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Archives for Disaster Relief

Avoiding Future Famines: We Have the Tools

The Horn of Africa is facing the worst drought in 60 years, with famine now affecting parts of Somalia. It doesn’t have to be this way. Droughts are cyclical and will continue to occur. They don’t have to lead to famine. We have the tools and can lead the way to helping ensure communities are resilient and can feed themselves. This video, from the ONE campaign, shows how Ethiopia has become more resilient to drought thanks to government leadership and support from the international community.

Learn more about what the U.S. is doing to promote agricultural-led development to help prevent future famines through Feed the Future, President Obama’s global hunger and food security initiative. And learn how you can get involved to help the Horn of Africa: www.usaid.gov/FWD

Libya: Humanitarian and Transition Assistance

Mark Ward is Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Yesterday, at an event organized by the Middle East Institute and International Relief and Development, I made three key points about the humanitarian situation in Libya.

First, the humanitarian crisis has eased considerably since the beginning of the conflict, with life normalizing in key parts of the country, and credit for that goes first and foremost to the tremendous resilience of the Libyan people.  Local city councils, community leaders, and members of what I hope is the start to a vibrant civil society have stepped up to coordinate and deliver humanitarian assistance, saving lives in difficult and dangerous conditions.  This has truly been their achievement, but one to which the U.S. Government has made its own important contribution.  In early March the U.S. deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, to multiple locations in the region, and later into Benghazi, Libya as well.  We did not wait for conflict to subside, but instead, working with truly heroic NGO partners, we helped send medical personnel and emergency health kits into cities still under siege and rocket attack by Qadhafi’s forces.  We supported health facilities, distributed blankets and emergency goods, helped fund early warning monitoring for epidemic-prone diseases, pre-positioned food for those most vulnerable inside Libya, and helped feed those who fled the conflict.  Overall, the U.S. Government has provided over $90 million in humanitarian assistance, and has played a vital role in supporting the evacuation and repatriation of third country nationals, especially migrant workers, who fled from Libya to neighboring countries.

Second, we are pleased to see a strong Libyan counterpart taking the lead.  The Transitional National Council (TNC) is now coordinating assistance with the international community.  A good example on the ground — when Tripoli was short of drinking water over the past two weeks, UNICEF and others sent in emergency supplies, but it was the TNC which got engineers to the distant southern water wells in Jebel Hassouna, traveling through still insecure regions, to restart the municipal water supply.  International team work, led by the Libyans, makes our job much easier.

Third, our role is changing from humanitarian relief to transition and stabilization, and we will help the Libyan people and the TNC as they set their key priorities.  Our transition assistance will strengthen emergent media outlets and civil society organizations.  We can provide expertise and help fill gaps, particularly in building a free media and organizing elections.  But this is Libyan-led, a fact underscored in a recent donor meeting when the TNC official responsible for reconstruction said “We don’t need your money, we just need your expertise, now, to help us rebuild our country.”  This Libyan determination to help themselves, so evident throughout their struggle, is truly inspiring.

This Week at USAID – September 6, 2011

After a hiatus, we will be continuing the “This Week at USAID” series on the first day of the work week.

Thursday, September 8th is International Literacy Day. The Center for Universal Education at Brookings, the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative, and USAID will mark the day by hosting a series of panel discussions on how a range of education stakeholders are addressing the challenge of improving literacy, particularly at lower primary levels, to help fulfill the promise of quality education for all.

Stephen Haykin will be sworn-in as USAID Mission Director to Georgia.

Raja Jandhyala, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Africa, will testify before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on the long-term needs in East Africa.

Alex Their, USAID’s Assistant to the Administrator and Director of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, will testify before U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on development programs in Afghanistan.

Smart Compassion: How Donating Cash Helps More People

When disaster strikes overseas, people who want to help may begin collecting items intended for use in relief operations. It is not unusual for community and civic groups to have collected thousands of pounds of material – typically used clothing, canned food and bottled water – realizing only afterward that they do not know to whom to send the collection, what their transportation options are, or whether the items are actually needed.

There is good news for people with big hearts and lean wallets who want to give meaningful support to relief efforts overseas. The most effective donations are also the least expensive – you can actually help more people by contributing smartly.

Here’s an example of how it works: 100,000 liters of clean water hydrate 40,000 people for a day.  That amount of water purchased in-country costs about $500.  The same amount of water purchased in the US costs about $50,000.  But here’s the kicker – transportation expenses, customs fees and delivery charges add anywhere from $150,000 to $700,000 to the cost. In this case, the cost of providing the in-kind donations is up to 1500 times higher than the cost of a locally-procured alternative.

All unsolicited material donations incur steep transportation and other costs that far exceed the value of what is sent.  These donations – including clothing, canned food and bottled water, also clog supply chains, take space needed to stage life-saving relief supplies and divert relief workers’ time.  “Stuff” is expensive to send, adds costs once delivered and frequently is disposed of at further expense.

In contrast, cash contributions to established relief agencies in affected areas purchase exactly what is needed when it’s needed.  They support local merchants and local economies, and ensure that survivors receive supplies that are fresh, familiar, and culturally, nutritionally and environmentally appropriate.  More benefits to more people at lower cost and with less hassle – now that’s a bargain!

Save money – send cash.

For more information on effective donations, visit the Center for International Disaster Information.

For information on USAID’s response to the drought in east Africa, visit: www.usaid.gov/hornofafrica

A Mother’s Bond: My Visit to an Ethiopian Therapeutic Feeding Camp

I have a one-year-old little girl at home, just like Aisha, the mother I photographed during my visit to the drought-impacted region of Ethiopia. Just like this Aisha, I hope that I am nourishing my daughter’s body, mind, and spirit by providing her everything within my means. Unlike Aisha, my daughter weighs nearly three times more than her one-year-old little girl, and she has come to this therapeutic feeding camp because it is her best hope for food for her daughter and for herself.

A woman named Aisha holds her daughter at a therapeutic feeding camp in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Aysha House-Moshi/USAID

While visiting Ethiopia last week, I saw examples of how USAID is serving the entire food continuum – food aid projects for the hungry, resilience projects for those able to work for food, and food security projects to support smallholder farmers who are delivering prized harvests to markets. All of these projects are making a difference, but as I looked at the growing numbers of hungry, risking their lives to migrate to camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, I couldn’t help but to focus on my fellow mothers risking everything to feed their children and feed our future.

I visited the Bisle Nutrition Site, which serves at least 7,500 mothers and children just like Aisha and her daughter. The community, mainly pastoralists, is in dire straits. Eligible mothers stand in line, with babies in tow, patiently awaiting food and water rations; while swarms of mothers of hungry children outside of the targeted age group wait for anything that can be spared. The men sit aimless, while elders, particularly the elderly women, are left to rely on the community to care for them.

The Bisle Nutrition Site, in the Shinile Zone, is located in the northeastern part of Somali Region of Ethiopia. It borders Djibouti to the north, Somaliland to the east, and Oromia to the south and west. In normal times, the Shinile Zone receives rain during March to May and July to September. But during this drought, the area i

A view of the camps. Photo Credit: Aysha House- Moshi/USAID

s bone dry and the heat so abrasive that it hits you in the face, pounding your skin with every slight movement.

As I drove away, I thought of the mothers and children at Bisle. I hoped that peace, rain, and life would fill their immediate future. I wished that the hunger would pass and the land would awaken from the drought.

USAID knows how to respond to drought, and we know how to provide for the immediate and the long-term needs of the hungry. We are poised to do more, and the United States and the international community will continue to work together to make a difference for those in need.

Mobilizing Resources to Assist East African Drought

Dr. Jill Biden and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist visit with two recently arrived refugee families at the Dagahaley refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

On August 11, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the International Food Policy Research Institute on the drought crisis in East Africa, the U.S. response, and the efforts underway to raise funding for relief efforts. [Full transcript and video of her remarks.] She announced that the United States would provide an additional $17 million in funding—most of which is targeted to help the people of Somalia—bringing the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to the region to more than $580 million this year. U.S. assistance is bringing life-saving food, water, health care, and other services to more than 4.6 million people in need.

This week Dr. Jill Biden visited a Kenyan refugee camp along with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz, and Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith.

  • On the Impact Blog, Administrator Shah wrote a first-hand account of the immediate needs in the refugee camps and the agricultural innovations such as drought-resistant seeds that are addressing long-term food security.
  • Senator Bill Frist wrote on CNN about why Americans should care about famine in Africa and emphasized the importance of medical care in emergency response.
  • The White House posted a photo gallery of Dr. Biden’s trip to the refugee camp in Kenya.

A Glimpse from the Horn of Africa

Refugees wait in line to register and receive their initial bundle of supplies at the Dagahaley refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Day Two: On the Ground in the Horn of Africa

Earlier this week, I visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, where thousands of exhausted and starving refugees have sought food, water and medical care after fleeing from famine-stricken lands in southern Somalia. The United States is providing life-saving help for millions of people across the eastern Horn of Africa, as the region experiences its worst drought in 60 years.

Although we will always provide aid in times of urgent need, emergency assistance is not a long-term solution. To address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, we need to invest in agriculture, build strong markets and harness advances in science and technology. Spearheaded by USAID, President Obama’s food security initiative—Feed the Future—is helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.

Together with Dr. Jill Biden and Senator Bill Frist, I had the opportunity to see some of the innovative work Kenyan scientists and researchers are doing to help transform agriculture in the region. At the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), we saw new drought-resistant seed varieties of sorghum, millet and beans, as well as a gigantic cassava root and the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Unlike other kinds of sweet potato common to the region, the orange-fleshed sweet potato is rich in vitamin A and helps children build resistance to river blindness. We also saw irrigation systems in affordable greenhouses that are designed expressly for smallholder famers.

Since pastoralist communities throughout the region rely on livestock for their livelihoods, we are helping protect animal herds through vaccine programs and accessible veterinary care. In Ethiopia, we are supporting a government-led safety net program that builds boreholes for water, constructs health clinics and educates vulnerable communities about nutrition.

These programs are already making a difference.  That is why—even though this is the worst drought in 60 years—it is not the worst famine in 60 years.

The circumstances are still dire, however. In Kenya, I heard from families whose crops and livestock had withered in front of them and who themselves were barely surviving. I know that there is another way. Feed the Future is making smart, cost-effective investments in agriculture to ensure we address many of the root causes of today’s crisis.  Together, we can shape a better, safer future for the region’s families.

On the Ground in the Horn of Africa

Eighty kilometers from Kenya’s border with Somalia, the Dadaab Refugee Complex—already the world’s largest refugee camp—has seen on average 1,500 exhausted and starving men, women and children arrive each day.  Fleeing from famine that is now gripping a large portion of southern Somalia largely inaccessible to aid workers, thousands of refugees have walked days—or even weeks—to reach help.  The United Nations estimates that over 12.4 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical care, across the drought-stricken eastern Horn of Africa.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Dr. Jill Biden talking to a UNHCR worker in Dadaab. Photo Credit: USAID/East Africa

Yesterday, I arrived in Dadaab with representatives from across the United States Government, including Dr. Jill Biden, Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith, Senator Bill Frist and Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz.  The trip underscored the commitment of the U.S. Government—the single largest donor in the region—to respond to the immediate crisis with life-saving assistance and investments in long-term solutions to hunger. Ultimately, we know that it is smarter and cheaper to invest in food security than face the consequences of famine and food riots.

In Dadaab, we visited the Dagahaley camp’s reception center, where newly arriving refugees receive a medical screening and three weeks’ worth of food to tide them over until they complete a formal registration process. The USAID-funded rations include high energy biscuits, corn meal, vegetable oil, yellow split peas, salt and sugar.  Medical staff weigh the children and measure the circumference of their small arms to determine their nutrition status.  Today, the worst-affected regions in Somalia have the highest malnutrition level in the world, with nearly half the population malnourished.

Because the high rates of acute malnutrition make children extremely susceptible to deadly diseases, we are also aggressively pursuing public health interventions, including therapeutic feeding and immunizations.

New arrival family getting initial 3 week distribution (before formal registration). Photo Credit: USAID/East Africa

The Government of Kenya is working closely with the GAVI Alliance to administer pneumococcal vaccines to protect every child from pneumonia at the point of registration.

I met one Somali woman who traveled by donkey cart with her two children for 12 days looking for food. It is hard to believe that she counted among the lucky, as many families have lost children along the way.

It does not have to be this way.  With Feed the Future, President Obama’s initiative on food security, we are working with the Kenyan government and smallholder farmers to achieve sustainable, long-term and life-saving agriculture development.

Tomorrow, I will share with you some exciting innovations in agriculture that we saw on our visit to the Kenya Institute for Agriculture—innovations that could help ensure we never face another famine again.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (8/1/2011 – 8/5/2011)

August 2 In an interview with PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah stated that the U.S. is easing restrictions to speed the aid to Somalia. “We are working hard to make sure that authorities in Somalia allow access for humanitarian organizations and NGOs and the United States has been supporting those organizations and will continue to support those organizations going forward,” Shah said.

August 4 Appearing on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah discussed the latest developments in Somalia and what can be done to help the region. “The United States…has been aggressive about providing as much support as we possibly can,” Shah said. “We have been about 50 percent of the total global response.” The Administrator also discussed the Famine Early Warning System.

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