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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

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

Quiet Heroes Save Lives Daily in Syria

An Arabic translation is available.

The U.S. government is providing nearly $815 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria. This aid is not a pledge; our aid is at work on the ground every day in some of the most affected areas, including Aleppo, Dar’a and Al Qusayr. As part of this assistance, USAID is supporting more than 144 field hospitals, medical clinics, and medical points across Syria. The doctors, nurses, and other medical staff working in these facilities are on the front lines of the brutal conflict in Syria, and every day they are risking their lives to save lives.

Last week alone, a doctor and 2 medical staff were killed and a nurse and 3 medical staff were injured when mortars were dropped near their clinics in Homs and Rif Damascus. The week before, the medical staff who survived the clashes in Al Qusayr – which killed one nurse, injured 2 staff, and left several others unaccounted for – had divided up supplies from their destroyed clinics and were already treating patients in nearby towns.

Doctors remove a bullet from the leg of an injured man. The injury required major surgery, which the makeshift field clinic was not equipped to handle. With ongoing fighting nearby and limited options, the surgeon proceeded with a minor surgery and was able to save the patient’s leg. Today, he can walk freely on it. Photo credit: USAID Partner

Along with widespread destruction and violence in Syria, health facilities are being destroyed, and medical staff are being targeted. And yet doctors, nurses, and medical staff—tireless heroes in this conflict—have been quietly working at USAID-funded health facilities across Syria since February 2012. To date, USAID-supported medical teams have performed over 85,000 surgeries, treated hundreds of thousands of patients, and saved countless lives.

The teams who help provide medical supplies to health facilities continue their heroic efforts as well. In the midst of some of the heaviest fighting in Al Qusayr, an international NGO working with USAID had to wait nearby for a week before they were able to deliver of life-saving medical supplies to a clinic on the
front lines of the battle. USAID medical programs in Syria provide medical supplies and equipment, pay doctors’ salaries, and train additional first responders and medical staff. Every day, U.S. humanitarian aid saves lives in Syria.

Learn more about USAID’s commitment to help the innocent children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Supporting Syrian Refugees in Turkey

This originally appeared on Dipnote

I am in Nizip 2, a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey. Rows of pre-fabricated containers house 4,000 Syrian refugees who fled the destruction of civil war. Nearby is Nizip 1, where 10,000 refugees live in tents. Both are tucked into a small piece of land on the banks of the Euphrates River.

It smells like fresh rain; I can hear a muezzin’s calls to prayer. Groups of children look at me curiously, shuffling by and as I reach out my hand, the little fingers of a smiling, dusty girl find mine. Her hand is replaced by another little hand, then another. For the next ten minutes, dozens of little boys and girls, unkempt and smiling, come to me. “Marhaba (welcome),” they say.

Syrian Refugees at a Camp in Kilis, Turkey. Photo credit: AP

This was my first week as Humanitarian Advisor to the U.S. Mission to Turkey, and I am struck all at once by the depth of the humanitarian crisis and honored to be welcomed so warmly by Turks and Syrians alike. There are 17 refugee camps in Turkey, soon to grow to 24. If I were to map the refugees’ paths with pushpins and strings, all of Syria and half of Turkey would be an intricate web.  Turkey has already welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees, who have settled from Hatay province, just across Syria’s northern border, to Istanbul in the far northeast, the bridge to Europe.

Many of the most vulnerable have been sent to container camps like Nizip 2, as these dwellings provide solid protection from the elements. Some of the women’s husbands are fighting in the Free Syrian Army. They return from war to visit their spouses and children; sometimes they have been injured in battle. The container homes were built by the Government of Turkey, setting a high standard as an exemplary humanitarian actor. Camps like Nizip provide schools, playgrounds, fields and recreational facilities for kids; vocational training rooms, computer and television rooms for youths. The Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) fabricates and distributes fire-resistant tents; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides kitchen burners and sets containing utensils. The World Food Program, through the TRC, provides electronic cards with money that refugees can use to purchase essential food at the camp market. UNICEF provides educational support. The United States is the largest funder of many of these international efforts.

My task is to monitor the humanitarian situation, identify protection needs, and coordinate international assistance programs. I visit refugees in camps and urban areas, and liaise with the U.S. government, international and non-governmental organizations, and Government of Turkey officials to coordinate assistance. Here on temporary assignment from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in the Department of State, I am one piece of a vast international effort that brings together the hospitality of the Turks, the generosity of UN member states, and the refugees themselves, who courageously face an uncertain future.

The children whose hands squeeze mine have no way of understanding the complex effort that supports them here, but I think they appreciate our presence. It is a sign that, despite what they have been through, they are not forgotten. I hope they are able to leave the camp, return to their homes, and become normal kids again. In the meantime, they will be taken care of here, thanks to unwavering support by the Government of Turkey and the international community.

About the Author: Heather Fabrikant serves as a Humanitarian Advisor at the U.S. Mission in Turkey.

On the Front Lines in Africa

Nowhere is development such an important part of U.S. engagement as it is in Africa. In anticipation of the President’s trip next week, we thought we’d share some of our favorite FrontLines stories about our work in Africa. President Obama’s strategies on global development and Africa have laid the foundation for a new approach that focus on sustainable development and a new operational model for assistance. We look forward to the opportunities that this visit will bring.

Our Favorites include:

Food Security

Child Survival

Innovation

Women and Development

Conflict Mitigation and Prevention

  • Ethiopia: Peace Brokers: USAID-sponsored reconciliation efforts usher in historic truce accord in Ethiopia’s pastoral south.

Democracy, Human Rights, and Government

Humanitarian Assistance

Resilience

  • Niger: Niger’s Tree of Life: In the face of recurring food insecurity and acute malnutrition, USAID is promoting the cultivation of hardy, vitamin-packed moringa as one way to build resilience in communities in the drought-prone Sahel.

Follow @USAID and @rajshah on Twitter for updates on the trip and to learn more about our work in Africa. Join the conversation using #USAIDAfrica.

Having the Right Tools at the Right Time to Meet Food Assistance Needs

Imagine there is a major crisis unfolding. While one region in the affected country is in crisis, there are available food supplies and resources in another. In situations like this, USAID disaster response professionals have several key decisions to make — all with the goal of helping as many people as possible in the most rapid, efficient and effective way possible. Does it make sense to bring in food from the United States? Should we purchase food locally to distribute to those in need? Should we provide people the means to buy the food themselves? Using all the resources available under its Emergency Food Security Program, USAID strives to respond to crises with the most appropriate tools to best meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Here are some recent highlights:

Flour made from Turkish wheat purchased for the Syria response. Photo credit: State Department

In Syria, humanitarian needs grow more pressing every day, but the conflict means importing large quantities of food aid can be impractical and downright dangerous in certain areas. Without the flexible resources provided through the International Disaster Assistance account, USAID would not have been able to respond initially to the Syria conflict. The flexibility to use emergency food assistance tools like vouchers and local and regional purchase has provided much needed help to those fleeing the conflict. In Kilis refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border, we’re supporting a program that gives debit cards to families so they can shop for their own meals at local stores. And wheat purchased regionally in Turkey is now being milled to stock bakeries in Aleppo with much needed bread.

Last year in Rwanda, USAID and the UN World Food Program fed more than 72,000 people, including 61,000 refugees fleeing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while supporting smallholder farmers within the country. By purchasing the food locally, USAID and WFP were able to save considerable time and money: saving $243 per metric ton on corn and $899 per metric ton on beans and getting food to refugees in just two months versus three to six months for U.S. food aid.

At the height of the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, in the hardest hit areas of southern Somalia where militants ruled and blocked traditional in-kind food distribution, food aid couldn’t reach everyone in need. But through cash transfers and vouchers, we were able to help more than 90,000 families (PDF) in inaccessible and insecure areas buy readily available food from markets in their communities.

In Haiti, a pioneering food assistance program provided 20,000 earthquake-affected households with electronic vouchers to buy rice, corn flour, cooking oil and beans from participating local vendors. This not only helped Haitians in need, but also developed local private enterprise, by bolstering functioning markets and partnering with three Haitian companies – two banks and a cell phone company.

USAID was able to help those in need when providing U.S.-grown food assistance was either not possible or less appropriate due to market conditions or timeliness issues. We did so by drawing from the International Disaster Assistance account, which provides the Food for Peace program with resources to buy food locally or regionally, or provide support directly to beneficiaries to buy food in their local markets.  In FY 2013, much of these flexible funds will go towards the large-scale response for the Syria crisis, leaving too little in flexible resources left for emergencies in the rest of the world.

Through the President’s Food Aid Reform Proposal, USAID is seeking to expand the flexibility of these resources so we can meet the needs of hungry people around the world in as efficient and effective a way as possible. Recently, the Senate passed the Coons-Johanns Amendment to expand USDA’s flexibility for local and regional purchase in a non-Food for Peace food assistance program.

Senate approval of the amendment is a recognition of the program’s demonstrated success (PDF) and the value of LRP in providing food assistance around the world — and is consistent with the flexibilities sought in the President’s reform proposal for USAID to administer the Food for Peace program.

USDA and USAID’s proven track record with local and regional procurement food assistance programs demonstrate the efficiencies to be gained by using the most appropriate tools at our disposal.

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