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From Hyogo to Sendai: A New Action Plan for Resilience

Ten years after the Hyogo Framework became the global blueprint for disaster risk reduction, so much has changed about the way we approach disaster risk reduction. Today, our work focuses not only on disaster preparedness, but on building resilience by helping communities mitigate the inevitable disasters they will face before, during, and after they strike.

This week, I led the U.S. delegation to the Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan. Joined by partner agencies, including USAID, the State Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), FEMA, NASA, and USPS, we set out to renew our commitments to reduce the risk of disasters at home and abroad. The result: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.  Establishing ambitious targets, this framework includes goals of reducing mortality, minimizing economic and infrastructure losses, and getting countries to commit to disaster risk reduction strategies.

Three themes were front and center at Sendai and are critical to making the world a safer place in the next 15 years.

1. Building Resilience

Reducing disaster risk is not enough. We must build resilience by helping communities build the capacity to bounce back from the inevitable shocks they face. We must move from a preoccupation with mega-disasters — tsunamis and earthquakes — to also deal with chronic shocks and stresses — from frequent floods and droughts to rapid urbanization and chronic food insecurity — that keep communities locked in a cycle of crisis. To do so, we have to break down silos, bringing the humanitarian and development communities together to invest in long-term solutions that build resilience among the world’s most vulnerable. Many governments and donors at Sendai recognized the importance of this, and as a result, the Sendai Framework elevates resilience as a priority.

USAID’s resilience programs in the Sahel are helping pastoralists to diversify their livelihoods so that they are not solely reliant on the land and are better prepared to cope with dry seasons. Sahra Osman Ibrahim received a loan to open up a shop through the USAID-supported Somali Microfinance Share Company. / USAID Ethiopia.

USAID’s resilience programs in the Sahel are helping pastoralists to diversify their livelihoods so that they are not solely reliant on the land and are better prepared to cope with dry seasons. Sahra Osman Ibrahim received a loan to open up a shop through the USAID-supported Somali Microfinance Share Company. / USAID Ethiopia.

Since 2012, USAID has been a leader in mobilizing a global conversation on resilience. We have brought our humanitarian and development teams together to co-design programs that help communities build adaptive capacity across a range of areas, from diversifying their livelihoods to providing access to early warning and risk insurance. Conference participants were eager to hear about USAID’s approach to resilience and our bold new Global Resilience Partnership, which will help catalyze innovations and scale up solutions to the toughest resilience challenges in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. We look forward to working with partner governments and other donors to coordinate our investments in resilience.

2. Promoting Local Solutions

The Tecpán Municipal Disaster Reduction Committee meets to discuss risk reduction priorities for the 2012 rainy season. / Auriana Koutnik, USAID.

The Tecpán Municipal Disaster Reduction Committee meets to discuss risk reduction priorities for the 2012 rainy season. / Auriana Koutnik, USAID.

Locally-driven solutions are crucial for lessening disaster risks. Many civil society organizations were present at Sendai, sharing how their communities have been affected by disasters and part of the solution to building preparedness and resilience at the local level. They will continue to play a critical role in holding governments accountable for their commitments. At USAID, we have invested heavily in community-led disaster risk reduction programs. For example, in Guatemala, we trained 27 remote communities in Tecpán to prepare for and respond to disasters. As part of our Resilience in the Sahel—Enhanced program, we are working with local women to diversify their livelihoods, so that they are not solely reliant on one source of income when disaster strikes. We expect our Global Resilience Challenge teams will unlock new ideas for fostering locally-led solutions to building resilience. USAID will continue to work in strong partnership with local communities and civil society to advance these goals.

3. Fostering Inclusion

Thomas H. Staal, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, participates in the Children and Youth Forum in Sendai, Japan. / Cynthia Romero, USAID

Thomas H. Staal, acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, participates in the Children and Youth Forum in Sendai, Japan. / Cynthia Romero, USAID

During a disaster, women, youth, the elderly and people with disabilities have different needs and often fare worse than others. I was glad to see the inclusion of these critical stakeholders in the Sendai Framework. During the conference, I participated in the Children and Youth Forum, where I shared some highlights from USAID’s youth programs on disaster risk reduction in Jamaica and Nepal. While youth work is important, we also work with the elderly, who bring their own unique perspectives and capabilities to bear. When we invest in disaster risk reduction worldwide, we must make sure no community is left behind, and that we are taking the unique needs and strengths of each community into account.

Without a doubt, reducing the risk of disasters and building resilience is critical to protecting the gains made in sustainable development. As we look towards the post-2015 development agenda, Sendai reminded us that we must make risk-informed investments if we are to achieve our goal of ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas H. Staal is acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA). Follow the DCHA Bureau @USAID_DCHA.

Water for the World: Making Every Gallon Count

For the 2.5 billion people living without access to sanitation and 748 million without safe drinking water, these challenges mean a life threatened by illness, lost income and malnourishment.

As World Water Day approaches on March 22, I want to take a moment to reflect on an important advance made this year towards improving water and sanitation in developing countries: The Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act – which supports more targeted, effective and sustainable investments in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs. It passed unanimously in both houses of Congress and in December 2014 was signed into law by President Obama.

The Act underscores USAID’s commitment to improve and save lives through better WASH services. It also aligns with USAID’s Water and Development Strategy, a focused plan using water programs in developing countries to improve health and fight poverty. Both the Act and the Water Strategy recognize that WASH programs need to be sustainable, designed to have lasting impact over time and after our assistance ends.

Investing in WASH is one of the most effective and efficient choices we can make for global nutrition, child health, education, and empowerment of women. Every gallon of water we make more accessible allows a woman to spend time earning money for her family instead of walking for hours each day to fetch water. Every cup of water we make safer to drink helps another child live past his or her 5th birthday, instead of dying from waterborne illness. Each toilet we build helps another girl spend more time in school when she is menstruating and avoid the risk of sexual assault when she does not have access to safe sanitation facilities.

SUWASA focuses on regulatory reform, better pricing and billing, and creating access to commercial finance. / USAID/SUWASA

SUWASA focuses on regulatory reform, better pricing and billing, and creating access to commercial finance. / USAID/SUWASA

Already, progress is being made through programs like Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa (SUWASA), a project that strengthens WASH in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Senegal, Zambia, Uganda and Liberia. SUWASA focuses on building financial sustainability of water utilities in each country through activities like regulatory reform, better pricing and billing, and creating access to commercial financing.

The IUWASH project focuses on providing water, sanitation and hygiene for the urban poor in Indonesia. / USAID/IUWASH
The IUWASH project focuses on providing water, sanitation and hygiene for the urban poor in Indonesia. / USAID/IUWASH

In Asia, the USAID Indonesia Urban Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (IUWASH) program  has helped 1.47 million people gain access to safe water supplies and made improved sanitation facilities available to nearly 100,000 more people by supporting local governments. Partnerships have been key to IUWASH’s success. The Government of Indonesia and the private sector have been working together towards getting safe water to those who need it.

Our work to increase access to water and sanitation will reduce enormous suffering. It will protect the dignity of the poorest of the poor. In the 2013 Fiscal Year alone, USAID’s programs around the world helped make sanitation facilities available to nearly 1.3 million people and  improved access to drinking water for more than 3.5 million people.

On World Water Day, we are grateful for Congress’s support to scale our programs and change millions more lives. These efforts are delivering more than just water – they’re delivering health, financial stability, relief, dignity and hope.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Holmes is USAID’s Global Water Coordinator and Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment.

How 3D Printing Can Help Save Lives

It takes just 6 inches of moving water to knock a person to the ground. Flash floods, as their name suggests, come on quickly. But given the proper tools, experts can make flood predictions using real-time measurements and give warnings to get people out of harm’s way.

The problem is, many flood-prone countries cannot afford enough of these expensive weather systems to properly monitor the weather.

Floods were the most deadly natural disaster in 2013, accounting for nearly half of the natural disaster-related deaths. / Ben Hemingway, USAID/OFDA

Floods were the most deadly natural disaster in 2013, accounting for nearly half of the natural disaster-related deaths. / Ben Hemingway, USAID/OFDA

Since 1997, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) has been partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to find an affordable way to help developing countries predict and prepare for bad weather. Recently, they’ve been looking for ways to improve weather observation.

Commercial weather stations can have a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars, with maintenance and repairs piling on additional costs. Repairs also require expensive technicians, if replacement parts are even available. To make matters worse, critical pieces often become discontinued, forcing countries to purchase a completely new weather station

New technology is providing a solution. As it turns out, 3D printers are able to produce almost all the parts needed to manufacture reliable, accurate weather stations. Add in low-cost electronic sensors, and you’ve got a station–all for around $200.

Kelly Sponberg, a program manager with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Joint Office of Science Support (JOSS) working with NOAA, spearheaded the Micro-Manufacturing and Assembly project to develop a range of affordable meteorological tools.

“In the U.S., weather is very accessible,” Sponberg said. “You can turn on the news, look online, or use an app on your phone. It’s easy to take for granted the ability to check the weather. But in many developing countries, weather forecasting has been limited because of the high cost of weather systems. I wanted to change that by finding an affordable way for countries to predict and prepare for weather.”

The 3D printing technology will be showcased this week at the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, where thousands have gathered to discuss the best ways to reduce the catastrophic toll of disasters.

Don’t let its humble looks fool you - this 3D-printed weather station will help developing countries forecast weather-related disasters and save lives. / Kelly Sponberg, NOAA

Don’t let its humble looks fool you – this 3D-printed weather station will help developing countries forecast weather-related disasters and save lives. / Kelly Sponberg, NOAA

Here’s how it works. First, Martin Steinson, a UCAR JOSS project manager and mechanical engineer, creates 3D computer designs for every part of a weather station. Then, a microwave-sized 3D printer turns these designs into reality–melting thick coils of plastic into thin threads that layer on top of one another to form the components of a fully functional, sophisticated weather station. The printing is so precise that once all the pieces are printed, they can be assembled by hand and the new weather station finally brought online.

In the field, the station collects measurements related to temperature, pressure, humidity, rainfall and wind that are stored in a tiny computer about the size of an iPhone. From here, the data can be transmitted to weather experts, who will use it for their forecasts. As the program evolves, additional sensors may be added, like ones to take soil measurements, which could be used to help farmers increase their yields.

 Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of an iPhone, can hold a year’s worth of weather information collected from a 3D-printed station. / Heather Freitag, USAID/OFDA.

Raspberry Pi, a computer the size of an iPhone, can hold a year’s worth of weather information collected from a 3D-printed station. / Heather Freitag, USAID/OFDA.

“The bottom line is that 3D printing will help to save lives,” said Sezin Tokar, a hydrometeorologist with USAID/OFDA. “Not only can they provide countries with the ability to more accurately monitor for weather-related disasters, the data they produce can also help reduce the economic impact of disasters.”

The 3D-printed weather stations are undergoing testing to make sure they are durable and will meet international standards. Once testing is complete, pilot projects will be established in one or two countries.

The hope is that Zambia will become the first country to work with the Micro-Manufacturing and Assembly project. This summer, after receiving extensive training, Zambia’s National Weather Service will be provided with laptops loaded with the 3D designs for each individual part, along with several 3D printers and all the tools and materials required. Countries will have the flexibility to print additional weather stations whenever their budget allows. And if any piece breaks, partners will be able to print a new one. Then, Sponberg said, it’s “as simple as switching out a lightbulb.”

From March 14 to 18, USAID staff have joined thousands at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan to discuss the best ways to reduce the catastrophic toll of disasters. In 2013 alone, natural disasters took the lives of more than 22,000 people, affected nearly 97 million others, and caused almost $118 billion in economic damages.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Freitag is an Online Communications Specialist with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

New Steps in Disaster Risk Reduction

In 2013 alone, natural disasters took the lives of more than 22,000 people, affected nearly 97 million others, and caused almost $118 billion worth of economic damages.

To tackle this problem, I’ve joined the thousands of people gathering in Sendai, Japan this week for the Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. As a member of the U.S. delegation–led by USAID’s Thomas H. Staal–I’ll be taking part in discussions on the best ways to reduce the catastrophic toll of natural disasters.

Heavy rains fell over nearly all of Cambodia in the fall of 2011. Floodwaters spread across 18 of 24 provinces, affecting 1.5 million people, and destroying nearly 10 percent of the nation’s crops. / Brian Heidel, USAID

Heavy rains fell over nearly all of Cambodia in the fall of 2011. Floodwaters spread across 18 of 24 provinces, affecting 1.5 million people, and destroying nearly 10 percent of the nation’s crops. / Brian Heidel, USAID

What is Disaster Risk Reduction?

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is everything that we do to prevent or reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and storms. Recognizing the need to increase DRR efforts, nearly 170 countries adopted a 10-year framework in 2005 to make the world safer from natural hazards called the Hyogo Framework for Action.

That framework expired in 2014. The conference this week is an opportunity for world leaders, government agencies, NGOs and international organizations to come together and reflect on the progress made over the last decade. However, our most important agenda is in looking forward to what remains to be done and assessing how we can address shifting needs.

In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, destroying entire towns across the country. Thanks to disaster risk reduction and preparedness efforts, when Super Typhoon Hagupit hit the Philippines just a year later, damage was minimal. / Chuck Setchell, USAID
In 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, destroying entire towns across the country. Thanks to disaster risk reduction and preparedness efforts, when Super Typhoon Hagupit hit the Philippines just a year later, damage was minimal. / Chuck Setchell, USAID

Building Resilience

Through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), USAID responds to an average of 70 disasters in 50 countries each year. In just the past 10 years, we’ve responded to the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, super typhoons in the Philippines, earthquakes and hurricanes across Latin America, and large-scale floods and an earthquake in Pakistan.

But we don’t just respond. USAID also works to build resilience by helping vulnerable communities prepare for disasters before they strike.

We do this by strengthening early warning systems and preparedness, like in Latin America; integrating DRR with disaster response, as we did in Bangladesh; providing training such as improved farming methods in Afghanistan to help people withstand future disasters; and helping build resilience to the effects of climate change, as in Vietnam and Mozambique. In the last decade, OFDA has provided nearly $1.2 billion in DRR funding to 91 countries and 162 partners.

What’s Next?

The goal of the conference is to build on the foundation of the previous framework and establish a new way forward to encourage everyone to take further steps toward reducing risks. Given the trends of increasingly devastating natural disasters, focusing on DRR has never been more important.

In the coming years, disasters are expected to become more numerous and take greater tolls due to climate change, a growing world population and more people settling in hazard-prone areas.

With each disaster, development gains are threatened as infrastructure is destroyed, poverty increases, and economic opportunities are interrupted or lost. But we are not resigned to this fate. OFDA’s mission is to save lives, alleviate human suffering, and reduce the social and economic impacts of disasters. As long as disasters threaten lives and livelihoods, DRR must play a key role moving forward.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sezin Tokar is a Hydrometeorological Hazards Adviser with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Four Lessons Learned Four Years into the Syrian Crisis

The Syrian crisis is the largest and most complex humanitarian emergency of our time. More than 12 million Syrians — about half of Syria’s population before the war — are in need of humanitarian assistance.

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal assesses the Harshm Camp in Erbil, Iraq. / USAID

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal assesses the Harshm Camp in Erbil, Iraq. / USAID

During a trip to Jordan and several camps in Iraq a few weeks ago, I saw Syrian refugees struggling to keep themselves warm at night, when the temperatures dropped close to freezing. Doing everything possible to protect their children, the families I met had reinforced their tents with plastic sheeting in an effort to keep out the bitter winds. Our partners were working hard to get winter supplies both to these refugee camps as well as inside Syria. So far, they had distributed blankets, warm clothing, heaters and plastic sheeting to almost half a million people — an impressive feat amid growing insecurity and ongoing access constraints.

Despite determined efforts, the needs created by the Syrian crisis continue to outpace the response. The U.N.’s 2015 appeals for Syria and surrounding countries exceed $8 billion, but if last year is any indication, at least half of these appeals will remain unfunded. In the face of unprecedented challenges and daunting budget needs, our response has adapted and evolved. The following lessons reflect this effort to constantly seek out the most efficient and effective response strategies:

1. Focusing on Effectiveness and Accountability

With ever tighter budgets and mounting needs, USAID has needed to find ways to maximize aid with limited resources. These efforts have allowed us to provide food, sanitation and medical care to millions of families in areas of Syria controlled by the regime, the opposition or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — at often considerable personal risk.

A Syrian family in Mafraq, Jordan takes a moment at the end of a school day to discuss their challenges and aspirations. / Peter Bussian, USAID

A Syrian family in Mafraq, Jordan takes a moment at the end of a school day to discuss their challenges and aspirations. / Peter Bussian, USAID

We remain the largest food donor in the Syrian crisis, providing more than $1.2 billion to date, including an additional $125 million on Feb. 17. Although the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is confronting budget shortfalls, the organization has ramped up fundraising, reduced operational costs, and increased targeted assistance based on need

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements meet with partners providing water, health and sanitation assistance to displaced communities in Iraq. / USAID

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements meet with partners providing water, health and sanitation assistance to displaced communities in Iraq. / USAID

We have also doubled down our efforts to monitor the flow of supplies — it is critical that our aid is getting to the people who need it the most and for whom it is intended. Our partners provide weekly reporting of relief activities, and during my meetings in Jordan walked me through their logistical process, which includes tracked package delivery using barcodes and calls from beneficiaries to report delays or reroutes. I was reassured to hear how well the supplies are monitored, ensuring that they reach the people who need them.

2. Building Resilience in Syria’s Neighbors

Almost 4 million Syrians have fled their country, radically altering the map of the region.  Syrian refugees are now one-quarter of Lebanon’s population and at least 10 percent of Jordan’s. The seemingly endless flow of Syrian refugees is overwhelming neighboring countries’ water systems, hospitals and schools.

To ease this strain, USAID is helping host communities better cope with the influx of refugees. Our food vouchers to Syrian refugees alone have injected about $1 billion into the economies of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq. In Jordan, a country facing extreme water scarcity, we have worked with the Complex Crises Fund to build cisterns and provide loans so families can install rainwater harvesting systems. These efforts have saved 200,000 cubic meters of water — an amount equivalent to 5.5 million showers. We are also supporting hospitals to provide health care to host communities and refugees alike — when I visited a hospital in northern Jordan, I was struck by the quality of care and equipment that our support has facilitated, especially the psycho-social support provided to patients.

A mother holds a newborn at a USAID supported hospital in Mafraq, Jordan./ Peter Bussian, USAID.

A mother holds a newborn at a USAID supported hospital in Mafraq, Jordan./ Peter Bussian, USAID.

USAID supported neonatal care equipment at a hospital in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian, USAID

USAID supported neonatal care equipment at a hospital in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian, USAID

3. Enhancing Multilateral Collaboration

From the outset, we pushed to reach people in need throughout Syria — our NGO partners have heroically managed to deliver assistance across conflict lines and Syria’s borders. While access remains a major challenge, our efforts continue, and improved coordination with the United Nations (UN) has especially aided cross-border assistance. The UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2191 and its two predecessors allowed aid to reach areas previously cut off from assistance. In authorizing the UN to cross into Syria without the Assad regime’s approval, this resolution has allowed us to access people in need in an average of 66 hard-to-reach areas each month.

4. Seeking Out Increased Donor Engagement

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements visit children in Garmawa Camp, Iraq who were forced to flee their homes. / USAID

USAID Acting Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas H. Staal and State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Kelly Clements visit children in Garmawa Camp, Iraq who were forced to flee their homes. / USAID

U.S. leadership has been critical to galvanizing donors around a comprehensive response to the needs inside Syria and its neighborhood. We remain the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian crisis, but we cannot meet the needs of the Syrian people alone. Now more than ever, we need to forge strong partnerships with all donors. Contributions from Saudi Arabia and other donors helped stave off suspension of the WFP’s food donations to Syrian refugees in December, and we continue to see generosity from other donors. On Jan. 28, I participated in a top donors gathering in Kuwait to refine our strategy for the Syrian crisis. And on March 31, we will hold the Third Syria Humanitarian Pledging Conference, where we expect our allies will come prepared to strengthen their funding commitments to meet the immense challenges ahead.

We know that humanitarian assistance alone will not bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. But we do know that agile and targeted assistance, in partnership with other donors, can save lives, alleviate civilian suffering, and help Syria’s neighbors build resilient systems to cope with the regional impacts of this daunting crisis.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas H. Staal is acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA). Follow the DCHA Bureau @USAID_DCHA.

Olive Oil of Hope

Olive oil connoisseurs, take note.  I recently tasted organic olive oil that would satisfy the most discerning palates, and it has the added element of peace-building, too.

Near East Foundation staff present USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander with the final product: organic olive oil produced with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Near East Foundation staff present USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander with the final product: organic olive oil produced with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

While traveling in  the West Bank for the first time as USAID’s Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East last month, I noticed the landscape was dotted with olive trees. To Palestinian farmers, olive trees represent economic opportunities and hold cultural significance. A hundred thousand Palestinian families in the West Bank depend on the olive oil industry, an important part of the Palestinian economy.

USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East plants an olive tree with olive farmers participating in the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East plants an olive tree with olive farmers participating in the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Olive oil also represents an important opportunity for peace-building in a region marked with strife

Enter: USAID’s Olive Oil Without Borders. Implemented by the U.S.-based Near East Foundation, the project builds trust, mutual understanding and collaboration through economic cooperation in olive oil. It has allowed 1,500 Palestinian and Israeli olive farmers, mill operators and olive oil distributors to meet, share farming methods in workshops, improve their skills and increase olive oil production and profit through global exports.

All of this is consistent with USAID’s mission to promote resilient, democratic societies.

In the past, olive oil prices in the West Bank fell because the market was limited and exports were minimal. One of the most striking achievements of  Olive Oil Without Borders was an agreement reached in February 2013 by Palestinian and Israeli officials that allowed Israeli citizens to purchase Palestinian olive oil for the first time in 10 years. As a result, in less than two years, 3,600 metric tons of Palestinian olive oil were sold to Israeli companies. Palestinian farmers increased revenues by $20 million.

During my visit, I met Muhammed Shouly at his organic olive farm in Asira Shamaliya, in the northern West Bank. Shouly has been actively involved in Olive Oil Without Borders since its launch in 2011.

Muhammad Shouly is an olive farmer who tripled his harvest  after learning about supplementary irrigation techniques through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID
Muhammad Shouly is an olive farmer who tripled his harvest after learning about supplementary irrigation techniques through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

For centuries, Palestinian farmers relied solely on rainwater for their olive trees. During cross-border meetings that brought Shouly and other Palestinian farmers together with their Israeli counterparts, he learned about supplementary irrigation, a technique to provide olive trees with additional water. Shouly applied this method on his olive orchard during the summer months and it tripled his harvest.

I also talked to Miyassar Yassin, another farmer from Asira Shamaliya participating in Olive Oil Without Borders. She took part in an olive oil quality tasting seminar with Palestinian and Israeli farmers, learning to quickly identify virgin and extra virgin olive oil

Miyassar Yassin just concluded an olive oil quality tasting seminar through the Olive Oil Without Borders project.  Here she is with her two daughters. / Lubna Rifi, USAID
Miyassar Yassin just concluded an olive oil quality tasting seminar through the Olive Oil Without Borders project. Here she is with her two daughters. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

The project has upgraded 18 olive mills in the West Bank and Israel, representing one-fifth of the olive mills in the area. The renovation of Qussay Hamadneh’s mill—which included the replacement of steel tanks for storing olive oil—vastly improved sanitary conditions and boosted the quality of the olive oil produced.

Qussay Hamadneh improved the quality of the olive oil he produces with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Qussay Hamadneh improved the quality of the olive oil he produces with support from the Olive Oil Without Borders project. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

Olive Oil Without Borders is just one of dozens of programs that we support throughout the West Bank and Israel. Its success lies in bringing together individuals from different backgrounds to work on issues of common concern. The visit gave me great hope because participants are not only learning how to increase production, they are also learning about each other

Before leaving, I planted an olive tree. I know the farmers I met will nurture it, and I look forward to coming back to see how it has grown and pick its olives.

The USAID-supported Olive Oil Without Borders project brings together Palestinian and Israeli farmers to increase the quality and quantity of olive oil. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

The USAID-supported Olive Oil Without Borders project brings together Palestinian and Israeli farmers to increase the quality and quantity of olive oil. / Lubna Rifi, USAID

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paige Alexander is USAID Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East

USAID Takes to the High Seas to Bring Reinforcements to Guinea’s Ebola Fight

In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need more than personal protective equipment and training to keep safe. / Morgana Wingard, USAID
In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need more than personal protective equipment and training to keep safe. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

In the war against Ebola, health care workers on the front lines need personal protective equipment — overalls, gloves, goggles and boots; training on infection prevention and control; and plenty of something called HTH.

HTH stands for high test hypochlorite. It’s chlorine in concentrated granular form and so potent that, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only a few tablespoons in a 5-gallon bucket is sufficient to kill the Ebola virus and disinfect contaminated surfaces. The substance is often used to sanitize pools.

The downside is that HTH is volatile and can cause explosions. So instead of transporting the chlorine by plane—as was done with other Ebola response commodities—USAID arranged for a cargo ship to safely move more than 53 metric tons of HTH to Guinea and another 38 tons to Sierra Leone. Combined, that equals the weight of almost 70 compact cars.

The cargo ship arrived at Port of Conakry on Feb. 24, and the more than 9,700 drums of HTH were transferred by truck to a warehouse managed by the Central Pharmacy of Guinea to be distributed to health care facilities across the country.

From obtaining the the chlorine to ensuring its safe delivery to Guinea and Sierra Leone, USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) played a crucial role in making sure this operation went off without a hitch.

In late February, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance sent 53 tons of chlorine to Guinea by ocean freight rather than airlifting the supplies by plane due to safety protocols. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

In late February, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance sent 53 tons of chlorine to Guinea by ocean freight rather than airlifting the supplies by plane due to safety protocols. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


High test hypochlorite (HTH) is a concentrated form of chlorine; only a few tablespoons in 5 gallons of water are enough to kill the Ebola virus. But HTH is also volatile and can cause explosions. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

High test hypochlorite (HTH) is a concentrated form of chlorine; only a few tablespoons in 5 gallons of water are enough to kill the Ebola virus. But HTH is also volatile and can cause explosions. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) member Emily Betz Close lifts a 55-pound drum of highly concentrated chlorine. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) member Emily Betz Close lifts a 55-pound drum of highly concentrated chlorine. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


In total, more than 9,700 drums of high test hypochlorite (HTH) were safely stored for further distribution to medical facilities across Guinea. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA.

In total, more than 9,700 drums of high test hypochlorite (HTH) were safely stored for further distribution to medical facilities across Guinea. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA.


Despite the back-breaking work, these warehouse workers manage to stay positive. USAID is happy to be working in partnership with Guinea in the fight against Ebola. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA

Despite the back-breaking work, these warehouse workers manage to stay positive. USAID is happy to be working in partnership with Guinea in the fight against Ebola. / Allen Carney, USAID/OFDA


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is overseeing the U.S. Ebola response efforts in West Africa. The DART includes staff from across the U.S. Government, including USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

From Kenya to Kabul: Women as Decision-Makers, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders

My name is Joanne Lewa, and I am from Kenya. Six months ago, I came to Afghanistan on a temporary work assignment with USAID to assist in the Agency’s outreach to the Afghan public. Before arriving, much of what I had seen in the news about the country was negative.

But the Afghanistan from the news was not the one I experienced during my six-month tour; I found Afghanistan to be a country of breathtaking landscapes and kind people who are embracing positive change and helping their country grow.

My time in Kabul has helped me understand the expansive scope of USAID’s work in Afghanistan—from education, health, democracy and governance, to economic growth, agriculture and women’s empowerment.

But when I step on my Kenya-bound flight this week, the memories of the Afghan women and girls I met will endure—against tremendous odds, they are becoming influential, decisive actors in their country’s development. I think of my two daughters and hope that they will follow in the footsteps of my brave Afghan sisters. Their achievements and the support they receive from their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands have left the greatest impression on me.

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID assistance to community-based education enabled nearly 105,000 students (more than 65 percent of them girls) in remote villages to attend school. / USAID/Afghanistan

Girls’ Education

I was particularly interested in how USAID is working to solve a fundamental barrier to girls’ access to education: a lack of school buildings near many villages. To prevent girls from having to travel precariously long distances to reach the nearest schoolhouse, USAID’s community-based education programs provide a way for Afghan students to attend classes near their homes.  USAID has supported the Ministry of Education’s efforts to build thousands of new schools and has also distributed millions of textbooks, trained thousands of teachers—many of them female—and carved out new opportunities for higher education.

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID’s 14-year partnership with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health has ensured that more children have healthy, thriving mothers and more women survive their pregnancies. / USAID/Afghanistan

The Health of Women and Children

Of course, children—girls and boys—will never make it to their first day of school if they and their mothers do not have access to basic health care. Since 2002, USAID has worked side by side with the Afghan Government and other international donors to rebuild Afghanistan’s health care system. USAID alone has trained thousands of community health workers and midwives across the country. More babies than ever are now delivered by skilled birth attendants, and thousands more are living to see their fifth birthday

Friba Hashimi is living proof of this drastic transition. I met Friba  when I recorded the names of  the women who attended a USAID-sponsored midwifery training. Once confined by the conservative views of her village, she is now a pillar of her community, helping to deliver a new generation of Afghans into the world.

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Female participation in the 2014 Afghan elections was unprecedented in scale, with women voters accounting for 38 percent of total turnout according to government counts. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in Politics

I landed in Kabul in the midst of one of the most exciting and important events in Afghanistan’s recent history: the 2014 elections. As I was settling in, women were playing a game-changing role in the election process. Voter participation reached a record high for both men and women. Women also served as election observers, ran for public office and were victorious on the campaign trail. Over the course of my assignment, I saw more and more women getting involved in the leadership of their nation.  Women made up 21 percent of winners from the 2014 Provincial Council Elections, 11 percent of judiciary seats, and 20 percent of judges in training.

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

USAID is working to increase job placements and wages for Afghan women through increased access to quality technical and business education and training, job placement support services, and facilitated access to credit and business development opportunities. / USAID/Afghanistan

Women in the Economy

While in Kabul, I also had the chance to speak with many Afghan women who have become business owners, workers and entrepreneurs. In response to the growing demand for the skills needed to participate in the increasingly advanced job market, USAID has provided job training for thousands of women and helped thousands more to find rewarding jobs. In Kenya, women’s contributions in the workplace have greatly improved the economy, and I have faith that USAID’s programs will continue to help women to do the same in Afghanistan.

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Afghan women have more opportunities to receive job training and apply for loans to start or expand businesses. Much work remains to be done, and USAID is committed to building upon these critical gains. / Joanne Lewa, USAID/Afghanistan

Women’s Leadership

In November 2014, I was in Kabul when first lady Rula Ghani spoke at the launch of Promote, the largest women’s empowerment program in USAID’s history. Promote will serve as the missing stepping stone between education and careers for thousands of Afghan women driven to serve as political, civil society and private sector leaders.  These women will be pioneers for the rights of Afghan women and girls in every sector of society.

First lady Ghani emphasized the weight of this new opportunity, telling the women in the audience, “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”

At the launch, I met inspiring Afghan women who are already making an impact on their communities. They all shared the same refrain: “Afghanistan cannot fly with just one wing.” For the country to prosper, women must be empowered to play decisive roles in Afghanistan’s government, civil society and economy.

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

Manizha Wafeq, an Afghan business woman, says: “In Afghanistan, men were like birds flying with one wing. With economically empowered women, we shall be able to be the ‘other wing’ and together, we can fly stronger, building our country’s economy and have peace in Afghanistan.” / USAID/Afghanistan

From Kabul to Kenya

Lately, I’ve been taking stock of the moments that will stay with me from my tour in Afghanistan. The first snow in Kabul and the taste of Afghan bread and rice will long endure in my memory. However, the warm welcome I received from the dedicated team of Americans and Afghans will be unforgettable.

These men and women are committed to one mission: improving the lives of all Afghans day by day, textbook by textbook, job by job, life by life. For those who come to Afghanistan after me, I promise you a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a great nation filled with amazing people who are working tirelessly to rebuild their country.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Joanne Lewa is a Public Outreach Officer for USAID’s mission in Kenya. She just returned from a six-month temporary assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan.

How Progress Works: A Disappointing Microbicides Trial and Why We’re Not Discouraged

The FACTS 001 trial made use of applicators to dispense 1 percent tenofovir gel before and after sex. / Andrew Loxley Photography

The FACTS 001 trial made use of applicators to dispense 1 percent tenofovir gel before and after sex. / Andrew Loxley Photography

Science is messy. Data don’t always show us what we hope they will. But science is reality, and that’s why we must be unflinching in our pursuit of getting honest feedback on what works.  Today, we got that honest feedback, and it was disappointing: What once appeared to be a major breakthrough in HIV prevention was not confirmed. Results released from a large USAID-supported trial indicate that an antiretroviral-based vaginal gel may not be effective in reducing the risk of HIV infection in women when used before and after sex.

With women increasingly vulnerable to HIV infection, we must work towards finding a prevention method to protect them.  / USAID, Tash McCarroll

With women increasingly vulnerable to HIV infection, we must work towards finding a prevention method to protect them.
/ USAID, Tash McCarroll

The FACTS 001 trial—named after the Follow-on African Consortium for Tenofovir Studies (FACTS)—was designed to test the safety and effectiveness of a vaginal microbicide that contains 1 percent tenofovir gel. The study aimed to replicate the groundbreaking results of a 2010 trial called CAPRISA 004, which found a 39 percent reduced risk of HIV infection. Unfortunately, the FACTS 001 study did not replicate those results on a larger scale. Although the answer wasn’t what we’d hoped, in the process of asking we have learned and grown, and we’ll  redouble our efforts to take the next steps forward.

In sharing this news, I am struck by a simple observation made by the editor in chief of “Science News,” Eva Emerson: “This is how science is supposed to work.” Her remark referred to a recent discovery in physics that upon further investigation could not be confirmed. Emerson’s conclusion was matter of fact. Scientists are in the business of asking questions, whether it is the existence of gravitational waves or the ability of a gel to protect vulnerable women.

The process of “asking” also re-emphasized the reason why we pursue new technologies for HIV prevention. The young South African women who participated in the study live in communities with some of the highest incidence rates of HIV infection in the world. Their lives are complex and the decisions they face daily are staggering. Everything we do, whether it be investigating new methods of HIV prevention or conducting thorough evaluations, is in the effort of bringing relief to these women and achieving an AIDS-free generation.

The FACTS 001 study was launched in October 2011 at nine clinical trial sites in South Africa and included 2,059 female participants aged 18-30. By the end of the trial in September 2014, about 4 percent of both the placebo group and the treatment group receiving the gel became infected with HIV.

In spite of this setback, USAID has already developed a robust pipeline of new products, many of which are jointly supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others. These include innovative methods such as vaginal rings, long-acting injectable antiretroviral drugs, and products that combine contraceptives and HIV prevention technologies. For each hurdle we encounter, USAID is determined to jump two steps forward—our commitment to helping women protect themselves from HIV has never been stronger.

To the women who participated in this trial: Thank you. You are why the trial was done, and you are why we will persevere.

The FACTS 001 trial was led by Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, sponsored by CONRAD, and funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Government of South Africa, with support from Gilead Sciences.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Stanton is the director of USAID’s Office of HIV/AIDS

New tools for LGBTI-inclusive development

On May 16, 2014, the US Embassy in Sarajevo was lit up in rainbow colors to show its support for LGBTI activities and community members. / Embassy of the United States, Bosnia & Herzegovina

On May 16, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo was lit up in rainbow colors to show its support for LGBTI activities and community members. / U.S. Embassy, Bosnia & Herzegovina

In May 2013, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo illuminated its building with rainbow colors in support of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. A few months later, the U.S. Embassy in Prague followed suit in honor of Prague Pride week. Reading about these events in the newspaper, I felt both proud of my government and afraid of the reaction such bold support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights might provoke in an Eastern European country.

At the time, hate speech and physical violence against LGBT people were breaking out all over the world: from Russia, to Uganda, to here at home in the United States. Little did I know at the time that these supportive public statements were just the beginning: In the following years, the U.S. Government would increasingly commit to advancing the fundamental human rights of LGBT people at home and abroad.

This commitment in terms of international development was initially laid out in USAID’s LGBT Vision for Action in June 2014. This week, USAID is launching a publication to help development professionals implement LGBT-inclusive programs in the countries of Europe and Eurasia: the Toolkit for Integrating LGBT Rights Activities into Programming in the E&E Region [PDF].

These steps forward are of vital importance. LGBT people in Europe and Eurasia encounter a wide range of everyday discrimination, human rights violations, psychological trauma and sometimes physical violence. These legal, social and psychological conditions are described in an earlier USAID report called Testing the Waters: LGBT People in the Europe & Eurasia Region.

But the case for LGBT inclusion is not just a question of rights; it’s also a question of good development practices. USAID and its partners are building the case that the economic exclusion of LGBT people wastes human capital, deepens poverty, magnifies inequality and hurts GDP. But what is to be done?

The new USAID toolkit presents case studies and advice for how LGBT inclusion can advance development agendas. Examples not only include programs that focus specifically on LGBT rights, but also projects where LGBT people are part of a broader target population. For example, the toolkit recommends that programs to empower women entrepreneurs deliberately seek out lesbian and transgender women, who can then help the program reach new participants. The toolkit also suggests that community leaders connect LBT women entrepreneurs to business development programs that provide mentorship opportunities. At the heart of all of these programs and examples is a good working relationship with local LGBT communities.

Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Prague marched in support of Prague Pride in August 2014 / Embassy of the United States, Czech Republic

Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Prague marched in support of Prague Pride in August 2014 / U.S. Embassy, Czech Republic

Having worked in the Europe and Eurasia region, I was especially impressed by the story of an HIV/AIDS program in Ukraine called SUNRISE. To reach isolated and underserved rural populations, SUNRISE mobilized urban volunteers—health workers and members of populations vulnerable to HIV, such as men who have sex with men—and trained them to provide sustainable outreach to rural areas. These volunteers formed and guided self-help groups to provide education, counseling, and testing and prevention services.

Dmytro Pichakhchi, who works with a charity that partnered with SUNRISE, noted in a report that the project also strengthened civil society by uniting leaders and activists from regions and cities across Ukraine

While HIV/AIDS programs are a natural fit for LGBT-inclusive development work, the toolkit also looks at programming in the areas of rule of law, civil society, accountable governance, media, entrepreneurship, education, health, vulnerable groups, youth and gender-based violence. The toolkit’s presentation of lessons learned, points for possible intervention, and illustrative indicators for measuring success can easily be applied to other regions.

Although just a starting point, when it comes to advancing LGBT human rights and well-being, USAID’s toolkit gives us some concrete new answers to the famous old question of what is to be done.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Adams is an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the LGBT office at USAID. Follow her @lauristan
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