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Archives for Disaster Relief

Rebuilding Haiti One Concrete Block at a Time

This originally appeared on the OPIC Blog.

“You can’t build a country without concrete.”

The statement has particular relevance in Haiti, where, more than three years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake resulted in extensive death and destruction, the country is still working to repair and rebuild and assume a path of sustained economic vitality.

Luis Garcia (pictured), spoke about the importance of basic building materials like concrete when he described his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February. As Vice President for Planning at Haiti 360, Garcia oversees  projects that not only produce badly-needed concrete, but also highlight the critical role of the private sector in addressing urgent developing world needs such as modern infrastructure.

Luis Garcia describes his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February 2013. Photo credit: OPIC

Haiti 360 – one of multiple OPIC-supported projects that were initiated after the 2010 earthquake – has used a $6 million OPIC loan to support startup costs of two plants producing high-quality concrete used to rebuild homes, roads and even an airport runway. In 2012, more than 500 homes were built with concrete from the new plants. Some of the homes, like those pictured below at the Cabaret housing settlement, were built to tap into the country’s sunny climate. They have solar panels on the windows and come with ATM-like machines, where residents can swipe cards to keep track of the power they use. Haiti 360 is now one of Haiti’s largest concrete producers, and is establishing a series of micro-mixing sites around the country so it can better meet the demands of local builders in different regions. The company is also planning to donate a percentage of its profits to local charities.

My work in international development has led me to Haiti several times but when I visited the country in February with an OPIC delegation led by OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield, it was my first visit since the earthquake three years earlier. Today there are about 300,000 Haitians living in tents, down from almost three million who were left homeless after the earthquake. Long a poor country facing multiple development challenges, Haiti today faces the immediate challenge of housing and feeding a large displaced population, and is hoping to do so in a sustainable manner.  Construction underway throughout the country is aimed not just at repairing damage, but extending roads, bolstering infrastructure and fostering new industrial development beyond the capital city of Port au Prince, which is overcrowded with displaced people and job seekers.

The work I witnessed during my visit in February also underscored how governments, private businesses and NGOs all have an important role in this country, which U.S. Ambassador Pamela White has described as “too rich to be poor.” Indeed, Haiti is rich in talent, youth, innovative spirit and land. All of these resources were on display when our delegation visited the Cabaret Housing Settlement, where about 156 houses will be built with the support of Development Innovation Group (DIG). A Maryland finance and development firm, DIG is using a $17 million OPIC loan, together with grants from USAID and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, to support lending in amounts as small as $1,000 for mortgages and home repairs for low-income borrowers. Builders at the Cabaret site are sensitive to the urgency to construct more housing and have organized a friendly-yet-fierce competition between two construction teams to see who can complete the most homes.

Development Innovations Group offers a good illustration of OPIC’s ability to form partnerships to achieve a greater developmental impact. As the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, OPIC helps private businesses invest in frontier markets and often collaborates with other agencies or NGOs to channel additional investment into projects addressing major social and environmental needs. As the builders’ contest illustrates, DIG and other OPIC-supported projects have responded quickly to the need in Haiti. [continued]

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The Moment is Now: Modernizing Food Assistance

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. 

I just came back from hearing Administrator Shah’s speech at  Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he outlined the bold vision for Food Aid Reform that was included in President Obama’s 2014 Budget Proposal. I sat  next to the Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, Dina Esposito. We were both seized by the historic opportunity this proposal presents to upgrade, streamline, and recommit to our global food assistance programs—a goal that that has dangled before many of us for the last decade.

As noted by Senator Lugar, who opened today’s event, the current food aid system was created at a time of significant food surplus; at a time when shipping food around the globe made sense as a means of manifesting American generosity. But that was 60 years ago. Since then, surplus has turned to shortages, and the costs of shipping have risen exponentially. The time has come to shift our practices so we can reach four million additional children in need of food and eliminate the inefficient workaround of monetization that is currently used to convert our agricultural commodities into cash for development programs.

In President Barack Obama’s Budget, the food aid reform proposal envisions a more efficient, effective, and timely program that will reach 4 million more hungry people each year. Photo Credit: USAID

Having spent many years as part of the NGO community, I am keenly aware of the challenges presented by the monetization of Food for Peace commodities and am particularly energized by the potential to eliminate this practice.

Currently, it works like this: USAID purchases and ships Title II in-kind food aid commodities to our NGO partners overseas, who then sell them in local markets to earn the cash needed to support some of our most important development and resilience programs. Unfortunately, as Government Accountability Office studies have shown, this process on average results in a loss of 25 cents to the dollar. Moreover, it requires NGO partners to spend precious time and energy on navigating local commodity markets and negotiating sales, often in very tough environments like the DRC or Mozambique. Too often, market uncertainty leads to diminished returns, requiring additional resources to meet program goals.

The new budget reform will create a dedicated Community Development and Resilience Fund (PDF) within our Development Assistance account that will provide cash directly to our PVO/NGO partners, so they can focus instead on doing the multi-year, multi-sector development programs that are so critical to reaching and helping the most vulnerable.

In the last two years I have had a chance to visit a number of these programs, implemented by partners such as CRS, World Vision, ADRA, and Mercy Corps. In fact I visited one of these programs by CRS two years after the funding ended. In an affirming validation of the power of Food for Peace programs to transform lives, I saw firsthand how it enabled Safieta, a widow in Burkina Faso with seven children, to thrive during yet another tough dry season in the Sahel.

Above all, the Food Aid Reform proposal (PDF) is a re-commitment to USAID food assistance with greater efficiency and effectiveness. In addition to eliminating monetization, the proposal also moves Title II emergency food aid funds into the United States’ International Disaster Assistance cash account. While this change still includes an initial 55% floor for purchasing U.S. commodities, it also gives us the flexibility we need to use the right tools for the emergency at hand, whether cash, vouchers, or critically needed American food.

For full details on the U.S. government’s food aid reform, visit http://www.usaid.gov/foodaidreform.

Helping Haiti Recover Three Years Later

This originally appeared on the USDA Blog.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with Haiti’s Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Thomas Jacques, today to emphasize USDA’s ongoing commitment to help the Haitian agricultural sector recover from the devastating impact of the 2010 earthquake.

The visit is part of Minister Jacques’ weeklong trip to the United States to meet with various U.S. government agencies and other U.S. organizations about Haitian ministry priorities. Minister Jacques is traveling with a delegation that includes Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture members as part of the U.S.-Brazil Trilateral Initiative on Cooperation.

On Monday, March 4, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with Haiti’s Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development Thomas Jacques who outlined his three year strategic plan for revitalization of the Haitian agriculture sector. Photo credit: USDA

During the visit, Secretary Vilsack and Minister Jacques discussed food security and topics on trade. The minister also received a presentation on USDA’s market information systems capacity building in Haiti, just one example of USDA projects initiated after the earthquake.

Haiti was already a fragile and poor country when the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit. The devastation killed more than 300,000 people and greatly reduced economic activities. In the aftermath of the disaster, USDA gradually transitioned from response to recovery efforts.

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service currently has several food aid projects in Haiti that are funded by the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition and the Food for Progress programs. Two ongoing McGovern-Dole projects in Haiti are supporting a nationwide school feeding program that includes rehabilitating schools, training teachers and school administrators, developing school gardens and providing take-home rations for children. USDA has donated commodities such as milled rice, pinto beans and vegetable oil to support the project. The Food for Progress program is building Haiti’s trade capacity in food safety standards and improving farmers’ access to credit through microcredit lending activities.

FAS is also working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help strengthen Haiti’s agricultural ministry’s ability to deliver essential services to farmers. The continued effort to help rebuild Haiti is an example of USDA’s long history of helping those in need.

For more information on USDA food aid and capacity building programs, visit the FAS website.

Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Guatemala

In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we travel to Guatemala. Many people in Guatemala live in areas prone to natural hazards. Earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, floods, and landslides have all challenged the population and spurred the country to take action to prepare for and lessen the effects of disasters. Photo by USAID.

FrontLines Year in Review: Beyond Port-au-Prince

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines March/April 2012 issue.

The United States and Haitian Governments aim to develop areas outside the country’s overcrowded capital, catalyzing growth in the north.

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti – group crowds around an instructor for an urban gardening lesson in this northern city in Haiti. They laugh as the man perches a plastic bucket on his head and demonstrates how to use drip irrigation technology to grow tomatoes.

Workshop participant Manola Lamy was excited to try growing vegetables on her roof, but also enjoyed the camaraderie. “Before, I hadn’t experienced a union among Haitians,” she said. “Through the workshop, I experienced a union among others trying to make a better life here.”

Students are expected to share their knowledge, and instructors empowered them to take charge of their own food security. Such sustainability is the aim of USAID’s work in Haiti.

Vendors sell their wares March 24, 2011, at a market in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer, USAID.

“Cap-Haïtien is one of the most important cities in the Government of Haiti’s plan to increase access to services outside of the overcrowded capital,” said USAID/Haiti Mission Director Carleene H. Dei.

After the catastrophic January 2010 earthquake, about 100,000 displaced Haitians sought refuge around Cap-Haïtien. The city is now one of three geographic corridors that the U.S. Government is targeting to catalyze economic growth outside of the overcrowded capital of Port-au-Prince.

Consistent with the Government of Haiti’s action plan, the United States is focusing its investments in infrastructure and energy; economic and food security; health and other basic services; and governance, rule of law, and security.

USAID’s dozens of wide-ranging projects in the north, most implemented by the Agency’s Office of Transition Initiatives, include supporting an NGO that develops nutritional peanut butter to fight malnutrition; rehabilitating roads and the Sans Souci Palace, a World Heritage site; assisting families who host those displaced by the quake; leading human rights trainings with community-based organizations; and rehabilitating community centers and health clinics.

In an ambitious project announced by former President Bill Clinton, the United States is also collaborating with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Haiti to develop the 617-acre Caracol Industrial Park in the North—future home to the Korean textile giant Sae-A’s new garment-making operation. The park has the potential to support 65,000 permanent jobs in a country that has an estimated 40 percent unemployment rate.

USAID is funding the construction of an associated power plant, which will supply electricity to the park and surrounding communities. The Agency is also supporting housing for 5,000 households (25,000 beneficiaries) close to the park as well as infrastructure improvements in neighboring communities and Haitian cooperatives to jump-start training for industrial sewing…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Bangladesh

In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we travel to Bangladesh. Disaster risk reduction activities have saved countless lives in Bangladesh. Above, villagers discuss priorities for disaster preparedness, including reconstructing roads affected by previous cyclones, protecting fresh water sources and improving home foundations. Photo by Robert Friedman, USAID.

Photo of the Week: 2012 in Pictures

This week’s “Photo of the Week” is a compilation of photos from major events throughout 2012. It was a busy year to say the least. We continued to work to combat drought in the Sahel region, we successfully launched the Child Survival Call to Action,hosted the Frontiers in Development Conference, we closed our USAID mission in Panama, and continued our efforts in providing assistance all around the world. Stay tuned this new year for our weekly blog feature “Photo of the Week”.

 

FrontLines Year in Review: Catching Ethiopians Before They Fall

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines May/June 2012 issue.

Despite one of the region’s worst droughts, no famine struck rural Ethiopia last year. The drought’s impact was lessened by a food-and-cash-for-public-works program USAID supports and helped design. Today, one of Africa’s largest social safety nets does not just protect against chronic food insecurity, it helps communities weather the future.

It is December 2011, and life goes on as normal in the arid highlands of Tigray, the northern Ethiopian region whose burnt siennas, giant cactus flowers, and peaks and canyons could easily be confused with those of the American Southwest. Here, donkeys carry grain and pull packs on the side of the road. Farmers work their fields. There is no sign of a crisis.

Normality is not typically a measure of success, but in this case, and in this particular region, it is. Beginning in early 2011, a severe drought decimated parts of East Africa, leading to a June declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

The drought was considered in some parts of the region to be one of the worst in 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa. The month before the official drought declaration, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned: “This is the most severe food-security emergency in the world today.”

In Tigray, a region held hostage to annual alternating dry and wet seasons, the impact has been minimal. The reason, according to many who live there, is a riff on the same theme: Because of “safety net,” they say, things are OK.

A beneficiary of the USAID-supported Productive Safety Net Program living near the Mai-Aqui site, in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Nena Terrell.

“Safety net,” which several Ethiopian ethnicities know by its English term, refers to the flagship food-security program designed by the Ethiopian Government, USAID and other donors after another severe drought hit the country in 2003.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as it is officially called, originated as part of a new approach to address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers to chronically food-insecure populations in exchange for labor on public works projects.

“The food ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families. The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public-works projects designed to improve communities as a whole,” says Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

As a result, crucial infrastructure—roads, watersheds, canals, terracing, irrigation systems, schools and health clinics—has been built or rehabilitated with the labor of the food insecure.

According to USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Tom Staal, as the program was being designed in consultations led by the Ethiopian Gov­ernment, donors realized the need to not just respond to crises as they happened, but to build up resilience among the most vulnerable communities, giving them the ability to weather the inevitable dry stretches on their own.

“Before PSNP, those in chronic need were provided assistance through emergency programs,” says Scott Hocklander, chief of USAID/Ethiopia’s Office for Food Assistance and Livelihood Transitions.

“While this food aid saved lives, it did not contribute to development activities or address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Today, because of the safety net, approximately 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Pounds of Prevention – Focus on Paraguay

Working to prevent wildfire in Paraguay. Photo Credit: USAID

In this next installment of the (PDF)USAID Pounds of Prevention series, we travel to Paraguay. Since 2001, USAID has partnered with Paraguay to improve the country’s approach to disaster management, with a concentrated effort on preventing and responding to wildfires. In recent years, USAID supported Paraguay’s development of its National Plan for Integrated Fire Management. Among other improvements, the new National Plan strengthened coordination mechanisms among government agencies, communities, and first responders. In January 2012, these entities were put to the test when wildfires broke out in the San Rafael Mountains Preserve. The well-organized response by Paraguayan authorities, firefighters, and community members in the affected area was a testament to the years invested in preparing for and mitigating the effects of wildfire.

 

Helping Families Build Resilience and a Better Future for Kids

Carolyn Miles and Moussa in Diema, Mali in August 2012. Photo Credit: Save the Children

Whenever I’m asked to describe the scale of the hunger crisis in the Sahel, I see Moussa’s face.

I met him in August during a trip to Mali when he was two months old, but he was so small and frail that I worried he would die in my arms. That day, Moussa’s mother rushed him to an emergency clinic where he received medicine and treatment for malnutrition, and he improved within days. What’s shocking about this story is not how narrowly this little boy escaped death—but that he was one of the lucky ones.

This year, more than 18 million people, including millions of children, struggled during a hunger crisis in the Sahel for the fourth time in a decade. Too many children struggle repeatedly because families don’t have the resources to recover from previous crises, restore their livelihoods or build savings in preparation for the next crisis. Families and communities must be resilient so they can cope with the shock of a crisis and help their kids survive and thrive, even in challenging times.

Last week in Vietnam, I saw the flip side of drought—how too much water causes flooding and landslides that turn poor children’s lives upside-down. With the long-term impact of climate change looming on the horizon, we must sustainably reduce families’ vulnerability to these and other hazards that threaten their ability to bounce back.

We will never be able to stop shocks from happening, but we can give families the tools they need to protect children in the short- and long-term. To do this, we must tackle the root of the problem by developing resilience in chronically vulnerable areas when a crisis is not at hand.  In parallel, we must increase the capacity of all levels of society—household, community and national—to cope when disaster strikes.

USAID’s new policy and program guidance (PDF), “Building Resilience to Recurrent Crisis, is an important step in helping families in vulnerable settings build pathways to a brighter future.  This policy will enable USAID and partners—including Save the Children—to better coordinate emergency response and development assistance, decreasing the need for repeated assistance in the same affected areas while increasing families’ ability to face and overcome future crises.

Recently, USAID has impressively reorganized itself to meet the challenges of resilience, including forming country-led strategies, learning agendas and joint planning—all of which will help create a more hopeful future for children. We encourage the U.S. government to continue its leadership role in the Global Alliance for Action for Drought Resilience and Growth and the Champions for Resilience, and invite others in the development community to join in this opportunity for families.

A child’s future shouldn’t depend on luck. For every Moussa who received care just in time, there are countless others who did not. We can’t reach every child when a crisis hits. But we can give parents and communities the tools they need to help kids weather the storm, stay safe and healthy, and build a better future for the next generation.

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