USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

USAID Finalist for Service to America Medal

Finalists for the 2013 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal were announced on May 6, 2013, and out of hundreds of nominees, USAID’s Cara Christie and the Horn Drought Humanitarian Response Team were selected for their outstanding work identifying and coordinating U.S. humanitarian relief efforts during the 2011 Somalia famine.

A displaced child feeds at a camp in Mogadishu—one of the more than 13 million people affected by the 2011 famine in Somalia. Photo credit: AFP PHOTO/ Mustafa Abdi

Also known as the Sammies, the award pays tribute to federal employees who have made significant contributions in activities related to national security and international affairs. Honorees are chosen based on commitment and innovation, as well as the impact of their work.

Christie, a Disaster Operations Specialist with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—along with the Horn Drought Humanitarian Response Team—recognized that a famine was imminent almost a year before it unfolded. Building on lessons learned from previous drought responses, the team analyzed rainfall data, crop patterns, market prices and malnutrition rates to identify the warning signs leading to the region’s worst drought in 60 years. For 225 days, the team worked to get aid to the region by pre-positioning commodities, awarding grants, and coordinating with other governments, international and non-governmental organizations.

“Because of her quick action and anticipation, hundreds of thousands were saved and their suffering was mitigated,” said Carol Chan, the acting director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Winners of the Service to America Medal will be announced on October 3 in Washington, D.C.  For more information on all the finalists, visit their website.

Administrator Testifies on FY 2014 Budget Request

With the completion of Administrator Shah’s final congressional hearing on the FY 2014 President’s Budget Request for USAID, I want to highlight that this budget reflects the development priorities of this Administration while making difficult tradeoffs due to the constrained budget realities.  USAID has prioritized resources to countries and programs where they are most needed, most cost-effective, and can lead to long-term, sustainable results.

"The 2014 Budget Proposal for Food Aid Reform allows us to reach 4 million additional children" - Administrator Rajiv Shah testifying before the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee. Photo Credit: USAID

A prime example of our commitment to maximize the effectiveness of USAID programs is the President’s Food Aid Reform Proposal.  This proposal, if enacted, would give the U.S. Government the ability to feed up to 4 million additional people with comparable resources, through more efficient food assistance.  Throughout the President’s budget, we’ve been similarly focused on maximizing results for every dollar spent. The FY 2014 Budget Request enables USAID and its partners around the world to:

  • Ensure food security and progress toward ending hunger
  • End preventable child death
  • Strengthen program effectiveness through USAID Forward
  • Build resilience to recurrent crisis and climate change
  • Support strategic priorities and promote democratic governance and economic growth
  • Provide live-saving responses to areas with the most vulnerable populations
  • Continue USAID’s commitment to be more focused and selective about the countries and areas in which we work.

The FY 2014 budget is the result of efforts that began more than a year ago. The budget process requires input from over a hundred State and USAID missions abroad, regional and functional bureaus in Washington, leadership within the Department of State and USAID, as well as the White House Office of Management and Budget.  This rigorous process aligns resource planning with strategic priorities including from the U.S. Global Development policy, the State/USAID Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and 2011-2015 USAID Policy Framework.  We work closely with missions and bureaus to integrate rigorous mission-led strategic planning efforts and sectoral strategies including those for Basic Education, Water, and Gender.

This inclusive approach led to a resource request that reflects Administration and USAID priorities, modernizes our development activities, and provides the most cost-effective and sustainable development.  The countless hours of work that went into developing the FY 2014 President’s budget by USAID staff around the world demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively.

For those of us who have been working on the FY 2014 budget for some time now, the end of the Administrator’s congressional hearings may feel like the culmination of this process, it is really just the beginning. Moving forward, we will continue to work closely with Congress to enact a budget that supports our national security, promotes our economic interests, and alleviates human suffering.

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.

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