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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

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. 

Assistant Secretary Anne Richard and Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg Meet With Syrian Refugees

This originally appeared on the U.S. Department of State’s Dipnote.

Assistant Secretary Anne Richard traveled to the refugee camps in Turkey with Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg. Read more about their trip. 

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg visited a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey. While there, they met with Turkish partners and assistance providers to discuss the needs of Syrian refugees and ongoing humanitarian assistance efforts.

The U.S. delegation commended the generosity of the Government of Turkey and the Turkish people, and recognized the Turkish Red Crescent for its tireless efforts to provide protection and assistance to Syrians affected by the crisis. Assistant Secretary Richard said, “I come away very impressed by the way the Turkish government has provided so much to the Syrian refugees. Many of the Syrians with whom I spoke today are very grateful to the government of Turkey, to the people of Turkey.”

“We are working to ensure that if more people come out of Syria they will also get a reception like this,” Assistant Secretary Richard said. “We are supporting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. USAID is working with the World Food Programme so we want to continue the ability for refugees to cross open borders and get the help they need. They are not alone, they are supported by the United States and the American funding is coming through international organizations, to reach them, and to help them, and to help their compatriots.”

Assistant Administrator Lindborg said, “…We have prioritized getting critical winter assistance in. It’s cold right now and we know that when you’re displaced and you’ve had to leave your home suddenly that you need essential blankets, carpets, warm clothing, plastic sheeting, ways to help families survive the winter. We will have reached 460,000 people, particularly in the northern parts of Syria with that kind of help by the end of this month. We know that’s not enough. This is a crisis of enormous proportions. We are moving aggressively to provide additional assistance. We call on other countries to do the same.”

The United States is providing food aid, medical supplies, emergency and basic health care, shelter materials, clean water, hygiene education and supplies, and other relief supplies — including blankets and heaters — to help millions of people affected by the crisis in Syria. More than two and a half million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, approximately 1.2 million people are internally displaced, and over half a million people have fled to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Photo of the Week: State and USAID Visit WFP Distribution Center in Jordan

Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg visit a World Food Programme Distribution Center in Amman, Jordan, where refugees living in host communities receive vouchers on January 27, 2013. They can use these vouchers to shop for their families in local supermarkets. Photos from  State Department.

President Obama Announces Additional Humanitarian Aid for the Syrian People

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Americans and people all over the world have been moved by the images of courageous Syrians standing up to a brutal regime, even as they suffer the consequences of the violence waged against them by the Assad government. Right now, humanitarian conditions in Syria are deteriorating in the face of a massive, man-made humanitarian emergency. People have been forced from their homes; schools, clinics and bakeries continue to be targeted; and food prices are on the rise as winter takes hold.

The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations, an estimated 2.5 million people are displaced inside of Syria, and over 678,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. Their stories touch us all, and the American people will continue to stand with them. That is why President Obama announced today that he has approved a new round of humanitarian assistance, an additional $155 million to provide for the urgent and pressing needs of civilians in Syria and refugees forced to flee the violence of the Assad regime. This brings America’s contribution to date to $365 million, making the United States the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

Our assistance is being delivered all across Syria and is providing food, clean water, medicines and medical treatment for hundreds of thousands of people. It will expand the delivery of vaccines for children and clothing and winter supplies for millions of people facing both the regime’s brutality and the hardships of winter. It will supply flour to bakeries in Aleppo to provide daily bread, and allow families to feed their children; it will finance field hospitals to care for those who are wounded; and it will provide care and services for the growing number of victims of sexual violence. Our assistance also supports a growing number of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Humanitarian assistance sometimes means the difference between life and death, and that is why courageous men and women have been working day and night to ensure that these supplies are reaching those who need it most. The dangers of operating in Syria mean that many Syrians may not know that the medical care, supplies, and food that  they are receiving is being provided by the people and government of the United States. It is a cruel fact that humanitarian aid providers and recipients are being deliberately targeted in Syria. Our priority is to get American aid to those in need without endangering them or our humanitarian partners, which is why much of our aid is provided quietly and without fanfare and acknowledgement.

The good news is that we are able to work with a wide range of dedicated and courageous international partners and Syrian humanitarian organizations whose commitment to reaching those in need is unwavering, and that we are also able to work with the Syrian Opposition Coalition to identify and locate those in need. Also among the many unsung heroes of the humanitarian response in Syria are Syrian-American individuals and organizations, with whom we are working to meet urgent needs now and help lay the ground for a more peaceful future.

The Assad regime is using a destructive and, sadly, not unfamiliar tactic as it attempts to destroy the livelihoods of the Syrian people. But as President Obama said in his video remarks, “We’re under no illusions.  The days ahead will continue to be very difficult. But what’s clear is that the regime continues to weaken and lose control of territory. The opposition continues to grow stronger. More Syrians are standing up for their dignity. The Assad regime will come to an end. The Syrian people will have their chance to forge their own future. And they will continue to find a partner in the United States of America.”

Read the President’s message in Arabic (pdf). You can also watch the video with Arabic subtitles.

 

Videos of the Week: U.S. Delegation Visits Syrian Refugees at Camp Islahiye, Turkey

These videos originally appeared on U.S. Department of State’s Dipnote.

On January 24, 2013, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard, and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg visited Syrian refugees in Turkey. While at the camp, the delegation had the opportunity to speak with those affected by the violence, to listen to their concerns, and to witness first-hand the ongoing humanitarian assistance efforts.

On January 29, 2013, President Obama announced additional humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.

Can Transitional Justice Prevent Conflicts?

Cyanne Loyle is Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at West Virginia University. Photo credit: West Virginia University

On August 4, 2011, President Obama launched the Presidential Studies Directive on Mass Atrocities, or PSD-10, a ground-breaking call for all major U.S. government agencies to engage on the issue of preventing mass atrocities and genocide worldwide. Through this initiative the White House called for action “early, proactively and decisively to prevent threats from evolving into large scale civilian atrocities.”

USAID’s plan to implement of PSD-10 includes launching the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – a contest to identify new ideas for applying innovations and technology to atrocity prevention efforts; leading listening sessions – an effort to capture the individual voices and perspectives of those who have firsthand experience with atrocity prevention and response in the field; and developing a toolkit describing programming approaches, available resources and operational guidance for strengthening prevention efforts, as well as expanding training options for personnel deploying to high-risk mission countries.

The ideas behind PSD-10 are echoed in what the academic community has researched about mass violence. We know that these activities occur while other forms of violence are ongoing.  For example, the genocide in Rwanda took place under the guise of a civil war between the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the Rwandan government, and the current insurgency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a cover for countless human rights violations on a massive scale. We also know that mass atrocities are much more likely in countries that have experienced violence in the past. This phenomenon has come up so often, academics have given it a name: the “conflict trap.”

The questions now are: What tools do we have available to accomplish the goals of PSD-10? What can we do to prevent mass violence in the future?

Transitional Justice

One option, which has been shown to be effective, is the use of transitional justice.  Transitional justice is defined as any institution put in place following armed conflict to address the grievances and wrongdoings of the past. In practice, this has meant a wide variety of different processes: tribunals, truth commissions, reparations programs and lustration processes as well as less formal approaches such as memorialization efforts. The specific process used in each case has to be appropriate to the cultural and political realities, but the overall goal behind the transitional justice approach is to address grievances that have developed through the conflict among both the general population and former combatants. Governments that implement these processes, as well as the international organizations which support them, use transitional justice as a means of reducing the causes of conflict decreasing the likelihood that violence will occur again.

The use of transitional justice is already prevalent. The Post-Conflict Justice Dataset, which records transitional justice put in place following armed conflict, found 272 processes related to 173 different conflicts between 1946 and 2006. Fifty-three percent of post-conflict countries implemented at least one transitional justice process and 22 percent implemented two or more processes. Transitional justice is increasingly commonplace as a means of reducing the motives for future violence.

New research on transitional justice has turned our attention to the possibility of using transitional justice while conflict is ongoing in an attempt to resolve disputes and grievances sooner, thus bringing the conflict to an end more quickly. Other efforts have focused on the relationship between transitional justice and conflict to isolate the direct effects of transitional justice in order to design more useful strategies to prevent conflict reoccurrence.

We’re still unclear on the long-term effect of transitional justice, whether attempted during the conflict or after violence has ended. However, transitional justice can be a powerful tool for achieving the ends sought in PSD-10. No one claims transitional justice is the only or best approach, but it is one tool that should not be neglected when considering how best to respond to mass violence.

For more information about the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention at USAID, visit our website. Join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #genprevtech.

FrontLines Year in Review: Beyond Port-au-Prince

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines March/April 2012 issue.

The United States and Haitian Governments aim to develop areas outside the country’s overcrowded capital, catalyzing growth in the north.

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti – group crowds around an instructor for an urban gardening lesson in this northern city in Haiti. They laugh as the man perches a plastic bucket on his head and demonstrates how to use drip irrigation technology to grow tomatoes.

Workshop participant Manola Lamy was excited to try growing vegetables on her roof, but also enjoyed the camaraderie. “Before, I hadn’t experienced a union among Haitians,” she said. “Through the workshop, I experienced a union among others trying to make a better life here.”

Students are expected to share their knowledge, and instructors empowered them to take charge of their own food security. Such sustainability is the aim of USAID’s work in Haiti.

Vendors sell their wares March 24, 2011, at a market in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer, USAID.

“Cap-Haïtien is one of the most important cities in the Government of Haiti’s plan to increase access to services outside of the overcrowded capital,” said USAID/Haiti Mission Director Carleene H. Dei.

After the catastrophic January 2010 earthquake, about 100,000 displaced Haitians sought refuge around Cap-Haïtien. The city is now one of three geographic corridors that the U.S. Government is targeting to catalyze economic growth outside of the overcrowded capital of Port-au-Prince.

Consistent with the Government of Haiti’s action plan, the United States is focusing its investments in infrastructure and energy; economic and food security; health and other basic services; and governance, rule of law, and security.

USAID’s dozens of wide-ranging projects in the north, most implemented by the Agency’s Office of Transition Initiatives, include supporting an NGO that develops nutritional peanut butter to fight malnutrition; rehabilitating roads and the Sans Souci Palace, a World Heritage site; assisting families who host those displaced by the quake; leading human rights trainings with community-based organizations; and rehabilitating community centers and health clinics.

In an ambitious project announced by former President Bill Clinton, the United States is also collaborating with the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Haiti to develop the 617-acre Caracol Industrial Park in the North—future home to the Korean textile giant Sae-A’s new garment-making operation. The park has the potential to support 65,000 permanent jobs in a country that has an estimated 40 percent unemployment rate.

USAID is funding the construction of an associated power plant, which will supply electricity to the park and surrounding communities. The Agency is also supporting housing for 5,000 households (25,000 beneficiaries) close to the park as well as infrastructure improvements in neighboring communities and Haitian cooperatives to jump-start training for industrial sewing…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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Communication is Aid: Old and New Technologies Make Aid More Effective

Communication can and should be seen as aid. People rely on communication to find out what’s happening, where to go for assistance and who to call for help. Research and projects, such as infoasaid, give evidence that communication is crucial to survival and recovery. In fact, the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network positions two-way communication with affected people at the heart of resilience-building, preparedness and response.

If communication is aid, what does that mean in practice? And how do we get better at doing it? These are some of the questions that participants of the ‘Communication is Aid: Humanitarian, Media and Technology Collaboration’ event*, held in Nairobi on December 6, tried to answer.

In her opening remarks, Gabriella Waaijman, Officer in Charge of UNOCHA Eastern Africa, explained, “Gone are the days when humanitarian agencies can provide assistance without asking what the needs are in the communities where they are working.” There is no doubt in my mind that we need to listen to communities because they are the only ones who know what’s happening on the ground and can suggest what would improve their day-to-day lives. We need to empower them with the tools to communicate their needs to us, and we need to effectively respond. Modern development requires two-way communication and listening.

Are we there yet? That’s for debate, but we are certainly getting closer. Adeso is implementing a USAID project in northern Kenya, working with pastoral and transitional communities to reduce hunger and poverty, increase social stability, and build strong foundations for economic growth and environmental resilience, and we are looking at ways to use communication to enhance these objectivesUSAID also helped jumpstart SokoShambani, a free SMS platform that allows small-scale potato farmers in Kenya to connect directly with buyers. “It takes the farmer to the market, and the market to the farm,” as Stephen Kimiri of ZEVAN explains.

Shujaaz.FM main character DJ Boyie pirates airtime to talk about what’s important to Kenyan youth. Photo credit: Riccardo Gangale/USAID.

Other examples include the Praekelt Foundation’s development of the Young Africa Live mobile platform that provides young people in Africa with information about HIV/AIDS and other sexual health issues. Since 2009, the platform has been used by more than a million people in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The Danish Refugee Council has for its part adapted the Ushahidi platform – a free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping that was first used following Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections to collect eyewitness reports of violence and place them on a Google Maps – to monitor humanitarian aid in Somalia. Through this system, DRC’s beneficiaries can use their mobile phone to provide feedback on the aid they received from DRC, and make complaints.

So, how do we use the right technologies in the right context? As Rob Burnet from Well Told Story underlined, “Push won’t work – it must be pull.” We need to understand our audience and really listen to what they want. For example, USAID invested in Well Told Story’s innovative Shujaaz.FM multi-media project aimed to engage Kenya’s youth in promoting peace for the March 2013 elections. The project includes fictional Kenyan youth who grapple with real social and political challenges in a monthly comic book and through daily radio spots. The project gained popularity and 20,000 Kenyan youth now interact with the characters on Facebook.

Humanitarian and development players can learn a lot from private sector entities who are developing new technological solutions to address some the challenges faced when delivering aid. At the same time, we must keep in mind that while technology is part of the solution, it is not the solution in and of itself. It needs to be used in the right context, by the right people and for the right audience. Improving how we communicate will therefore require resources, training and commitment. My hope is that we continue to seek modern communication methods to provide more opportunities for learning, exchange and future collaborations for all audiences around the globe.

*Adeso and UNOCHA Eastern Africa jointly organized this one-day event, in partnership with the CDAC Network and Internews, and with financial support from BBC Media Action and Microsoft. Presentations and video from the event will be available on the Adeso website in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, have a look at this Storify.

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