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A Look Ahead to World Water Week 2011

Written by Christian Holmes, USAID’s Global Water Coordinator

As we enter World Water Week 2011, it is a good time to reflect on the significance of this vital resource that we often take for granted here in the United States, but is such a precious commodity in many other parts of the world.

Children Washing Hands at School Handwashing Station in Pahuit, Guatemala Copyright: Water For People/Nancy Haws

For me, World Water Week most importantly and fundamentally is about the harsh reality of life and death.  It is staggering, almost beyond comprehension, that each day approximately 6,000 people, most children under five, die from preventable diarrheal diseases and that diarrheal disease remains the second leading cause of death in children worldwide.  Yet, that is the case. These children die in a world where over 800 million people lack access to an improved water source and more than two and a half billion people lack access to sanitation. This is the world we have to change.

But change is possible.  This is also a world where individuals and organizations have the skills and resources to make extraordinary differences in the lives of others. A great many of these people have come together in Washington this week to express their commitment to saving and improving lives and to helping sustain the environment in which people live and on which they are dependent. In so doing, much of the week involves important activities related to sharing and learning about approaches which will improve our ability to reduce the loss of life and human suffering.

I’ll be participating in a number of events which I’m convinced will help lead to change.

On March 22 I’ll be at a World Bank World Water Day Cross Sectoral Working Group on WASH and Healthy Ecosystems: Advancing Freshwater Management Through Integrated WASH Programming.

Also on March 22, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join World Bank president Robert Zoellick to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the Bank Group and the US Government to expand and enhance our collaboration in the water sector. USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg will also participate, and the event will be webcast live.

On March 23, I’ll join NGO colleagues on the Hill as part of World Water Advocacy Day.

I look forward to sharing thoughts and impressions of these events with you as the week progresses.

Picture of the Week: Agricultural Boost in Vietnam

vietnamAgricultural research helps farmers in Vietnam grow more rice and counteract the impacts of climate change on food security. Photo is from Philippe Berry/USAID.

Pic of the Week: Conserving Wildlife in Southern Sudan

Park rangers in southern SudanPark rangers patrol a wildlife habitat in southern Sudan. Supported by USAID, the Wildlife Conservation Society works to protect the area’s natural resources while creating local jobs and seeking alternatives to unsustainable hunting practices. Photo is from A. Schenk/WCS.

When Lights Come Back on, New Asia Training Center Glows Green

Thirty-one floors up on the Bangkok skyline, on December 14, aid veteran Jim Bednar was in the middle of a touching reflection on his decades of Foreign Service when the lights went out. It was exactly 7:00pm, and Bednar had just been sworn in as Mission Director to Sri Lanka, his ceremony taking place at a USAID-veteran-studded side event during the Asia Region Mission Directors’ Conference.

But it was not a power outage that plunged the group into darkness, though rolling blackouts may be commonplace in many of the countries where USAID works.  It was, instead, the automatic “lights out” system kicking in at the new joint USAID-State Asia Regional Training Center, or ARTC, the state-of-the-art facility that was receiving its first outside guests for a soft introduction to the premises.

USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Desai Biswal and RDMA Mission Director Olivier Carduner cut the ribbon at the introduction ceremony for the new joint USAID-State Asia Regional Training Center, or ARTC, in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo Credit: Nipattra Sanguannuan/USAID

The roughly 50 invitees, among them Assistant Administrator for Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, and Embassy/Bangkok Charge d’Affaires Judith Cefkin, had just received a presentation on the ARTC’s unique features and the painstaking design process the building went through in order to secure recognition as a minimal-carbon-footprint premises. Knowing the drill, they began waving their arms in delight to trip the sensors so the ceremony could continue.

It was, in a sense, the most apt anecdote for an evening dedicated to USAID’s effort in Asia to “walk the walk” as a green leader, not only as the Agency works to encourage fast growing and high-polluting countries such as China towards environmental awareness and eco-friendly policies, but also in how it approaches its own facilities and operations.

“Very importantly,” said Regional Development Mission for Asia (or RDMA’s) Supervisory Executive Officer Mike Trott, “we wanted to play our part, but also serve as an example in the hope of spurring more use of green technologies in the fast-growing Asia region.” Trott was critical in pushing for both the training center and RDMA’s main office installation– located a few floors down in the new Athenee Tower– to adhere to the strictest green standards.

In fact, just a few months earlier, RDMA’s offices became the Agency’s first overseas facility to be awarded the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its commercial interior. Trott, and others familiar with the design process, expect the new ARTC center to fare no worse when it its own intense certification process is completed in the coming months.

The strenuous requirements put on a contractor to receive LEED certification are reflected in the fact that only four buildings in Thailand can currently claim the accolade, with USAID being the only one to achieve certification for its interior design.

In the RDMA mission, which received its silver certification in October, and in the upstairs training center, sunlight floods nearly every corner of available space, reaching even the low cubicles in the interior; and energy-minimizing lights are hooked into sensors, which dim considerably during daytime hours. The urinals are waterless, the water fixtures are low-flow, combining to reducing water consumption by 20 percent.

Building use and construction, as it turns out, account for 30-to-40 percent of global energy use, and generate around the same percentage of greenhouse gases. Those towers where we work, shop and live have tremendous potential to achieve dramatic reductions in energy use and emissions.

But Trott and others are quick to point out that LEED is not just about energy savings, it’s also about environmental and human health. All the building’s furniture, fixtures and carpet are made mostly from local recycled materials and its wood products from harvested Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, “which is tracked from birth to final sale,” according to Trott.   Furniture as well as products used in the construction must use only environmentally safe compounds.  Additionally, in a region where air quality is a rising concern, the air circulation system brings in higher rates of fresh air than most offices, and even the construction process had to adhere to strict standards, resulting in far fewer sick days for construction workers.

Perhaps the most interesting feature is that LEED requires that 75 percent of construction waste, materials typically thrown into a landfill during most refurbishments, must be recycled.

At the ARTC event, RDMA Mission Director Olivier Carduner said that conceptually, the new training center embodied the Agency’s new reform agenda, USAID Forward, particularly regarding efforts to make better use of Agency talent.

The idea for the center, Carduner said, came when a brainstorming session with Washington identified the need to have a regional hub to train the growing numbers of DLIs, or new foreign services officers entering the Development Leadership Initiative program, as well as other USAID staff being hired en masse over the past few years, against a backdrop of falling training budgets that had limited training in the past.

“Washington asked RDMA for its ideas and participation in determining how best to meet the challenges of training up the USAID staff, recognizing that Bangkok had some unique advantages,” Carduner said. After studying the ARTC option, it was determined that training for the region could be conducted at nearly half the cost in Bangkok compared to Washington, a savings of some $21 million over four years.

Carduner also pointed out that the ARTC, a joint USAID-State project, was in line with the whole-of-government development approach championed by the Obama Administration. “The idea is not just to share the space [with the Embassy], but to coordinate training to the benefit of all concerned and at effective costs,” he said.

Soft operations are set to begin at the training center in January, with a more ambitious “Phase II” proposed to follow.  “This would involve on-site instructors (for example, USAID staff on Sabbatical) to teach the basic USAID courses […] for the many new staff in the same time zone, and a staff to assist with curriculum development,” said Carduner.

As fate would have it, both Carduner and Trott will miss out on seeing the facility in full swing; both AID veterans are departing post in the imminent future. But Bangkok has, in a sense, completed the circle for the old friends, who started their Foreign Service careers on the same day three decades ago in the predecessor to the DLI program and, after crisscrossing continents and posts, were reunited in the Thai capital.  Their legacy, among other things, will undoubtedly be this beautiful eco-friend building that will serve as a model both for USAID’s partner countries struggling under the weight of human pollution and its effects, and for the Agency, which is making real efforts to practice what it preaches– to really “walk the walk,” as folks around RDMA, with their sun-filled rooms, clean air and picturesque city views, are fond of saying.

 

Officials Discuss Water Resource Development and Management at National Conference

Second Vice President H.E. Abdul Karim Khalili, a host of Afghan officials, United States Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, and other international officials assembled today at the Second National Conference on Water Resources Development and Management of Afghanistan held at the Ministerial Palace to celebrate progress made toward managing vital water resources in Afghanistan.

2nd Vice President H.E. Abdul Karim Khalili address more than 200 conference attendees at the 2nd National Water Conference in Kabul. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy, Dan Wilkinson

The goal of the conference was to foster collaboration among key organizations to address Afghanistan’s water resource development and management challenges with the primary objectives of reducing poverty and improving public welfare.

Addressing more than 200 conference participants, 2nd Vice President Khalili said, “Afghanistan as a developing country needs energy and power.  Fortunately, Afghanistan has great water resources that sometimes we can bring changes to the power of the country.  We need a unified policy in consideration to the national policy of Afghanistan.  I am hopeful that the Ministry of Power and Water can secure and protect the water resources of Afghanistan.”  Other conference keynote speakers included, Acting Minister of Energy and Water Alhaj Mohammad Ismael Khan, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock Mohammad Asef Rahimi, and Ambassador Eikenberry.

The governments of Afghanistan and the United States both consider water a key priority to address essential basic human needs.  Water is critical to Afghanistan’s overall development, especially with respect to access to potable drinking water, increased agricultural production through more efficient and expanded irrigation, and domestic hydropower development.

“The hope of future generations depends, in part, on our ability to manage wisely precious and limited water resources, not just in Afghanistan, but worldwide,” said Ambassador Eikenberry.  “I am confident that developing and managing Afghanistan’s scarce and valuable water resources will promote prosperity in Afghanistan, and greatly enhance peace and stability in the region.”

The United States Agency for International Development helped facilitate the organization of the conference.

Picture of the Week: Increased Agricultural Productivity in Haiti

A farmer shows an example of a pepper grown at a farm that is part of a USAID WINNER project in Kenscoff, outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Oct. 6. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

A farmer shows an example of a pepper grown at a farm that is part of a USAID WINNER project in Kenscoff, outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources program or WINNER for short, is a five-year, $126 million program funded by USAID to increase productivity in the country’s ailing agricultural sector.  Photo is from Kendra Helmer/USAID.

Southern Sudan’s Wildlife Thrives

Many readers of this month’s National Geographic magazine were surprised to find that the world’s second largest—possibly even the largest—wildlife migration travels through the formerly war-torn region of southern Sudan. According to a USAID-supported study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the annual movement of the white-eared kob—a type of antelope—through Sudan’s Boma-Jonglei landscape rivals the famed wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. Despite two decades of a brutal civil war, the area has become a thriving habitat for an amazing diversity of familiar African wildlife, like elephants, giraffes, lions, and buffalo, as well as lesser known species, like the tiang and Mongalla gazelle.

Staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Government of Southern Sudan Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism collar an adult male elephant with GPS satellite tag in Nimule Park in southern Sudan. Photo Credit: Paul Elkan, WCS

WCS had surveyed southern Sudan’s wildlife in 1982, but by the time the war ended in 2005, no one knew how many animals remained. After seeing wildlife populations devastated by the wars in Angola and Mozambique, many scientists assumed the worst. WCS teamed up with USAID, the Government of Southern Sudan, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the damage—and were amazed at what they found. “I have never seen wildlife in such numbers, not even when flying over the mass migrations of the Serengeti,” said J. Michael Fay, a WCS field scientist and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who conducted the surveys. Fay said that the numbers of wildlife they found were akin to a gold miner who “found El Dorado.”

So how did these animals survive? It seems that the isolation brought on by the conflict actually ended up protecting the animals. National Geographic explains:

As bombs and land mines exploded, humans who didn’t flee into surrounding countries hid in the bush. So did elephants and other migratory beasts; some fell to hunters, but many evaded gunfire by finding refuge in hard-to-reach places. They became, in the minds of the southern Sudanese, fellow displaced victims of war…. Soldiers hunted and ate the animals, but they also had rules: They would not shoot males, and they would try to avoid hunting any species to extinction.

Today, as Sudan prepares for its January referenda on self-determination, there is a critical window to take action to ensure that southern Sudan’s future development plans protect the region’s stunning biodiversity and prioritize natural resource management.

Check out the amazing photos of Sudan’s wildlife on the National Geographic website.

Related: National Geographic featured a story on Madagascar’s environment in its September 2010 issue that highlighted many of the findings in the USAID-funded report: Paradise Lost? Lessons from 25 Years of Environment Programs in Madagascar.

Haitian Farmers Seeing Sprouts of Success

Cherilien raised a potato into the sunlight for a gathering crowd of Haitian farmers and visitors to see. Cherilien explained that he normally produces 110 pounds of potatoes each year, but this year he produced 440 pounds.

Cherilien disappeared into the group of farmers as another Haitian farmer, Marisette, chimed in, “We used to not have good yields, but now we have good yields.”

Cherilien, Marisette, and other farmers joined representatives from USAID and the government of Haiti at the Wynne Farm, a mountaintop training facility for farmers in Haiti, to discuss their successful Spring 2010 crop season. USAID announced that crops averaged an increase of 75 percent over the previous year for sorghum, corn, beans and potatoes.

The good news is giving farmers hope despite the recent decline in Haiti’s agricultural sector. Sixty percent of Haitians are employed in agriculture, and still, a whopping 23 percent of Haitian imports are food. Experts cite many reasons for the struggling sector from erosion and deforestation to Haiti’s mountainous geography.

A photo taken at Wynne farm by my colleague, Kendra Helmer, shows rows of vegetables wrapped around a mountain ridge. The landscape looks like something out of a Salvador Dali painting, and one can imagine that farming these steep slopes challenges even the most sure-footed agrarians.

So, how did the farmers who gathered at Wynne Farm defy the odds? Because they are hard working, of course, but also because they are participating in the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources program. WINNER, for short, is a five-year, $126 million program funded by USAID to increase productivity in the country’s ailing agricultural sector.

WINNER advisers at Wynne Farm work with Haitians to teach them innovative farming techniques, strengthen farmer associations, and provide access to expertise and vital supplies (seeds, fertilizers, credit and tools). Among the more impressive features of Wynne Farm is the greenhouse, the training ground for farmers to learn innovative techniques like vertical agriculture.

WINNER works in other parts of the country, too, with more than 250 community-based organizations that represent 50,000 small farmers. The program is increasing food productivity, dredging and widening rivers, constructing small dams and water catchments, treating ravines, and reforesting the land.

Mark Feierstein, USAID’s new Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, was present at Wynne Farm to announce the exciting news about WINNER’s increased productivity, but truth be told, he seemed more interested in hearing from farmers like Cherilien and Marisette than talking himself. One thing he made clear was that agriculture will remain a priority for USAID’s work in Haiti – a sentiment that seemed to conjure a sense of relief and hope among the farmers.

Greenhouses Changing Lives in Gaza

USAID West Bank and Gaza recently delivered and installed the first set of greenhouses to residents in the Gaza strip. The greenhouses are helping compensate for the ongoing shortage of fresh vegetables and produce in the region. They are also helping residents by providing extra income.

Mariam Mohammed Abu Jara, a 57-year old widower who lives with her three sons and two daughters, is one of the recipients of the new greenhouses.  As the greenhouse was being installed, she said “I used to plant corn and strawberries on my land and the income was barely enough for my family’s expenses. Now, I’m going to plant all types of vegetables in the greenhouse, it will be more than enough for my family and I’m going to sell the rest of the crops in the market.”

Mariam Mohammad Abu Jarad during greenhouse installation Photo Credit: Jamila Al Za’anin, Save the Children Gaza.

Many residents like Abu Jarad have struggled to make ends meet, but with the installation of the new USAID greenhouses, she and her family will benefit from access to more regular income and better sustenance.

USAID, through the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion project (EDIP), designed the greenhouses to suit local conditions to meet the pressing humanitarian needs.  They also identified beneficiaries to receive the greenhouses, which were selected based on plot quality, farming skills, marginalization, family size, and income

Through the EDIP project, USAID has installed 86 greenhouses in Gaza.

USAID – From the Field

In Egypt USAID is supporting the Ministry of Health (MOH) by providing full, two-year scholarships for a total of 25 ministry employees to attend U.S. – based MBA programs. This program targets a small number of employees who have leadership potential to be change agents to implement Egypt’s health sector reform program; and it responds to the country’s need to develop a cadre of business-minded professionals. In addition to their academic studies, the students are expected to participate in an internship activity during their two years to practically apply the skills they are learning.  Past participants returned to Egypt and are now serving in critical positions in the Ministry of Health, contributing new knowledge and experiences to improve health programs, policies and procedures.  Through this successful partnership USAID is significantly contributing towards improving health coverage of underserved populations and strengthening the technical and managerial capacity of the Egyptian health sector.

In Lebanon the Opening of the “Live Akkar” trade fair that will increase awareness, visibility, and sales of local products and services of Akkar.  This four-day trade fair will open its doors again to visitors from Akkar, the North and all of Lebanon.  This trade fair will increase awareness, visibility, and sales of local products and services of Akkar.  It will also stimulate local enterprises, agriculture, and tourism.  “Live Akkar” will feature around seventy enterprises from Akkar exhibiting agricultural products, local foods, handicrafts, garments, and other items.   Presentations on local production of commodities such as dairy, olive oil and mushrooms will be provided  by experts on a daily basis.  In addition, the trade fair will have cultural and family attractions including  daily performances by popular local artists, puppet shows and traditional music concerts.

In Dominican Republic a press trip to The Salto de Jimenoa, which was recently declared as National Protected Area. The Ministry of Environment and the USAID Environment Protection Program will lead a discussion with media attending the importance of this area and the benefits it provides to surrounding communities. The main highlight is protecting the environment and biodiversity of the area and the importance of hydraulic resources that the Salto de Jimenoa provides.

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