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Obama Administration Launches Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture

This post originally appeared on The USDA Blog.


From record droughts in Kansas to deadly wildfires in California, the United States is feeling the effects of climate change. These same conditions have a dire impact across the developing world, especially for poor, rural smallholder farmers whose very lives are threatened every time the rains arrive late, the floods rush in, or the temperature soars.

Climate change induced degradation of land could be the inheritance of inaction regarding climate change.

Climate change induced degradation of land could be the inheritance of inaction regarding climate change. / George Safonov

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach nine billion people. Feeding them will require at least a 60 percent increase in agricultural production. There is no greater challenge to meeting this need than climate change. It poses a range of unprecedented threats to the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people and to the very planet that sustains us. In order to ensure that hundreds of millions of people are not born into a debilitating cycle of under-nutrition and hunger, we must address the urgent threat that climate change poses.

That’s why today we’re announcing the launch of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. The idea was born eight months ago, when an international delegation of leaders—including many from the USDA, the State Department, and USAID—met in South Africa for the Global Conference on Climate Change, Food Security, and Agriculture. There, we charted a more sustainable path to food security—one that preserves the environment while driving broad-based economic growth.

The Alliance’s solutions will encompass every type of climate and agricultural system, including better crop, livestock, and aquaculture varieties that can tolerate extreme heat, drought, and floods. We are also testing and deploying innovative tools for farmers, like weather-indexed crop and livestock insurance to help communities build resilience to severe weather.

A boy and a woman struggle with the dusty wind looking for water in Wajir, Kenya

A boy and a woman struggle with the dusty wind looking for water in Wajir, Kenya. / Jervis Sundays, Kenya Red Cross Society

The Alliance will advance a more inclusive, innovative, and evidence-based approach to food security. It will provide platforms for partners to collaborate on agricultural practices, make key investments, develop policies that empower producers to mitigate the impact of climate change and, through sustainable agriculture practices, contribute to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It will also provide farmers—particularly women—with greater economic opportunities.

Joining the Alliance represents an ambitious step in the United States’ efforts to integrate climate change policies into every area of our work. The Alliance will work in concert with the U.S. Global Climate Change Initiative, drawing on its expertise and experience grappling with climate change challenges in more than 50 developing countries around the world. This climate-specific knowledge and practice being pioneered today will be critical to protect lives and livelihoods, and promote low-carbon growth and development around the world.

As one of his Administration’s first foreign policy acts, President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Led by USAID—in partnership with USDA, the State Department, and eight other federal agencies—Feed the Future empowers vulnerable communities to move from dependency to self-sufficiency.

In the last year alone, Feed the Future has improved the nutrition for 12.5 million children across 19 countries. At the same time, it has helped 7 million farmers grow their yields, raise their income, and begin the journey out of the devastating cycle of extreme poverty.

In 2012, President Obama rallied a group of global leaders at the G8 Summit at Camp David to launch the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, aimed to increase public-private partnerships and increase investment in agriculture. Today, we’ve leveraged $10 billion in investment from more than 200 companies—the majority from local African firms, including farmer-owned businesses.

Here in the United States, we’ve taken steps to address climate change and its impact on agriculture, setting up seven climate hubs and three sub-hubs; launching the Soil Health Initiative (healthier soil captures more carbon and helps farmers succeed), engaging more farmers than any time in American history in land and water conservation efforts, and we’re contributing to the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gasses. Our experiences at home can provide lessons that are valuable for farmers around the world.

We don’t have time to wait. From India to the United States, climate change poses drastic risks to every facet of our lives. Ground water supplies are vanishing faster than they can be replenished. Typhoons, wildfires, and floods are showing signs of becoming more frequent and more deadly. And with each day, families are pushed to the brink of survival—threatening our own prosperity and security in an increasingly connected world.

Addressing climate change will not be an easy fix, and it won’t be simple. Long term global food security depends on us acting together now.  That’s why the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture is so critical. By joining together, we can design new technologies and create new alliances to effectively protect and manage the environment that supports us—and the thriving ecosystems that will sustain our world for generations to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

John Kerry is the U.S. Secretary of State and tweets from @JohnKerry
Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Agriculture Secretary and tweets from @USDA
Dr. Rajiv Shah is the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and tweets from @RajShah

Five Promising Innovations in Contraception

You may know that there are countless forms of contraception available to choose from: pills, IUDs, injections, implants, and more.

What you may not know is that USAID has supported the development of essentially every modern contraceptive available today, both in the U.S. and abroad.

World Contraception Day on September 26th draws attention to the important health and economic benefits contraception brings families, communities, and nations. Studies show that pregnancies that occur too early or late in life or too close together can result in devastating consequences for both the mother and child.

Increasing access to modern contraception across the globe could avert an estimated 7 million child deaths and 450,000 maternal deaths by 2020.

We also know that family planning is crucial to ending extreme poverty by opening the opportunity for countries to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, a phenomenon that can add as much as two percent to annual GDP growth for decades.

For this reason, USAID has worked for nearly half a century to expand access to voluntary family planning information and services across the globe.

As we work to meet the needs of the 222 million women who want to avoid pregnancy but aren’t using modern contraception, it is vital for us to invest in new methods that expand women’s options. Studies show that some women don’t use currently available contraceptives because of concerns over potential side-effects, preference for non-hormonal methods, and a lack of options for women who have infrequent sex. Furthermore, we must expand availability of long-acting reversible contraceptives and permanent methods for women who choose to delay or limit childbearing.  Here are five promising new innovations in contraception:

SILCs Diaphragm. / Credit: PATH/Mike Wang

SILCs Diaphragm. / Credit: PATH/Mike Wang

1)  SILCs Diaphragm: The SILCS diaphragm, marketed as the Caya® contoured diaphragm, is a new type of diaphragm that is easy to use, non-hormonal, does not need to be fitted by a clinician, and is reusable for up to three years. In addition to being a contraceptive, this diaphragm has the potential to be a true multipurpose prevention product, serving as a delivery platform for gels that help protect against HIV and other STIs. After numerous studies clinically proving safety, acceptability, and comfort, Caya® recently received FDA regulatory approval for marketing within the United States. USAID and partners are currently working in Malawi and Zambia to make this new contraceptive available to women.

Sayana Press. / Credit: PATH/Patrick McKern

Sayana Press. / Credit: PATH/Patrick McKern

2) Sayana Press: Sayana Press is an injectable contraceptive packaged in a pre-filled single-use syringe. Its unique delivery system makes it more portable and easier to use, allowing injections to be delivered by health care workers to women at home or in other convenient settings. This new delivery system has the potential to drastically expand the availability of injectable contraceptives in the hardest-to-reach areas. Through a public-private partnership, USAID, DFID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pfizer, and Path are supporting the introduction of Sayana Press in Senegal, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger and Bangladesh.

Woman's Condom. / PATH

Woman’s Condom. / PATH

3) Woman’s Condom: The Woman’s Condomis designed to be easy to insert, use and remove, making it unique compared to other female condoms. Condoms offer contraception and protection against HIV in one inexpensive, simple-to-use package. As awareness about the multipurpose protection benefits of the female condom grows, global demand is increasing.

NES/EE vaginal ring. / Julie Sitney

NES/EE vaginal ring. / Julie Sitney

4) One-Year Contraceptive Vaginal Ring and Progesterone Vaginal Ring:  The NES+EE Contraceptive Vaginal Ring is the first medium-term hormonal method completely under the woman’s control that lasts for one year. This discreet method meets the needs of women who may encounter partner opposition and who don’t want a family planning method that requires a daily routine. The three-month Progerone Vaginal Ring for breastfeeding women is an effective, user-controlled method that can be used safely by breastfeeding women to aid in spacing pregnancies. It does not affect a woman’s ability to produce breast milk and does not require insertion by a healthcare provider.

CycleTel. / Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University

CycleTel. / Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University

5) Digital Fertility-Awareness Based Methods of Family Planning iCycleBeads™ Smartphone Apps, CycleTel™ and CycleBeads® Online are mobile and digital services that enable women to use the Standard Days Method (SDM) directly on a phone or internet-enabled device. This effective, natural family planning method helps women track their cycle and know on which days there is a high likelihood of getting pregnant.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen Starbird is the Director of USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health.

René Van Slate: “I’ve pretty much done everything that terrifies me… except for Ebola”

Morgana Wingard This is the first blog in our Profiles in Courage series in which photojournalist Morgana Wingard compiles snapshots and sound bites from our USAID and Disaster Assistance Response Team staff on the front lines of the Ebola response. Here she talks to a veteran in humanitarian disaster assistance, René Van Slate, who serves as a liaison between the military on the ground and the U.S. civilian team.
René Van Slate

René Van Slate
USAID Humanitarian Assistance Advisor to the U.S. Military

A veteran in humanitarian disaster assistance, René Van Slate is afraid of nothing… nothing except Ebola. She was on the ground after the flooding in Thailand in 2011, typhoon Bopha in the Philippines in 2012, the Republic of Marshall Islands drought in 2013, and typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year. Now, on her fifth disaster response team René explains her trepidation, “Ebola is microscopic, it’s covered in mystery and it’s incredibly deadly.” But, René is here with USAID facing her greatest fear on the front lines of the Ebola response in Liberia.

René touched down with the first crew from USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) at the beginning of August. Since then, she has liaised between the military on the ground and the U.S. civilian team, advising and coordinating logistics to best utilize military assets and personnel. Specifically, she is working on Operation Liberty with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) supported by U.S. forces to build Ebola treatment units across Liberia.

One of the greatest challenges on the ground is that almost no one had ever dealt with an Ebola outbreak other than Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and those were much smaller and rural. “The whole humanitarian community is learning Ebola,” René says. “Though [building] an Ebola treatment unit is simple, like rocket science, it must be done perfectly every time.”

In an operation as large and complex as the current Ebola response, it takes a team of people working day in and day out processing requests to arrange for all the logistics to get materials transported, imported and delivered to where they are needed.

The best part of her job is days like today, when requests are fulfilled, referring to Thursday’s  arrival of 9,000 community protection kits—a joint effort of UNICEF, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and USAID—as part of the response to help Liberians fight Ebola. Each kit includes biohazard bags, soap, personal protective equipment, and gloves. They will be distributed to Ebola Community Centers across Liberia in partnership with UNICEF.
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(all photos by Morgana Wingard)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. All this week she will be guest posting from USAID’s instagram

Liberia Gripped By Ebola’s Many Tentacles

Morgana Wingard This is the second blog in our Daily Dispatches series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight on Ebola. Her photo series and blogs from the team will offer unique angles into the many facets of the Ebola story – from life inside a treatment center, to profiles of the health care workers battling Ebola from the front lines, to the many ways the epidemic is impacting the health, economy and future of the nation. 

“This deadly epidemic underscores the importance of USAID’s focus on ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies. As fragile states just emerging from decades of conflict and poverty, Sierra Leone and Liberia were particularly vulnerable as the disease jumped to urban environments. Even people who aren’t sick have not escaped Ebola’s reach. [...] The United States is providing basic needs support and food aid to help counter these effects and boost access to food and water, especially for isolated communities.” – Nancy Lindborg, Testimony before Congress – September 17, 2014

MONROVIA, Liberia—While the Ebola virus is having devastating impacts on Liberia’s health system, beyond the spotlight it is having an equally damaging impact on the economy. We have yet to know the full extent of the impacts, but the warning signs are already showing.

Sales have plummeted in Waterside Market—an economic hub in downtown Monrovia where Liberians trek to buy commodities like fresh fish from the Atlantic Ocean, school shoes, or used household goods imported from America. And at this time of year, many parents should be back-to-school shopping. However, with all of Liberia’s schools closed and many parents now jobless, vendors wait for days sometimes before selling a single ware.

I stopped by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare one morning and met Emmanuel Patrick, 55. He was an instructor at the Salvation Army School until the government closed the schools due to the epidemic. Now, to support his six children, he travels to the Ministry every morning in the hopes of obtaining a day labor job working in the warehouse. But there is not enough work, and the income doesn’t cover the cost of increasing living expenses.

You can find stories like Emmanuel’s on every corner of the nation’s capital and throughout Liberia: Ordinary Liberians, who, while not infected with the virus, are suffering its impacts.

Ibrahim, 20, sells shoes in Waterside Market in downtown Monrovia on Sept. 18, 2014

Ibrahim, 20, sells shoes in Waterside Market in downtown Monrovia on Sept. 18, 2014. Normally at this time of year he sells shoes for students going back to school. On a typical day he would sell between two and five pairs. Since the Ebola virus epidemic, sales have plummeted. Schools are closed and Liberians are staying at home as much as possible. Many people have lost their jobs and are living on their savings to survive.


Hana, who sells donuts, lays across a counter once filled with meat products for sale in Monrovia, Liberia, on August 18, 2014.

Hana, who sells donuts, lays across a counter once filled with meat products for sale in Monrovia, Liberia, on August 18, 2014. Waterside Market is typically a bustling commerce center in downtown Monrovia. Now, with fears of Ebola, vendors are struggling to sell their goods. The Liberian Government is threatening to close down the market which sits next to the largest township, West Point, where members of the community broke into an Ebola isolation unit on August 16. Because of concern that Ebola is spread through contaminated bush meat, stalls that used to be filled with meat are now empty.


Anne Benson, 49, sells used clothes in Waterside Market to support her nine children and five grandchildren in Monrovia on September 18, 2014

Anne Benson, 49, sells used clothes in Waterside Market to support her nine children and five grandchildren in Monrovia on September 18, 2014. She lives with her husband and children in Sinkor. Since the Ebola outbreak her sales have plummeted. She used to sell the equivalent of $23 to $35 per day. Now she’s lucky if she sells $6 worth. She says only people in town are buying. People are not traveling to the market anymore because of the costs of transportation and the fear of taxis, which are often carrying Ebola patients to Ebola Treatment Units. When she travels to work in a taxi, she protects herself from the other passengers in the car with a long sweater. She makes seven of her nine children stay at home all day to protect them from the Ebola virus and regularly uses hand sanitizer and their bucket of chlorine water at home.


Oretha Sampon, 40, sells fish in Waterside Market next to West Point in Monrovia on September 18, 2014.

Oretha Sampon, 40, sells fish in Waterside Market next to West Point in Monrovia on September 18, 2014. Before the Ebola Outbreak she would sell 50 to 100 fish each day. Now she only sells about 25. She says no one is buying during the crisis because because of the precarious economy. Business owners are forced to live off their savings—if they have them—because they are not making enough to cover their expenses. Oretha used to come sell six times a week in the market, but now she only comes three times a week. With the cost of goods and transport going up and sales going down Oretha has lost her means to support her four children.


Vincent, 24 (center, in blue) and Junior, 20 (middle, in red), both residents of West Point

Vincent, 24 (center, in blue) and Junior, 20 (middle, in red), both residents of West Point, a  township that has been one of the hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic, used to drive motorcycles for a living — a form of local transport in Liberia used like taxis. After the government banned motorcycles in downtown Monrovia they had to stop. Now, because of Ebola, they can’t find any work and are feeling disgruntled. They want a job, but no one is hiring so they wait on the side of the street at the entrance of West Point.


Emmanuel Patrick, 55, was an instructor at the Salvation Army School in Monrovia, Liberia

Emmanuel Patrick, 55, was an instructor at the Salvation Army School in Monrovia, Liberia. He’s been teaching for 26 years—four of them at the Salvation Army School. Since the schools are closed due to the Ebola outbreak, he doesn’t have a job to support his wife and six children. He spends the equivalent of $1.75 a day to take a taxi to the Ministry of Health in hopes of being hired as a temporary day worker, but there are not enough jobs to fill the demand. If he gets hired for a day, he’ll make $5.90. It costs over $5 per day to feed his family, and the cost of living—including rice, a staple of the local diet—is going up.

According to USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg, “Economic growth projections have been cut by more than half in all three of the most impacted countries [Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea], and the cost of living is rising—particularly in Liberia where inflation is expected to nearly double by the end of the year.”


To maintain economic and political stability, it is paramount that Liberians have the basics to survive.

To maintain economic and political stability, it is paramount that Liberians have the basics to survive. The United States is providing support for basic needs and food aid to boost access to food and water, especially for vulnerable communities like West Point. USAID has provided $6.6 million worth of American-grown food aid to support the U.N. World Food Program’s regional response. This photo shows USAID-donated rice being prepared for distribution on September 19, 2014, in West Point—a township of 20,000 to 80,000 that has been one of the hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic.


Monrovia, Liberia - September 18, 2014: West Point, a township of 20,000 to 80,000 people, is a hot zone for the Ebola virus.

Monrovia, Liberia – September 18, 2014: West Point, a township of 20,000 to 80,000 people, is a hot zone for the Ebola virus. Active case finding teams are discovering 20 to 30 cases a day in the community.


The U.N. World Food Program distributes USAID-donated rice in West Point

Monrovia, Liberia – September 19, 2014:  The U.N. World Food Program distributes USAID-donated rice in West Point—a township of 20,000 – 80,000 that has been one of the hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic. 

(All photos by Morgana Wingard and provided c/o UNDP)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. All this week she will be guest posting from USAID’s instagram

Powering The Ebola Response: Monrovia’s Island Clinic

Morgana Wingard This is the first blog in our Daily Dispatches series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight on Ebola. Her photo series and blogs from the team will offer unique angles into the many facets of the Ebola story – from life inside a treatment center, to profiles of the health care workers battling Ebola from the front lines, to the many ways the epidemic is impacting the health, economy and future of the nation.

MONROVIA, Liberia—One of the saddest things about the Ebola outbreak in Liberia is the inability for many patients to get treatment. In Dolo Town recently, I watched a father carry his ailing son in a wheelbarrow to the clinic for treatment, but they did not have the capacity to help. He had been calling the government hotline for four days to no avail. A team of NGO workers proceeded to call the hotline again and a personal ambulance, but they also couldn’t get any help. All the treatment centers were full. In the end, the clinic sent him and his son home along with two other patients. Different versions of the same story have repeated across Monrovia for weeks. Liberians, trying to do the right thing, called the hotline and drove their loved ones to the hospital only to be denied entrance.

A father is devastated in Dolo Town after he was unable to get his son into an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) . It’s unclear whether he has Ebola as he can’t get to a facility for testing -- an all too common problem. The U.S. Government is helping build and staff several new facilities in Liberia. / Morgana Wingard

A father is devastated in Dolo Town after he was unable to get his son into an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) . It’s unclear whether he has Ebola as he can’t get to a facility for testing — an all too common problem. The U.S. Government is helping build and staff several new facilities in Liberia. / Morgana Wingard

After hearing too many of these stories as I have documented the unfolding Ebola crisis over past weeks, the opening of another Ebola treatment unit (ETU) was a huge relief. With the help of USAID, the Liberian Government and the WHO opened the 100-bed facility on Sunday, September 21. To power the treatment center, USAID provided two generators, amongst other supplies. These generators are vital to the functioning of the clinic by providing power for lights, pumps for water, and washing machines to clean scrubs worn by health care workers under their personal protective equipment (PPEs).

Miata, a nurse we met, said all the health care workers ran from nearby Redemption Hospital, the largest government-run hospital in Liberia, at first. A doctor and several nurses on staff became infected with Ebola and died as the outbreak was beginning in Liberia. But when a team of Ugandan health care workers arrived in Liberia who had fought previous Ebola outbreaks in their own country, they called them together for a training workshop.

“That workshop inspired me to come back. If we don’t help the patients, who will?” Now, she is not afraid because she can cover herself with personal protective equipment before she enters the “hot zone” to provide food for patients fighting the Ebola virus. This new Island Clinic facility is helping. But many more beds and qualified health care workers are needed to meet the needs of growing numbers of patients.

Qualified health care workers’ interested in volunteering can go to http://www.usaid.gov/ebola/volunteers for information.

Here are some shots I took on our trip to Island Clinic on Monday.

The entrance for health care workers going into Island Clinic

The entrance for health care workers going into Island Clinic, a new Ebola Treatment Unit that opened in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept. 21, 2014 and within one day, reached capacity. The building was a Doctors without Borders hospital during Liberia’s Civil War. It was neglected for several years until the government, with help from the World Health Organization, transformed it into a 100-bed clinic in response to the surge of patients needing care due to the Ebola crisis that is hitting Liberia especially hard. Many people are calling the battle against the Ebola epidemic a “biological war” and now these same facilities that were used during the country’s long Civil War are finding a new use as Liberia struggles to contain the crisis. USAID has provided two generators to the facility which are providing power for lights, pumps for water, and washing machines to clean scrubs worn by health care workers under their personal protective equipment.


A family waits at the entrance to the Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia

A family waits at the entrance to Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, which was opened by the World Health Organization and the Liberian Ministry of Health in response to the surge of patients needing an Ebola Treatment Unit. Here, a health worker in protective gear tells the family to wait on the side as they open the doors for an ambulance to exit the facility. Before the facility opened on September 21, ambulances and patients arrived at the gates waiting to be admitted. Just a day after opening, the clinic is already at capacity. USAID has provided two generators and other supplies to equip the facility with life-saving care.


Health care workers put on personal protective equipment before going into the hot zone at the Island Clinic in Monrovia

Health care workers put on personal protective equipment before going into the hot zone at Island Clinic, in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept. 22, 2014. The 100-bed clinic opened on Sept. 21, and within one day it is already at capacity after approximately 100 Ebola patients were moved from the nearby Redemption Hospital and ambulances brought other Ebola-stricken patients from the community. There are still more patients on the way. The facility was set up by the World Health Organization and Liberia’s Ministry of Health in response to the surge of patients needing an Ebola Treatment Unit. USAID has provided two generators and other supplies the facility.


Hygienists at the ebola treatment unit at Island Clinic in Monrovia wash health workers' scrubs

Hygienists at the ebola treatment unit at Island Clinic in Monrovia wash health workers’ scrubs, a vital part of the operation at the new clinic, which opened September 21, 2014. Health workers at the clinic must follow extensive protocol to protect themselves. All scrubs worn under their personal protective equipment and shoes must be washed thoroughly in chlorine water and then with soap. While we were at Island clinic, one of the health workers told me why she was working here: “If we don’t help the patients, who will?” She said she is not afraid because she can cover herself with personal protective equipment before she enters the “hot zone” to provide food for patients fighting the Ebola virus.


A patient lies in a bed at the newly opened Island Clinic in Monrovia

A patient lies in a bed at the newly opened Island Clinic in Monrovia, Liberia on Sept. 22, 2014. The patient is getting an intravenous treatment – a crucial part of treatment for Ebola because the virus quickly dehydrates those it infects. However, using IV is also considered risky for health workers if they do not take proper precautions and not all treatment centers are using them. At the Island Clinic, a concrete wall and glass window offers those outside the clinica sobering view into the patient area. While I am standing less than a foot from this man, the perception is that I’m peering into a restricted and isolated world.

(All photos by Morgana Wingard)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. All this week she will be guest posting from USAID’s instagram

The U.N. World Conference on Indigenous People: An Opportunity for Real Change

Brazil’s Xingu Indian dancers celebrate. USAID has supported various efforts to reduce deforestation in the Xingu region, such as training a fire control brigade of Xingu men, and promoting sustainable cattle ranching in the reserve’s buffer zone.

Brazil’s Xingu Indian dancers celebrate. USAID has supported various efforts to reduce deforestation in the Xingu region, such as training a fire control brigade of Xingu men, and promoting sustainable cattle ranching in the reserve’s buffer zone. / International Katoomba Group

The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), which kicked off today at the United Nations General Assembly, provides us with the opportunity to reflect and take action on the vital role that indigenous peoples play in sustainable development, protection of biological diversity, long-term food security, responding to global climate change, and safeguarding the earth’s remaining intact ecosystems.

Although they make up less than 5 percent of the global population, indigenous peoples are guardians of nearly two thirds of the world’s languages, over 80 percent of its biodiversity, and most of the genetic diversity of the planet’s seed crops. As we struggle to find solutions to the world’s most urgent challenges, the importance of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge cannot be overestimated.

Despite remarkable gains in recent decades—including increased participation in international policy-making processes, legal recognition under constitutions of numerous countries and significant advances within the United Nations—indigenous people still face many challenges. Around the world, they are still among the most marginalized peoples, facing multiple forms of discrimination, exclusion and oppression. All too often, development is a threat to their communities; logging, extractive industries, hydroelectric dams, industrial agriculture and even conservation projects continue to decimate their lands, lives and livelihoods.

Indigenous village women in Cambodia extract corn seeds from plants grown on titled community lands to provide villagers with food and income.

Indigenous village women in Cambodia extract corn seeds from plants grown on titled community lands to provide villagers with food and income. / Winrock International, SFB Project

For this reason, the success of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is critical. Not only must the world’s governments adopt a strong outcome document, they must commit to taking action to promote, protect and recognize the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. On this day, USAID reaffirms our commitment to extending the inclusiveness of its programs, while also highlighting some of our recent work:

  • In Colombia, USAID’s Afro-Colombian and Indigenous Program is investing $61.5 million over five years to build up community-based organizations, and ensure their members’ legal rights to the land they inhabit.
  • In Peru, USAID is helping indigenous communities protect their lands in the Amazon.
  • In Brazil, USAID is training indigenous people to fight forest fires and helping the Surui develop and implement their own land management plan.
  • In Guatemala, USAID has improved health clinics, trained providers and worked with communities to improve health in 30 municipalities in the Western Highlands.
  • This is encouraging, but there is much more work to do. Less than a year ago, I was honored to be appointed to the new position of Advisor on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, a role that was created by the U.S. Congress to implement a comprehensive U.S. strategy to support indigenous peoples around the world. I undertake this role with a sense of deep responsibility.
Supported by USAID, the Cofan indigenous people of Ecuador are working to become more united and stronger to continue conserving biodiversity within their territories.

Supported by USAID, the Cofan indigenous people of Ecuador are working to become more united and stronger to continue conserving biodiversity within their territories. / Thomas J. Müller

More than two decades spent working with indigenous peoples to promote and defend their rights has prepared me well for this task. I have seen firsthand the devastating impacts that poorly conceived development projects have on communities, and witnessed the brutality that native communities are met with when they seek to protect themselves and their lands. In my new role, I hope to develop policy, programs and projects that will ensure that indigenous peoples are included as equal partners in all of USAID’s work.

Strengthening their organizations has enabled Ecuador’s Cofan indigenous community to preserve their cultural identity and ancient knowledge.

Strengthening their organizations has enabled Ecuador’s Cofan indigenous community to preserve their cultural identity and ancient knowledge. / Thomas J. Müller

When President Barack Obama announced U.S. recognition of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he declared that the United States is committed to taking a leadership role in ensuring that the collective rights of indigenous peoples—to their lands, resources and knowledge—are recognized and respected internationally. The responsibility for ensuring the long-term survival of indigenous peoples rests with all of us. If we are going to find our way forward to a truly sustainable development, if we are going to create societies that are resilient and democratic, if we are going to advance security and prosperity around the world, we are going to have to work in partnership with indigenous peoples. Let us hope that the WCIP inspires the world’s governments to take action to put into practice the ideals expressed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Keane is USAID’s Advisor for Indigenous Peoples Issues

Millennium Development Goals: Interconnected Web of Individual Goals

In 465 days we will see which Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) we achieved and where we fell short. As the focus sharpens on progress and impediments to reaching our objectives, the clearer it becomes that the eight MDGs are fundamentally interdependent. Progress towards an individual MDG can accelerate advancement elsewhere; stagnation in one area risks impeding progress towards other goals. To advance, we must balance the focus on single sectors with a cross-sectoral vision that ensures we foster long-term prosperity and well-being.

In Kenya, communities were given cows to fatten and sell for profit.

In Kenya, communities were given cows to fatten and sell for profit. / USAID, Riccardo Gangale

This interconnectedness is driven home every time I visit the field. In Kenya, I spoke with women and men about a project to increase resilience by diversifying sources of income; communities were given six cows to fatten and sell for a profit. The business helped the community ride out droughts and increase income (MDG 1). It also empowered women (MDG 3) by vesting them with responsibility for the animals, traditionally a man’s role within Maasai society. The women, in turn, used the profits to pay school fees for families too poor to send their kids to school, contributing towards universal education (MDG 2).

Data makes the intersections even clearer. For example, fostering universal primary education (MDG 2) promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment (MDG 3). The World Bank  finds that a girl’s completion of primary education will increase her lifetime wages by 5 to 15 percent. That investment can also reduce child mortality (MDG 4); according to the United Nations children under 5 have a 5 to 10 percent lower mortality rate for each additional year their mothers are educated. Universal primary education could also reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS (MDG 6); UNICEF estimates that educated girls are half as likely as uneducated girls to contract HIV/AIDS.

The World Bank finds that when a girl completes her primary education, she will earn more over her lifetime. These young girls are taking part of a school feeding program in the commune of Mbao, near Dakar, Senegal..

The World Bank finds that when a girl completes her primary education, she will earn more over her lifetime. These young girls are taking part of a school feeding program in the commune of Mbao, near Dakar, Senegal. / Engility, Stéphane Tourné

Investments in gender equality (MDG 3) can pay similar dividends. Increasing gender equality can help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1). The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization believes that if women had access to the same agricultural inputs as men—including land, technology, financing, extension services— we could reduce the number of hungry people globally by 100-150 million. A USAID and Bangladesh Government supported project implemented by CARE found that fostering women’s empowerment in conjunction with interventions to improve nutritional well-being demonstrably increased the impact of food security-related interventions. Fostering women’s empowerment can also enhance maternal health (MDG 5) and lower child mortality (MDG 4); Kenya’s Demographic and Health Survey (2008-09) found that women with greater decision making authority were more likely to seek health care for themselves and their children before, during and after pregnancy.

Progress toward achieving certain MDGs can be inhibited by insufficient progress towards other goals. For example, permanently eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1) necessitates advances towards environmental sustainability (MDG 7). In the long-term, the two are intrinsically linked. A country is unlikely to have sufficient food for its citizens in perpetuity if natural resources—land, water, flora and fauna—degrade or disappear. Research from the Partnership for Economic Policy, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that in sub-Saharan Africa 80 percent of the loss of life and 70 percent of economic losses can be attributed directly or indirectly to droughts and floods, disasters exacerbated by climate change, unsustainable land use, and poverty that undermine resilience and create vulnerability.

Many agri-businesses, like Angelinia Michael Shirima’s rice business in Tanzania, stand to benefit from initiatives like Power Africa. The goal is to unlock the substantial wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas, and geothermal resources in the region to enhance energy security, decrease poverty, and advance economic growth.

Many agri-businesses, like Angelinia Michael Shirima’s rice business in Tanzania, stand to benefit from initiatives like Power Africa. The goal is to unlock the substantial wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas, and geothermal resources in the region to enhance energy security, decrease poverty, and advance economic growth. / CNFA

Partnerships (MDG 8) will be key to success across the board. An example—electricity is a key driver of development. Among the benefits, it enables education and storage of vaccines and medicines to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases. It also increases economic opportunity, helping eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.  To meet the needs of the 70 percent of the African population currently lacking electricity, the public and private sectors must work together. The U.S. Government launched Power Africa to focus public and private sector attention, political will and financial resources on delivering cleaner, more efficient electricity to 60 million household and businesses in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. Only a collective effort will successfully mobilize the over $300 billion in capital needed to meet African energy demand between now and 2030.

So how do we manage the connections to maximize progress? First of all, we need to better understand how the MDGs intersect and affect one another. Using that deeper appreciation we must prioritize where we get the greatest bang for the buck, particularly when a single investment can advance progress towards multiple goals. We should also explore technologies to accelerate progress. Finally, we must track progress against the multiplicity of goals, understand the impact of our efforts and course correct when necessary.

USAID is striving to better understand and leverage the interconnections. For example, in 2010, we partnered with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative to create the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) as part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative, which aims to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger. WEAI gives a broad picture of progress towards gender parity in agriculture and helps ensure we are elevating the status of women as an integral part of our work.

We are also using science and technology more extensively. In April, we launched our Global Development Lab to incubate and scale innovations that will enable faster, more effective, less expensive development. Among the advances the Lab is expanding use of is Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic for treating the umbilical cord stump of newborn infants that could potentially prevent half a million deaths globally. In Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, the use of Chlorhexidine is reducing neonatal mortality by 20 to 40 percent. Testing is now underway around the potential value of bringing the innovation to sub Saharan Africa.

As we accelerate towards the finish line, let’s focus and concentrate work to achieve the MDGs. It will pay big dividends for development and could transform the lives of millions worldwide.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carla Koppell is USAID’s Chief Strategy Officer. She was formerly the Agency’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. You can follow her @CarlaKoppell

Water, Food and Extreme Poverty

A farmer ploughs his field in a village in West Bengal, India. The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is helping harness ideas that have the potential to enable developing world farmers to grow more food with less water, or to make more water available for agriculture.

A farmer ploughs his field in a village in West Bengal, India. The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is helping harness ideas that have the potential to enable developing world farmers to grow more food with less water, or to make more water available for agriculture. / A Sourav Karmakar

At USAID’s second Frontiers in Development Forum, we’re focusing on the role of innovation, science and technology in eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. Over the past year, I have witnessed the potential of scientific and technological breakthroughs to address some of the developing world’s greatest challenges through our Grand Challenges for Development.

Our role at USAID is to help define these challenges, prioritizing key elements of the fight against extreme poverty. We then open our doors to potential solutions from a variety of disciplines, locations and specializations – in search of the most promising innovations. These Grand Challenges are developed in the form of prizes that have the potential to catalyze the world in the fight against extreme poverty.

The Securing Water for Food Grand Challenge for Development is an important element of this fight. The availability of water for food is crucial to farmers and others who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The number of people impacted by water stress and insecurity will only continue to rise, and providing simple, sustainable and cost-efficient solutions to this issue could help a poor family or community could grow more food, harvest a surplus, and earn additional income.

Over the past year, we launched two calls for Security Water for Food innovations. More than 570 applications represented more than 90 countries. Of these, we selected 17 award recipients whose proposals best demonstrated the potential to either enable the production of more food with less water, or to make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

Solar-activated Lilypads kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa in water used for agriculture in Mexico.

Solar-activated Lilypads kill viruses, bacteria, and protozoa in water used for agriculture in Mexico. / Puralytics

Ancient technologies are being revisited to provide Nepalese farmers with access to water for irrigation.

Ancient technologies are being revisited to provide Nepalese farmers with access to water for irrigation. / aQysta Holdings

These 17 winners will receive funding and acceleration support. Some were as simple as Aybar Engineering’s multi-purpose tool to move water from areas where it reduces crop yields to areas where it improves crop production, or aQysta Holding BV’s “Barsha” pump offering low maintenance, round-the-clock irrigation powered by flowing water that can help farmers double their crop yields.

Puralytics’ Lilypad acts like its namesake, floating on a body of water, while a solar-activated nanotechnology coating treats the water—sans chemicals, filters, pumps or electricity.

Practical Action proposed a unique sandbar cropping program in Bangladesh, where large, sandy islands appear in many rivers during the dry season and can actually be used by poor farmers to grow pumpkins.

Innovators MetaMeta & SaltFarmTexel and Wageningen University and Research Center have developed crops that can grow in highly saline conditions. With the support of this prize, they will find ways to transfer these crops to developing countries.

Learn more about all of the Securing Water for Food innovations here. We congratulate all of the award nominees, and are honored to support these innovative approaches in improving water availability and food security around the world – part of our work towards ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Holmes is USAID’s Global Water Coordinator

An Unprecedented Response to the Ebola Crisis

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. / Morgana Wingard

Today the world is facing the largest and most-protracted Ebola epidemic in history. Yesterday, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Obama declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a top national security priority and announced a clear, comprehensive, and global strategy to stop the outbreak.

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

The United States has been combating the Ebola epidemic since the first cases were reported in March, and we have expanded our efforts and increased personnel in the region as the crisis has unfolded. More than 120 specialists from across the U.S. Government are on the ground in West Africa to prevent, detect, and stop the spread of this disease. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team—or DART—to the region to oversee and coordinate the U.S. response, providing logistics, planning, program, and operational support to the affected countries; drawing forth critical assets and resources from several U.S. departments and agencies.

This crisis continues to escalate exponentially and requires an intensified speed and scale of response to address a rising rate of infection. It has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. Heroic doctors, nurses, and health workers are stretched to their personal and professional limits.

Against this landscape of overwhelming despair, there is hope. As the President declared in Atlanta:

“The world knows how to fight this disease. It’s not a mystery. We know the science.  We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it.  We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast.“

That’s why yesterday afternoon President Obama announced a significant expansion of our response.

In an Ebola crisis, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with.

In an Ebola outbreak, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with. / Morgana Wingard

Through a whole-of-government approach, we’re mounting an aggressive U.S. effort to fight this epidemic and have devised a clear strategy with four key pillars to stop this epic crisis:

  • Controlling the epidemic;
  • Mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls;
  • Coordinating the U.S. and broader global response; and
  • Fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond.

Our goal is to enable the most effective international response possible, using our government-wide capabilities to fight the epidemic on a regional basis. Our current efforts have focused on controlling the spread of the disease—bringing in labs for specimen testing; supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief supplies; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; supporting burial teams who are safely managing human remains to prevent transmission; and spearheading mass public awareness campaigns with communities to describe how to prevent, detect, and treat Ebola.

To complement these efforts, the President also announced the launch of the USAID-led Community Care Campaign, which will aim to provide every family and every community the critical information and basic items that can help protect them from this deadly virus.  Information will stress the importance of sick families members seeking help at a clinic or Ebola treatment unit and how to exercise basic infection control that can be life-saving, such as washing hands or not washing their dead relatives. Items like soap and chlorine can reduce transmission. Women are especially important to reach given their traditional role in washing the bodies of dead relatives — a prime transmission route of the virus. To reach people with low literacy, the campaign will train health volunteers and community leaders on how best to verbally provide messages to their neighbors.

Partnering with the affected countries, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and organizations on the ground, USAID will initially target 400,000 of the highest risk households in Liberia with this vital training and important tools.

The campaign is also rooted in a sobering reality. Half of all people who get sick don’t seek treatment at hospitals or Ebola treatment units. Many are frightened by rumors and deterred from traveling to hospitals where their friends and neighbors are taken and never return. A complex array of traditional beliefs and practices mean many of those who should seek help choose to stay in their homes – often putting those family members who care for them at risk.

The Ebola crisis is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola.

The Ebola epidemic is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola. / Morgana Wingard

This week, working alongside the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we will airlift 50,000 USAID-funded home health care kits to be delivered to some of the most isolated and vulnerable communities in Liberia. We will simultaneously work with every part of society to educate people on how to prevent and detect Ebola through mass public awareness campaigns supported by radio, text, television and community announcements. As we scale up our response, the only way the virus will be controlled is if we make concerted efforts to reach every community, and every home in the affected areas.

We know tough months lie ahead. It will require a coordinated effort by the entire global community to help stem this terrible public health crisis. But every outbreak of Ebola in the last 40 years has been stopped, and this one will be, as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

International Day of Democracy: Engaging Young People on Democracy

The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy – Engaging Young People on Democracy – is an opportunity to reflect on our Agency’s efforts to protect, support and empower young people across the globe, especially as they engage in democratic processes. Youth play a critical role in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts, and are often at the forefront of people’s movements, such as the “Arab Spring.”

Despite being the majority of the population of many of the countries in which USAID operates, youth are frequently excluded from the political process, due to members of older generations who expect subservience and offer no respect to youth voices. Studies have shown that not effectively engaging disaffected youth can result in instability in communities and nations in the long term, and foment unrest that may ultimately hinder – not assist – the advancement of peace and democracy. If not engaged in efforts to advance positive change, youth can easily lose faith in the democratic process, become disillusioned or apathetic, vulnerable to extremist groups or gangs, and, in the worst case,  become perpetrators of violence.

Alumni of the 4th edition of the Certificate in Leadership and Political Management course, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Corina Fuentes

Alumni of the 4th edition of the Certificate in Leadership and Political Management course, Matagalpa, Nicaragua. / Corina Fuentes

However, strengthening youth capacity will enhance their resilience and their communities. Investing in young people will also pay sustainable returns; youth may indeed be the primary hope for a reform-minded leadership. This was noted by President Barack Obama, who launched the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in 2010 to support young African leaders as they work to spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across the continent.

USAID is working to incorporate youth through strengthening youth programming, participation and partnership in support of Agency development objectives, as well as integrating youth issues and engaging young people across Agency initiatives and operations.

 Opening ceremony of the District youth Forum in Oecusse in Timor Leste on April 23, 2013. A total of 40 youth representatives from across the country participated.  / SFCG Timor Leste

Opening ceremony of the District youth Forum in Oecusse in Timor Leste on April 23, 2013. A total of 40 youth representatives from across the country participated.  / SFCG Timor Leste

In Nicaragua, USAID’s Young Civic and Political Leaders Initiative, implemented by National Democracy Institute (NDI), supports a Certificate on Leadership and Political Management program which equips young Nicaraguans with skills and knowledge to govern effectively and become community leaders.  The program specifically aims to create a space where youth representing different political ideologies and from different backgrounds can come together to learn about democratic leadership.

In East Timor, USAID’s Youth Radio for Peace Building (YR4PB) project, implemented by Search for Common Ground, is aiming to transform the way in which youth engage with government and community leaders  to promote peace and reconciliation, and prevent election-related violence through civic education, leadership training and media programming.

In Kenya, USAID’s Inter-Party Youth Forum, implemented by NDI, is promoting inter-party youth leadership and engagement through working with political parties, and nominated party youth to establish the Inter-Party Youth Forum (IPYF).  The Youth Forum focuses on clean elections, implementation of youth provisions in the constitution, and campaigning against negative ethnicity.

To date, the IPYF has expanded to the country level, engaged more than 1,500 youth through outreach sessions, held a national youth peace conference attended by 950 young people, and conducted a peace campaign around the 2013 election.

In Egypt, USAID’s LEAD-Women and Youth Program, implemented by Creative Associates, is a $1.3 million project with the objective to encourage and support the active participation of women and youth in political dialogue and debate. This includes during key transitional democratic processes through voter education, civic outreach and the establishment and expansion of civil society advocacy networks.

As USAID continues to adapt our democracy, human rights and governance programs to the changing global context, we remain committed to continuing to empower and support young people to become active, engaged and passionate leaders and democracy supporters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for the USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance in the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.

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