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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

A New Milestone in Child Protection

Disasters impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. Half of those affected are children, who often bear the biggest brunt of humanitarian crises. Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in the wake of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. As a result of the disaster, hundreds of thousands of children lost a parent, caregiver or other family members. They lost access to essential services and resources including food, water, shelter, education and health care. Children who were separated from their families– orphaned or disabled– and those living and working as domestic servants were particularly vulnerable. Many more were exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

Children at a school damaged by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010. USAID, through the International Medical Corps, helped ensure that children were safe and protected when attending classes. Photo credit: Ron Libby, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

This devastating event hammered home the need to provide children with timely and appropriate protection, care, and support when they need it the most. The need for child protection was clear in Haiti, and yet, despite the best of intentions and a wealth of resources, emergency child protection interventions were slow to start and inadequate for the scale of the problems. In reviewing what happened in Haiti, USAID and our global partners identified a need to advance our efforts for children in emergencies.

USAID is leading the charge in this effort by supporting the launch of the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. These standards were developed by the Child Protection Working Group in response to the hard lessons we learned in Haiti. Specifically, these standards strive to strengthen coordination, increase accountability, improve the quality of protection programs, and enable better communication on issues involving children. These standards provide a common approach to the protection of children for the entire humanitarian community across sectors. Over the next few years, frontline humanitarian personnel will receive training on these new standards, and organizations will develop strategies to translate them into life-saving assistance on the ground.

While the standards are oriented to staff working in the field, I believe they also provide donors and governments with new opportunities to promote stronger child protection interventions especially in times of crisis. These new standards also compliment the commitments made in the soon-to-be released U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This plan emphasizes the need for the entire government to work together to ensure quality, coordinated, evidence-based programs to protect children. The U.S. Government is fully committed to seizing the opportunities presented through the release of these standards.

USAID's Neil Boothby (right) and UNICEF's Annette Lyth (left) discuss the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action at a press conference in Geneva. The standards were developed as common guidelines for the global humanitarian community. Photo credit: Eric Bridiers, U.S. Mission Geneva

I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the minimum standards earlier this month in Geneva. In the more than 30 years I have spent working in this field, I have witnessed first-hand the struggles children in Rwanda, Mozambique, Indonesia, Darfur, Haiti and elsewhere face in the wake of conflict and disaster. I am heartened to see how far we, the humanitarian community, have come in efforts to assist these children, and the promise and hope these standards give us all to do even more going forward.

Dr. Neil Boothby is the U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the USAID Administrator on Children in Adversity

 

The White House (Blog): Supporting Human Rights in Burma

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Yesterday’s announcement that President Obama will become the first U.S. President to visit Burma marks an historic step in the United States’ engagement with Burma. In the past year, since President Obama first noted “flickers of progress” in Burma – and since Secretary Clinton became the most senior U.S. official to visit since 1955 – we have seen continued progress on the road to democracy. Several opposition political parties have been permitted to register legally for the first time and their members – including Aung San Suu Kyi – have been elected to parliament. Restrictions on the press have been eased. Legislation has been enacted to expand the rights of workers to form labor unions, and to outlaw forced labor. The government has signed an action plan aimed at ridding its army of child soldiers; it has pledged to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to help ensure that Burma’s natural wealth is not squandered to corruption, and it has announced fragile ceasefires in several longstanding ethnic conflicts.

Seeing these signs of progress, we have responded in kind, with specific steps to recognize the government’s efforts and encourage further reform. We have eased sanctions, appointed our first ambassador in 22 years, and opened a USAID Mission. At the same time, we have also updated sanctions authorities that allow us to target those who interfere with the peace process or the transition to democracy, and we created a ground-breaking framework for responsible investment from the United States that encourages transparency and oversight.

We are clear-eyed about the challenges that Burma faces. The peril faced by the stateless Rohingya population in Rakhine State is particularly urgent, and we have joined the international community in expressing deep concern about recent violence that has left hundreds dead, displaced over 110,000, and destroyed thousands of homes. There is much work to be done to foster peace and reconciliation in other ethnic conflicts, develop the justice sector, and cultivate the free press and robust civil society that are the checks and balances needed in any stable democracy. But we also see an historic opportunity both to help Burma lock in the progress that it has made so far — so that it becomes irreversible — and to meet the many challenges in front of it. In May 2011, as the Arab Spring took hold, the President noted that America’s interests are served when ordinary people are empowered to chart their own political and economic futures. And to governments, the President made a promise: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States.

Last month, as part of our effort to fulfill that promise, the Obama administration held the first-ever official bilateral dialogue on human rights with the Government of Burma. Led by Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor, the purpose was to initiate a new channel between our two countries to discuss challenges ahead – a high-level exchange on urgent and delicate issues that would have been unthinkable a year ago. Our delegation included not only Posner, Ambassador Derek Mitchell, and other State Department officials, but also senior officials from the White House, the Vice President’s office, USAID, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense, including both civilian officials and uniformed military. The delegation included experts on labor rights and economic development, rule of law and political reform, ethnic conflict and reconciliation, land-mine removal and criminal justice. Our hosts included senior advisors to President Thein Sein and ministers and senior officials from across the Burmese government and military. Aung San Suu Kyi attended in her capacity as a member of parliament and the chair of a new legislative committee on the rule of law.

Before the official dialogue began, the U.S. delegation spent three days in Rangoon meeting with former political prisoners, ethnic minority leaders, labor advocates, LGBT organizations (who said that this was the first time any government had ever invited them to meet together), and other members of Burma’s nascent civil society. When we sat down for our official dialogue in Naypyidaw, we were able to convey the concerns raised in these meetings to our counterparts, and also stress the importance of their building an inclusive reform dialogue that will seek input from Burmese civil society.

The U.S. government engages with many countries around the world in official dialogues on human rights. While these discussions are often a useful forum for diplomacy, it is fair to say that these conversations can sometimes be stilted, characterized by predictable presentations rather than a spontaneous back-and-forth in which uncertainty can be expressed. The U.S.-Burma dialogue was unusually high-energy and candid.

We both recognized the need to empower reformers in and out of government, protect against backsliding, and ensure the broader Burmese public feels the changes afoot. One of the most challenging aspects of reform is enlisting the country’s military, which governed the country through authoritarian rule for five decades. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Francis Wiercinski drew on his own experiences to make a powerful case to senior officials from the Burmese Defense Ministry that national security is helped rather than hindered by transparency and independent monitoring, and by compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law. The discussions, which emphasized areas where commitments to reform are necessary – including on child soldiers, forced labor, and in conflict areas – underscored that the gradual process of normalizing our military-to-military relationship will hinge on progress on human rights.

Many of the issues that we discussed in detail will likely feature in the President’s upcoming trip to Burma. These included:

  • Prisoners of conscience. The release of more than 700 political prisoners in the last year has been unprecedented. But as Secretary Clinton has made clear, for the United States, even one prisoner of conscience is too many, and the State Department has passed along a list of those we are concerned remain imprisoned. In addition, as one ex-prisoner put it, “we have been released, but we are not free.” The released prisoners have a huge amount to offer a democratic Burma, but, as we noted, the government will need to lift outstanding travel and other restrictions in order for them to participate fully in society.
  • Political reforms. Reforms have begun to change the political landscape, particularly as parliament has become more inclusive, and as representatives are increasingly answerable to their constituents. But efforts to build civil society, make government ministries responsive to the public, and create a more inclusive political process have just begun. In particular, the central government needs to tackle the challenge of ensuring that any reforms that are made by the parliament and central government are felt at the local level and especially in Burma’s border areas where the majority of the country’s ethnic minorities reside.
  • Rule of law. The parliament and the executive branch have tackled part of an ambitious agenda for remaking Burma’s law and legal institutions. But the judicial branch remains the least developed of Burma’s political institutions. Judicial reform, repealing outdated and restrictive laws, educating citizens of their rights, creating a vibrant civil society to protect those rights, and remaking the legal system and the legal profession all are required to lay the foundation of rule of law in Burma, and all have a long way to go.
  • Peace and reconciliation. The challenge of ongoing ethnic and sectarian violence – including in Shan State, Kachin State, and Rakhine State – remains an area of deep and ongoing concern. If left unaddressed, it will undermine progress toward national reconciliation, stability, and lasting peace. Serious human rights abuses against civilians in several regions continue, including against women and children. Humanitarian access to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons remains a serious challenge and on-going crisis. The government and the ethnic nationalities need to work together urgently to find a path to lasting peace that addresses minority rights, deals with differences through dialogue not violence, heals the wounds of the past, and carries reforms forward. The situation in Rakhine State and the recent violence against the Rohingya and other Muslims last week only underscores the critical urgency of ensuring the safety and security of all individuals in the area, investigating all reports of violence and bringing those responsible to justice, according citizenship and full rights to the Rohingya, and bringing about economic opportunity for all local populations.

Ultimately, Burma’s reforms will succeed or fail based on the efforts of the Burmese people themselves. President Obama’s policy approach has been to support reform and those championing it – an investment in Burma’s future that the President will personally reinforce later this month in Rangoon. Behind this investment is a commitment to helping the Burmese people see the promise that lasting reform holds for their country. As they take charge of their destiny, the American people stand ready to help.

Samantha Power is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council

A Soldier’s Lesson in Development

USAID is proud that today over 750 veterans have continued to serve the American people by joining our Agency. On this Veteran’s day, we value their resiliency and selflessness and we pay tribute to their stories.

Author Mirko Crnkovich  is Deputy Chief, in Plans and Liaison Division of the USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation.

I served in the military as an Army officer for 10½ years. My first exposure to USAID didn’t occur until my ninth year of service when I was in Afghanistan along the Pakistan border in Paktika province. I was one of the first special operations team leaders with a USAID officer assigned directly to my team, which was conducting civil affairs in an effort to help stabilize the greater Bermel Valley area.

Mirko Crnkovich during his tour in Afghanistan. Photo Credit: USAID

I honestly had no idea what this USAID civilian was doing in my area of operations, what he was supposed to accomplish, or how he hoped to achieve his objectives – and quite frankly I had no desire to babysit him. Looking back, my ignorance was embarrassing, but was no fault of my own – I simply hadn’t been properly trained or educated on what my civilian counterparts brought to the effort. I had no awareness about what USAID was or did, nor did I have an understanding of what it was doing in Afghanistan.

What I learned from that great USAID officer—a core development principle; that it wasn’t the “what” that we did that was important, it was the HOW; and perhaps most importantly, ensuring the local population was directly involved in all of our efforts—directly led me to leave the military, and ultimately, to join USAID in 2008 as a civil servant, allowing me to continue my service to the United States in USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation. What I realized is that our military is not properly trained or resourced to effectively conduct stability operations – and neither are our civilian agencies.

Yet both sides bring incredible dedication and capabilities. My greatest epiphany was that my USAID counterpart and I were exponentially more successful when we worked together, hand-in-hand, to achieve our objectives, than when working unilaterally. I wanted to take that experience and find a place where I could leverage my experiences, serving as a Rosetta Stone between my military and civilian colleagues in an effort to better synchronize USAID and Department of Defense efforts – both in D.C., and in the field – and to make each better and more effective.

Increasing the respect and understanding between our civilian and military partners is what I strive to do every day, and the successes are rewarding. I miss the military daily, but not a day has gone by that I have regretted my choice. I am incredibly proud to be a member of the USAID family, and even prouder still of the work we do around the world on a daily basis.

 

Applying New and Existing Technologies to Atrocity Prevention

Over the past year, I’ve had the honor to be part of the team at USAID implementing the President’s vision of preventing and responding to mass atrocities, including through my service on the White House’s Atrocity Prevention Board.  I have deep personal connections to the issue of atrocity prevention, having worked throughout my career on countries in the midst of conflict where such atrocities have occurred, from Rwanda to Angola to Libya.

Knowing all too well the challenges – internal and external – that a government faces as it attempts to prevent or disrupt these horrific events, I have steered our team at USAID toward expanding the tools available to us and training and equipping our staff to improve our vigilance and response.  In this regard, much more can be done to take advantage of developments in technology.  So many more technologies are available to us today than existed during the Rwanda genocide, and we must harness them to build new capabilities in early warning, remote sensing, safe evidence collection, and elsewhere.

This awareness prompted a conversation that culminates with the contest launch of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention on October 31.  This exciting effort, co-sponsored by USAID and Humanity United, builds on our new commitment to open source development.  Instead of just drawing on the skill and imagination of our staff, we are engaging a broader community and posing fundamental questions and challenges to new problem-solvers, including students, coders, tech firms, and other innovative thinkers.

The challenges we seek to address through the Tech Challenges are at the heart of barriers we face in ending the cycle of violence in fragile countries.  What new tools or mobile apps can help activists safely document the physical evidence needed to hold abusers accountable and/or support transitional justice processes long after the violence abates?  How can new social media platforms and other tools build pressure on governments to respond, and on the private sector to address the enabling role served by resources generated from conflict minerals and other products?  How can we better monitor hate speech that is often a precursor and instigator of violence?  These are tough questions, but we need answers, fresh perspectives and new ideas.

Please visit the site, share the trailer via social media and forward this to friends, colleagues, or classmates who might help.  Our partner Humanity United will be hosting a Twitter Q&A on Thursday, November 1st at 2 p.m. EST via @HUTweets and #genprevtech to answer your questions about the Tech Challenge.

We look forward to seeing the new ideas you identify in this Tech Challenge, and we’re excited about the broader range of possibilities that open source development will yield.

 

*Updated to reflect change in event date*

Engaging with Arab Americans on Syria

On Friday, September 28, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah traveled to the Arab American National Museum in Michigan to meet with a group of Arab American leaders and tour the museum. The Smithsonian Institution-affiliated museum, which chronicles the contributions of Arab Americans to the United States and the world, is the first and only one of its kind. It is located in Dearborn, the city with the largest percentage of Arab Americans in America, and is a project of Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), the largest Arab American social service organization in the United States.

At the roundtable, Administrator Shah, moderator Hassan Jaber, the executive director of ACCESS, and Arab American community and organizational leaders discussed USAID’s work in the Middle East, in particular in support of the people of Syria, and how diaspora and immigrant communities can be engaged.

The event came just as Secretary Clinton was hosting a Friends of Syria meeting in New York and announcing nearly $30 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the conflict in Syria.

One participant told Dr. Shah that as a child in Syria, he had seen the distribution of bags of food with USAID’s logo of clasped hands and that this had left a permanent imprint on him – it made him realize that the United States cared about him and the people around him. What, he wanted to know, was USAID doing now in the midst of the crisis in Syria?

The United States, in partnership with the international community, is tirelessly working to provide aid to the innocent children, women, and men affected by this conflict. We are delivering more than $130 million in humanitarian assistance to help more than 975,000 people inside Syria and the nearly 300,000 who have fled to the safety of neighboring countries. We are the largest provider of food aid to those affected by the crisis, and we are providing medical supplies and medical care in some of the hardest-hit cities in Syria. Due to ongoing violence and access restrictions, humanitarian partner organizations and their courageous staff are not yet able to reach everyone in need, but we continue to work to expand our aid networks to overcome these hurdles and provide additional humanitarian assistance for those affected by the crisis.

The meeting was a good opportunity for Dr. Shah to discuss his experiences on his recent visit to Za’aatri refugee camp near the Syria-Jordan border and his conversations with Syrians, young and old, who have sought refuge at the camp.

Equally important was the chance for Dr. Shah and USAID staff to learn from the people in the room, many of whom have family and friends in Syria. They shared their understanding of the situation on the ground, discussed what they are doing to help, and identified needs that might be addressed by the U.S. Government. They wanted to talk not only about the here and now but to engage also on a post-Assad era.

This meeting is part of an ongoing dialogue to deepen our partnerships with immigrant and diaspora community members to help the Syrian people.

Visit our website for additional information about what the United States is doing to help the people of Syria.

From Conflict to Coping

Tisda, Mercy Corps Program Officer, in Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Erin Gray, Mercy Corps

Last summer, amidst the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in generations, Mercy Corps received encouraging news from local officials in the Somali-Oromiya region of Ethiopia.  In this area – long known for conflict, scarce resources and harsh conditions – communities that had participated in USAID-supported Mercy Corps peacebuilding efforts were reportedly coping better than they had during less severe droughts in the past.

We were intrigued, so we sent out a research team—and the findings were striking: when local conflict had been addressed, people were far better equipped to survive the drought.

To understand why, put yourself in the position of an Ethiopian herder.  When a drought hits, you can cope in several ways.  First, you will sell the weakest animals in your herd, raising cash to meet your family’s short-term needs while reducing grazing pressure on a water-scare environment. You may migrate with the remaining herd to areas where the grazing potential is better.  Along the way, you will rely on sharing access to scarce remaining water resources wherever you go.

Yet conflict can make these coping mechanisms impossible – blocking market access, freedom of movement, and access to shared resources like water. In this part of Ethiopia, population pressure and climate change had strained resources, spurring violence that in 2008-09 resulted in massive loss of lives and assets. In response to that conflict, Mercy Corps initiated a peacebuilding process in 2009 with support from USAID.  We helped participating communities focus on establishing peaceful relations, economic linkages, and joint management of natural resources.

A “resilience” approach to aid focuses on understanding, and improving, how communities cope with drought and other shocks.  Instead of just providing assistance that meets immediate material needs, a resilience approach also focuses on factors that affect a community’s ability to cope.  As Mercy Corps found last summer in Ethiopia, this often means focusing on factors that fall well outside the traditional assistance toolkit.

The program had focused on reducing violence – but our researchers found that it also built resilience along the way. Communities that participated in Mercy Corps’ program reported greater freedom of movement and fewer barriers to accessing resources, markets and public services than did non-participating communities. They identified greater freedom of movement as the single most important factor contributing to their ability to cope and adapt to the severe drought conditions. As one herder from the Wachile community said, “It is very difficult to use or access dry reserves (grazing areas) located in contending communities in a situation where there is no peace…the peace dialogues in the area have improved community interaction and helped us to access these resources.”

Our research report – titled Conflict to Coping – confirmed the important link between conflict and resilience in this region, and demonstrated that effective peacebuilding interventions help build resilience to crises.  Participating communities showed less reliance on distressful coping strategies, especially depletion of productive assets, than other communities. Importantly, the increased peace and security has allowed participating communities to employ more effective livelihood coping strategies, enabling them to better cope with extreme droughts.

Video of the Week: Raj Shah in Jordan

USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah announces additional humanitarian assistance in response to the ongoing violence in Syria while visiting the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan with Jaafar Hassan, Jordanian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation.

The United States is committed to helping the innocent children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.  Learn more about USAID’s work to address the needs of conflict-affected people in Syria and neighboring countries through the provision of emergency medical care, food, and relief items, as well as humanitarian coordination and logistics support to relief agencies.

Read Administrator Shah’s remarks at the Za’atri Refugee Camp in Jordan.

Today is World Humanitarian Day

The United Nations’ World Humanitarian Day reminds us that helping those in need is a universal value. In the midst of every disaster and conflict, there are also inspiring acts of courage, generosity and selflessness. I am continually awed by the people I meet around the world who take great risks, who are moved to act in ways they never imagined, and who dedicate their lives to alleviating the suffering of others.

Humanitarian values are not owned by any one group but, rather, are an expression of humanity shared by all–from the Tunisian students who organized convoys to help those coming across the border from Libya to Sergio Vieira DeMello, a great humanitarian whose life of service and tragic death in Iraq in 2003 inspired the establishment of World Humanitarian Day in 2008.

At USAID, we were recently reminded of the great cost and sacrifice individuals endure to help those in need when the life of USAID Foreign Service Officer, Ragaei Abdelfattah was taken in Afghanistan, where he has served for the last fifteen months. We honor and acknowledge the risks USAID and State Department civilians take across today’s arc of global crises—and the sacrifices made by our committed implementing partners—in an effort to save the lives of others.

I have just returned from Mali, where more than 100,000 people are internally displaced from their homes due to violence and conflict in the north. Many have found refuge in communities in the south, where families are already stressed by ongoing drought but still open their homes to those who have even less. International aid workers are organizing to find ways to provide support in those areas difficult to access in the north, where food and medicine are in short supply and many of those families that remain do not have the resources to flee. I met a mother in Mopti, Mali, who fled with her six children. She told me how much she valued the “chain of solidarity” she has experienced since being forced out of her home and the tremendous help she has received from the people of Mali and from people around the world. This solidarity—and show of humanitarianism by fellow Malians and the international community–provides her with hope and vital support at a time of great need.

All over the world, humanitarians put themselves in grave danger to reach those most in need, from Syria to Sudan, from northern Mali to Afghanistan. Yet despite the risks, our collective commitment to humanitarian action is enduring.  When and where there are people in need, we will be there to help.

On August 19th, I urge everyone to take a moment to honor those who have devoted and, in too many cases, lost their lives to humanitarian action; to those who acted on a moment’s notice to provide help; to everyone who believes in the importance of reaching out a helping hand at a time of need.

In the spirit of this year’s U.N. World Humanitarian Day theme, “I Was Here,” I urge all of us to do something good, somewhere, for someone else. And as we commemorate this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we celebrate the courage of individuals and the commitment to helping others that unites us worldwide.

One Year On: Looking Back on Famine and a Smarter Response in the Horn

About six months into my tenure as Director of Food for Peace, in July 2011, I remember calling Nancy Lindborg, the Assistant Administrator of our Bureau, to let her know that famine had been officially declared in Somalia. It was with an air of both sadness and disbelief that I myself absorbed the news that we had actually reached this point. I had left the world of humanitarian aid for development and governance work in the mid-1990s, shortly after one of the most intense periods of my working life, responding to the 1991 Somalia famine. I was in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in those years, and we broke records by mounting the largest-ever (at that time) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in the office’s history and spending more on a single disaster in a short span of time than the office ever had before. As a member of USAID’s DART in Somalia, I witnessed the crisis firsthand. I traveled with Fred Cuny, a great humanitarian, as he shared his insights into the nature of famine and the challenges of response. As the months unfolded and relief operations ramped up with the support of the U.S. military, names of towns like Belet Huen, Baidoa, Merca and Kismayo all became commonplace, as did the terrible images of starving children and sprawling graveyards.

We learned a lot from that famine response, and looking back I can say that we played it smarter this time around. Recognizing that mortality rates often spike due to outbreaks of preventable diseases, USAID prioritized health and hygiene programs such as vaccination campaigns and providing clean water and hand washing soap before the rainy season, when disease rates are known to spike. Much improved early warning systems gave us a clear picture of both nutritional needs and market prices. Based on this information, we prioritized cash and voucher programs that allowed people to stay in their villages and buy food and other supplies in their local markets. We found that markets did indeed respond to the increase in demand, inflation was kept at bay, and traders brought goods to areas that were off limits or too dangerous for aid workers.

The in-kind food distributions we supported through the United Nations World Food Program WFP) were also smarter. Thanks to the early warnings received from the experts at Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) and Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), our food aid was already pre-positioned in the region. WFP largely set aside general food distributions, which are often chaotic at best and violent at worst. Instead WFP focused on more efficiently reaching those in need by working together with health facilities to provide families with food aid, and if needed, supplementary nutrition. For many years USAID has been providing funds for partners to purchase ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to help those in crisis, but for the first time ever, Food for Peace provided an RUTF that it helped create. And we now have RUTF in our stockpiles.

While the food security conditions in Somalia have improved, our response this past year reflects our understanding of the fragility of the situation: Along with our partners, we are continuing to provide assistance that saves lives while also protecting and advancing livelihoods.

Last night I attended a celebration in honor of Senator George McGovern’s 90th birthday. He was feted with toasts that acknowledged his extraordinary contributions to feeding hungry children around the world. As an American citizen and public servant, I am proud to be part of the U.S. government effort that stays true to the spirit of Senator McGovern’s vision. In far flung and difficult places, including Somalia, we make a difference and make evident every day the compassion and generosity of the American people.

One Year Later: Reflections on the Humanitarian Response in the Horn

Communities in the Horn of Africa are enduring their second summer of poor rains, failed crops, and withering livestock. In a region where the majority of the population makes under $2 a day in the best of times, this emergency has stretched to the breaking point many families’ ability to put food on the table.

One year ago, the extent of this environmental crisis was made clear when the United Nations declared a famine in Somalia—the first to strike the region in nearly 30 years. In Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, the longterm investments in development paid off, preventing their slide into famine.

Thanks to better seeds and other technologies provided through USAID rural finance assistance, more than 867,000 households have seen their income grow. Photo credit: Mariantonietta Peru/USAID

But relief efforts weren’t easy. The drought severely affected more than 13 million people—more than the populations of New York City and Los Angeles combined—requiring a vast
humanitarian response that could reach the remote, isolated, and often nomadic populations that had the greatest need. In Somalia, conflict and violence limited the reach of humanitarian assistance, and those hardest-hit by the drought were often the hardest to get to.

A year later, despite the unflagging drought, conditions have improved across the Horn, thanks in part to the international community’s quick and aggressive response. USAID’s relief efforts in the Horn were designed to attack the emergency from two sides. Our work aims not only to save lives, but also to enable communities to recover faster and better withstand the next shock. Learning from previous droughts and famines, we prioritized:

  • Food aid—to stop the hunger
  • Health, nutrition, water, hygiene, and sanitation services—to combat disease, which kills more people in emergencies than a lack of food 
  • Support for livelihoods–to enable families to access food where markets were functioning

Since 2011, USAID has provided more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to the Horn, targeting more than 4.5 million people.

However, the gains made over the past year are fragile. More than 9 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia still require humanitarian assistance, and the situation could worsen over the next few months. The core vulnerabilities of drought, conflict, poor governance, and chronic poverty continue to threaten the future of millions. Within USAID, we’re working hard to tackle these chronic threats and continue to be flexible in our response. The future will continue to present challenges, but USAID is committed to working with our partners to hold onto the gains we’ve all worked so hard to achieve.

The one-year anniversary of the famine declaration in Somalia is a somber reminder of the continuing crisis and an opportunity to reflect on the need for communities to come together to help those in need.

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