra Helmer/USAID.

Wall of Wind’ Helps USAID Test Shelters for Hurricane Relief

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

There is a place in Miami, Florida, where deadly, hurricane force winds can be felt year-round without the threat of destruction.  In fact, it’s a place that’s being used to help save lives.

It’s called the Wall of Wind, a cutting-edge lab at Florida International University (FIU) that can simulate hurricane conditions using 12 giant fans, stacked two high, capable of generating winds with speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour, packing the punch of a Category Five storm.

 

USAID built temporary shelters in Chile, using a combination of durable plastic sheeting and wood boards, to meet humanitarian needs in 2010. Photo credit: USAID

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is working with FIU to harness these hurricane force winds to test the strength and design of transitional shelters. Transitional shelters are not tents, but they’re not quite houses, either. They are a mix of the two, constructed using new and salvaged building materials to safely house people who’ve been hit hard by disasters until they secure a permanent home.

Hurricanes can be catastrophic, uprooting communities, taking out entire coastlines, and killing thousands of people in the process. Flying debris—often from pieces of roofs and homes—contributes to being one of the most deadly and destructive side effects of these storms.

This is why it’s crucial that transitional shelters are strong enough to withstand nature’s worst, and that is where the Wall of Wind comes into play. Take a look at the video, and see for yourself if a transitional shelter constructed with USAID-identified best practices could really stand up to a hurricane.

See video clip here:

The transitional shelter was blasted by wind speeds of more than 100 miles per hour—well in excess of a Category One hurricane—and remained standing.  USAID’s work with the Wall of Wind not only helps improve the quality of emergency shelters, it can also have a real impact on the way future homes and businesses are built in hurricane-prone areas.

USAID Prepares for Hurricane Season in Latin America and the Caribbean

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Top forecasters are saying it could be an extremely active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, with the National Hurricane Center on May 23 predicting that up to 20 named storms will develop this year, with between seven to 11 of the systems expected to become hurricanes.

Plastic sheeting provided by USAID helps give much needed shelter to a family in Nicaragua following Hurricane Felix in 2007. Photo Credit: Alejandro Torres/USAID

No matter how accurate the forecast turns out to be, Hurricane Sandy taught us that it only takes one major storm to kill more than 70 people in this country, injure hundreds of others, and inflict billions of dollars in damages. If one hurricane could do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

USAID is prepared to meet the demands of an active hurricane season. All year, experts with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) have been working closely with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to make sure emergency and evacuation plans are in place. USAID has emergency stockpiles in Miami, including medical supplies, hygiene kits, shelter materials, and water purification equipment. We have the ability to charter planes in eight different countries to deliver these life-saving items quickly to countries hit hard by hurricanes. When we know a storm is coming, we can pre-position staff and relief supplies to provide immediate assistance.

But arguably, the most vital resource USAID has is its people. In addition to the 25 disaster experts USAID/OFDA has in the region, there are also about 350 consultants in 28 countries who can immediately jump into the action when a hurricane makes landfall. These consultants live in the region, so they know the country, culture and local officials and can quickly report the conditions on the ground and help USAID prioritize humanitarian needs.

USAID airlifted emergency relief supplies to the Bahamas when Hurricane Irene made landfall in 2011. Photo credit: USAID

“They are our eyes and ears, and they allow USAID to be fast, aggressive and robust in a disaster response,” said Tim Callaghan, USAID/OFDA’s Principal Regional Advisor in Latin America and the Caribbean.  ”They work to save lives and alleviate suffering.”

All this week, we will be highlighting what USAID and its partners are doing in preparation for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, from protecting people from deadly flash floods to teaching children in Jamaica to become the next generation of disaster experts.

USAID Finalist for Service to America Medal

Finalists for the 2013 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal were announced on May 6, 2013, and out of hundreds of nominees, USAID’s Cara Christie and the Horn Drought Humanitarian Response Team were selected for their outstanding work identifying and coordinating U.S. humanitarian relief efforts during the 2011 Somalia famine.

A displaced child feeds at a camp in Mogadishu—one of the more than 13 million people affected by the 2011 famine in Somalia. Photo credit: AFP PHOTO/ Mustafa Abdi

Also known as the Sammies, the award pays tribute to federal employees who have made significant contributions in activities related to national security and international affairs. Honorees are chosen based on commitment and innovation, as well as the impact of their work.

Christie, a Disaster Operations Specialist with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—along with the Horn Drought Humanitarian Response Team—recognized that a famine was imminent almost a year before it unfolded. Building on lessons learned from previous drought responses, the team analyzed rainfall data, crop patterns, market prices and malnutrition rates to identify the warning signs leading to the region’s worst drought in 60 years. For 225 days, the team worked to get aid to the region by pre-positioning commodities, awarding grants, and coordinating with other governments, international and non-governmental organizations.

“Because of her quick action and anticipation, hundreds of thousands were saved and their suffering was mitigated,” said Carol Chan, the acting director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Winners of the Service to America Medal will be announced on October 3 in Washington, D.C.  For more information on all the finalists, visit their website.

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