USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Disaster Relief

Housing Development Fuels New Hope for Haitian Families

The Haut Damier housing settlement stands neat and orderly near Cabaret off Route National 1, a main highway on the west coast of Haiti, north of Port-au-Prince. The development’s 156 pastel-painted houses received their first residents in September. The families, many of whom lost houses as a result of the 2010 earthquake and who until recently lived in tents and other substandard housing conditions, now have permanent homes, with running water and flush toilets, for the first time since the disaster.

“We are so pleased. We have never had piped-in water in the house before,” said Albert Julien, a father of a family of six.

A beneficiary prepares to move her belongings into her new USAID-funded house near Cabaret, Haiti, in September 2013. Photo credit: USAID

A beneficiary prepares to move her belongings into her new USAID-funded house near Cabaret, Haiti, in September 2013. Photo credit: USAID

The Haut Damier housing settlement, an $8.3 million housing and community development project, is one of several new settlements supported by USAID in partnership with the Government of Haiti and nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners to provide homeownership opportunities in proximity to employment and transportation hubs for earthquake-displaced families and other vulnerable households. Beneficiaries were chosen by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), in collaboration with local municipal authorities. IFRC is also partnering with USAID to assist in the move-in of the beneficiaries and help them begin a new life in the community.

Another key partner on this housing development is the Government of Haiti’s Public Agency for Social Housing, which has a team dedicated to provide management and maintenance of the housing complex. USAID will help the agency strengthen its management and governance capabilities.

The Haut Damier homes have two rooms, a bathroom with a shower, and a kitchen, and are connected to electricity and sanitation facilities. The buildings are made from locally available materials which allow the residents to repair and expand their homes as needed. To ensure structural durability, the houses meet the International Building Code earthquake and hurricane safety standards. Of the 156 houses, 16 are built with access ramps to accommodate people with disabilities, while all of the houses meet accessibility standards that include wider doorways and bathrooms.

“This will be a big change for my family,” said Etienne Masita, a mother of five. “In the tent, the children get diseases and life is difficult.”

Masita has already joined a variety of community development activities in her neighborhood. She and other incoming residents have worked five days a week tending vegetables in the gardens surrounding the houses. The IFRC-sponsored gardening project enables residents to assume responsibility for their neighborhood.

USAID’s NGO partners United Methodist Committee on Relief and IFRC are jointly providing nearly $3 million of their own funding to support community and livelihoods development programs. These partnerships along with community engagement in developing and maintaining the Haut Damier housing site are essential for creating an enriching and sustainable living environment.

The beneficiaries will be given title to their home after paying a monthly fee of about $45 for five years. This fee will help cover site management and maintenance costs, ensuring sustainability.

The new settlement, where streets are lit by solar lights at night and where residents will play a role in its future development, will significantly improve the well-being and safety for many.

“I am so thankful to USAID. We will finally get out of the tents, where we suffered so much,” said Max Fils-Aime, one of the beneficiaries slated to soon move to his new home.

Since the earthquake, USAID has helped more than 328,000 people (more than 20 percent of those displaced by the quake) find shelter solutions. These include a range of solutions from transitional shelters, repairs to damaged houses, support to host families who took in displaced people, and rental vouchers.

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A Tale of Two Cyclones

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

In October 1999, a massive cyclone slammed into the eastern coast of India, killing at least 10,000 people. A few weeks ago, a very similar cyclone, Phailin, struck the same region. The news coverage ahead of Phailin painted a frightening picture of a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina poised to wreak havoc on India and potentially repeat the grim toll of the 1999 storm. Yet when all was said and done, Phailin resulted in around 50 fatalities–just a fraction of what was feared. This reduction in fatality levels from the tens of thousands down to the tens is no accident–it is a powerful example of how good disaster risk reduction efforts can save lives on a massive scale.

Media reports since this storm have noted the intense effort by the Indian government to mitigate the threat Phailin posed–from giving storm warnings days in advance to evacuating close to 1 million citizens out of harm’s way. But the untold story behind those headlines is how a U.S. Government partnership helped India to develop that capacity.

Over the past 15 years, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, which I lead, has been working with the Indian government to help strengthen its ability to prepare for and respond to disasters. USAID has helped train thousands of Indian emergency personnel, civil servants, and officials. The Agency invited Indian colleagues to tour its Operations Center in Washington, D.C., and learn about the Incident Command System (ICS), the U.S. Government’s own framework for disaster response management. With USAID’s assistance, the Government of India adapted the ICS for its own emergency response system. USAID has also supported collaboration between Indian and American meteorologists, which has strengthened the forecasting and early warning that proved so critical earlier this month.

USAID also supports a project to increase first responder capacity in India called the Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response (PEER). PEER offers trainings in areas such as medical first response, urban search and rescue, and hospital preparedness; it was so well-received that India’s National Disaster Response Force has adopted the training curriculum for its own battalions. Many of those same battalions helped lead the response to Phailin.

While much now remains to be done to help bring relief and recovery to those affected by the storm, Cyclone Phailin has shown India’s ability to address a major disaster using its own disaster management institutions. The Indian government deserves enormous credit for its investment in these systems, and the U.S. can take pride in knowing that our investment in this partnership with India has now paid off in a big way.

Learn more about USAID’s disaster assistance to India in the recent release of Pounds of Prevention: Focus on India

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on India

Assistance in India after two cyclones hit the regionIn October 1999, two cyclones hit the eastern coast of India, and the impact was devastating with nearly 10,000 lives lost. This October, another strong cyclone, Phailin, hit the country and the death toll has been reported at about 50. In this installment of USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series, we explore what happened in the intervening years to bring about such a different result to two seemingly similar events and how USAID played a key role.

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 is courtesy of the National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal.

Strengthening Earthquake Response Efforts Across Asia

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) enhanced its partnership with the China Earthquake Administration (CEA) in late September, signing a Letter of Coordination that formalized efforts to strengthen collaboration on future disaster responses.

As one of his first official duties as the new USAID/OFDA Director, Jeremy Konyndyk signed a Letter of Coordination with CEA Administrator Chen Jianmin. Photo credit: USAID

As one of his first official duties as the new USAID/OFDA Director, Jeremy Konyndyk signed a Letter of Coordination with CEA Administrator Chen Jianmin. Photo credit: USAID

The agreement represents an important commitment by both USAID/OFDA and the CEA to bolster cooperation in the field of earthquake preparedness and response, urban search-and-rescue and other humanitarian issues. Partnerships like this best illustrate how donor governments can join forces for the greater benefit of those most in need, sharing the responsibility of helping other countries in the wake of a humanitarian emergency.

Asia remains one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, with earthquakes and tsunamis affecting tens of thousands of people each year. China is especially vulnerable, being susceptible to the most deadly earthquakes ever recorded. By strategically combining resources and expertise, USAID/OFDA and the CEA will be able to improve coordination on earthquake responses across Asia—ultimately saving more lives and reducing the economic and social impact of future disasters.

“It is great to take this next step and further strengthen our relationship, as we together continue to invest in disaster preparation and mitigation activities in Asia,” said USAID/OFDA Director Jeremy Konyndyk.

Learn more about USAID’s responses to crises around the world

Learn more about USAID’s work in China

World Humanitarian Day 2013: Honoring Those Who Serve

World Humanitarian Day logoWorld Humanitarian Day is August 19, 2013.

Exactly 10 years ago, on August 19, 2003, a bomb exploded at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Twenty-two people died that day and dozens more were injured—men and women who dedicated their lives to help and care for people affected by the war in Iraq.

A decade later, this tragic event has become a time for the international community to recognize the sacrifice of aid workers around the world who face danger and adversity to help others. On World Humanitarian Day, we pause to remember those who died, as well as celebrate the commitment and passion of those, who, at this very moment, are saving lives in some of the most dangerous regions around the world.

It’s a day to remember the doctors, nurses, and medical staff providing assistance on the frontlines of the conflict in Syria. It’s a day to remember our teams working in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, where violence has displaced approximately 100,000 people to remote areas where they lack the most basic necessities.

It’s a day to highlight the efforts of unsung heroes across the globe: our USAID colleagues, our dedicated partners, and the global community, who are tirelessly responding to crises that are growing in complexity and magnitude. For three consecutive years, annual economic losses from disasters have exceeded $100 billion, according to the U.N.  And last year, the number of people displaced within their own countries by conflict and other violence skyrocketed to 28.8 million—the highest figure every recorded.

This World Humanitarian Day, the U.N. is kicking off a one-month campaign called The World Needs More to inspire governments, companies, and individuals to turn words into action and raise awareness of humanitarian needs around the world.  It’s a global movement not only to mobilize critical resources for the millions affected by disasters around the world, but to remind us of what we can achieve by working together.

Bringing the Private Sector into Disaster Risk Reduction

In this century alone, disasters killed approximately 1.2 million people and affected 2.9 billion people, almost half the world’s population. Furthermore, disaster risks continue to grow every day due to population growth, poverty, weak governance, rapid and unplanned urbanization—especially in hazard-prone areas, climate change, and a general lack of awareness on disaster risks and losses.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)’s third Global Assessment Report (GAR13) was launched this month in the U.S., revealing how transformation of the global economy over the past few decades has led to an increase in disaster risks globally. The report, ‘From Shared Risk to Shared Value: The Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction,’ highlights disaster losses in the past and also explores potential future disaster losses in business-as-usual scenarios.

Direct economic losses from disasters during this century—including the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami —are estimated at $2.5 trillion. Photo credit: Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock/U.S. Air Force

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) seeks to save lives and alleviate suffering caused by disasters overseas—and significant progress has been made so far. However, challenges remain in mitigating the economic impacts of disasters and building resilience in communities and countries, a goal USAID/OFDA works toward and the reason why the Office lends support to the GAR13’s research and findings.

Recent major disasters, including the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the 2011 floods in Thailand, and last year’s Hurricane Sandy in the U.S., showcased how truly devastating disasters can be to businesses. Direct economic losses from this century are estimated at $2.5 trillion, a figure that is largely underestimated.

However, indirect losses are even worse. For example, if a factory is destroyed by an earthquake and forced to close for a few months, not only is its output stalled but its workers also lose precious time while out of much needed work. If a flash flood demolishes a bridge, both small and large businesses are affected. A small local farm may become isolated, for example, preventing it from delivering its goods. This in turn will disrupt the supply chain for larger corporations. Even businesses in safe locations can be affected by disasters that impact their counterparts and suppliers in other parts of the world.

It is clear that the benefits of disaster risk reduction efforts extend to businesses as well as affected individuals, and that incorporating the private sector into the process of reducing disaster risks in hazard-prone communities is necessary in today’s world. Disasters don’t recognize boundaries, and USAID/OFDA will continue to search for opportunities to engage the international community—including the private sector, public sector, our partners, and the people we seek to help—as we strive to save lives, alleviate suffering, and mitigate the economic and social impacts of future disasters.

Increasing Economic Growth without Increasing Emissions

Growth requires energy, and the Philippines, one of Asia’s fastest rising economies, foresees an ever greater need for more energy to maintain the pace of development for its 94 million residents.

Yet increased energy use comes at a cost, in the form of increased greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the country in a conundrum: How can a country continue its economic growth yet make it both equitable and sustainable in the long term?

The Philippines is especially conscious of global warming and climate change. An archipelago of more than 7,107 islands, it is ranked the world’s 10th most vulnerable countries to climate change, with Manila the world’s second most at-risk city. Typhoons batter the country regularly, so the Philippines in particular is keen to avoid the prospect of more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Eric Postel delivers remarks at a recent meeting with climate change and economy officials from the Philippines, EC-LEDS partners and the Department of State. Photo credit: Caryn Fisher, USAID Asia

Mitigating climate change provides the international community then a chance to at least reduce the risk of such disasters. As the Philippines Deputy Chief of Mission to the United States Minister Maria Andrelita S. Austria said, “The more we work on climate change, the less we’ll need to work on disaster assistance.”

Since 2010, USAID, through efforts such as the Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies (EC-LEDS) program, has been partnering with countries such as the Philippines to find alternative development pathways that lower greenhouse gas emissions trends and increase the resilience of communities and economies to climate change impacts. These programs are part of the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment to encourage developing economies to move towards a low carbon economic growth pathway, which is integral to long term, sustained development. Under EC-LEDS, the Philippines is partnering with the United States in strategizing on how to enable low emission economic growth.

“This program is an important diplomatic priority for the U.S. government. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern views this as an opportunity to enhance key diplomatic relationships with partner countries, furthering our global goal of limiting temperature increase to no more than two degrees Celsius,” said Assistant Administrator Eric Postel of USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment to a Government of Philippines delegation visiting the United States recently.

The climate change and economy officials from the Philippines met with EC-LEDS partners at USAID and the Department of State, who both lead the program, as well as experts from other U.S. Government interagency partners, think tanks, and industry organizations. 

Greg Beck, USAID’s Asia Bureau Deputy Assistant Administrator, said, “While we in the United States and the Philippines both work together to improve the Philippines’ international competitiveness, it is equally important that the Philippines pursues its economic targets through a low carbon pathway. The United States government is committed to providing the necessary technical assistance in enhancing capacity for low emission strategies.”

For the Philippines, EC-LEDS focuses on three areas: 1) supporting the development of the country’s greenhouse gas inventory, which will help determine where emissions are coming from and provide a baseline to measure any increase or decrease in emissions over time; 2) building the in-country capacity to use analytical tools to choose the most cost-effective actions to reduce emissions; and 3) helping Philippines take actions that address climate change, such as identifying promising sources of renewable energy, improving forest management, and supporting local Eco-Towns.

EC-LEDS builds upon a long history of partnership between the United States and the Philippines, which was solidified when the Philippines was chosen to join three other countries (El Salvador, Ghana and Tanzania) under President Obama’s flagship Partnership for Growth, or PFG. Under the PFG, both governments are working hand-in-hand to address the most serious constraints to economic growth and development in the Philippines.

The partnership theme carries over to EC-LEDS, as the partner countries themselves drive the process. “By design, a LEDS is a country-specific strategic plan to promote climate-resilient economic growth and reduce long-term greenhouse gas emissions trajectories. U.S. support and technical assistance is tailored to those development priorities identified by our partners,” Beck said.

The noteworthy Philippine commitment to this partnership is fueled in part by having seen the lasting devastation climate change can have after weather-related disasters move on. The country’s government created a Climate Change Commission in 2009 after discovering that typhoon-related costs that year amounted to 2.9% of the Philippines’ GDP, according to Mary Ann Lucille Sering, the Commission’s head.

“We believe that the twin goals of economic prosperity and environment protection are achievable and LEDS is the effective mechanism to reach those goals,” said Beck.

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.

 

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