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Providing Humanitarian Assistance During Unprecedented Times

This blog originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A member of our Disaster Assistance Response Team conducts a rapid humanitarian assessment of the situation on Mt. Sinjar. Every day, our humanitarian aid is helping those affected by the crisis in Iraq.

A member of our Disaster Assistance Response Team conducts a rapid humanitarian assessment of the situation on Mt. Sinjar. Every day, our humanitarian aid is helping those affected by the crisis in Iraq. / USAID

Today is World Humanitarian Day, a day to commemorate the fallen relief workers who died in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, as well as the thousands of others who have given their lives to help those in need. Last year marked the most violent year for aid organizations in the past decade: 155 relief staff were killed, 168 were injured, and 132 were kidnapped. This is always a sobering day, but is all the more so this year as we mourn the six aid workers just recently murdered in South Sudan and the many health care staff in West Africa who have sacrificed their lives treating those with Ebola.

World Humanitarian Day also gives humanitarians an opportunity to pause and take stock. Reflection is particularly important this year, as the global humanitarian system—made up of governments, UN agencies, and local and international NGOs—faces unprecedented challenges. Crises this year in Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan have pushed us all to the limit. And new crises continue to pile on: in just the few weeks from when I began thinking about this article to when I actually sat down to write it, two more major crises—the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the horrifying conflict in Iraq—have jumped onto the world’s front pages.

The international humanitarian system hasn’t been stretched like this since at least the mid-1990s, when one of the worst genocides in history claimed the lives of an estimated 800,000 people in Rwanda, even as ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslavia exploded into a years-long regional war characterized by mass atrocities and the displacement of millions across the Balkans. But the current challenges are arguably worse; while more than four million people required humanitarian aid during the Bosnian war, more than double that number—10 million people—are currently in need in Syria alone.

In spite of these enormous needs, I see encouraging examples of the progress we have made in the past 20 years.  To contend with the unprecedented challenges we face, USAID and its partners across the global humanitarian system are working together to find innovative ways of delivering life-saving assistance to the world’s most vulnerable people.

Our partner Catholic Relief Services distributes life-saving aid from OFDA airlifts to those affected by the ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic. /Catholic Relief Services

Our partner Catholic Relief Services distributes life-saving aid from OFDA airlifts to those affected by the ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic. / Catholic Relief Services

In South Sudan, a country facing one of the most severe food shortages in the world, we have been actively working to mitigate the worst possible scenario of hunger. Advances in famine forecasting over the past two decades have enabled us to spot danger signs and deploy aid earlier, combating severe food insecurity before it can develop into full blown famine.  As a result, our partners have been massively scaling up relief efforts to reach the most hard-hit areas by road, river and air.  And we are seeing evidence that this preemptive scale up is making a significant difference in decreasing malnutrition rates and other warning signs of potential famine.

The response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines showed the challenges of providing aid amidst massive logistical constraints.  But it also showed how lessons learned from past partnerships with military actors improved overall coordination.  For years, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—the Office I lead—has honed our mechanisms for engaging the military’s unique capabilities in extreme circumstances. During the typhoon, this investment paid off as we were able to clear enormous logistical hurdles and deliver 2,500 tons of critical emergency supplies to areas cut off by the storm.

In the Syria crisis, however, we continue to see remnants of some of the fundamental challenges we faced two decades ago. Conflict rages on without a political solution, while humanitarian needs continue to grow. Though we stand steadfast in our dedication to help the Syrian people, the reality is that no amount of humanitarian assistance will end the fighting. Absent a political solution, the international humanitarian community bumps up against the limits of what aid can achieve in the midst of a war zone.

World Humanitarian Day is also, finally, a day to celebrate the courage and perseverance of all humanitarian workers who continue to work on the frontlines at great personal risk to reach the people and places most in need.  Despite the unparalleled challenges and obstacles we face while doing our jobs, we honor the sacrifices of those we have lost by continuing to serve the mission for which they courageously gave their lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeremy Konyndyk is the Director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Follow him @JeremyKonyndyk

Crises on Four Fronts: Rising to the Call

In a time of unparalleled need, the response from our nation’s humanitarians and our partners has been inspiring. Children and their families trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq are receiving U.S. military airdrops of food and water. In South Sudan, life-saving supplies are arriving by air to vulnerable communities cut off by violence. In West Africa, health workers are fighting the Ebola virus, even at great risk to themselves. And in the refugee camps on the Syrian border, we’re getting children into school so that this devastating crisis doesn’t rob them of their future.

USAID and The World Food Programme providing humanitarian aid to Iraq / USAID

USAID and The World Food Program provide humanitarian aid to Iraq. / USAID

From the Central African Republic to Gaza, from Burma to Yemen, millions of vulnerable people are relying on the life-saving assistance that the United States and our partners provide. Food to revive malnourished children. Hygiene kits to stop the spread of disease. Safe spaces for children to laugh and play.

This is the first time in our Agency’s history that we have been called on to manage four large-scale humanitarian responses at once—in addition to reaching other vulnerable populations worldwide and preparing communities ahead of natural disasters. We are not working alone. We are grateful to our U.N., NGO, and local partners, who have demonstrated exceptional fortitude and compassion in the face of relentless tragedy.

health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body

Due to the outbreak of Ebola virus, health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body. / Jean Louis Mosser, European Commission DG ECHO

They are epidemiologists who have flown into the epicenter of one of the world’s deadliest diseases to help track its spread. They’re logisticians who are coordinating with the U.S. military to airdrop food and water to families stranded on Mount Sinjar. They’re engineers who have helped design displaced persons camps so that women and girls can walk around at night without risking their lives. They’re doctors who are staffing clinics where children have arrived riddled with shrapnel or wasted by hunger.

Today, we are able to equip these heroes with new tools and technologies that have dramatically improved our emergency response, including satellite maps to forecast the risk of famine in South Sudan and debit cards that enable families to shop for their own food at local stores in refugee camps on the Syrian border.

USG Humanitarian Assistance to South Sudan

United States Government humanitarian assistance to South Sudan

These crises are far from over. We will continue to work closely with our essential partners, especially our fellow donor nations, to do more to save lives and foster lasting solutions. Despite the challenges, we remain committed to providing help in an emergency—regardless of danger or difficulty. It is one of the most profound expressions of who we are as the American people.

If you would like to contribute, I encourage you to make a monetary donation to a reputable humanitarian organization already working on the ground. Nothing will get there faster or help more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rajiv Shah is USAID Administrator. He tweets from @Rajshah

For Jordan, U.S. Support ‘Guaranteed’

As I have traveled to Jordan over the past few years, I have witnessed up close the impact of regional instability and the influx of refugees from the Syrian crisis. At the community level, resources and services are stretched thin. At the national level, the impact is being felt on budget priorities. A recent USAID study estimates the fiscal cost for Jordan of hosting Syrian refugees is staggering—equivalent to 2.4 percent of Jordan’s GDP.

In a neighborhood of growing instability, time and time again Jordan has been a steadfast partner in the years. It is vitally important the United States assist Jordan to stand firm and maintain a strong economy in the face of regional uncertainty.

Thats why yesterday, the bond sale for a second United States-backed loan guarantee for Jordan, is especially relevant.

This second loan guarantee — for $1 billion - will help Jordan shoulder some of the enormous burden it is currently managing. It fulfills the commitment made by President Obama during his meeting in California this year with Jordan’s King Abdullah. President Obama noted at that meeting that, “we have very few friends, partners and allies around the world that have been as steadfast and reliable as His Majesty King Abdullah, as well as the people of Jordan.”

The loan guarantee will allow Jordan to access affordable financing from international capital markets—ensuring that it can continue to provide critical services to its citizens, even as it hosts over 600,000 Syrian refugees in this small country of 6 million people.

The future of Jordan

The future of Jordan / USAID

USAID is supporting the Government and host communities of Jordan as they cope with the Syrian crisis. We have re-oriented existing programs to account for the flow of refugees and added funds to focus directly on stresses caused by the crisis. With 85 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan living outside of refugee camps in local communities, the United States is helping expand school room and hospital capacity and increase trash collection.

Just last week, as part of Let Girls Learn, we announced a $12 million grant to help Jordanian schools provide education to Syrian refugees, including 180,000 children.

Our partnership did not start with the current crisis. For over 60 years, USAID and Jordan have worked together as partners in development. Together we are creating modern learning environments for Jordan’s young population, providing them with the education and skills to compete in a global market. To spur Jordan’s economic growth, USAID programs are promoting workforce development, job creation, and supporting regulatory and fiscal policy reforms.

Building on the success of last year’s loan guarantee agreement with Jordan, the current loan guarantee will enable the United States to continue to work alongside other donors—including the IMF—to support Jordan’s ongoing economic reforms. It will spur broad-based growth—helping Jordan to develop a more competitive workforce, reduce the strain on public services, and create good jobs.

Finally, Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and has one of the highest population growth rates in the region. Demand for water far exceeds Jordan’s renewable freshwater sources, particularly with the continuing influx of refugees. Here, too, USAID is helping communities improve water resource management and rebuild aging water and wastewater infrastructure. USAID is also helping Jordanian families obtain low cost cisterns to collect water for households and gardens especially as families and communities expand with new arrivals from Syria.

USAID is helping families in Jordan, such as this one, improve water resource management. / Alyssa Mueller

USAID is helping families in Jordan, such as this one, improve water resource management. / Alyssa Mueller

Rapid population growth has reduced the amount of fresh water available to the average Jordanian to less than 158 cubic meters per year—10 times less than the average U.S. citizen consumes. The renewable water supply, replenished each year by rainfall, only meets about half of total water consumption.

Helping Jordan’s government continue to provide essential services, like access to potable water, is critical as the country manages its own development with an increased burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees in an unstable neighborhood. The loan guarantee is an important demonstration that today and tomorrow we stand by our strong partnership with the people of Jordan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alina Romanowski is Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Middle East Bureau

Extraordinary Efforts in U.S. Food Assistance Underway as Extreme Food Insecurity Stalks South Sudanese

It was raining hard as we slipped and slid through the narrow muddy lanes between the dilapidated plastic-covered shelters that are home to roughly 3,600 displaced persons. Here in the town of Bor in Jonglei state South Sudan, I traveled to see for myself the conditions of some of the 4 million people who require emergency food aid. The political crisis that erupted last December in the capital, Juba, has triggered a brutal conflict that has caused more than 1 million people to flee their homes.

Protection of civilian site in Bor, South Sudan. / USAID

Protection of civilian site in Bor, South Sudan. / USAID

At the U.N. compound in Bor, I saw where thousands of people have sought shelter and protection as fighting has devastated their homes and livelihoods. I marveled at how some of the children, despite having endured crowded conditions here for many months, sing a song of welcome, and at the teacher who tells them education is their future and that all things are possible if only they study. This undaunted hope during such extreme hardship and uncertainty is inspiring.

At this U.N. compound and others like, it is estimated that 95,000 people have settled. At least here, in these facilities they are receiving some aid and protection from the conflict that rages around them. Outside of these compounds, there are an estimated 750,000 South Sudanese in hard- to-reach places that have not yet seen much assistance or protection due to conflict and the onset of seasonal rains that render nearly two thirds of the country inaccessible by road.

Because conflict disrupted the prepositioning of food throughout the country before the rains set in, the U.N. and its partners are now mounting a major air operation across the three most conflict-affected states in an effort to mitigate famine.

WFP airdrops in South Sudan.  /  WFP/Guilio D’Adamo

WFP airdrops in South Sudan. / WFP/Guilio D’Adamo

USAID is taking five major steps to help the people of South Sudan:

  • As the potential scale of the crisis began to emerge in February 2014, USAID shipped 20,000 metric tons (MT) of U.S. food to the region. By May, when U.N. officials alerted the world to the possibility of famine, Food for Peace put that food into action, rapidly moving it to the U.N. World Food Program’s South Sudan program.
  • At the South Sudan Humanitarian Pledging Conference in Oslo, Norway in May, $112 million of the almost $300 million pledged by the U.S. Government was for food assistance. These funds go toward 29,600 MT (enough to feed 1.8 million people for a month) of in-kind food aid to WFP, and regional purchase by WFP and UNICEF of specialized nutritious foods.
  • As part of our Oslo pledge, the United States provided $8 million to support a dramatic scale-up of emergency air operations. This is one of the first times USAID will use its new authorities in the Farm Bill for activities that “enhance” in-kind food programs. By providing a generous and early contribution to the U.N. to begin leasing aircraft to deliver food, USAID helped to ensure the air assets needed for expanded operations are in place as the rains begin.
  • USAID is tapping a seldom-used special authority in the Farm Bill—the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust—to respond to extraordinary, unforeseen and expanding need with additional food aid.
  • In March and April, USAID doubled its monthly procurement of U.S.-manufactured ready-to-use food products to prevent and treat malnutrition so it can speed these products to South Sudan for use later this year and next.

These extraordinary efforts will help bring emergency food assistance to hundreds of thousands of people in need, and remind the South Sudanese people of the compassion and generosity of the American people as they face the most extreme crisis this young nation has known since its independence in 2011.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dina Esposito is the Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace

Reuniting Families Separated during Conflict in South Sudan

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December.

Among those fleeing are thousands of children lost from their families — heaping tragedy upon tragedy. Some were sent to safety by parents who could not afford a journey to safety themselves. Others became separated from their parents during the recent violence that has ravaged their country and left them traumatized.

Tracing the families and reunifying these separated children is challenging due to the constant movement of people searching for safe havens in and out of the country. Unaccompanied children face being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces.

Since the onset of violence December 15, USAID through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has helped launch five programs dedicated to identifying and supporting boys and girls who have become separated from their families and reuniting them with surviving caregivers, when possible. One of the programs USAID is supporting established a group of community outreach workers working within the displaced community to identify lost children. Another is training and supporting social workers who are on the ground addressing the needs of children who become separated from their families. Working alongside the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, USAID has helped identify more than 3,000 unaccompanied, separated, and missing boys and girls–and have helped reunite more than 400 with their families so far.

Nyawal Ruach, a young mother from Bor, is just one of the people USAID has helped. Ruach lost track of her two sons amid the chaos of a big tank shooting. She was gathering clothing from their home so they could flee the violence when her two boys – who Ruach had tied together to ensure they would not get lost from each other – went missing. They had followed a group of people running to escape. Ruach was able to find her sons through a center USAID is helping support to trace families and rescue lost children.

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families or unaccompanied by an adult and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. Photo Credit: Phil Moore / AFP

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. / Phil Moore, AFP

USAID is also providing safe and nurturing spaces for displaced children to learn, play and engage in psychosocial support activities—helping South Sudanese children cope with the traumas of war while reducing their exposure to risks for exploitation and abuse.

The people of South Sudan face a steady stream of challenges as violence and insecurity continue to mount. And in a twist on tragedy, the outbreak of famine is becoming a real possibility for up to 1 million people over the coming months if there is not increased fast and sustained aid to the world’s newest country.

No child should be forced to uproot. In South Sudan, more than 380,000 children have already faced violence and displacement when they should be playing in the safety of their own communities. Helping these devastated families reunite may be one of the few bright spots in the midst of this horrible conflict.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eileen Simoes is the Response Manager for the South Sudan Response Management Team

The Syrian Conflict Through the Lens of Women and Girls

Syrian refugees walk along the outer perimeter of a refugee camp on the Syrian border. / Odd Andersen, AFP

Syrian refugees walk along the outer perimeter of a refugee camp on the Syrian border. / Odd Andersen, AFP

The numbers are stark. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights currently estimates that some 150,000 Syrians have perished in that country’s ongoing conflict. Over 6 million Syrians have been displaced inside the country, often multiple times; and approximately 2.7 million people have fled Syria, mostly into neighboring nations.

The majority of those are women and children, who have been exposed to serious risks during their flight, in camps, and in unfamiliar countries’ cities and towns.

The crisis in Syria presents humanitarian, developmental and demographic challenges that are seldom seen at this magnitude. We recently returned from Jordan and Turkey where we came away with very profound impressions regarding the gendered lens of the conflict; the challenge of gender-based violence (GBV); and, the roles that women are playing as agents of change.

It is hard to tell with any certainty exactly how many women are suffering various forms of sexual violence in Syria. Assessments, done by local and international organizations, do identify women and children as among the most vulnerable.

Anecdotally, many displaced Syrian women and girls report having experienced violence or knowing people that have suffered attacks, in particular rape.

A women carries food commodities in the Aleppo neighborhood of Tariq al-Bab. / Odd Andersen, AFP

A women carries food commodities in the Aleppo neighborhood of Tariq al-Bab. / Odd Andersen, AFP

But in spite of this horrifying situation, we also heard several heartening stories that humble us and provide the motivation to push forward and continue to elevate the voices of women enmeshed in this conflict:

  • Stories of women negotiating local cease fires in Zabadani and of removing armed actors from schools in Aleppo;
  • Stories of women delivering life-saving medical supplies despite the grave risks to themselves and their families;
  • Stories of women in eastern Syria who worked with merchants to stabilize commodity prices so that citizens could remain in their homes;
  • And stories of women in Latakia who convinced armed groups to permit establishment of a local civil society presence focused on peace-building.

Making sure these women are heard will be key to ending the violence.

These stories show some of the ways Syrian women are leading their communities. And USAID is working to create space for other fearless women across the country as we support the establishment of democratic processes and institutions in Syria that advance freedom, dignity, and development for all of its people.

Syrian women cook their food their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border. /  Bulent Kilic, AFP

Syrian women cook outside their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border. / Bulent Kilic, AFP

Consistent with our commitments under the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP) [pdf] we are seeking to increase the participation and representation of women, youth, and minorities in governing bodies, with a view to building confidence in peaceful and representative transitional political processes.

Our mission in Jordan is helping to create inclusive, effective and accountable institutions that serve all of its population. For example, one community and medical center that we visited in one of the largest and poorest urban areas in Jordan now serves a dynamic population of Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians — women, men, girls and boys — in the areas of computer literacy, job training, psycho-social care and basic education for young children. As a result of the far-reaching nature of the conflict and changing demographics of the neighborhood, the community has expanded its efforts to make services available to the entirety of the population.

USAID has stepped up commitments to meet the needs of women and girls, not only through our Implementation Plan for the NAP, but also in realizing the U.S. Government Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender Based Violence Globally [pdf]; the joint State-USAID Safe from the Start initiative; and through our shared leadership in 2014 of the Call to Action to Protect Women and Girls in Emergencies. We strive daily to live up to those commitments and eagerly look to the broader international community for collaboration.

USAID’s response in Syria and elsewhere around the world must serve, protect and empower all of those affected by crisis and conflict, and ensure their voices and priorities shape the humanitarian response and the approach to recovery and reconstruction.

South Sudan on the Brink of Famine Demands Urgent Action

Camp Tanping in Bor, South Sudan, after March rain. 21,000 people are sheltered at the camp following the outbreak of violence

Camp Tanping in Bor, South Sudan, after March rain. 21,000 people are sheltered at the camp following the outbreak of violence

On the first of April, I walked with great sadness through the United Nations compound in Juba, capital of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, now in free fall after a hopeful beginning three years ago. The compound is sheltering more than 21,000 displaced people who fled to safety after a spasm of violence in mid-December killed untold thousands.

I talked with 23- year-old Mary who told me how she had hid with her husband—a civil servant in the new government—and their three children as they watched neighbors being killed on the street before running to the compound for safety. I spoke with Elizabeth, a tall young woman who had taught school before she came to the camp. Together we noticed a few toddlers playing perilously close to a large pool of standing, fetid water from the first rains, a harbinger of the flooding now here.

The people of South Sudan face a spiral of conflict, displacement, and hunger that this fragile, young country can ill afford. More than one million people have been forced to leave their homes and the numbers keep growing. Almost 70,000 people are sheltering in crowded UN compounds around the country that sprung up over night and were not built to house tens of thousands of civilians. Many of these people can literally see their homes over the compound walls but remain too terrified to return, fearing they will be targeted by government or opposition forces and killed.

More than 800,000 people are displaced and dispersed in hard to reach areas, and a quarter of a million more have fled South Sudan for refuge in neighboring countries. Because of the conflict, markets are disrupted, planting season is in danger of being missed, and massive displacement is a burden for host communities. The ability of more than a million people to cope is being greatly eroded. Without fast and sustained aid, there is looming potential for one million people to teeter into famine over the next year—and children under five are already falling quickly into severe malnutrition.

AA/DCHA Nancy Lindborg plays with children at a UN camp in South Sudan. Over 67,800 people are seeking refuge in UN camps in the country.

Nancy Lindborg plays with children at a UN camp in South Sudan. Over 67,800 people are seeking refuge in UN camps in the country.


Since the outbreak of violence in December, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team has been working with UN and NGO partners to direct a full-throttle U.S. response to enable food, water, sanitation, and health assistance to reach the most vulnerable. While in Juba, I announced an additional $83 million in humanitarian assistance to support these urgently needed relief efforts for South Sudanese displaced within South Sudan and for those who have fled to Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan, bringing U.S. humanitarian assistance to $411 million over the last two years.

With the rainy season already upon us, there is little time to move life-saving assistance to those most in need. Even in the best of times, South Sudan presents a complex logistical challenge. Now, we need to use all possible avenues for reaching people: rivers, roads, air, and moving across borders.

Instead, leadership of both the government and the opposition have thus far refused to stop fighting and are unable to reach agreement since the violence erupted in December. Aid workers and cargoes are routinely delayed at checkpoints and where borders are open, caravans of trucks carrying relief supplies are stopped by fighting. Permission to use the Nile, the most efficient way to reach many of the suffering South Sudanese, has been denied until recently, costing precious time to save lives.

The United States has long supported South Sudan’s journey to independence. We remain committed to the people of South Sudan, who fought hard for their vision of a peaceful future. Just this week, we joined leaders from the United Nations and the European Union to issue a Call for Action on South Sudan urging an immediate end to fighting and unfettered access for UN and humanitarian organizations to reach people in need across the country. The leadership on both sides of the conflict must do everything in their power to enable immediate and unconditional access for UN and humanitarian organizations to ensure that this urgently needed assistance reaches those in need across all areas of South Sudan. They must act now to lead their country toward peace.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on April 9, 2014

 

By Preparing for Disaster, Chile Remains Resilient

A powerful magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck near the northern coast of Chile on April 1, prompting a tsunami and a series of strong aftershocks. Yet, nearly 1 million people were safely evacuated from harm’s way thanks to Chile’s disaster response preparations and early detection of the tsunami.

A magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit Chile in 2010 causing extensive damage and hundreds of deaths. / Larry Sacks/USAID

A magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit Chile in 2010 causing extensive damage and hundreds of deaths. / Larry Sacks/USAID

Chile is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, and last week’s tremor was the most significant seismic activity since 2010, when a magnitude 8.8 earthquake hit central Chile. Chilean officials were able to detect the earthquake and track tsunami waves before landfall, allowing them to respond swiftly and evacuate people in potentially affected areas. The result was very few casualties in contrast to the 2010 earthquake, which tragically took more than 550 lives.

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) has worked with the Government of Chile for more than two decades to strengthen its ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. Since 2010, an emphasis has been placed on helping Chile establish a national monitoring system that allows local experts to study and track seismic activity in the region. Additionally, USAID and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helped Chile develop a tsunami early warning system that has bolstered the country’s ability to detect tsunamis in advance and alert people when needed, including for evacuations.

USAID teams up with local disaster first responders in Chile to teach collapsed structure rescue methods. / Mariela Chavarriga/USAID

USAID teams up with local disaster first responders in Chile to teach collapsed structure rescue methods. / Mariela Chavarriga/USAID

USAID/OFDA also supports training workshops for local and emergency responders in Chile that focus on tsunami response exercises as an effective preparedness tool, as well as bolstering skills in medical aid, urban-search-and-rescue capabilities, and coordination during a disaster.

Underscoring the importance of disaster preparedness, geologists predict that Chile will experience more earthquakes in the future. However, the Chilean Government’s response to this most recent disaster demonstrates the lifesaving power of disaster risk reduction work.

 

Standing with the People of the Central African Republic for a Stronger Future

Originally featured on the Huffington Post

Last week, as I flew into Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), what first appeared as a densely populated city came into sharp focus as a sprawling, miserable settlement of tarps, sticks, and rags. With a total population of about 750,000, almost 400,000 people in Bagui are displaced and 100,000 people are now huddled in an encampment by the airport, seeking refuge from a vicious cycle of attacks and lawlessness. Humanitarian agencies have improvised the delivery of food, water, and basic supplies, but the urgent hope is that the deployment of international troops will bring security fast enough to allow people to return home, especially before the spring rains turn this camp into a giant swamp.

Nancy Lindborg is the USAID assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

For decades, CAR has topped the list of forgotten countries. Landlocked in the middle of the African continent, surrounded by neighbors with longstanding tensions of their own and left to decay through decades of incompetent and corrupt leadership, CAR is the poster child for why development matters-especially development linked to inclusive, legitimate, democratic governance. In a free fall of violence since the collapse of a short-lived consensus government in March 2013, warring militias have taken up arms in communities across the country, motivated increasingly by revenge, while religious labels are being slapped onto tensions with much deeper, historical roots.

Like many conflicts, the current crisis in CAR is complicated. But what isn’t complicated is the suffering of the more than one million women, children, and men who have been forced from their homes as a result of the recent violence in a country already struggling with chronic poverty. Almost everyone I met with in the Bangui camp or in similar camps I visited in Bossangoa, a city to the north, had a story of displacement, fear, and loss.

In Bossangoa, I met a woman called Nana, a slender older woman from Benzamde, a district roughly 40 kilometers from the rough tent she lives in now alongside 8,5000 other Muslims seeking safety. Nana lost her husband and four children to the recent violence and now resides with her sister and grandchildren at Camp École Liberté. The local Imam is living in the camp for protection as well, having lost his wife and four of his children in recent attacks. The local Bishop lives nearby in a church that now has 41,300 Christians encamped around it, including Dorcas, a Christian woman who lost her husband in the December 5th violence and now supports their four children, including a six-month-old girl who nodded sleepily in the sling on her back.

Although the Bishop and Imam talk regularly, they despair that their messages of peace are not reaching a larger audience, especially with so many radio stations destroyed by the violence and in a country that avails no opportunity to prosecute those who steal, kill, or loot.

In this tinderbox environment, tensions remain high and the prevention of further violence is an international priority. Since the escalation of hostilities in December 2013, the United States has moved urgently to respond with $101 million in security assistance, both for French troops and additional African troops. During my visit, I saw two U.S. planes arrive with soldiers from the region to augment the existing peacekeeping troops.

On the heels of my visit to CAR, I traveled to Brussels, accompanied by colleagues from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, where the international community collectively pledged nearly $500 million in new funds to address the rising humanitarian crisis in CAR, including $54 million from the United States to provide urgent food, water, and medical assistance to the millions of Central Africans in need as well as support for courageous religious and community leaders who are promoting calm and peace among their communities.

An important step forward is the appointment one week ago of a new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of Bangui. After decades of exploitation and corruption by political forces, we are hopeful that Samba-Panza will provide political leadership focused on democratic governance rather than association with militia groups or narrow interests. To this end, she has called repeatedly for an inclusive peace and a new future for the country, and she recently appointed a technocratic Prime Minister, who formed a 20-member interim cabinet comprised of seven women and three representatives of ex-Seleka rebels.

The United States has pledged to join the international community to urgently help prevent the potential for even more killings and violence, including support for the possible pathway to peace that President Samba-Panza presents. The international community is mobilizing to help people like Dorcas and Nana climb out of the current cycle of violence with new attention and assistance-and it matters. So will our continued attention to stronger institutions, rule of law, and justice for a lasting peace.

See Also:
Additional $30 Million in Humanitarian Assistance for the People of the Central African Republic

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Syrian Women: Critical Partners for Peace

As negotiations to halt the violence in Syria continue, I am reminded daily of the essential role that Syrian women must play in order to resolve the crisis. Two weeks ago, I represented the U.S. Government at a high-level preparatory conference organized by UN Women and the Dutch Government to prepare women for a voice in the upcoming Geneva II talks. The compelling briefings and written declarations by delegates underscored how important women’s perspectives are to progress.

Despite their widely varying views regarding the future of Syria, the women who gathered in Geneva unambiguously called for an immediate end to violence, unfettered humanitarian access, and support of the Geneva 1 communique and diplomatic negotiations. Most importantly, their declaration also emphasized that women must participate robustly in all talks.

Syrian refugees in Ankara, Turkey

Credit: AFP/Adem Altan

I have no doubt that the perspectives of women will add breadth and depth to the conversations. Syrian women and girls are experiencing the conflict in specific ways. They are coping with sexual violence that can have a significant impact on their health, well-being, and position within their families and communities. They are assuming non-traditional roles as their husbands, fathers, and brothers go off to fight or are targeted by violence. They are facing the risk of being married off young in exchange for dowries to put food on their families’ table, or to pay rent.

Last week, Geneva II negotiations began and fortunately, for the mediators and for the Syrian people, women were included on government and opposition delegations. Today, the talks focus on enabling humanitarian aid for Homs. Women at the talks are reminding delegates that a diverse coalition of women called for medical and humanitarian aid weeks ago. These women can also help garner support for negotiations back home in Homs, in Aleppo, in Damascus and elsewhere, because they represent a constituency on the ground, living the violence every day.

The participation of these women will be invaluable because like other women before them, including in Sudan, Uganda, Iraq, and among Israelis and Palestinians, they raised unique issues during negotiations. Women focus on the need to re-establish civilian security; they emphasize the need to maintain and rebuild communities; and they focus attention on the needs and interests of the displaced. Women are well-connected to war-affected communities back home; they help create lines of communication to increase local knowledge and ownership of talks and support for negotiated solutions.

As negotiations continue, women will remain a critical resource in pushing for peace. They will be able to provide insight to the situation on the ground and best strategies for rebuilding and reuniting communities torn apart by the conflict.

It is in the global community’s own interest to ensure Syrian women’s continuing role and influence in dialog and problem-solving at both the local and national levels. Without their involvement, peace is likely to be harder to attain, more tenuous, and more fragile.

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