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A Tale of Two Cyclones

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

Jeremy Konyndyk serves as Director in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

In October 1999, a massive cyclone slammed into the eastern coast of India, killing at least 10,000 people. A few weeks ago, a very similar cyclone, Phailin, struck the same region. The news coverage ahead of Phailin painted a frightening picture of a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina poised to wreak havoc on India and potentially repeat the grim toll of the 1999 storm. Yet when all was said and done, Phailin resulted in around 50 fatalities–just a fraction of what was feared. This reduction in fatality levels from the tens of thousands down to the tens is no accident–it is a powerful example of how good disaster risk reduction efforts can save lives on a massive scale.

Media reports since this storm have noted the intense effort by the Indian government to mitigate the threat Phailin posed–from giving storm warnings days in advance to evacuating close to 1 million citizens out of harm’s way. But the untold story behind those headlines is how a U.S. Government partnership helped India to develop that capacity.

Over the past 15 years, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, which I lead, has been working with the Indian government to help strengthen its ability to prepare for and respond to disasters. USAID has helped train thousands of Indian emergency personnel, civil servants, and officials. The Agency invited Indian colleagues to tour its Operations Center in Washington, D.C., and learn about the Incident Command System (ICS), the U.S. Government’s own framework for disaster response management. With USAID’s assistance, the Government of India adapted the ICS for its own emergency response system. USAID has also supported collaboration between Indian and American meteorologists, which has strengthened the forecasting and early warning that proved so critical earlier this month.

USAID also supports a project to increase first responder capacity in India called the Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response (PEER). PEER offers trainings in areas such as medical first response, urban search and rescue, and hospital preparedness; it was so well-received that India’s National Disaster Response Force has adopted the training curriculum for its own battalions. Many of those same battalions helped lead the response to Phailin.

While much now remains to be done to help bring relief and recovery to those affected by the storm, Cyclone Phailin has shown India’s ability to address a major disaster using its own disaster management institutions. The Indian government deserves enormous credit for its investment in these systems, and the U.S. can take pride in knowing that our investment in this partnership with India has now paid off in a big way.

Learn more about USAID’s disaster assistance to India in the recent release of Pounds of Prevention: Focus on India

Video of the Week: “Learn how the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Saves Lives”

Our Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) is helping those suffering in the midst of some of the worst disasters and crises around the world. Watch this video to learn about their incredible work!

Food Assistance by the Numbers

World Food Day was October 16. 

There are some numbers that we are all too familiar with that make ending hunger seem daunting.

  • 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger worldwide.
  • One in six children in the developing world are underweight.
  • One in four children in the developing world are stunted.

But what about those other numbers? What about the numbers that show how much we can do and are doing every day to make sure that people have enough to eat? USAID food assistance programs feed people in emergency contexts and engage in longer-term development activities so that one day we can live in a world where no one needs food assistance.

Beneficiaries of food distribution in Bangladesh. Photo credit: Save the Children

Beneficiaries of food distribution in Bangladesh. Photo credit: Save the Children

So, in remembering World Food Day 2013, let’s look at some of those numbers:

  • 52 Million

People who benefited from USAID food assistance programs in FY 2012

Learn more about our FY 2012 programming here.

  • 59

Years that USAID’s Office of Food for Peace has been providing food assistance to hungry people around the world

  • 3 Billion

People who have benefited from USAID food assistance programs since they began in 1954

  • 150

Countries where USAID food assistance programs have operated

  • 1.5 Million

Tons of food that were distributed to hungry people around the world in FY 2012

  • 36

Countries where USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) monitors and analyzes relevant data and information in terms of its impacts on livelihoods and markets to identify potential threats to food security.

  • 10.7 Million

People who benefited from new tools USAID has to provide emergency food assistance in FY 2012, including locally and regionally purchased food, as well as cash transfers and food vouchers hungry people can use to buy food in local markets.

Click here to see how cash transfers are helping food insecure internally displaced persons in Somalia.

  • 6

New ready-to-use and emergency food products that USAID has developed since 2011 to better target the special nutritional needs of vulnerable groups.

Click here to see how we are partnering with the UN World Food Program to transport life-sustaining food bars purchased in the U.S. to Syrian refugees in Erbil, Iraq.

So remembering World Food Day, and those 842 million people who are still hungry, let us also remember the United States’ sustained commitment to improving conditions globally for hungry people. Let us remember the millions of people around the world who have benefited from the generosity and good will of the American people. And let us recommit to reaching those who still need our help because in 2013, no one should struggle to feed their children or go to bed hungry.

Learn more about how USAID is working to reduce hunger and malnutrition through Food for Peace

Strengthening Earthquake Response Efforts Across Asia

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) enhanced its partnership with the China Earthquake Administration (CEA) in late September, signing a Letter of Coordination that formalized efforts to strengthen collaboration on future disaster responses.

As one of his first official duties as the new USAID/OFDA Director, Jeremy Konyndyk signed a Letter of Coordination with CEA Administrator Chen Jianmin. Photo credit: USAID

As one of his first official duties as the new USAID/OFDA Director, Jeremy Konyndyk signed a Letter of Coordination with CEA Administrator Chen Jianmin. Photo credit: USAID

The agreement represents an important commitment by both USAID/OFDA and the CEA to bolster cooperation in the field of earthquake preparedness and response, urban search-and-rescue and other humanitarian issues. Partnerships like this best illustrate how donor governments can join forces for the greater benefit of those most in need, sharing the responsibility of helping other countries in the wake of a humanitarian emergency.

Asia remains one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, with earthquakes and tsunamis affecting tens of thousands of people each year. China is especially vulnerable, being susceptible to the most deadly earthquakes ever recorded. By strategically combining resources and expertise, USAID/OFDA and the CEA will be able to improve coordination on earthquake responses across Asia—ultimately saving more lives and reducing the economic and social impact of future disasters.

“It is great to take this next step and further strengthen our relationship, as we together continue to invest in disaster preparation and mitigation activities in Asia,” said USAID/OFDA Director Jeremy Konyndyk.

Learn more about USAID’s responses to crises around the world

Learn more about USAID’s work in China

USAID at UNGA 2013: Day Two

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

UNGA Day Two: September 24, 2013

Highlight:

President Obama delivered an address to the United National General Assembly. A number of outlets are reporting on the President’s announcement of an additional $339 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria.

Announcements:

  • As a part of the Better than Cash Alliance anniversary event, USAID announced that it is on a path to incorporating language into all grants and contracts to accelerate the use of electronic and mobile payments into its programs across the world.

Recap of Tuesday’s Events:

  • Yesterday afternoon Administrator Shah and DFID’s Justine Greening hosted the “MDG Countdown 2013 – Women & Girls” event. The event highlighted the progress made against the MDGs and focused on the work needing to be done over the next 828 days. The event included Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, Geena Davis, actress and UN Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of Technology and was moderated by NY Times reporter Nicholas Kristof.

Happening Today:

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

No Longer Just Food: Communities Create Assets to Build Food Security in South Sudan

As USAID’s Food for Peace Officer assigned to South Sudan since October 2011, I have seen firsthand how U.S. government food assistance programs are simultaneously supporting communities’ efforts to create assets that strengthen their food security while providing vital timely assistance to food insecure South Sudanese.

A little over two years since declaring independence following more than 20 years of civil war, South Sudan is still struggling to build infrastructure and institutions to function as a sovereign state. Pockets of continuing civil conflict and erratic weather patterns plus a massive influx of refugees from Sudan and the return of thousands of people of South Sudanese origin after years of living in Sudan have strained food security in this new nation struggling to find its footing. Disputes with Sudan continue to threaten landlocked South Sudan’s ability to export oil through Sudan’s pipeline—and generate revenue South Sudan needs to finance its development. All these factors contribute to a continued need for substantial food assistance in South Sudan.

Women construct a water pond in South Sudan

Women constructing a water pond in South Sudan. Water ponds are built where there is a natural depression and water traditionally collects during the rainy season. The women are deepening and enlarging the area so that they will have water for a longer period of time during the dry season. Photo credit: Elizabeth Chambers, USAID

Poor, vulnerable communities are often risk averse, but in areas of South Sudan where peace has taken hold, citizens have embraced an innovative approach called “Food-for-Assets.” They build a critically needed asset in their community and receive remuneration in sorghum, pulses and vegetable oil, in lieu of cash. This reduces their susceptibility to shocks to their food security and contributes to the development of the community. As these activities are undertaken during the year when such commodities are scarce, this approach frees participants from the daily worry about accessing food for their families. To ensure sustainability, the participants themselves identify their key community needs and the resources required to implement the asset-building projects.

So why is this innovative? As a result of chronic food insecurity and conflict, South Sudan has received widespread free food distributions for years. By focusing on a Food-for-Assets approach, we are fostering a shift from dependency on food aid to sustainable livelihoods. By empowering communities to build or improve local assets, we improve their resilience to shocks, such as floods, so that one day these communities will no longer need food assistance.

Woman in South Sudan observes the construction of a water pond

Woman in South Sudan observes the construction of a water pond. Photo credit: Elizabeth Chambers, USAID

For example, in Warrap State, I visited a community benefiting from one of our food assistance programs supported by the UN World Food Program (WFP). The community had built a bridge over a marshland to connect 5,000 people in 24 isolated villages to main roads, thereby improving access to local markets, health centers and other services. The value of the bridge is incalculable as it not only drastically reduced transport costs for commercial produce and other goods, but also facilitated access to life-saving health care. More importantly, it brought the communities on either side of the bridge together to work on a common goal, become better neighbors and reduce tensions. Local authorities realized the powerful impact of this activity and provided the culverts needed for part of the construction, while USAID provided 48 metric tons of food through WFP to approximately 100 participants in return for their labor. Construction began in November 2012 and was completed in April 2013. When I visited in May 2013 to check on progress of the project, the pride of participants from the communities on each side of the bridge was palpable.

In Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, I visited an access road and cattle pond that a community built—more Food-for-Assets activities USAID implemented with WFP. Local participants provided labor for the road and water point, while WFP distributed 170 metric tons of food contributed by USAID in exchange for their work. WFP also provided hand tools, training and technical support. The road now connects 6,800 people in 48 rural villages to main roads as well as markets, health centers and social services, and the waterhole provides drinking water for their cattle.  As I drove down the new road, I saw new development activities along the way, including the opening of new agricultural lands and building of new markets and classrooms.

Through Food-for-Assets, WFP assisted 445,000 residents in South Sudan between April and December 2012, and plans to reach about one million people in South Sudan through Food-for-Assets activities in 2013. USAID, through its partnership with WFP, provides commodities for Food-for-Assets programs which not only support the construction of roads and bridges, but also rehabilitate farmland, plant vegetable gardens to improve nutrition, dig irrigation ponds, and train farmers on practical skills to improve crop and vegetable production. USAID is the largest provider of food assistance to South Sudan, contributing 41 percent of WFP’s funding.

Learn more about the Office of Food for Peace‘s work to reduce hunger and malnutrition, and ensure that all people at all times have access to sufficient food for a healthy and productive life.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

Video of the Week: Kid President’s Day at UN for World Humanitarian Day 2013

On this World Humanitarian Day, USAID salutes the brave men and women around the world who risk their lives saving the lives of others. The U.N. is kicking off a one-month campaign called The World Needs More to inspire governments, civil society and organizations to turn words into action and raise awareness of humanitarian needs around the world.

What do you think the world needs more of?

World Humanitarian Day 2013: Honoring Those Who Serve

World Humanitarian Day logoWorld Humanitarian Day is August 19, 2013.

Exactly 10 years ago, on August 19, 2003, a bomb exploded at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. Twenty-two people died that day and dozens more were injured—men and women who dedicated their lives to help and care for people affected by the war in Iraq.

A decade later, this tragic event has become a time for the international community to recognize the sacrifice of aid workers around the world who face danger and adversity to help others. On World Humanitarian Day, we pause to remember those who died, as well as celebrate the commitment and passion of those, who, at this very moment, are saving lives in some of the most dangerous regions around the world.

It’s a day to remember the doctors, nurses, and medical staff providing assistance on the frontlines of the conflict in Syria. It’s a day to remember our teams working in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, where violence has displaced approximately 100,000 people to remote areas where they lack the most basic necessities.

It’s a day to highlight the efforts of unsung heroes across the globe: our USAID colleagues, our dedicated partners, and the global community, who are tirelessly responding to crises that are growing in complexity and magnitude. For three consecutive years, annual economic losses from disasters have exceeded $100 billion, according to the U.N.  And last year, the number of people displaced within their own countries by conflict and other violence skyrocketed to 28.8 million—the highest figure every recorded.

This World Humanitarian Day, the U.N. is kicking off a one-month campaign called The World Needs More to inspire governments, companies, and individuals to turn words into action and raise awareness of humanitarian needs around the world.  It’s a global movement not only to mobilize critical resources for the millions affected by disasters around the world, but to remind us of what we can achieve by working together.

Addressing the Crisis in South Sudan’s Jonglei State

This originally appeared on The White House Blog

In response to the political crisis in South Sudan and the deeply troubling violence in Jonglei state, today the White House hosted NGOs and advocacy groups to discuss the situation and confer on how the United States – in concert with partners and allies around the world – can help end the violence and support South Sudan’s democratic development.

At the meeting, National Security Staff Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Steve Pomper, and I invited advocates and humanitarian workers to exchange information on the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Jonglei, and explore ways we can work together to raise awareness and address it.

National Security Staff Senior Director for Development and Democracy Gayle Smith, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Steve Pomper, and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs Grant T. Harris discuss the situation in South Sudan at the White House, July 24, 2013. Photo credit: White House

A significant portion of the conversation focused on what the United States and its partners can do to address disturbing reports of human rights abuses, attacks on civilians, and ethnically motivated violence taking place in Jonglei, including reports that elements of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army have been complicit in the abuses.

We also discussed a looming humanitarian crisis. USAID experts estimate that over 100,000 civilians, predominantly from the Murle ethnic group, have been displaced since May with little access to needed emergency aid.  In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with partner countries, humanitarian organizations, advocacy groups, and others to shine a light on the crisis, press for an immediate end to the violence, and meet the urgent humanitarian needs of those affected by the conflict.

The United States remains strongly committed to promoting peace and prosperity in Sudan and South Sudan, and will continue to encourage South Sudan to stay true to the vision it laid out for itself two years ago at its independence: of democracy and good governance, justice and accountability, and respect for rule of law and the human rights of all of South Sudan’s people.

Grant T. Harris is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs
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