USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Environment

Tell USAID’s Story with Photos – Last Call

To celebrate Earth Day this year, USAID is hosting a photo contest to showcase the ways we are working to conserve the environment and mitigate climate change.

The contest is open to all, including USAID employees and interns; employees of NGOs and contractors; and representatives from universities, foundations and other organizations that partner with the Agency.

The deadline for photos is midnight, April 16, 2012.

Winning photos must:

  • Illustrate why and how USAID is engaged in the specific environmental project. Photos of people, animals, plants and landscapes that are relevant to programs are all eligible.
  • Include the date and location for the photograph as well as a brief description of what is happening in the image.
  • Be at least 300 dpi or larger (low resolution photos will not be considered).
  • Be in color (black and white photos will not be considered).
  • Submitted digitally, with jpg files preferred.

Each photographer can submit up to five images. Contest photos should not have been previously submitted to USAID for another purpose. Also, note that submitting a photo through this contest grants USAID full reproduction rights to the images, including use in official USAID print and online publications and inclusion in the USAID photo gallery.

Photos will be selected and announced in time for Earth Day.  See last year’s winning photos here.


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.

 

Women Combating Climate Change

Last week I was in Durban, South Africa where I attended the Seventeenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-17). Climate-resilient, low carbon development is sustainable development, so it’s no surprise that many of the issues addressed at COP-17 are crucially important to USAID’s development efforts and to our developing country partners such as adaptation, clean energy technologies, and REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  USAID is emerging as a leader in gender and REDD+ and recently released a report which analyzes the barriers and opportunities for women’s participation in the REDD+ sector in Asia.

One of the issues I came to Durban to discuss is a key topic throughout climate change-related work – the critical role women play in combating climate change and the need to support gender equality across climate issues.

Last Monday, I hosted an event that covered the efforts of USAID’s Central African Regional Program for the Environment to engage civil society in forest conservation and REDD+ programs in the Congo River Basin.  USAID forestry specialists, partners, and local experts described how technology and community-based work are keys to sustainably conserving the second largest tropical rain forest in the world, and a significant carbon sink.  As efforts like Wangari Mathaai’s Greenbelt movement have demonstrated, women play a critical role in forest conservation and reforestation.  Involving local communities in the conservation efforts of course includes incorporating women into all aspects of the program – from design to implementation.

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Remembering A Green Revolutionary: Wangari Maathai

KENYA, Nairobi : Then-Senator Barack Obama plants a tree with Wangari Maathai during a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 28, 2006. AFP Photo: Simon Maina

Wangari Maathai was a pioneer. The first female African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, her Green Belt Movement, launched in 1977, was ahead of its time in integrating sustainable development with women’s rights. The organization now has branches in 30 countries, promoting action on climate change, community regeneration, and equal opportunity. To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 45 million trees across Kenya to combat deforestation, stop soil erosion, and generate income for women and their families.

Wangari Maathai was a humanitarian. She fought the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and poverty. Poor families struggling to meet their own needs often have to strip their own environment for resources, but when those resources disappear, families have an even harder time making a living—and even fewer chances to create a better future. Maathai understood this and worked to ensure that her efforts to conserve the land also led to employment and empowerment among the most vulnerable people.

Wangari Maathai was a peacemaker. The Nobel Committee awarded her its 2004 Peace Prize in recognition of the fact that proper management of natural resources reduces conflict and is critical to peace and stability. Her Nobel citation does not even mention the word “environment,” instead crediting “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”

While today we mourn Wangari Maathai’s passing, we also celebrate her life and her indelible impact on the world. We too can make a difference if we follow in her footsteps to never give up on protecting our future.

USAID’s Frontlines – June/July 2011

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories focusing on the Agency’s work in Science and Technology and Climate Change:

  • The United States is helping developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve their resilience to the effects of climate change
  • Warns Vermont’s Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy: “We are facing a global environmental crisis that may be catastrophic for future generations …”
  • With Peru’s tropical glaciers melting fast due to rising greenhouse gas emissions, soaring temperatures and erratic rainfall, USAID and its partners are working quickly to mitigate the damage and help Peruvians adapt
  • John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, says there are both great challenges and great opportunities today to use science, technology and innovation to introduce improvements to the developing world
  • In trying to predict future trends – foresight research is the technical term – USAID experts look closely at several factors to improve the odds that Agency programs will have the desired impacts now and withstand the tests of time

Read these stories and much more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you want to receive an e-mail reminder when the latest issue has been posted online, subscribe here.

New Invasive Species Database: Supports Food Security and Public Health

By James Hester, Director of USAID’s Office of Natural Resources Management

African farmers lose more than $7 billion in maize crops from the invasive witchweed, according to estimates by the United Nations. Overall, agricultural losses to invasive species may amount to more than $12 billion for Africa’s eight principal crops. African farmers are not alone in this challenge – worldwide, invasive species are among the larger causes of reduced food production and post-harvest losses.

In addition, invasive species can be major vectors for human and animal diseases that were previously not found in a region.  Malaria, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever, and Lyme disease are just a few of the many diseases that are spreading as the insects that carry them find their way into new regions and countries.

Africanized bees, fire ants, snakehead fish, kudzu, carp, water hyacinth, and thousands of other species are spreading to countries where they are not native, and in which few or no natural predators exist – creating serious economic and social issues.

To get a handle on this problem, USAID, along with a large group of partners, have collaborated to develop an innovative, international invasive species compendium – a scientific database of invasive species, animal diseases, and affected areas around the world.  This new internet-based system is available for public use at no cost.  It presently contains a bibliographic database of about 1,500 invasive species, along with more than 65,000 records and full text documents, both of which are updated weekly.

This is a living compendium, and it will continue to grow over time. It is structured to help scientists with expertise in invasive species communicate with each other, and to support each other – from across the globe if necessary – as they work to address the problems created by invasive species.  It also includes common names in addition to the Latin taxonomic names, as well as other non-technical materials so the general public can take advantage of the depth of knowledge this new website offers.

The website features a library with sections on the characteristics of invasive species, the way they are dispersed, and the impacts they have on economies, habitats, and societies. It also addresses how to detect, manage, and control invasive species. This video introduces the database and explains how to use it.

USAID, along with USDA and other international donors including the U.K. Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Australian Aid, among others, all helped fund this project. USAID’s partner in developing the technical database was CABI – a private, international organization with 46 member countries dedicated to the generation, accessibility, and use of knowledge for sustainable agriculture, environmental management, and human development.

Worth a Thousand Words: Photo Contest Captures USAID Environment Projects

Never heard of a dugong? This photo took top-10 honors in the most recent FrontLines photo contest. Dugongs, a type of large marine mammal caught by the residents of Maliangin, Malaysia, are now released within the Maliangin marine sanctuary as a result of the USAID and World Wildlife Fund Coral Triangle Support Partnership. The collaboration helped support community education and awareness. Members of this community now understand the importance of protecting endangered species and the benefits of marine sanctuaries, and their efforts will help increase biodiversity and conserve the marine environment.

Dugong being released into the Maliangin marine sanctuary.  Photo credit: Robecca Jumin/ WWF-Malaysia

Check out winners from the FrontLines environment photo contest to find out ways USAID, its partners and local communities are working to conserve the environment and mitigate climate change – including helping protecting the habitat of dugongs. This year, to celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and World Environment Day on June 5, FrontLines and USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade teamed up for a photo contest focused on the environment. The winning images depict wildlife and their habitats, conservation efforts and activities that aim to address climate change. The contest attracted nearly 150 photos from all areas of the globe and from a wide range of USAID projects.

See the winning photos.

Green Hiker-Green Planet Campaign Ignites Broad Partnership and Inspires Action on Climate Change

 

USAID 50th anniversary banner

Last Tuesday, at almost 3500m above sea level; cold, wet and muddy from a light snow storm that had been a steady drizzle a half-hour earlier, and out of breath from walking uphill for three hours straight, I considered myself fortunate. I was trekking through one of the most beautiful alpine regions in the world, Nepal’s Langtang region, together with 19 other fellow men and women, all prominent personalities from disparate sectors of the Nepali society. Our team was on a four-day mission to observe the impact of climate change on the Himalayan Mountain range and to learn about the ongoing climate change adaptation initiatives supported by USAID and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and led by local communities.  The trek, called the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups.

Along the trek route, we passed through several areas affected by landslides and forest fires that had completely destroyed villages and ruined water sources for thousands of people.  The landslides and fires are direct causes of changing weather patterns and deforestation in the Himalayas.  Many of the people who lived in the region that we spoke to were gravely aware of the gradual, yet steady, change in the previously predictable climate of the region.  The changes had been particularly drastic over the last ten years they said, from changing rainfall patterns to extended dry seasons, hitting their crops—and thus, their livelihoods, the hardest.

Those that took part in the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups. Photo Credit: USAID/Nepal

Along the trail, a farmer we met at Jibjibe village recited a poem on climate change for us. Remarkably, her poetry was not about the sublime and dramatic snowcapped and jagged Himalayan peaks but about carbon credits, changing weather patterns, depleted water sources and the need for heightened attention and action on climate change. We were left in awe, somewhat shocked and surprised that a farmer in such a remote village of the Langtang region could so articulately talk about climate change and its impact. He summarized the purpose of our trek in plain, simple language – an often difficult feat for many of us, including those in the development profession.

The diversity of the group added greatly to the discussions during the trek allowing for different perspectives and exchange of ideas. We were not only learning from our interactions with the communities and from our site visits, but also from each other. Mr. Anil Chitrakar, a leading energy and environment activist in Nepal and chairperson of the Himalayan Climate Initiative, shared “climate change is so big and beyond us that it requires urgent action on the part of all. This trek brought together such a diverse group of passionate Nepalis committed to advancing the many social, development, and political issues of the country, stimulated excellent ideas, and helped create a strong partnership network. If we stay committed, this network can grow from 20 of us to thousands and spur stronger joint action on climate change and environment conservation. That’s our goal, and I know this team, together, can make that happen.”

The trek closed back in Kathmandu with an Earth Day press conference on April 22during which trek highlights and remarks by key experts on climate change were the major theme. Speaking at the press conference, Dr. Kevin A. Rushing, Mission Director of USAID/Nepal, remarked “it is especially imperative to address climate change in Nepal because of its largest glacier concentration outside the polar region.  Nepal hosts eight of the world’s tallest peaks and around 3,200 glaciers and 1,466 glacial lakes—with approximately 1.3 billion people dependent on the water that comes out of the mountains’ many rivers. ”

The Green Hiker-Green Planet Campaign also served as a sounding board and an informal inauguration of USAID’s new environment program in Nepal called Hariyo Ban Nepal ko Dhan (or Green Forests in English) which will contribute to the reduction of threats to biodiversity and vulnerabilities of global climate change in Nepal through interventions in two priority bio-diverse landscapes: the Gandaki River Basin and the Terai Arc-Landscape. The many ideas from the trek will feed into the program once it is rolled out in a couple of months’ time.

The trek was also held to commemorate USAID/Nepal’s 60th Anniversary and WWF’s 50th Anniversary. With 60 years of development efforts in Nepal, USAID has a long history of successful and cutting-edge environmental programs in the country, including its work with community forest user groups to support environmental governance, conserve biodiversity, and promote sustainable livelihoods.

On that Tuesday at 3500m in a snow storm, we stopped for lunch and shelter in a tea house in Singompa, a picturesque village in a beautiful pine forest with a breathtaking view of the Langtang range.  Huddled together sipping hot soup, the trekking team had one of its most stimulating discussions at the tea house. Sunil B. Pant, one of the three parliamentarians on the trek and an upcoming political leader, commented, “The next major conflict in Nepal and elsewhere will be caused by climate change if we don’t act now to mitigate the threats it poses. The Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign is a great opportunity to discuss how we can all work together as partners to address climate change and its effects. The momentum we gain during this trek needs to continue.” The fog rolled up the mountainside bringing more rain turned into snow changing with it the mood of the trekkers inside.

We felt euphoria first, because for most of us living in Kathmandu, the snowfall experience is limited to the movies and TV we watch. But the euphoria soon turned into reflective discussions because of the unusual April snowstorm; snowfall season even in these mountains should have ended by March. For any and all of the skeptics in us, there wasn’t a bigger moment of truth than this – climate change was happening and is inevitable. “What were we going to do to prevent and mitigate its negative impact?”

Project in Haiti fights deforestation, commemorates earthquake victims

In the mountains south of Port-au-Prince, there is little evidence of the earthquake that devastated the capital city last year.  The mountains suffer from a different kind of damage: decades of deforestation.

Haitian schoolchildren participating in a USAID project recently hiked into Parc National La Visite on a dual-purpose mission.  About 40 kids, who live in quake-devastated neighborhoods, trekked into one of the country’s last natural habitats to fight deforestation while also commemorating those killed.

USAID is partnering with a non-governmental organization, Fondation Seguin, to plant 300,000 pine and cedar seedlings in the national park.

“This tree-planting project gives the students an opportunity to pay tribute to the more than 300,000 killed in the earthquake while also focusing on the future of Haiti and improving the environment for all,” said Nicole Widdersheim of USAID’S Office of Transition Initiatives, which implemented the project with its partner Chemonics.

The excited students clamored up the dusty mountain road, leaving some of us less-fit adults struggling to reach our destination before rain poured from the clouds which rolled down the hillsides.

The hike ended at a nearly 6,000-foot altitude in La Visite, a crucial watershed for the Cul de Sac and Port-au-Prince areas. Its towering trees were a welcome sight from the barren hillsides that were our vista for the five-hour hike. Haiti’s once-extensive forests have been destroyed by human encroachment, including the cutting down of trees to use as cooking fuel.

Student Esaie Joseph, 15, is dismayed that forests cover less than 2 percent of Haiti.

“I have always noticed that there are no trees around us,” Joseph said. “Therefore I have decided to … support this project because I believe that this is a personal choice one has to make.”

Over the weekend, the students camped out near a mountain lodge. Many were enamored with the lodge’s two dogs, while others screeched as the good-natured mastiffs lumbered up. The kids earnestly discussed reforestation, explored the woods and played games, relishing an escape from the dusty, traffic-clogged city.

Joseph, who has lived in a tent with his mother and siblings since the earthquake destroyed their home, delighted in the mountain air.

“Before sleeping, my friends and I were talking about this place which feels like paradise, because when you live the way we do, a place like this is paradise even though we know that paradise is more beautiful,” he said. “We couldn’t wait for the next morning to plant trees for those who died.”

The children rose early, singing as they carried seedlings to a ceremony in the forest. A large crowd attended, including the Ministry of the Environment, Haitian National Police, U.S. government representatives, some of the 350 workers temporarily employed for the project, and Fondation Seguin, which has a mission to protect the forest.

The non-governmental organization’s ongoing program, Ecole Verte (“Green School”), brings disadvantaged kids into the park to learn about the environment. This was USAID’s first time supporting their initiative.

Richard Cantave, the foundation’s co-founder, emphasized the significance of the 6,000-hectare park, which provides water for about 3 million people.

“We are taking about a lot of importance as a watershed is involved, besides all the biodiversity and all the rare birds and rare plants that exist only here,” he said.

The project includes protective fencing to surround the new trees. In addition, USAID’s WINNER program is funding forest wardens and providing equipment to the Ministry of the Environment to deter arsons and illegal logging.

Joseph, who threw his arms up in victory as he planted his seedlings, hopes others find similar ways to help the environment.

“There are so many other places that could also benefit from this type of activity so that one day Haiti could be filled with trees.”

A photo album is on Flickr.

Forest Conservation – Helping Nature Helps People

Note: Earth Day, April 22, 2011, coincides with the United Nations Year of Forests. USAID proudly celebrates more than 30 years of supporting projects to promote forest conservation in ways that reduce poverty, combat climate change, and recognize the economic, cultural, and ecological benefits for sustainable development.

Cocoa beans laid out to dry in an indigenous community of Ecuador. Photo credit: S. Lampman USAID/EGAT

Near Ecuador’s border with Colombia, a young boy in a Cofán Indigenous community shares his front yard with drying cocoa beans. His parents have put into practice improved cocoa production techniques such as the grafting of higher yield cocoa varieties onto hardy local stock. As a result, they receive increased yields and incomes, all the while reducing pressure to convert neighboring forests to agricultural lands. Such efforts to support sustainable livelihoods are but one of many tools in the conservation strategy of USAID’s Initiative for Conservation in the Andean Amazon.

From the massive forests of the Congo and Amazon River basins to one of the world’s smallest remnant cloud forests in El Salvador, forest conservation and forest management are inextricably intertwined with development.  Forests cover more than 30 percent of the world’s total land area, and provide significant opportunities to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere.  However, widespread deforestation contributes up to 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually.  Threats to forests include unsustainable management practices, conversion of forested lands to agriculture, illegal logging, fire, disease, and degradation.

Forests provide vital benefits for human well-being, including “provisioning” services (for example, providing food, pollinators, fresh water, wood and fiber, and fuel), “regulating” services (assisting in climate change mitigation, flood control, and disease reduction) and “cultural” services (offering aesthetic, spiritual, and educational benefits, as well as recreational opportunities).

Forests are therefore a critical component of USAID’s approach to development, and our experience over the years has enabled our agency to become one of the global leaders in supporting conservation. Over the last several decades, USAID has been at the forefront of developing and demonstrating new ideas and tools for forest conservation and management. Programs include debt for nature swaps, forest certification, agroforestry, controlling illegal logging, payments for ecosystems services, and promoting community-based forest management.

USAID invested about $110 million annually in forest conservation and sustainable forestry activities implemented in 2009 and 2010, and will continue making strategic investments in forestry going forward. These conservation efforts represent a wide range of activities, such as protection of natural forests, community management of forests for non-timber forest products, agroforestry and reforestation of degraded lands, and research and capacity building activities which help communities and governments benefit from markets for ecosystem services and certified forest products.

We partner with the communities most dependent on natural resources and engage community groups, local governments, and private enterprises to manage protected areas and share revenue. Workers find new ways to provide for their families that help protect biodiversity, such as sustainable fishing and forestry, ecotourism, harvesting of non-timber forest products, and direct payments for avoiding deforestation and maintaining ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water and air filtration, and recreational opportunities.

For example, in Kenya, we support a program which encourages small farmers to plant trees on their land. They then receive a few cents for each year the trees are in place. These trees reduce soil erosion, provide fodder for livestock, and during stand thinnings, generate income from the sale of poles and timber. Additionally, the farmers have a contract with a U.S.-based carbon broker, which will allow them to receive 70 percent of the profits generated by any sale of carbon credits in the future.

As we look to the future, new global trends will create both challenges and opportunities. For example, USAID is committed to addressing global climate change by conserving and restoring the world’s forests. The application of innovative economic approaches, new science and satellite data, and lessons learned on effective community management can lead to better use of forests and related lands that can help improve livelihoods, and reduce emissions and impacts from climate change.

Internationally, this new global forest initiative is referred to as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) (PDF).  At the Copenhagen climate summit in December of 2009, the Obama Administration committed to help countries slow down and eventually reverse emissions from deforestation and degradation, and maintain and increase carbon stocks. USAID is one of the lead agencies responsible for designing and implementing programs to support this new U.S. government global commitment.

Whether saving species from the brink of extinction, combating climate change, preserving livelihoods, or proactively planning for sustainable development, forest conservation requires collaborative stewardship and good governance at all levels – from government institutions to community organizations.

Working together, we hope to achieve a healthy and sustainable future.

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