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A Comprehensive Approach to Yemen

This originally appeared on  The White House Blog

On Friday, U.S. officials participated in a meeting of the Friends of Yemen in New York, marking an important occasion to coordinate international support for Yemen. The meeting also provides a good opportunity to discuss the United States’ comprehensive approach to assist Yemen.

Much of the press attention about U.S. efforts regarding Yemen has focused on efforts to combat Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  There is no doubt AQAP is a serious threat to Yemen, the United States, and our allies.  This was vividly demonstrated by the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2009, as well as by AQAP attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In response to this threat, in the past year the Yemeni government has conducted operations that have helped disrupt AQAP’s operations, but AQAP remains dangerous.  AQAP has conducted retaliatory attacks against Yemeni forces, and continues to plot additional attacks against the United States.  The United States strongly supports the Yemeni government’s efforts, and is providing it security assistance to increase its capacity to counter the AQAP threat.  The United States has also designated AQAP and its leaders as terrorists domestically and through the United Nations in order to prevent their travel and restrict their access to the international financial system.  At the same time, the United States and our international partners are strengthening international air travel security in order to prevent future attacks by AQAP or other terrorists.

However, support for operations against AQAP is only one piece of the United State’s strategy for Yemen.  As many commentators have noted, these efforts alone are insufficient to eliminate AQAP’s threat, because they do not address the environment that allows AQAP to exist. Nor are they sufficient to achieve our broader goal, which President Obama has defined as a unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen.  Indeed, Yemen faces a staggering array of challenges that contribute to instability, including: internal conflicts; growing water scarcity; pervasive poverty; lack of access to education for a population that is growing rapidly; high unemployment with a “youth bulge” (43% of the country’s population is under 14 years of age); inadequate government and health services; corruption; and the approaching economic transition from oil being its primary export to being a net import.  These issues are challenges on their own, but they are also being exploited by AQAP.

Recognizing the seriousness of these challenges, the Obama Administration initiated a review of its Yemen policy in the spring of 2009. The result was a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of instability, and improve governance and the livelihoods of the Yemeni people. As a result, the United States has greatly expanded its economic and humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people, to approximately $110 million over the past 12 months up from $14.3 million two years before.  This includes funds for:

  • $67 million for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to work in partnership with communities to directly address local needs.  This includes health, education, and water projects; mobile health and veterinary clinics; and support for increasing the capacity of local governments to deliver essential services.
  • $42.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemenis displaced by the conflict in northern Yemen, as well as to refugees in the south.
  • more than $2.3 million in grants from the Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative to local Yemeni organizations to support an inclusive democratic process.

The United States is also working diplomatically to support: economic and governance development and reform; an inclusive and democratic political process, including free and fair parliamentary elections in 2011; the rule of law and the protection of human rights; an open, vibrant civil society and freedom of the press; the delivery of education, health and other essential services, and the continuation of the ceasefire in the north of Yemen. This work has involved not only U.S. Embassy Sana’a, but senior officials from the White House, the Departments of State and Treasury, USAID, and others.  We are being joined in these efforts by Jim McVerry, recently named to fill the Department of State’s newly-created Senior Coordinator for Yemen position, and Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, who will take up his position in the next few days.

Fortunately, we are not alone in prioritizing assistance to Yemen.  We are coordinating both our diplomatic and assistance efforts with our international partners – including countries from the region and abroad, and the Gulf Coordination Council, European Union, United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank.  We are coordinating both our diplomatic and assistance efforts with them.  The Friends of Yemen is a key component of the international community’s efforts.  Launched by Secretary Hilary Clinton and her international counterparts in London in January of this year, the two dozen member countries and international organizations are focusing on assisting Yemen in implementing important reforms to support its development and stability through the efforts of its Working Groups on Economy & Governance and Justice & the Rule of Law.  Friday’s meeting in New York endorsed important Yemeni political, development steps, and anti-corruption steps.  The meeting also recognized the international community’s efforts to improve assistance delivery, support the ceasefire in the north, and steps to improve employment opportunities for Yemenis.

This will not be quick or easy.  Yemen faces difficult challenges, and assistance Yemen will be a sustained project for the international community.  The Yemeni people and the international community are both confronted by real threats from AQAP, and it may take years to decisively defeat it. However, we believe that the future belongs to those who build, not to those who are focused on destruction.  And the United States stands with the people of Yemen as they seek to build a more positive future and reject AQAP’s efforts to kill innocent men, women, and children.  As President Obama recently wrote, “We are also committed to helping Yemen achieve a future that builds upon the extraordinary talents of its people and the richness of its history…I am convinced that the people of Yemen can do more than overcome the threats that they face – they can build a future of greater peace and opportunity for their children.” The United States’ comprehensive approach aims to assist Yemen in realizing that future.

Aaron W. Jost is the Director for Arabian Peninsula for the National Security Council at the White House

COUNTDOWN TO THE MDG SUMMIT: USAID’s Rajiv Shah: “We Need Results”

As featured in Ministerial Leadership Initiative’s blog

Part two of the 8-part series In the Driver’s Seat: A Series on Country Ownership of Health Programs. Dr. Rajiv Shah was sworn in as the 16th Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on December 31, 2009. He spoke with John Donnelly earlier this month.

 


Q: What does country ownership mean?

A: I think it primarily means the country owning and defining the set of priorities in terms of what they want to accomplish in the health sector. It will vary country by country and vary based on disease, and it will vary on different country governments and their prioritization of health problems. It’s fundamentally about saying in the last decade that there’s been this huge growth in global health, with a lot of the work being done by NGOs, contract partners, and foundations that sometimes operate outside the dialogue and engagement with the host country. If we are going to achieve progress at a higher level, and ensure that countries sustain these achievements, then we need to make this whole system of donor-supported global health activities fit within a country’s own set of aspirations for global health. We’ve now seen a lot of different models for countries to express their priorities. The ones I prefer are inclusive of civil society and other groups within those countries.

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USAID Eases Hardships of Haiti’s Earthquake Survivors

After the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, an estimated 1.5 million people were displaced from their homes. Approximately 100,000 earthquake survivors fled Port-au-Prince to Haiti’s Central Plateau.

While the area was one of the country’s poorest regions even before the earthquake, it’s seen an influx of survivors who’ve come to live with family and friends, straining already limited resources.

To ease the hardships in the Central Plateau, USAID partner Mercy Corps is providing immediate financial assistance through cash-for-work programs for both the displaced earthquake survivors and the families who took them in.

With USAID/OFDA support, Mercy Corps is providing livelihood opportunities to 2,000 people per week in the Central Plateau. An additional 20,000 people are on track to benefit from the cash-for-work program.

These projects give a member of each household 30 days of employment on a community-selected project geared at improving infrastructure or agricultural production, such as rehabilitating roads, farmland or irrigation systems. Some have used their salary and tools from the programs to start more sustainable small businesses.

Under USAID’s Food Security Program in Haiti, Mercy Corps will also provide food vouchers to 100,000 in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite region. This new initiative provides grants, cash or vouchers to buy desperately needed food.

In the town of Mirebalais, Mercy Corps employs Haitians to clear debris from canals and other public spaces to mitigate flooding during hurricane season. Watch a video on this important program.

View photos of Mercy Corps’ work in Mirebalais on Facebook and Flickr.

Tragedy and Hope in Kalam

Submitted by Richard Zack Taylor

Bhan, Pakistan: As the eldest of five siblings with a father working overseas, 10-year-old Olfata had a lot of responsibility helping to look after her four younger brothers and sisters, while lending a hand on her extended family’s potato farm and apple orchard in mountainous north of the country.

Seema, Olfata holding Sidiqa, and Faisal have been affected by the floods in Pakistan, but are receiving help. Photo Credit: USAID/Pakistan

One day in late July, she heard shouting and yelling coming from neighbors up the river:  her village was directly in the path of a flash flood just minutes away. She tried to remain calm, and helped gather up her brothers and sisters and a basket full of apples, the first objects of value she could find.

Amid a great tumult in the village, Olfata was shepherding the little ones to higher ground when a panicked stray dog lunged toward her, toppling the apples and sending her siblings Seema, 9, Fozia, 7, and five-year-old Faisal in various directions while she clung to 16-month-old  Sadiqa with her free hand.

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Flying Over Swat Showed me the True Scope of the Disaster

Shortly after arriving in Pakistan on Tuesday, I met with retired General Nadeem Ahmed, the chairman of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority.  As the general took me up in a military helicopter to inspect the once-beautiful but ravaged Swat valley, we spoke openly and candidly about the true extent of the damage wrought by the floodwaters.

As was clearly visible in areas where the waters had receded, the real work to bring Pakistan back to life has yet to start.  As far as the eye could see, foundations and buttresses supported nonexistent houses and bridges, power lines lay hopelessly tangled on the ground, and roads destroyed and washed away.  A layer of mud coated the landscape like brown paint and the normally sparkling, turquoise Swat river has become a river of mud.  As I look around me, it is obvious that Pakistan faces the biggest challenge in its 64-year history.

As I convene my senior staff tonight, we will fine-tune a plan that top USAID officials have been formulating since the scope of the disaster became apparent.  Throughout the flight, General Nadeem pointed out schools and medical centers that are still standing that were built with the help of USAID.  One thing is clear, though, which is that the United States intends to show itself as a friend and committed partner of Pakistan for many years to come.

World Humanitarian Day: Response Coordinator Reflects on Progress Made in Haiti

Yesterday was World Humanitarian Day, a day when we remember the millions of people experiencing conflict, natural disasters, sickness and extreme poverty and the people committed to saving their lives, relieving suffering and empowering those who are struggling make a better life.

At USAID, we have a long history of extending a helping hand to people overseas recovering from disaster and are continuing to respond to humanitarian needs. We support Pakistanis affected by the epic flooding in the country’s south and west. And since January 12, our aid workers and partners have worked hard to help the people of Haiti build back better after the earthquake.

Watch a video featuring Response Coordinator Skip Waskin and learn about humanitarian aid efforts in Haiti.

Apparel Training Center in Haiti Educates Textile Factory Workforce

Forming a Better-Trained Workforce in Haiti
Written By Joanna Stavropoulos, CHF Haiti communications manager

Graduate of USAID-funded garment training center in Haiti

Steve Jean, a graduate of the new USAID-funded Haiti Apparel Center, trains sewing machine operators in Port-au-Prince. Photo by Joanna Stavropoulos/CHF

Steve Jean, 37, grew up in a family of tailors – his mother, father, even his grandfather and before him. When he was a child, more than 100,000 textile workers had jobs in Haiti. Now there are fewer than 20,000.

But USAID is working to change this statistic and bring vitally needed economic development, jobs and investment to Haiti.  On Wednesday, USAID led the inauguration with CHF International for the Haiti Apparel Center (HAC), which will train 2,000 Haitians a year on a wide variety of jobs needed for Haiti to develop its textile manufacturing sector.

Even before HAC’s official opening, Steve graduated from the Center as a trainer for sewing machine operators and has been overseeing workers in apparel factories next door.

Steve’s face shone with pride as he walked me through the 30,000-square-foot freshly refurbished HAC building with its many rows of shiny new sewing machines where he will soon train other Haitians eager to join the textile industry.

“I believe in this, I know it will be a success,” he says with emotion. “There is a future here because Haitians like to work; young people want to work. So if they have the opportunity they will learn and they will prove what they can do.”

Steve explains that it’s difficult to find a family in Haiti without a tailor among its members. “Even if we have 10 or 20 centers like this,” he said, “you will have a lot of people waiting for this opportunity.”

Steve also points out that the sewing machine operators from HAC will learn all the varieties of stitching (single-needle, cover-stitch, lock-stitch and over-lock), which will increase their appeal to a wide variety of potential employers.

The Center will teach virtually the entire spectrum of skills needed by textile manufacturing workers. There will be instruction for sewing machine mechanics, quality control specialists, industrial engineers, supervisors and plant managers. There will even be seminars for top executives and factory owners who wish to further educate themselves about the latest innovations and techniques in the field.

Steve is excited about his job as a trainer. “The main thing that I learned is how to teach,” he says about the three-month long instruction at HAC. “How to explain and when you explain and they don’t understand – how to figure out what you did wrong and become better in the explanation.”

“I very much enjoy teaching,” says Steve, smiling as we stop outside the building. “When you try to figure out what to do to help someone learn and understand, I like that.”

You can see more photos from the HAC inauguration on the USAID Flickr feed.

Helping to Communicate Life-Saving Information to Haitians

Credit: Janice Laurente/USAID

If you visit USAID-funded Internews in Port-au-Prince, you’ll see a newsroom full of busy Haitian journalists. There’s a pile of empty cardboard boxes in the corner organized neatly in rows that almost reach the ceiling. After examining it more closely, you’ll notice that the boxes form a temporary radio studio where a young woman is recording part of Enfomasyon Nou Dwe Konnen (News You Can Use), a daily radio program that provides humanitarian relief and assistance information to victims of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. 

Internews increases the quality and amount of news and information on relief and recovery efforts. It also helps strengthen journalism in Haiti through a training program for both journalists and radio station business managers.  

 “After a crisis, people need information just as much as any other basic need like shelter and water,” said Jennifer Mandell, research, monitoring and assessment director at Internews. “Through News You Can Use, we help people affected by the earthquake find solutions to everyday problems they encounter.”

Haitian surveyors go into camps and surrounding communities to ask people what information they need to make their lives better. The data is then shared with members of the news team who report on key topics of concern. “Mailbox,” a popular segment of the show answers questions sent by listeners via SMS. News You Can Use is disseminated in and around Port-au-Prince to nearly 30 radio stations, reaching approximately 3 million listeners. About 98 percent of Haitians get their news through the radio.     

“I know we’re helping people,” said Alain Draye, senior journalist advisor at Internews. “One listener that comes to mind is a man who submitted a question to “Mailbox.” He lost his leg in the earthquake and needed a prosthetic so we contacted different groups to get information. This helped him, and many others like him, get what he needed to walk again.”

Pic of the Week

Haitian workers are building a USAID-funded irrigation canal. Photo by Herve Jean-Charles.

As Haiti passes six months since the earthquake, men and women are employed in the USAID-funded reconstruction of an irrigation canal that not only provides a source of water for agriculture and livestock, but also a source of income for Haitians.

The President’s Commitment to Fight HIV/AIDS

Cross-posted from The White House Blog.  Originally posted by Gayle Smith on July 21, 2010 at 03:50 PM EDT

In light of the International AIDS Society conference being held in Vienna this week, many people have raised questions about the Obama Administration’s commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

First, consider the facts:

As a UNAIDS report documented just days ago, the United States provided 58 percent of all funds worldwide to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries.  Furthermore, while numerous developed countries were cutting back on their support for HIV/AIDS between 2008 and 2009, the United States actually increased its funding by more than 10 percent.  The fact that these increases were done during the worst recession in a generation and a deteriorating fiscal situation speaks volumes about the President’s – and our country’s – commitment to the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Read more on The White House Blog

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