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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.

World Water Week: Protecting Lives and the Environment

By: Christian Holmes, USAID’s Global Water Coordinator

During World Water Week 2011, I participated in a “WASH/Environmental Working Group” panel which addressed this critical linkage. This Washington, DC panel was hosted by the Water and Sanitation Program which is a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank. The panel participants consisted of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Conservation International (CI), the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and USAID. In addition to the panel participants, numerous experts in this field participated in the Working Group, including Dr. Flavia Loures from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Alex-Ines Lebec, from Water.org, Dr. Peter McCornick from Duke University’s Nicholas School for Environmental Policy Solutions and my colleagues from USAID, including Dr. Barbara Best and Tim Resch.

In the panel presentation, CRS’s Dennis Warner concentrated on improving environmental and health outcomes through an integrated water resources management approach, targeted on improving the health and well-being of both populations and the watershed. TNC’s Randy Curtis stressed the importance of changing the whole way in which we think about water, noting TNC’s initiative to create water funds which both protect water sheds, and generate employment  and supply of fresh water to the urban and rural poor. CI’s Dr. Luciano Andriamaro stressed the challenge and importance of watershed mapping to secure freshwater supply.

Christian Holmes, USAID’s Global Water Coordinator Photo Credit: USAID

I focused on USAID’s development of a new water strategy which is addressing the importance of taking an integrated approach to water. In so doing, I brainstormed with participants on how we might work together in developing models of integrated freshwater supply and water supply, hygiene, and sanitation (WASH) approaches which could be undertaken in response to major emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes. I invited participants for additional discussion at later date with USAID on the subject, and very much look forward to that.

As a potentially successful example of integration, USAID has been active in Madagascar, launching in late 2010  the Ranon’ala project, which stands for Rural Access to New Opportunities for Health and Water Resource Management” – a  project that recognizes the relationships between healthy people and healthy environments. The project is implemented by Catholic Relief Services with Conservation International and Missouri Botanical Garden as partners (among others).  The project will primarily work to increase access to clean water and sanitation in rural parts of northeastern Madagascar, while also addressing watershed management.  Looking ahead, TNC, CI, and WWF will be putting together case studies demonstrating how fresh water conservation and WASH can go hand-in-hand.  These are important studies, and USAID looks forward to reviewing them.  Increasing the knowledge, evidence base and skill sets related to how best to effect such integration is essential.

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.

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