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Focus on Nutrition: Creating Inclusive Partnerships and Deepening our Knowledge

This originally appeared on DipNote.

Recently, I visited Bangladesh to find out how you feed a country that has half the population of the United States squeezed into an area the size of the state of Iowa. One thing is for certain: no one can do it alone. During my trip, I witnessed how partnerships among a broad range of stakeholders — the Rome-based UN agencies, the Government of Bangladesh, donor countries, civil society and the private sector — are coming together to change the way we address chronic hunger. The U.S. government is supporting partnerships that deliver food, including fortified vegetable oil, in conjunction with health and other interventions that help ensure our programs translate into better nutrition outcomes.

Good nutrition is crucial during the first 1,000 days — from the mother’s pregnancy through the child’s second birthday — because it affects lifelong mental and physical development, IQ, school achievement, and, ultimately, work capacity and income generation. Thus, nourishing children not only enables individuals to achieve their full potential, but creates the conditions for nations to grow and prosper. This is one of the reasons why nutrition is the critical link between Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative, the game-changing Presidential initiatives that address global hunger and maternal and child health as part of a broader strategy to drive sustainable and broad-based growth.

We know that we have to look at child malnutrition in new ways to accelerate progress toward the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. We know that better targeting and implementation of nutrition programs can greatly increase the effectiveness of our assistance and, most importantly, the ability of all children to thrive. We also know, as Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton stated at the “1,000 Days: Change a Life, Change the Future” event in New York last month, that prevention is better, and less expensive, than treatment.

The U.S. government is leading programs that focus on preventing malnutrition before it occurs. Core components of this new approach aim at improving the quality and use of health services, caretaker behaviors and dietary intake. Pregnant women and lactating mothers attend monthly pre- and post-natal services and nutrition education sessions while children up to 24 months are weighed and provided with basic care. Sick or malnourished mothers and children are treated or referred for additional care. Mothers and babies receive supplementary food in addition to a household food ration. As the international community recognizes, we need comprehensive approaches that draw from a broad toolbox in order to prevent and treat malnutrition effectively.

In addition to working to improve our programs on the ground, we are increasing the quality and scope of our food assistance commodities. We recently established a pilot effort to introduce and field-test new or improved micronutrient-fortified food aid products. We are also pursuing innovation around the nutritional content, product composition, and packaging of food products delivered through humanitarian assistance programs. Congress made $14 million available to support these two efforts in fiscal year 2010.

The American people will continue to provide emergency food aid assistance to vulnerable populations. And we are working with top researchers to help ensure that the food aid provided has a high nutritional value. With Tufts University’s School of Nutrition, we are examining nutritional needs and how we can best meet those needs — be they in Bangladesh or the Great Lakes of Central Africa — where I’ve seen incredible work being done. The study includes a scientific review of current enrichment and fortification technologies, a review of methods for delivery of micronutrients and an active consultative process that involves industry, academic and operational experts. Ultimately, it will provide recommendations on how to meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations with food aid assistance in a cost-effective manner.

While we expect that some time will be necessary to implement the recommendations, make the necessary changes in formulations, and test new products, our purpose is clear: We are committed to delivering high-quality, nutritious food assistance to people in need. As reaffirmed in the Committee on World Food Security nutrition side event last week, nutrition science has pointed the way to interventions that are basic, low-cost and effective. There is political will to scale up nutrition, align our efforts and measure our results. As Secretary Clinton has emphasized, we must use this remarkable opportunity to make a measurable impact on child hunger and malnutrition.

Substations Enable Full-time Police Presence in Haiti

On a recent hot and sunny day in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a group of military personnel from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), staff with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Treasury went to Tabarre Isa camp armed with buckets of blue and white paint and paintbrushes. Their mission is  to work with camp residents to paint a newly constructed police substation. The structure enables U.N. Police (UNPOL) and Haitian National Police (HNP) to have a full-time presence in the camps, and it provides crime victims, especially women and children, a safe refuge where they can report crime.

The U.S. government built police substations in six key camps in the Port-au-Prince area for people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake, including Ancien Aeroport Militaire, Golf del Mar 48, Acra, Tabarre Issa, Carredeaux and Corail Cesselesse, to help reduce crime in the camps, particularly gender-based violence. Originally, UNPOL was going to construct the police substations over the course of six months for $50,000. But because SOUTHCOM had extra time and resources, they completed the project in six weeks at a cost of $5,000.

In August, Louisiana National Guard Task Force Commander Col. Michael Borrel and his Task Force Kout Men had two engineer rotations working in Gonaives as part of SOUTHCOM’s New Horizons humanitarian assistance exercise. When Lt. Col. Paul Gass, an Army civil affairs officer attached to the U.S. Embassy, heard they had finished their six weeks of projected work in only four and had two extra weeks of time, he reached out to Col. Borrel with ideas for a “light-duty” project they could perform.

After examining needs in the camps, Gass and Borrel had an epiphany: Use these troops to build the substations. This would ensure a better police presence in the camps sooner.

With the agreement and cooperation of UNPOL and the HNP, they took on the project. The Louisiana Army National Guard, Task Force Kout Men and South Dakota National Guard engineers took over the design and construction of the 8-by-12-foot buildings. Once the idea was pitched, UNPOL became the voice for the HNP with input from Kevin Kennedy, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

“This project is a shining example of how a simple design, some coordination, extra resources and commitment can result in an extremely successful project,” Lt. Col. Gass said.

In addition to the police substations in the camps, USAID worked to increase lighting in camps, especially around latrines and shower facilities. USAID has also helped form women’s support groups and provided funding for psychosocial services such as GBV referral information, legal counseling and protection coordination.

A photo slide show of the substations is on Flickr.

USAID Assistance in Pakistan

Day in and day out, the men and women of the United States Agency for International Development provide development assistance throughout the world, in environments that are not always safe.

I have been in the Foreign Service with USAID for 24 years and currently have the honor of leading the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Thursday I returned from Pakistan where I saw USAID’s team and the NGOs we support on the ground providing hope to millions of Pakistanis after the floods that devastated 20 percent of the country.

The United States Government, through USAID, requires the NGOs we fund to “brand” the assistance they provide to people in need with the Agency’s handshake logo and the words “from the American people” in local languages. Branding is not just required by law; it ensures transparency when America provides aid. We believe that the people we help have a right to know where their assistance is coming from.

In fact, many Pakistani people often criticize USAID for not being more aggressive when it comes to branding our aid. The USAID handshake is an enduring symbol of America’s support for Pakistan, well known by many who saw it as children when the Agency was a major contributor to important infrastructure projects, including dams and hydro power plants that provided millions with crucial transportation links and power. During my visit last week, Pakistani NGOs urged me to better make our efforts known to the flood-affected victims, so they are able to appreciate that no country is doing more to help them than the United States. The U.S government , through USAID is the largest overall donor in Pakistan, and it is important that we are able to communicate those efforts to the people we are helping.

At the same time, USAID is highly sensitive to the risks of branding in environments where one’s association with foreigners can turn a humanitarian worker into a target. We are in constant contact with security personnel in country; and where the security risks warrant it, we will continue to grant waivers to the branding requirement for certain areas and limited periods of time.

For example, in Pakistan today, I have granted waivers for NGOs working in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. But Pakistan is a vast country and not a monolith. In other parts of the country ravaged by the floods, where security has not been an issue, we continue to require branding on our aid.

Weighing the balance between carrying out our mission with transparency and ensuring the security of our workers and our NGO partners in the field is a constant challenge. We welcome the opportunity to work with all of our implementing partners to ensure that we get the balance right.

New Partnership to Support Child Welfare Reform Launched in Russia

During my recent trip to Russia, I was presented with USAID/Russia’s exciting new child welfare project implemented by a first-time Russian grantee, the National Foundation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NFPCC). This project, which was officially launched September 9, is very timely, as preventing child abandonment and supporting the development of family-based services for orphans are priorities for the Russian government.

Around 130 people participated last week in the official launch of USAID/Russia’s “Compass for Childhood” project.  They included representatives of the Russian government, professional community, leading NGOs in child welfare and journalists writing about child welfare issues.  Opened by the Russian government, the event focused on the presentation of the project’s goals and objectives to help Russian regions strengthen the system of care for vulnerable children and families.  Although there has been substantial economic growth in Russia over the past decade, there were still over 126,000 children newly registered without parental care in 2009 alone.  Although reforms are underway in several regions, there is still much to be done to improve the system of care nationwide and establish services to ensure children get the proper care they need and a family-based environment.

During my visit to Moscow, I was pleased to meet with NFPCC representatives, UNICEF, and representatives from other Embassies to discuss how we can work together with Russian government counterparts and civil society to support this priority area. Although we’ve worked with NFPCC for several years as a sub-grantee, I am thrilled that we’re a part of this new partnership, working directly with a Russian organization. This is a good example of the long-term work we are trying to do in Russia to build the capacity of civil society organizations such as NFPCC.

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.

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