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Archives for Disaster Relief

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.

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]

Read the rest of this post.

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”.

 

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