USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Disaster Relief

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.

Meeting with Somali-Americans About the Crisis in the Horn of Africa

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

The face of famine is painfully personal for members of the Somali American communities in Columbus, OH and Minneapolis, MN. Yesterday, I led a community roundtable in each city, home to the two largest Somali diaspora communities in the United States.  I was able to express deepest concern, on behalf of the US government, for the people of Somalia and update them on urgent relief efforts underway by the US government throughout the Horn of Africa, where a serious drought is affecting more than 11 million people.

The USG is currently reaching more than 4.6 million people in the region who need emergency help, including $80 million of life-saving assistance to help 1.5 million people in accessible areas of Somalia.  The UN has declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia where humanitarian access has been limited by Al Shabaab.  USG is urgently supporting partners to provide food, health, water and sanitation assistance wherever they can access communities desperate for help.

I was also able to listen and learn from this dynamic community.  Somali Americans are a vital lifeline of support for their communities and families throughout Somalia.  I heard from dozens of community leaders who have mobilized their friends and neighbors to raise money for the drought through car washes, bake sales and fund drives.   They are supporting feeding centers and health clinics.  They have established NGOs dedicated to helping the growing number of orphaned children.  A young woman in Minneapolis, choking back tears, described her Facebook page where she is raising money for drought relief and posting stories of families struggling to survive.  As I heard from Jibril Mohamed in Columbus, “In 1992 I was a boy who fled the conflict and drought of southern Somalia and did the same long walk to the border that families are doing now.” Jibril is now determined to reach back with the same kind of helping hand he received.

In Minneapolis, a number of Somali NGOs have joined forces with the American Refugee Committee (ARC) in an initiative called Neighbors for Nations which unites and mobilizes diaspora community efforts to provide relief and development services in Somalia.

We have a short window of opportunity to reach the 2.85 million Somalis living in famine and conflict. The Somali American community is a critical partner in identifying ways to help save lives.  We need urgently to ensure life-saving assistance reaches people now and are committed to doing so.  I look forward to working with this dedicated group of citizens to save lives.

Learn more about the U.S. Government response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa.

U.S. Response to Drought in Horn of Africa

Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID

Here at the port of Djibouti, thousands of metric tons of food assistance are ready to be shipped as part of the U.S. response to the massive drought currently ravaging the Horn of Africa. USAID is mobilizing nutritious split peas, along with  vitamin-fortified corn-soya blend and other commodities, from warehouses around the world to assist the more than 10 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia most affected by the drought.

The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) began warning of the possibility of this crisis as early as summer 2010. Today, it has developed into the region’s worst drought since the 1950s. Consecutive seasons of poor rainfall have resulted in failed crops, dying livestock, and sky-high market prices—the cost of staple cereals are 40 to 240 percent higher in some areas. Malnutrition has reached emergency levels: one out of every two Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia and one out of every three arriving in Kenya is acutely malnourished.

This week, USAID activated a disaster assistance response team (DART) operating out of Ethiopia and Kenya to work with the World Food Program, UNICEF, and over a dozen other organizations to coordinate emergency efforts to relieve the crisis. So far this year, the United States has provided more than $366 million to respond to the drought in the Horn of Africa, and continues to explore additional ways to assist those in need.

Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.

PSAid Competition

When an international disaster strikes, we soon begin to hear stories of the devastation and the suffering of those affected.  They have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes.  The pictures we see are gut-wrenching, and we can’t help but think about how we can help.  We have so much, and they have so little.  The least we can do is help, right?

Clothing donations abandoned in Banda Aceh in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Photo credit: USAID

The next thing you know, schools are collecting shoes for children, houses of worship are collecting clothes for families, and neighborhoods are collecting teddy bears for those who have nothing.   The local radio station is announcing locations to drop off donations of items that might be needed, and everyone pitches in to make a difference by bringing supplies from the pantry, the closet, the garage, and wherever else to help the cause.

What most people never see is what happens to that goodwill on the other end in the disaster-affected area.  I work for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and it is our job on behalf of all Americans to manage the U.S. Government’s response to an international crisis.  I am usually deployed to major international disasters, and I do get to see what happens to the spontaneous donations.

First, you should know that most spontaneous in-kind donations never even make it to the disaster zone.  This is usually because of the sky high cost of moving the goods from the states coupled with the lack of a group to accept and distribute the donations to those in need.  And if the supplies do make it to the disaster-affected country, the supplies are often an inappropriate match for what is needed. I cannot forget the winter coats and prom dresses we saw piled on the airport tarmac after the 2004 Pacific tsunami.  I can’t help but think how generous the donors were, but their passion was uninformed.  As we saw in Indonesia and every international disaster before and since, these spontaneous donations often clog the pipelines that are providing life-saving medical supplies, food, shelter and hygiene materials, and other assistance to the very people everyone is trying to help.

Everything we have learned over the years has taught us that if you really want to help those in need, you should make a cash donation to a reputable humanitarian organization working in the disaster-affected area. Nothing will get there faster or help more.  And the cash donations will allow experts to buy — often in the struggling local markets — exactly what is needed.

To better inform those who want to help, USAID works with the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).  CIDI holds an annual competition for college students to create public service announcements (PSA) that help spread the message that cash donations are best.

To enter the competition, students submitted  print and radio PSAs that explained the importance of appropriate international disaster response and build support for international disaster relief work done by well-established, U.S.-based organizations.  Now in its 6th year, PSAid is highly regarded among the nation’s leading university communications programs. Approximately 60 entries were received from students this year.  The 2011 winners were announced on April 21 at www.psaid.org.

Please take a moment to visit the PSAid site and help spread the message that cash is the best way to help.  On behalf of all of us who see so many donations with the best of intentions languish in ports, on runways, and in warehouses in countries affected by disaster, thank you for helping us better inform your family, friends and communities.

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