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Archives for Disaster Relief

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Locusts

Locusts like the ones pictured above can destroy crops and pasture land once they form a swarm. Photo Credit: Sonya Green/ USAID.

Imagine discovering that within a few hours your entire crop for the season had been consumed by unwelcome visitors. In this edition of “Pounds of Prevention,” USAID examines the desert locust, a pest that affects the lives of millions of people in more than 65 countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, an area that represents about 20 percent of the earth’s surface. The idea for this post came from CNN’s recent coverage of the Desert Locust Control Center in Mauritania that USAID supports through its agreement with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Mauritania is just one of several countries in West Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East to benefit from the FAO’s locust prevention system known as the EMPRES Program, to which USAID and other donors contribute.

 

Pre-positioned Plastic Sheeting Hastens Recovery in Madagascar

When Tropical Cyclone Giovanna slammed into the eastern coast of Madagascar on Valentine’s Day, relief agencies recognized the storm as a potentially catastrophic event — but not an unpredictable one. Dangerous cyclones are not unusual for the Indian Ocean island: cyclones and tropical storms affect Madagascar almost every year. Giovanna’s strong winds destroyed more than 44,000 houses and left thousands homeless. Because some vulnerable populations, including the elderly, female-headed households, and fishing villages in coastal areas, lack the resources necessary to prepare for extreme weather, USAID took steps to ensure they receive the relief they need quickly.

Understanding the recurring nature of cyclones in Madagascar, USAID and its partner CARE annually pre-position plastic sheeting in areas susceptible to cyclones. Reinforced plastic sheeting — an inexpensive, versatile, and high-quality temporary building material — can be used in combination with traditional building techniques and locally available materials to repair damaged homes or construct temporary emergency shelter for affected families.

Even before Cyclone Giovanna struck, USAID had pre-positioned nearly 400 rolls of plastic sheeting in a CARE warehouse in Vatomandry—one of the two districts most affected by the cyclone—ready for immediate distribution.

Within days of the cyclone, with USAID support, CARE was distributing plastic sheeting to the most affected and vulnerable families. It was able to move quickly due to its established connections with local communities, as well as the proximity of pre-positioned supplies to cyclone-affected populations. CARE dispatched 285 rolls of USAID plastic sheeting in under a week to the most affected villages, allowing 2,850 vulnerable families to mend damaged roofs or make other repairs, and helping more than 14,000 people recover from the effects of Cyclone Giovanna.

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Mozambique

An emergency responder flashes the red cyclone flag to warn people in his community. Photo by USAID/FEWSNET

In this next edition of “Pounds of Prevention,” we travel to the country of Mozambique. Over the past decade, Mozambique has set up a cyclone early warning system that combines technology with community organization and mobilization.

Every year when the cyclone season arrives, and flooding threatens the countryside, the people in Mozambique are better prepared to take the right action at the right time. Countless lives have been saved. Moreover, the resources spent mounting a humanitarian response have decreased.

USAID is proud to be a partner in this endeavor and commends the people of Mozambique on their accomplishments in disaster risk reduction.

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Kenya

Storage tanks for rainwater collected from terraced slopes in Makueni District, Kenya. Photo credit : Rebecca Semmes/USAID

I am really happy to share with you the second installment in USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series where we take a closer look at how disaster risk reduction work helps keep people safe from harm. This particular example from Kenya is near and dear to my heart. Since I first started work at USAID twelve years ago, I worked on many drought responses, traveling to villages throughout the Horn of Africa and particularly in Kenya and witnessed the devastating impact that a lack of clean water can have on children, families, and communities.

With very modest investments, USAID is helping communities in Kenya not only improve their quality of life today, but also bolster their ability to withstand severe drought conditions. Through water collection, conservation, and storage, people can feel more secure that even though the rains may fail, their families will have enough water to see them through. In the last few years, I have had the opportunity to visit some of these same villages again, many of which have benefited from these programs. Many of these communities are now not only meeting their water needs, but those of neighboring communities. Parents comment that their children are sick less often. In the past, drought often meant disaster. With the introduction of these rain harvesting schemes, it no longer does.

Emergency Preparations and Response in Southern Africa

A team unloads plastic sheeting for temporary shelters in Mozambique. (USAID/Bita Rodrigues)

This week USAID is assisting communities and individuals impacted by the cyclones in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi. We are providing shelter, clean water, and health protection to those affected by the cyclones.

Fewer than 24 hours after Cyclone Giovanna made landfall on Madagascar’s exposed east coast, Thomas Gibb, USAID Madagascar’s Mission Disaster Relief Officer, was in a helicopter flying over the affected zones and surveying the damage.

There is major damage, reported Gibb from the field:

From the air, you can clearly see roofs blown off and shattered homes. These homes were built with traditional materials that were not meant to withstand winds that reached 150 miles/hour. Some houses built on wooden stilts just crumbled… We could see clothes, bags of rice, and personal items from the sky. People have spread their meager belongings outside to dry. It looked like peoples’ lives were laid out in front of us.

USAID’s prepositioned relief supplies are already being distributed, and our disaster response experts are on the ground working alongside local officials to identify needs and learn what additional U.S. assistance is needed.

 

Responding to the Crisis in the Sahel

Even in the best years, it is difficult to eke a living out of the harsh sands of the western Sahara. But this year, a series of events has unfolded that has made it even harder for the people of the Sahel to survive. Sahelians live in one of the toughest environments on earth, in deserts spanning from Mauritania on Africa’s west coast, eastward across Mali, Burkina Faso, Northern Nigeria, Niger, and Chad.

This season, a drought, pockets of emerging tribal and ethnic violence, and an influx of migrants from Libya—95,000 have recently arrived in Niger alone—have converged to create a crisis that has left more than 7 million people in need of emergency assistance. In addition, food prices are high, and unrest in north Africa has cut off the flow of remittances, which have traditionally helped families cope with tough times.

With the support of the American people, USAID is providing emergency aid—including food, water, health and nutritional services, and other supplies—that is now helping more than 2.5 million people affected by the growing crisis.

USAID is providing an additional $33 million in humanitarian funding in the coming weeks to meet food needs across the region, support programs that protect vulnerable populations’ assets and livelihoods, and provide critical support to those facing malnutrition. When award of the 33 million is completed, USAID’s total assistance provided to the Sahel food insecurity crisis in FY 11 and FY 12 will be more than $270 million. This is in addition to USAID’s longer-term programs to alleviate poverty, improve health and economic opportunity, and mitigate and resolve conflict.

As we learned through the ongoing response in the Horn of Africa and other food security emergencies in the past, a rapid response is important. But it is also important to push our responses to be smarter, more effective, and linked to programming that promotes resiliency and addresses root causes so that we move people out of chronic crisis and towards prosperity.

On Wednesday, in Rome, USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg met with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, the United Nations agencies, and representatives of affected governments, and they stood together to call for an urgent scale-up of humanitarian, rehabilitation and development assistance to respond to rising levels of hunger in the Sahel region. Working together, we will help save lives now, build resilience in these countries, and help prevent the cycle of crisis in the future.

Video from the Sahel, provided by the World Food Programme, can be viewed on YouTube.

Disaster Risk Reduction – Key Investments for the Future

Kasey Channell is Acting Director of the Disaster Response and Mitigation Division of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)

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.

The number of disasters worldwide has increased dramatically in the past 35 years. The International Monetary Fund estimates that damages from disasters are 15 times higher now than they were in the 1950s. Natural hazards—earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and droughts for example—may be inescapable, part of our geology and weather. However, the degree of suffering, lives lost, and economic damage is also directly linked to human interventions, and can be reduced through effective planning and preparedness.

In 2011, the trend of mega-disasters continued, from the triple threat of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident in Japan to the triple threat of famine, war, and drought in the Horn of Africa. We know that prudent measures to improve response, to increase disaster management capacity, and to plan and prepare can have dramatic dividends.

Disaster risk reduction has been a part of USAID’s work for decades. We provide life-saving humanitarian assistance in response to disasters and emergencies, and we strive to do so in ways that better assess the threat of hazards, reduce losses, and ultimately protect and save more people during the next disaster. We have seen, and contributed to, improved disaster response capacity in many places around the world.

However, to continue to tackle these challenges in the face of increasing disaster risks, what has become clear is this: We need more than an ounce of prevention, we need pounds of prevention!

Today, we are launching a new series of short articles that illustrate how disaster risk reduction works and why it is important. I invite you to read the first “Pounds of Prevention” (PDF, 282KB)  with a focus on the Philippines. Please visit this site periodically for updates and for key messages about saving lives and livelihoods and the cost-effectiveness of these investments.

 

Haiti “A Country Undeniably on the Move”

Originally posted in The Miami Herald

It’s been two years since one of the most deadly natural disasters of the modern era devastated one of the poorest countries in the world. Even with an unprecedented international response in partnership with the Haitian government, the sheer scale of the 7.0 earthquake—which killed 230,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million—meant the country’s recovery would be a massive undertaking.

As President Obama directed, the US Government joined with the Haitian government to conduct search and rescue operations, clear streets of rubble and provide emergency supplies to survivors of the earthquake. Individual Americans have been a vital part of the effort — in 2010, more Americans donated money to Haiti relief efforts than watched the Super Bowl.

Despite daunting challenges over the last two years, today we can point to several specific results on the ground. Over half of the 10 million tons of rubble has been cleared from Port-au-Prince’s streets, more people have access to clean water today than before the earthquake, and collective efforts have mitigated the outbreak of cholera that killed thousands in the country.

In former President Bill Clinton’s words, our focus must now be on working with the Haitian government to “build back better.”

With the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we are trying to harness the transformative power of science, technology and innovation to accelerate economic progress and improve lives throughout Haiti.

For instance, instead of investing in rebuilding banks that fell during the earthquake, we worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a mobile banking revolution in the country. Nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s population has access to mobile phones but only 10 percent have bank accounts. By introducing technology that allows Haitians to save money and make transactions on their phones, we’re encouraging local wealth creation. To date, nearly 800,000 Haitians have registered for mobile banking, helping Haiti likely become one of the first mobile money economies in the world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting Needs and Supporting Disaster Management in the Philippines

The people of the Philippines have been hit hard by Tropical Storm Washi (known locally as Sendong.) Heavy rains, storm surges, flash flooding, and landslides have rocked communities on the island of Mindanao, with 1,249 people reported dead as of December 27, nearly 55,000 still in evacuation centers, and hundreds of thousands affected.

USAID responded immediately, providing an initial $100,000 for disaster-relief efforts and putting disaster management specialists on the ground to assess conditions. The Agency is providing an additional $800,000 in emergency assistance to continue to support ongoing emergency relief operations, including the distribution of emergency shelter kits, water purification tablets, water containers, and hygiene kits.

USAID is also supporting logistical operations to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of emergency supplies to the most affected populations, particularly in the hardest hit cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

However, our investment in addressing disaster risks and impact in the Philippines actually goes back many years, and is more than direct disaster response. Knowing the Philippine islands face continued risks from storms, typhoons, earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural hazards, the United States has been working with the Philippine Government and regional and local groups since 1998 to train and prepare emergency responders.

The Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response, known as PEER, has been instrumental in staffing Philippine search-and-rescue and first-responder groups like the Philippines National Red Cross, the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Office of Civil Defense, and even the Armed Forces. Graduates of the program must complete standardized coursework in medical first response, collapsed structure search and rescue, and hospital preparedness for mass casualties.

USAID and the U.S. Forest Service also have trained Philippine emergency personnel in what is known as the Incident Command System or ICS, which makes sure responders are “speaking the same language,” or in other words, are working under the same response framework.

The United States continues to be a key partner of the Philippines by providing humanitarian assistance when disasters strike, as well as helping the people of the Philippines strengthen their disaster preparedness capacity and improve communities’ resilience to disasters.

Learn more about USAID’s response in the Philippines.

Addressing Sexual Violence in Conflicts and Disasters

Sexual violence often increases in conflict and disaster situations, typically exposing women and girls to increased threats of rape and assault, exploitation, and abuse. This happens because of population displacement, the absence of police, and the disruption of the normal social networks that protect women and girls. Therefore, when USAID provides humanitarian assistance, such as food, relief commodities, water, and shelter, to people who have been affected by disasters, we also work to reduce risks for sexual violence and to provide support for women and girls who have experienced violence.

I have seen the importance of this program response first hand. In June I traveled to Cote d’Ivoire with four of my colleagues to assess the humanitarian situation following the fighting that occurred there earlier in the year. We visited communities in the west and the north of the country, and also some of the neighborhoods around Abidjan where the fighting was most intense. We met women, children, and men who had fled their homes in the villages, many of them witnessing and experiencing violence themselves.

Although women do not tend to speak openly about sexual violence in Cote d’Ivoire due to fears about being stigmatized or feeling shame about what has happened to them, it was clear that many women and girls had suffered from sexual violence during the conflict. Humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), conducted rapid surveys in the areas most affected by the conflict, finding high rates of sexual violence – and especially gang rape – between January and May of this year. However, because of the involvement of the police in the conflict, women and girls were afraid to contact the police and did not report rapes or seek support services.

Based on these findings, USAID funded humanitarian organizations like the International Rescue Committee to ensure that women and girls who experienced sexual violence could access a range of support services, such as medical care, counseling, and legal aid. Many of these services already existed in Cote d’Ivoire, but they stopped functioning when health clinics were damaged by the conflict and trained service providers fled to other parts of the country. USAID programs worked to re-start these services by training new service providers, restocking health clinics, and raising awareness within communities about the available services. In total, USAID provided more than $2 million for protection activities like these in Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, where refugees from Cote d’Ivoire fled during the conflict. These funds supported IRC and other organizations to respond to sexual violence and child protection concerns and to offer psychosocial support for affected populations.

Although sexual violence is an ugly consequence of conflict and disasters, by providing safe, sensitive, and appropriate services for survivors, we can help them and their communities to recover and rebuild their lives.

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