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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

Light Above Darkness – The Global Struggle for Democracy & Human Rights

Sarah Mendelson serves as deputy assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance

Two years ago at the Community of Democracies (CD) in Vilnius, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared via video message, addressing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, foreign ministers, presidents, and human rights activists from under house arrest in Burma. While she wasn’t physically present, her grace and strength were felt even from thousands of miles away. I remember she said she was “full of hope and full of anticipation for what the not too distant future will bring us.”

Those were telling words. This week, in Ulaanbaatar, at the seventh ministerial of the CD, Aung San Suu Kyi once again addressed the audience – this time in person. Back straight, regal, and elegant with flowers adorning her hair, Dau Suu said she never lost faith that humans “desire light above darkness.” She walked among the other dignitaries and yet always stood apart. As one official noted, she seemed like “the next Mandela.” Her moral force reminded all of us that we have a duty to remember those who do not live free and to work tirelessly to ensure that one day they can.

Dau Suu’s remarks were followed by Tawakkol Karman, a brave young Yemeni woman who won the Nobel Prize for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights in peacebuilding work in Yemen. Her emotional appeal to “stop the killing in Syria and the killing of Muslims in Burma” was blunt, forceful, and a sharp contrast to the more diplomatic speeches that such gatherings inevitably generate.

Deputy Secretary Burns delivered a powerful message from President Obama about generating the “new technologies and tools for activism.” It is our hope that the information technology revolution means we will continue to open governments and transform the global struggle for democracy and human rights. For innovation not only makes hiding corruption even harder, it can help governments listen and respond to their citizens.

And we are already seeing results. One of the most interesting and informative presentations was from an Indonesian leader proudly showing how her government is using technology to empower citizens to hold governments accountable in ways that even the world’s oldest, most established, democracies would do well to replicate. Mongolian officials, our hosts, were talking of transparency, open societies, shared lessons on democratic transition and cooperation with emerging democracies.

At USAID, we are embracing this virtuous cycle through Making All Voices Count, the Open Government Partnership, and by supporting game-changing innovations from governments, partners, organizations, and change agents around the world. We believe these efforts will help new democracies deliver to their citizens, empower civil society activists, and challenge authoritarians everywhere. We have seen a lot of progress since the last CD in 2011 but we have also seen a backlash in many places. Governments attempt to rule by laws designed to close space around civil society and activists. While many of us have hope that such efforts do not have a bright future in the hyper-connected 21st century, we met many activists that live daily with security services trailing and jailing them. I must remind myself that change is possible and hope that when I see them at the next CD, their lives are transformed by freedom.

Video of the Week: Nancy Lindborg Speaks at InterAction Forum

Yesterday, Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance joined the InterAction Forum’s opening plenary panel, “Facing Vulnerability in a Changing World,” to talk about the importance of resilience in addressing the current crises and challenges that we face.  Following the panel, Nancy sat down with Joel Charny of InterAction to discuss in greater detail USAID’s work to address some of the word’s humanitarian crises. Video is from InterAction.

Learn more about how USAID works in crises and conflict.

Follow Nancy Lindborg on Twitter @nancylindborg.

The Moment is Now: Modernizing Food Assistance

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. 

I just came back from hearing Administrator Shah’s speech at  Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he outlined the bold vision for Food Aid Reform that was included in President Obama’s 2014 Budget Proposal. I sat  next to the Director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, Dina Esposito. We were both seized by the historic opportunity this proposal presents to upgrade, streamline, and recommit to our global food assistance programs—a goal that that has dangled before many of us for the last decade.

As noted by Senator Lugar, who opened today’s event, the current food aid system was created at a time of significant food surplus; at a time when shipping food around the globe made sense as a means of manifesting American generosity. But that was 60 years ago. Since then, surplus has turned to shortages, and the costs of shipping have risen exponentially. The time has come to shift our practices so we can reach four million additional children in need of food and eliminate the inefficient workaround of monetization that is currently used to convert our agricultural commodities into cash for development programs.

In President Barack Obama’s Budget, the food aid reform proposal envisions a more efficient, effective, and timely program that will reach 4 million more hungry people each year. Photo Credit: USAID

Having spent many years as part of the NGO community, I am keenly aware of the challenges presented by the monetization of Food for Peace commodities and am particularly energized by the potential to eliminate this practice.

Currently, it works like this: USAID purchases and ships Title II in-kind food aid commodities to our NGO partners overseas, who then sell them in local markets to earn the cash needed to support some of our most important development and resilience programs. Unfortunately, as Government Accountability Office studies have shown, this process on average results in a loss of 25 cents to the dollar. Moreover, it requires NGO partners to spend precious time and energy on navigating local commodity markets and negotiating sales, often in very tough environments like the DRC or Mozambique. Too often, market uncertainty leads to diminished returns, requiring additional resources to meet program goals.

The new budget reform will create a dedicated Community Development and Resilience Fund (PDF) within our Development Assistance account that will provide cash directly to our PVO/NGO partners, so they can focus instead on doing the multi-year, multi-sector development programs that are so critical to reaching and helping the most vulnerable.

In the last two years I have had a chance to visit a number of these programs, implemented by partners such as CRS, World Vision, ADRA, and Mercy Corps. In fact I visited one of these programs by CRS two years after the funding ended. In an affirming validation of the power of Food for Peace programs to transform lives, I saw firsthand how it enabled Safieta, a widow in Burkina Faso with seven children, to thrive during yet another tough dry season in the Sahel.

Above all, the Food Aid Reform proposal (PDF) is a re-commitment to USAID food assistance with greater efficiency and effectiveness. In addition to eliminating monetization, the proposal also moves Title II emergency food aid funds into the United States’ International Disaster Assistance cash account. While this change still includes an initial 55% floor for purchasing U.S. commodities, it also gives us the flexibility we need to use the right tools for the emergency at hand, whether cash, vouchers, or critically needed American food.

For full details on the U.S. government’s food aid reform, visit http://www.usaid.gov/foodaidreform.

Aid to Internally Displaced Persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Nearly two decades of fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo(DRC) between government forces and armed groups have forced millions of people to flee their homes countrywide. Over the past year, humanitarian conditions have continued to worsen due to escalating violence that has displaced even more communities and renewed safety and security concerns. Tensions and large-scale displacement have affected the southeastern Katanga and North Kivu provinces especially hard in recent months. In Katanga, the U.N. recorded a more than five-fold increase of internally displaced persons (IDPs) over the past year, from approximately 55,000 IDPs in January 2012 to more than 358,000 in December 2012. To make matters worse, people in Katanga are facing the worst cholera epidemic in the area since 2007.

In addition to increased displacement, Katanga Province is experiencing the worst cholera epidemic since 2007. An estimated 5,000 new cases have been reported since January 2013 with more than 150 related deaths. Photo credit: UNICEF

USAID has responded to urgent needs by airlifting more than $270,000 worth of emergency relief supplies, such as blankets, kitchen utensils, water containers, and plastic sheeting. These commodities were transported from USAID’s warehouse in Dubai and flown to Katanga Province on March 11 to be distributed by UNICEF and other partners on the ground. The plastic sheeting will be used to help families build latrines, while the water containers will make gathering drinking water easier. Ensuring people have an adequate supply of safe drinking water will help mitigate the spread of cholera.

More than 12,000 water containers, 3,000 blankets and 1,000 kitchen sets were airlifted to Katanga Province in DRC from USAID’s stockpiles in Dubai, The United Arab Emirates (UAE). Photo credit: UNICEF

“The delivery of this equipment now allows us to support UNICEF in pursuit of a common goal: to help the most vulnerable populations and disaster victims, especially children affected by the conflict,” said Jay Nash, Senior Humanitarian Advisor for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in DRC.

Saving a Leg and a Life in Rif Damascus

An Arabic translation is available.

As part of the $385 million in U.S. government humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria, USAID is supporting more than 110 field hospitals, medical clinics and medical points across Syria that have saved countless lives.

Hajji Rajaa is a 69-year old grandmother who lives on her own in Rif Damascus. As she was traveling to buy groceries for her family, she was hit in the knee by sniper fire.

A doctor tends to Hajji Rajaa’s leg in a clinic in Rif Damascus, Syria. Photo credit: USAID Partner

Once the scene was deemed safe, bystanders transported Hajji Rajaa to a nearby USAID-funded field hospital. The medical team quickly determined the extent of the damage, thankful the bullet had not hit the femoral artery.

Doctors removed the bullet and treated her wound, but Hajji Rajaa required daily care to ensure her wound was healing properly.  Though she wanted to recover at home with her family nearby, she was unable to travel to the field hospital due to the nature of her injury. The doctors, supported by USAID, decided to take turns visiting Hajji Rajaa every day to change her dressings and check the wound.

On their last visit to Hajji Rajaa, she told the head doctor that she wanted to thank him, his team at the field hospital, and the donors who provide the aid for the support that they offered her. She knew that without proper medical care, she would have lost her leg.

Thanks to the assistance provided by USAID, Hajji Rajaa will fully recover and be able to continue helping her children and grandchildren.

USAID medical programs in Syria provide medical supplies and equipment, pay doctors’ salaries, and train additional first responders and medical staff. Our medical teams have treated hundreds of thousands of patients, including performing nearly 35,000 surgeries.

Every day U.S. humanitarian aid is saving lives in Syria. Learn more.

Photo of the Week: President Obama Visits West Bank

On March 21, President Barack Obama joined President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, West Bank to deliver remarks to the Palestinian people. The President remarked, “I was last here five years ago, and it’s a pleasure to be back — to see the progress that’s happened since my last visit, but also to bear witness to the enduring challenges to peace and security that so many Palestinians seek. I’ve returned to the West Bank because the United States is deeply committed to the creation of an independent and sovereign state of Palestine.” He added that “young Palestinians and young Israelis… deserve a better future than one that is continually defined by conflict.” During his trip, the President visited with some children at a USAID-funded center. Photo is from Muhannad Mansour from the Al Bireh Youth Development and Resource Center.

View photos from the President’s trip to the Middle East.

Learn more about USAID’s work in the West Bank and Gaza. Follow USAID West Bank/Gaza on Facebook and Twitter (@USAIDWBG).

In Rome, Secretary Kerry Announces Nonlethal Assistance to Syria

This originally appeared on State Department’s Dipnote Blog.

Stop four of Secretary Kerry’s Europe trip landed him in Rome and culminated with an announcement of $60 million in non-lethal assistance to strengthen the organizational capacity of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC). With this announcement, the United States is now providing more than $115 million in non-lethal support for the civilian opposition. As liberated areas across Syria struggle to rebuild their communities without the support of the central government, this additional assistance will enable the SOC to help enhance the capacity of local councils and communities so they can expand the delivery of basic goods and essential services, fulfill administrative functions, and extend the rule of law.

Secretary of State John Kerry, with the Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Syrian Opposition Council Chairman Moaz al-Khati, announces non-lethal assistance to Syrians. Photo credit: State Department

Significantly, the Secretary also announced that the United States would extend the provision of food rations and medical kits to the opposition, including the Supreme Military Council, in order to feed those in need and to tend to the sick and wounded.

In Secretary Kerry’s words: “We do this because we need to stand on the side of those in this fight who want to see Syria rise again in unity and see a democracy and human rights and justice.”

Standing in solidarity side-by-side with the Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Syrian Opposition Council Chairman Moaz al-Khatib, Secretary Kerry noted that the international community stands with a united voice in its commitment to helping the Syrian people achieve their goals.

“The United States and all the countries represented here believe the Syrian Opposition Coalition can successfully lead the way to a peaceful transition, but they cannot do it alone. They need more support from all of us, and they need Bashar al-Assad to make a different set of decisions.”

While in Italy, Secretary Kerry attended a dinner with EU and NATO member foreign ministers and met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius. He had the opportunity to meet with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and other government ministers and attend an event commemorating the 2013 Italian Year of Culture with Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi.

In a statement, Secretary Kerry also thanked Pope Benedict, who left the Holy See on February 28, for his leadership. He shared good wishes to the Pope on behalf of the American people.

You can follow his travel on www.state.gov.

Jared Caplan serves as a spokesperson and deputy director of the U.S. Department of State Regional Media Hub in Dubai.

From the Ground in Syria: Delivering More than Flour to Aleppo

An Arabic translation is available.

Despite nearly two years of ongoing conflict in Syria, grain is being ground into flour, tested for moisture and protein content, and baked into sample loaves of bread. Flour that meets approval is bagged and loaded onto trucks bound for a distribution warehouse in Aleppo Governorate.

At the warehouse, each bag is accounted for as it is offloaded by workers. A community member, who helps oversee the warehouse, looks on, notepad in hand. He talks about how the flour can help ease the financial burden of the displaced Syrians who crowd almost all available living space in the neighborhood.

Workers load newly-milled flour onto a truck in Syria. Photo credit: USAID Partner

He notes that even subsidized flour costs more than most families can afford even in the best of times. The flour being offloaded today is donated by USAID and will allow bakeries—identified in coordination with the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit—to sell bread at reduced cost, while still making enough profit to pay workers and purchase additional supplies in local markets.

The warehouse manager also speaks of the overall economic benefit of the donated flour to businesses in the area.  “It’s not our objective to just give relief,” he says, “We want to help the people work and make their own money.”

The unloading of the flour concludes in the late afternoon.  The delivery truck buttons up and heads away, while the workers hurry off to receive their day’s wages.  The gate to the distribution warehouse closes, but it will open again soon enough.

Another truck filled with USAID-donated flour will arrive tomorrow, and the whole process will be played out again. USAID is providing enough flour to 50 bakeries in Aleppo Governorate to bake daily bread for approximately 210,000 people for the next five months.

The United States is providing nearly $385 million in humanitarian aid to help those affected by the crisis in Syria.

Visit our website for more information about USAID efforts in Syria

To Meet Immediate Needs of the Syrian People, Access Is Paramount

Originally featured on the Huffington Post

Women bear extraordinary burdens in war. This reality was starkly clear during my recent visits to Turkey and Jordan and as I travelled to Kuwait for the UN’s humanitarian pledging conference for the people of Syria. While traveling last week with Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard and Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, we heard firsthand what this crisis means for the people, and especially the women, of Syria. We took this trip to listen to the people of Syria and to underscore the United States’ commitment to stand with them in their time of need.

Nancy Lindborg is the USAID assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

In Islahiye Camp in southern Turkey, we met Efet, an eloquent young woman no longer able to pursue her law studies. She called on us and others to focus on the needs of the many women still inside Syria — those who are pregnant and need medical help, those suffering from rape and violence, and those struggling to find food and clean water for their children.

In a smoky teahouse in Amman, I met Nouf, who has already lost her husband and older son, and fled from Homs with her teenage son to keep him from being drafted, arrested or killed. Like so many women I met, in a tragic use of mobile technology, she showed me photos of her late son and husband on her cell phone. Now safe in Jordan, she still fears for her daughters back in Homs where food and basic supplies are growing scarce. She worries how she will manage in Amman without savings. And she has bleak hopes for the future.

Nouf is just one of millions of Syrians whose lives and families have been yanked into chaos by this crisis and the brutality of the Asad regime. In Jordan, at the Syrian border at midnight, the moon faintly illuminated a landscape of scrubby vegetation and the outlines of hundreds of families who had just crossed into safety. In groups of 100, they were welcomed and processed by the Jordanian Border Guard, then bussed to the Za’atri refugee camp, joining some 60,000 refugees already there. In the single night we visited, more than 3,000 people left Syria for the safety of neighboring countries.

As part of our ongoing efforts to help the Syrian people during this devastating crisis, the United States has prioritized the provision of urgent medical help, food, blankets, warm clothes, and protection to help more than 1.5 million people inside Syria and the growing number of refugees living in neighboring countries. But we know that more needs to be done.

Additional funding is one vital part to meeting this challenge. Jointly hosted by the UN and the Emir of Kuwait, the UN’s recent pledging conference raised more than $1.6 billion in humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria and came at a pivotal time for Syrians struggling to survive. On the eve of Kuwait, President Obama announced an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance on behalf of the United States, bringing the total U.S. commitment to $365 million.

Of the U.S. government’s contribution, more than $200 million to date is now going through all possible channels to meet the needs of families inside Syria. But these needs are growing, and for this assistance to reach and help all those who need it most, we must — together with the international community — continue to press firmly for the access essential to any effective humanitarian response.

As the UN confirmed on January 28 Syrian regime continues to block access for aid workers. The United States strongly supports the UN’s strong stance in pressing the Syrian Arab Republic Government for greater access for humanitarian assistance into contested and opposition-controlled areas. And we are seeing some real breakthroughs as a result, including a UNHCR convoy that just last week was able to deliver 2,000 tents and 12,000 blankets to Syrians displaced in the difficult to reach far north of the country.

Closely coordinating with the Syrian Opposition Council’s Assistance Coordination Unit was a key part of enabling this mission to cross conflict lines, and both the UN and the U.S. government are actively strengthening this partnership as part of our wider effort to ensure more life-saving aid reaches Syrians throughout the country.

All parties to this conflict must ensure that our humanitarian assistance can reach those who need it most in their time of need. The women of Syria and their children — the families who have been displaced two or three times — urgently need our help, and it is our responsibility as the international community to push harder than ever for the access we need to reach them.

Follow Nancy Lindborg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NancyLindborg

USAID Visits U.S. Navy “Comfort” and Continues Joint Support of Disaster Response

On Friday, February 1, I hosted a group of USAID staff aboard the USNS Comfort—one of the U.S. Navy’s (USN) two hospital ships. The Comfort is a state of the art, fully equipped floating hospital, with 12 operating rooms and capacity for 900 patients. While her primary mission is to provide rapid, flexible, and mobile acute medical and surgical services to support the U.S. military, she can also be called in to support in disaster or humanitarian relief. In 2010 the Comfort supported the USAID-led disaster response mission after the Haiti earthquake; her sister ship, the USNS Mercy, provided assistance after the 2005 tsunami in South East Asia. USAID personnel, Dr. Clydette Powell and Dr. Bob Ferris traveled on the Comfort for Operation Unified Response: Haiti.  This was the first time USAID had sailed with a mission. Their knowledge of Haiti and contacts with the Embassy and USAID mission were instrumental in the successful care and transfer of Comfort patients.

CAPT Colleen Gallagher explains the capabilities of the blood bank to USAID colleagues on board the USNS Comfort hospital ship. Photo credit: USAID

In addition, both ships provide humanitarian and civic assistance every two years on goodwill missions—”Continuing Promise,” which travels to South and Central America, and “Pacific Partnership,” which tours the South Pacific. These deployments provide training for U.S. military personnel and partner nation forces while providing valuable services to communities in need. Later this month, the Comfort will embark on Continuing Promise ’13, and take part in medical, dental and civic engagements in eight countries.

In my capacity as the Navy Liaison Officer at USAID, I help facilitate coordination between USAID and the U.S. Navy in the design and implementation of field activities—such as the Continuing Promise and Pacific Partnership ship visits. I also help to keep the lines of communication open between the Navy and the agency in global health activities, disaster response and conflict prevention. As a Nurse Corps Officer, I’m focused on helping to ensure that USN international health activities are coordinated with USAID missions and align with U.S. development objectives. My home within the agency is within the Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation, but I work with many colleagues throughout the agency, including the Global Health Bureau and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, which is responsible for leading and coordinating U.S. Government’s humanitarian response to disasters overseas.

USNS Comfort hospital ship. Photo credit: USAID

Visiting the Comfort provided the opportunity for a firsthand view of the capacity and capabilities of the hospital ship, knowledge that provides USAID staff with a foundation for future decisions on crisis or disaster response. In a disaster, the Comfort can be called on to support the USAID’s lead in a response. While many have read about what it can do, sometimes seeing is believing. It also marked a return for me to the ship—in 2009 I had the privilege of  sailing with the Comfort for Continuing Promise 09, and  less than six months later I served again on the Comfort in support of the Haiti earthquake response.

Captain Colleen Gallagher is a Nurse Corps Officer with the U.S. Navy. She is the first Navy Liaison Officer to serve at USAID, a position she has held since 2011. 

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