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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

Got Milk?

Dr. Raj Shah and Head of Kirene Alexandre Alcantara

Alexandre Alcantara, Managing Director of Kirène, Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator for USAID and James Billings, Chief of Party for USAID's Economic Growth Project in Senegal shake hands after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding during Dr. Shah's visit.

Bringing together local communities and private enterprise is what makes for a sustainable and mutually profitable partnership.  Just ask Alexandre Alcantara, head of Kirène, a leader in the local production of mineral water, fruit juice, milk and milk-based products here in Senegal. Alexandre has been giving me a tour of his factory located about 80 kilometers outside the capital city of Dakar. USAID/Senegal and Kirène are working together to create jobs and increase rural incomes by targeting local milk farmers to supply the raw materials for their milk products. Kirène imports most of its raw milk in powdered form. Through Feed the Future, USAID is partnering with the firm to increase the

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Football – More Than a Game

submitted by Karen Towers

Football - not just a game

Kids playing football in the Nike Foundation provided stadium in Pretoria

Wherever you are on earth, it’s only a matter of time before you will come across children playing football. Across every continent, football is a common language and a culture shared: a joy, a passion, an escape and an affirmation of identity understood and celebrated by children and their parents in every country on earth. The frenzy surrounding the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, makes it clear that soccer is not just a game, but a source of national pride and a representation of human ability on and off the field.

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Natural Disasters Strike Guatemala

On May 26, 2010 heavy rainfall marked hurricane season’s first occurrence, Tropical Depression (TD) Agatha, began in Guatemala and El Salvador causing enormous sink holes in downtown Guatemala City and triggering floods and mudslides in two thirds of the country’s municipalities. Many public schools were converted into temporary shelters for the homeless.

Late on the afternoon of May 27 – Pacaya Volcano, one of the three active volcanoes, erupted 25 miles south of Guatemala City and spread ash, sand, gravel and fist-sized rocks for miles. The volcanic eruption covered the City with up to an inch of debris.

These incidents provide a good overview of what happens in a disaster: U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala Stephen G. McFarland issued a disaster declaration and requested emergency humanitarian assistance from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). The United States was one of the first nations to pledge support with $100,000 that USAID’s Guatemala Mission used to locally purchase emergency relief supplies including food rations, fuel for emergency response vehicles and helicopter time to conduct need assessments. USAID/Guatemala is working with Guatemala’s National Emergency Commission and USAID/OFDA’s assessment team and food security program partners to assess the need for further assistance.

Within hours, a seven-person OFDA assessment team was on a plane. They work closely with U.S. Mission Disaster Relief Officer, Guatemala’s National Emergency Commission officials and other humanitarian groups to coordinate U.S. assistance. The Department of Defense’s U.S. Southern Command mobilized four helicopters and 40 troops that were brought in from Honduras to support evacuations, search and rescue efforts, and transport of emergency supplies to affected areas of Guatemala.

Every year, OFDA responds to more than 80 disasters at the request of countries around the world. OFDA operates on the principle that in fragile states, a disaster—even a small one—can drain already limited resources. That’s why the United States is there to help when people need it most.

Partnering with West African Countries to Fight Global Hunger

Partnering with West African Countries to Fight Global Hunger

Administrator Shah adresses the Opening Session of the CAADP/ECOWAS High Level Event

Food security is the order of business this week.  I’m here at the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) / Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) high level event in Dakar, Senegal for its review of national and regional investment plans in agriculture for West African countries. President Obama pledged $3.5 billion for agricultural development and food security over three years and a central part of that approach includes investing in country-owned plans. The United States is making a significant contribution to support the country plans for several West African countries at this review.

Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, renews our commitment to invest in combating the root causes of chronic hunger and poverty.  In Senegal, where

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USAID in the News

submitted by Jessica Scott

In an interview with The Washington Post, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah discussed the Feed the Future Initiative, an Obama Administration program that USAID is leading to ensure food security and end hunger worldwide. Just after taking part in a food security conference in Dhaka that will play a key role in implementing the program in Bangladesh, Dr. Shah noted that US officials have been working at a high level with the Bangladeshi government, civil society and private sector. Feed the Future will focus on improving the agricultural systems of at least 20 countries and is expected to benefit 40 million people over a decade.

This week Dr. Shah officially announced the formation of USAID’s policy planning staff. Lawrence (Larry) Garber has been chosen to head up the effort as the acting assistant to the administrator for the brand-new Bureau of Policy Planning and Learning. Garber will be one of two deputy assistant administrators in the bureau.

During a visit at the White House with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, President Barack Obama announced that $400 million of aid will be sent to Gaza and the West Bank. The majority of the funds will be distributed through USAID for housing, education and infrastructure.

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BRINGING MOBILE BANKING TO HAITI

One of the lesser-known victims of Haiti’s devastating earthquake last January was the country’s financial system. Banks were closed for more than a week. Remittances through Fonkoze, a leading transfer agent, ground to a halt and were only restored when a U.S. inter-agency effort flew in more than $2 million. But even as the US, the international community, and the Government of Haiti help these traditional institutions get back on the feet, a critical roadblock to progress remains: less than 10% of Haitians have ever used a commercial bank.

That’s why we’re thrilled to announce today an innovative partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to incentivize the development of financial services by mobile phone in Haiti. In short, these services are quicker, safer, and cheaper than traditional banking and could play a major role in helping to lift Haitians out of poverty and facilitating the country’s rebuilding process.

As part of the program, our friends at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will provide $10 million for a fund to provide cash awards to companies that initiate mobile financial services in Haiti. USAID will offer technical and management assistance and other funding totaling approximately $5 million through one of our projects, the Haiti Integrated Finance for Value Chains and Enterprise (HIFIVE), already underway to improve access to financial services for the underserved. We’re working with Haitian companies in this effort in order to maximize our impact and address a critical need that had not been met through traditional approaches to development.

This type of program represents the approach I’m deeply committed to promoting here at USAID: cutting-edge technologies and programs deployed in new and unique ways to deliver optimal improvement. I’m very optimistic about what this program can do for Haiti and the short and long-term benefits it can deliver.

Because so few Haitians use commercial banks, savings are limited and insecure, employers must rely on sometimes-risky cash distributions, and remittance transfers (which account for about half of the country’s total income) are slowed. This problem is particularly problematic in rural areas and contributes to the over-concentration of Haitians in Port-au-Prince.

With the development of a mobile banking system, Haitians across the country could send, receive, and store money using their cell phones, better connecting them with relatives abroad who send money, employers who want to quickly and easily pay them, and goods and services they want to purchase. Here at USAID, we hope to be able to use mobile banking to pay workers through our cash-for-work programs, which currently employ about 24,000 people every day to do rubble removal and mitigation activities.

As we near the six month commemoration of the January 12th earthquake that devastated Haiti, we’re more focused than ever on helping the people of Haiti tackle the indescribably immense challenges that the earthquake posed. We’re working tirelessly with the international community and the Government of Haiti to address in new and innovative ways—such as through this mobile banking initiative–the problems that existed before the quake and that the disaster has only exacerbated. In this way, I am hopeful that we’ll finally be able to turn a corner on Haiti’s development challenges and put it on a path to a better future.

Click here to read our press release on the announcement.

Inside the World Food Programme’s Board Meeting in Rome

This post was submitted by USAID EGAT Bureau‘s Tjada McKenna, Senior Advisor to Feed the Future.

Raj Shah addressing the WFP - 7 June

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah addressing the WFP board on 7 June 2010.

I have just returned from Rome where USAID Administrator Raj Shah gave a speech at the opening session of the UN World Food Programme’s Executive Board Meeting.  In addition to the World Food Programme, we met with other Rome-based agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), and representatives from civil society.

Working closely with multilateral partners and other key stakeholders including civil society and the private sector are core principles that will guide our implementation of Feed the Future, the US government’s global health and food security initiative.

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USAID in the News

Submitted by Jessica Scott

Administrator Shah took part in the first ever US-India Strategic Dialogue this week. The meeting included a host of senior leaders from both sides.  Dr. Shah discussed development as part of the complex relationship between the two countries.

The final 314 American troops from Operation Unified Response were airlifted from Haiti on Tuesday. Even as troops were being pulled out of the country, they continued to work with USAID and the UN in nine camps housing Haitians who lost their homes.  The Washington Post’s editorial page commemorated the transition with a lead editorial that mentions USAID in connection with the importance of continued U.S. involvement in Haiti’s recovery.  USAID officials who have been leading this effort, including Paul Weisenfeld and Christopher Milligan, attended the World Summit on the Future of Haiti.

The USAID-Funded FIRMS Initiative is helping bridge the gap between Pakistani mango farmers and European consumers.  Pakistan exports a relatively small percentage of its mango production.  Under the FIRMS program, farmers are being trained in the best ways to pick, sort, grade, and package the

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Bosnia-Herzegovina – searching for paths toward prosperity

submitted by Jonathan Hale

Earlier this week, I flew four hours from Moscow to Sarajevo. Bosnia and Herzegovina is mountainous and very green in the spring. While it is a post-conflict country, people here are still in many ways searching for the path towards sustainable peace and prosperity. Divisions still run deep. Life remains segregated by ethnic community. There are separate schools within the same buildings. Multiple layers of segregated government and politics. There are even segregated telephone systems! Speaking with our very talented local foreign national staff, it is clear that there are still deep and painful memories of war here, even though it ended more than a decade ago. It’s striking to note that, according to the UNDP, a considerable proportion of Bosnians (up to 19% per UNDP figures), which enjoyed a relatively high living standard before the war now live at or below the poverty line.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday on the road. We drove around the country from Sarajevo to Mostar, Grude, Jajce, and Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska, and back. Along the way, I saw some hope along with the challenges. In Grude, I met with a mayor that is pressing for reforms to make government more responsive to the needs of the people. I understand there are a handful of other mayors and local officials like him throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. I had the privilege of participating in a community event

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U.S.-Russia Cooperation on International Disaster Response

U.S.-Russia Cooperation on International Disaster Response

The signing in Moscow concluded the annual meeting of the U.S.-Russia Joint Committee for Emergency Management and Disaster Response.

On Friday, May 28th, FEMA Deputy Administrator Timothy Manning and I signed a work plan with the Russian government to expand bilateral cooperation through 2012 on responding to international disasters and humanitarian crises.  The signing in Moscow concluded the annual meeting of the U.S.-Russia Joint Committee for Emergency Management and Disaster Response.  This committee was formed in 1996 and now serves as one of the working groups under the Bilateral Presidential Commission established by Presidents Obama and Medvedev last year.  The U.S. delegation from FEMA, USAID, and the Department of Transportation discussed ways to enhance preparedness and response capabilities for disasters at home and abroad.  The Russian delegation, led by First Deputy Minister of the Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) Ruslan Tsalikov, was especially interested in sharing humanitarian aid best practices, and proposed partnering with USAID to address food security issues in the region.

The committee meeting was the culmination of an exciting week for cooperation in this area.  During the earlier part of the week, a FEMA-USAID delegation held a joint table top exercise with EMERCOM that simulated an earthquake scenario.  American and Russian experts jointly examined response considerations related to declaring a disaster, deploying teams to another country, coordinating search and rescue with humanitarian response, and demobilizing.  Specialists from Fairfax County’s Task Force 1 Search and Rescue team, who responded to the earthquake in Haiti, had the opportunity to sit across the table from Russian responders who also served in Haiti, and to share lessons learned from that experience.  The exercise is part of U.S. efforts to support the Russian Government’s goal of meeting the standards for the United Nations’ highest classification of search and rescue teams.

Russia’s commitment to cooperating with the U.S. in addressing humanitarian crises is another sign of its reemergence as strong global partner and international donor.  U.S. and Russian teams are already working together to improve rescue efforts in response to natural disasters and terrorism, and this is just one of many areas in which we are collaborating on global development.  USAID/Russia also partners with the Ministry of Health to send Russian medical experts to countries in Africa and with Russia’s new agency for humanitarian cooperation, Rossotrudnichestvo, to strengthen its capacity to provide aid.

After spending the week in Russia, I am even more convinced that the U.S. and Russia have much to gain by working together to address the big challenges of the 21st century. I believe USAID should continue to be at the center of much of that cooperation and partnership.

Now I am off to Bosnia for the next phase of my trip.

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