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Tomorrow’s Leaders Empowered Today

High unemployment. Crime. Environmental degradation. Social and political unrest.

These are real issues facing millions of young people across the world. But more often than not, youth are meeting these challenges head on.

Many of our USAID missions around the world, often in post-conflict arenas, are working diligently to empower youth so they can serve as leaders in their communities.

Young Palestinian Youth Local Shadow Councils install traffic signals, paint sidewalks and organize a local tourism bike tour.

Young Palestinian Youth Local Shadow Councils install traffic signals, paint sidewalks and organize a local tourism bike tour. / USAID

For example, our mission in West Bank/Gaza supports a project that aims to provide leadership opportunities to 19 youth councils through mirroring their municipalities’ local elected governments. Youth Shadow Local Councils are comprised of young people between the ages of 15 and 22. Each group is composed of about 15 young people, a number that mirrors the number of local elected municipal leaders in individual jurisdictions. This allows the youth councils to shadow their town counterparts one-on-one as the elected officials go about their official duties and to learn lessons in good governance.

The young people also get opportunities to take on leadership roles in their communities through this project, engaging with not only local officials but also heads of NGOs and religious leaders. The councils have, in fact, implemented hundreds of local initiatives and activities impacting local communities, including beautifying parks and roads, hosting career fairs, conducting safety and traffic campaigns, and fundraising for local organizations.

In Kenya, our Yes Youth Can! project also supports democratic youth groups, called bunges, a Swahili word for parliament. Youth elect their own leaders within their villages as well as individuals to represent them at county and national levels.

Bunge members contribute to their communities by providing income-generating activities such as garbage collection that also serve to revitalize their neighborhoods. In one community, bunge members started a small private school providing scholarships for orphaned kids.  School fees are funneled into paying the teacher and renting space. The school is tackling illiteracy head on and providing opportunities for a new generation.

Another bunge has lobbied regionally to use biogas and other biodegradable materials as sources of energy rather than charcoal and firewood. These communal activities are building a culture of peace and professionalism for youth and helping to dispel negative perceptions that associate them with drugs and illegal activities.

In Kosovo, youth are becoming active citizens through USAID’s Basic Education Program, a five-year initiative benefiting all Kosovo public primary and lower secondary schools. The program is empowering Kosovo youth to create a shift in mindset and become future leaders. Youth are raising environmental awareness through student-driven environment education activities that encourage understanding of sustainability concepts and strengthens their leadership skills. To mark Global Youth Service Day and Earth Day last month, students created artwork with recycled materials, led a community class on environmental issues, and promoted recycling as well as the use of lowering one’s carbon footprint by riding bikes. In the spirit of promoting voluntarism, a group of students sold cookies donated by a bakery to raise money for purchasing books on the environment that were to be donated to a school library.

USAID projects supporting youth are creating a new paradigm of community engagement, helping to rebuild post-conflict communities and creating hope in increasingly challenging situations.

These courageous youth are embodying the wisdom behind Gandhi’s words “Be the change you want to see in this world” through bringing their countries into a new era – ushering in service as a new way of life.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Hilborn is a Democracy Officer in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Special contributions from Genora Reed (USAID/Washington), Micheline Sleibi (USAID/WBG), Antigona Mustafa (USAID/Kosovo) and Roger Steinkamp (USAID/Kenya)

5 Ways USAID is Preparing for Hurricane Season

As another Atlantic hurricane season approaches, we are reminded that it takes just one bad storm to wreak havoc, kill and injure thousands, and inflict billions of dollars in damage. That’s why USAID—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—prepares year-round with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure emergency and evacuation plans are in place and hurricane-prone communities are ready. Here are five ways USAID is helping prepare our neighbors to meet the demands of hurricane season:

1.) The Wall of Wind: Did you know there is a place in Miami, Fla., where deadly, hurricane force winds can be felt without the threat of destruction? It’s called the Wall of Wind, a cutting-edge lab at Florida International University that simulates Category Five hurricane conditions using 12 giant fans, generating winds with speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour. It’s here that USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance tests the strength and design of the transitional shelters we use to help provide a temporary home to those who have been hit hard by disasters. Hurricanes can be catastrophic, taking out entire coastlines and killing thousands in the process. Flying debris, often from pieces of roofs and homes, is one of the most deadly and destructive side effects of these storms. That’s why it’s crucial that transitional shelters are strong enough to withstand nature’s worst.

 

2.) Scientific Advanced Warning Systems: Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal aspect of hurricanes. When they occur, excess water caused by heavy and rapid rainfall cannot be quickly absorbed into the earth—and this fast-moving water can be extremely powerful, reaching heights of more than 30 feet. It takes only six inches of flash flood water to knock a person to the ground and only 18 inches to float a moving car. Even though the onset of flash floods is almost immediate, it is possible to give up to a six hour window of advanced notice—just enough time to save lives. USAID works closely with meteorological experts in hurricane-prone countries, training them on the Flash Flood Guidance System, a scientific method of accumulating rainfall data and analyzing the rate at which the ground absorbs it. This system saves lives, giving disaster-prone countries crucial hours before a flash flood hits to implement emergency plans and move as many people as possible out of harm’s way.

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal aspect of hurricanes

Flash floods are the number one weather-related killer and the most fatal aspect of hurricanes / Olga Palmer, US Embassy

 

3.) Emergency Stockpiles and Disaster Experts: USAID has strategically located warehouses in Miami; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Pisa, Italy, that are filled with essential relief items, such as emergency shelter materials, warm blankets, water treatment systems, and hygiene kits. We have the ability to charter aircraft to deliver these life-saving items quickly to those hit hard by hurricanes across Latin America and the Caribbean. But arguably, the most vital resource USAID has is its people. The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance staffs a regional office in San Jose, Costa Rica, and a program office in Haiti with a total of five regional advisors and three program officers, and maintains a consultant network of 20 disaster risk management specialists dispersed throughout the region who are ready to jump into action when a hurricane makes landfall. When we know a storm is coming, we can pre-position staff to be on the ground to assess immediate needs. In addition, approximately 350 on-call local consultants are available for short-term activation in response to disasters, as needed. These consultants live in the region, so they know the culture and local officials, and can quickly report the conditions on the ground to help USAID prioritize humanitarian needs.

The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in San Jose, Costa Rica

The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in San Jose, Costa Rica / USAID

 

4.) Donating Smart: Preparing your family and home for hurricanes is important—but what about preparing yourself to assist others? We work closely with USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information to educate the public on the best and most effective ways to help others during a hurricane. When there is a disaster overseas, many people begin to collect clothing, canned food and bottled water for survivors. While well-intended, many of these items actually remain in the United States because of the high fees and cost required to transport the donated goods to a foreign country. Other items are turned away at their destination because they are not tied to a response organization that would be responsible for handling and delivering them or are deemed inappropriate according to the laws and customs of the region. Undoubtedly the least time-consuming and most cost-effective way to help others is through monetary donations to organizations that are established and operating in the affected countries. These donations enable relief workers to respond to the evolving needs of those affected by hurricanes, from immediate life-saving assistance to eventually helping them rebuild their communities. Still not convinced that donating money during a disaster is the best way to help?

 
5.) Rap Music and Dance: Yes, you read that right. USAID works in some of the most marginalized neighborhoods across the Caribbean to channel the energy and creativity from at-risk youth to transform them into disaster preparedness leaders. The Youth Emergency Action Committees program led by our partner, Catholic Relief Services, is one that teaches young people how to plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. Teens write music, create skits, and perform them to raise awareness in their communities about disaster preparedness while simultaneously learning life-saving skills. Rap music, in particular, has been a big hit! The program, which started in some of the most hazard-prone and marginalized neighborhoods of inner-city Kingston, Jamaica, has been so successful that it’s expanded to the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia and Grenada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tim Callaghan is the Senior Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

Using Local Systems to Achieve Development Goals

A woman eats rice a on a street in Rangoon

A woman eats rice a on a street in Rangoon / AFP PHOTO, Nicolas Asfouri

The international development discourse has evolved considerably during the past few years. The 2011 High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan emphasized the importance of a more inclusive approach to development. In the time leading up to  and following Busan, increased attention has been placed on such terms as “use of country systems,” “localized aid,” “accountability,” and “sustainability.”

USAID has institutionalized these themes into the USAID Forward reforms, which translate the terms into a new model of development.  In the words of our Administrator, “(this new model) places a greater emphasis on direct partnerships with local-change agents who have invaluable in-country, knowledge, networks, and expertise.” The just issued “Local Systems: A Framework for Supporting Sustained Development” underscores the shift in our approach and will serve as a key tool for implementing the Agency’s mission of partnering “to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies.”

Indian farmers plant paddy saplings in a field at Milanmore village, on the outskirts of Siliguri / AFP Photo, Diptendu Dutta

Indian farmers plant paddy saplings in a field at Milanmore village, on the outskirts of Siliguri / AFP Photo, Diptendu Dutta

The Framework defines a local system as those “interconnected sets of actors – governments, civil society, the private sector, universities, individual citizens and others – that jointly produce a particular development outcome.” The emphasis on systems reflects a recognition that the results we seek to achieve emerge from the ways numerous actors act and interact in a dynamic environment. Thus to eradicate extreme poverty in a country or region, it is not enough to work with an individual ministry or a particular service provider; rather, poverty will decrease as laws and social customs change, as economic and educational opportunities become more available, and as the voices of the poor become part of the political discourse.

For an external actor like USAID to contribute to the eradication of extreme poverty, we must understand the five “R’s” that govern the system we are trying to affect and to design programs accordingly:

  • Local systems transform resources, such as budgetary allocations, into outputs;
  • Local systems include a number of actors who assume defined roles as producers, consumers, funder, advocate and others;
  • The interactions among the actors in a local system establish various types of relationships, including commercial, administrative and hierarchical;
  • An important feature of local systems is the set of rules that govern them, which define roles, determine the nature of relationships and establish the terms of access to resources; and
  • The concept of results includes measures of the overall strength of the local systems, as well as traditional outputs and outcomes.

While systems-thinking has gained traction within the development community in recent years, the Framework represents the first explicit donor explication of a systems-based approach to implementing development programs. Equally important, the Framework reinforces the importance of focusing on sustainable outcomes and accountability as mechanisms for reducing the risk that scarce taxpayer resources are squandered on programs that do not further long-term development objectives.

The ten principles articulated in the Framework for engaging local systems incorporate many of the themes being discussed under the Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) rubric, which has been promoted through a series of recent publications and conferences.  Particularly important for TWP advocates is the use of political economy analysis to understand the institutional constraints impeding development within a particular local system and the importance of iterative approaches to project design and implementation.

Following the Busan forum, more than 50 countries and organizations created the Effective Institutions Platform, which is implementing, under the leadership of USAID and the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI), a pilot project designed to promote country dialogues for using and strengthening local systems. The inspiration for this effort, which was presented at a focus session of the recently concluded Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation High-Level Meeting, derives primarily from the ideas and approaches articulated in the Framework.

Publication of the Framework signals the Obama’s Administration success in restoring USAID as a premier development agency capable of promoting thought leadership on critical topics and mobilizing the Agency and the international community to act as a result.  Similar examples can be seen with our establishment of the U.S. Global Development Lab to institutionalize the roles of science, technology and innovation as drivers of development and our work on discrete policy issues, including extreme poverty, resilience and climate change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Larry Garber is a Senior Advisor in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning

10 Ways America is Helping Feed the World

When President Obama took office, the world was mired in the midst of food, fuel, and financial turmoil that pushed millions of people back to the precipice of poverty. In 2007 and 2008, food prices hit all-time highs, sending prices for basic staples like rice and wheat beyond the reach of the world’s most vulnerable people.

* Nearly 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger. That’s 1 in 8 people. Most of this hunger is rooted in poverty.

* By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to more than 9 billion people. This will require at least a 60 percent increase in agricultural production to feed all of us.

* 75 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas in developing countries. Most people who live in these areas rely directly on agriculture for their livelihoods, particularly women.

* Studies show that growth in the agriculture sector is, on average, at least twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.

In this environment, President Obama was determined to reverse course and give millions of people a pathway out of extreme poverty. In his first inaugural address, the president outlined his vision of a world without hunger. “To the people of poor nations,” he said, “we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean water flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.” His remarks marked the beginning of renewed global attention that brought poverty, hunger and undernutrition back to the top of the international agenda.

As one of his first foreign policy acts, President Obama launched Feed the Future. Its aim: to strengthen food security and nutrition for millions of people by focusing on the smallholder farmers at the foundation of the world’s agriculture system. This week, Feed the Future marks four years of progress and has just released a report on its impact to date.

In the spirit of this progress, here are some of the ways that Feed the Future is helping grow a more prosperous future for the 842 million people who will still go to sleep hungry tonight.

Sydney Msimanga proudly shows off one of the bulls he purchased with a loan he received from a credit program set up by USAID in Zimbabwe. / Fintrac Inc.

Sydney Msimanga proudly shows off one of the bulls he purchased with a loan he received from a credit program set up by USAID in Zimbabwe. / Fintrac Inc.

1. By Empowering Farmers

Farmers working small plots of land are the backbone of the world’s agricultural system, but often struggle to feed their own families. In the past year alone, Feed the Future has helped nearly 7 million farmers and food producers use new technologies and management practices on more than 4 million hectares, or over 15,000 square miles, of land to boost their harvests.

As part of the Feed the Future initiative, a USAID project is training young women in southern Tajikistan on how to prepare nutritious food for children under 5 years old. /USAID

As part of the Feed the Future initiative, a USAID project is training young women in southern Tajikistan on how to prepare nutritious food for children under 5 years old. / USAID

2. By Helping Families Nourish their Children

Poor nutrition is a stealthy killer and the underlying cause of one out of every three deaths of young children in developing countries. Conversely, good nutrition in the 1,000-day window from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday lays the foundation for health, development, and even prosperity for the next generation. In 2013, Feed the Future, in collaboration with the Global Health Initiative, reached more than 12.5 million children with nutrition interventions that can help ensure a stronger and more successful future. Feed the Future also supported nearly 91,000 women farmers in homestead gardening, improving access to nutritious foods and increasing income for women and children.

“This modern technology reduces my time in the field. Before, I used traditional methods. I needed more people to work during planting and harvesting. That increased my production cost. But now, I use this machine and I make more profit,” says this farmer in southern Bangladesh. /USAID, Wasif Hasan

“This modern technology reduces my time in the field. Before, I used traditional methods. I needed more people to work during planting and harvesting. That increased my production cost. But now, I use this machine and I make more profit,” says this farmer in southern Bangladesh. / USAID, Wasif Hasan

3. By Encouraging Banks to Loan to “Risky” Borrowers

The ability to borrow money is what allows farm families to make the investments needed to grow more for their families and communities. Working with Feed the Future, local banks are using innovative finance mechanisms to lend to more smallholders, often considered too “risky” by banks. Last year in Senegal alone, more than 17,000 farmers and small entrepreneurs benefited from nearly $20 million in rural loans and grants which helped them access better seeds and modern equipment, as well as weather-indexed crop insurance, and helped negotiate favorable contracts with commercial mills. The results? Farmers’ profits for rice rose by 56 percent and for maize by 173 percent between 2012 and 2013.

Sales Clerks Hiwot Tefera and Beyenech Gossaye are ready to welcome customers at the new Bishoftu Farm Service Center in Ethiopia. This is one of six locally-owned centers established through the USAID Commercial Farm Service Program (CFSP). /CNFA Ethiopia CFSP

Sales Clerks Hiwot Tefera and Beyenech Gossaye are ready to welcome customers at the new Bishoftu Farm Service Center in Ethiopia. This is one of six locally-owned centers established through the USAID Commercial Farm Service Program (CFSP). / CNFA Ethiopia CFSP

4. By Involving the Private Sector in the Fight Against Global Hunger

A food-secure world will not become a reality without a combination of public and private sector investment. Last year, Feed the Future assistance created 1,175 public-private partnerships, up from 660 the previous year—8 out of 10 involved local small and medium-sized firms. That same year, U.S. Government investments also leveraged more than $160 million in private sector investment, a 40 percent increase from 2012.  These alliances foster growth in emerging markets by commercializing new technologies; helping to create policy environments that enable even greater growth; increasing opportunities for investment, finance and risk mitigation; and improving market access and trade.

Salimata Sagnol feeds her chickens outside their coop in the village of Tengréla, Burkina Faso. A U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation program funded a package of agricultural trainings along with construction materials for her chicken coop and ongoing technical support for Sagnol and other rural farmers like her. /Jake Lyell

Salimata Sagnol feeds her chickens outside their coop in the village of Tengréla, Burkina Faso. / Jake Lyell

5. By Promoting Responsible Investment

It’s not enough to just encourage investments that “do no harm.” The U.S. Government works to ensure that the countries we partner with to improve food security adhere to specific policy measures so that the investments benefit women and smallholder farmers as well as investors.

Horticulture producers in Mozambique’s Beira Corridor often sell their produce at extremely low prices because of a lack of market knowledge and access. /CNFA

Horticulture producers in Mozambique’s Beira Corridor often sell their produce at extremely low prices because of a lack of market knowledge and access. / CNFA

6. By Helping Farmers Become Entrepreneurs

Feed the Future reflects a new model for development—one that emphasizes partnership, linkages and access to tools, technologies and the global economy. Whereas in the past, success meant helping farmers grow more crops, success today means also helping them learn how to be entrepreneurs.

This child was formerly categorized as malnourished but has recovered. Her family is attending a nutrition course at the national hospital in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, where they also received supplemental food aid./ Michel A. Armenta

This child was formerly categorized as malnourished but has recovered. Her family is attending a nutrition course at the national hospital in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, where they also received supplemental food aid. / Michel A. Armenta

7. By Reforming Food Aid to Save More Lives

In addition to Feed the Future, in 2014, President Obama proposed changing our largest international food assistance program to allow more flexible, efficient and effective food aid through the purchase of local commodities and the provision of cash vouchers. The goal was to enable the United States to reach 4 million more people in crisis, with the same resources, and speed response time to emergencies. Combined with other legislation, reforms in the 2014 Farm Bill now mean USAID can reach an additional 800,000 chronically food-insecure people with no extra funds. The 2015 Budget seeks additional reforms for emergency food aid that would allow around 2 million more people in crises to be helped without additional resources.

Muhammad Sarr and Patrick Trail use an electronic device to take soil samples around small millet plants and record the data. Their results will help determine how to better grow millet. But the scope of the research goes beyond this too: It's helping improve the skills of students in agronomy. /USAID

Muhammad Sarr and Patrick Trail use an electronic device to take soil samples around small millet plants and record the data. Their results will help determine how to better grow millet. But the scope of the research goes beyond this too: It’s helping improve the skills of students in agronomy. / USAID

8. By Involving U.S. Students and Universities in the Fight against Global Hunger

The United States boasts some of the world’s cutting-edge agricultural research facilities. Feed the Future fosters strong partnerships with both U.S. and international agricultural research institutions, such as the University of California, Davis; Virginia Tech and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to, for example, help develop new strains of cowpea that can fend off common pests and to help India control the papaya mealybug pest that was decimating its horticulture sector. So far, 23 Feed the Future Innovation Labs made up of 70 of the United States’ top academic research institutions have been created.

Peace Corps Volunteer Jackie Gerson spreads knowledge about the unbeLEAFable Moringa oleifera tree and its nutritional benefits at the Ndiba Ndiayène weekly Louma market in Senegal. / Amanda Grossi, Peace Corps

Peace Corps Volunteer Jackie Gerson spreads knowledge about the unbeLEAFable Moringa oleifera tree and its nutritional benefits at the Ndiba Ndiayène weekly Louma market in Senegal. / Amanda Grossi, Peace Corps

9. By Sending Some of our Best and Brightest Abroad

The Peace Corps has a long history of being on the front lines of the U.S. fight to end global poverty. Partnering with USAID as part of the Feed the Future initiative, the Peace Corps has fielded more than 1,200 Peace Corps Volunteers in countries overseas to help people make sustainable changes in how they cultivate their food, address water shortages and feed their families.

July 2012 Maize harvest in Ugenya, Kenya. Feed the Future works with small holder maize farmers, including women farmers, and all the components of the maize value chain in Kenya to increase rural farmers' incomes and tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity. USAID/Kenya works with the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute and private sector seed companies to promote better, drought resistant varieties of maize. /USAID/Siegfried Modola

July 2012 Maize harvest in Ugenya, Kenya. Feed the Future works with small holder maize farmers, including women farmers, and all the components of the maize value chain in Kenya to increase rural farmers’ incomes and tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity. / USAID, Siegfried Modola

10. By Helping Farmers Weather the Weather

Maize is the major staple and an important cash crop for farmers in East and Southern Africa, but it is threatened by climate change. U.S. Government-supported projects have contributed to the release of 140 drought-tolerant maize varieties in 13 countries since 2006. Building on this work, Feed the Future strengthens public and private sector seed systems to ensure that new varieties can reach smallholders at scale. In 2013 as a result of U.S. Government investments, farmers planted more than 28,000 hectares, or nearly 90 square miles, of land with improved high-yielding varieties across the key maize-producing countries of Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Ramundo is USAID’s Blog Editor

Liberia’s ‘Road’ (miles and miles) to Recovery

Little more than 10 years have passed since Liberia began rising from the ashes of a 14-year civil war that decimated its political, social and economic order.

While nearly 84 percent of Liberia’s population still lives in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 per day, during Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency, the GDP per capita has grown on average by nearly 8 percent per year. The country is slowly navigating a development path leading to better health, a stable democracy, an improved domestic agriculture market, and increased exports of products such as iron and rubber.

Yet despite some advances, Liberians continue to face a daunting challenge – all too often, when the “rubber meets the road,” there is quite literally no road to travel.

Photo Credit: USAID Food and Enterprise Development

Liberia has 66,000 miles of roads, but less than 7 percent are paved. / USAID

Liberia cannot continue to break the cycle of poverty without an effective road network to connect its people and resources.

The country, approximately the size and shape of Tennessee, boasts a mere 66,000 miles of roads, and of these less than 7 percent are paved. By comparison, the Volunteer State has more than 93,000 miles of paved roads. Quantity is only part of the problem though: potholes the size of small vehicles scar what few paved roads exist, while dirt roads become muddy parking lots during the rainy season of May to October. In Bong County, a heavily populated agricultural region, citizens regularly voice their frustrations at their inability to access markets, hospitals, and government services:

“My village there,” said Sarah, one resident of Bong Mine, pointing across a rice paddy, “has no way to reach [services]. We walk to schools, we walk to clinics, it takes all day.”

The country’s infrastructure network represents the most visible symptom of the former conflict, stifling access to markets outside the capital. These broken roads decrease the food supply and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition in rural Liberia.

Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. / David Benafel, USAID FED

Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. / David Benafel, USAID FED

Before the war Liberia was a net exporter of rice. Today, 97 percent of rice consumption in the capital city of Monrovia is imported. Amazingly, it is cheaper, by volume, to ship rice the 7,500 miles from Thailand to Monrovia than it is from Gbarnga, a leading agricultural community just over 100 miles away.

Yet Liberia has no intention of leaving their economy stuck in neutral. Our partnership with Liberia, the World Bank, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency will provide a total of $240 million in the next five years to improve up to 300 miles  of Liberia’s ailing network of roads.

USAID helped by first conducting a cost-benefit analysis of which improvements would yield the most positive and sustainable possible outcome for the people of Liberia.

Photo Credit: USAID Food and Enterprise Development

Because of the poor state of Liberia’s roads, it is cheaper, by volume, to ship rice the 7,500 miles from Thailand to Monrovia than it is from Gbarnga, a leading agricultural community just over 100 miles away. / USAID

Here’s one example of the types of information this analysis considered: When the cost of transportation decreases and the risks associated with traveling these roads dwindle, traders begin to reach these farmers with new information. Fertilizer and improved seeds can arrive at the farms before the planting season, agricultural yields increase, and farmers find it cheaper to deliver produce to the market.

Moreover, children will be more likely to make the trip along the road to school, sick individuals can plan a visit to the clinic, and government officials can better reach constituents with much-needed services. In short, the roads provide a number of ancillary benefits, and all must be factored in when selecting the most cost-effective use of development dollars. It is no simple calculation.

In the course of one month, the USAID team measured the myriad economic benefits from increased activity along the roads against the costs of road construction and long-term maintenance.

Armed with this analysis, USAID began rehabilitation in February 2014, galvanizing access to a better life to approximately 140,000 people who live within a mile and a half of these rural roads, and potentially many thousands more in the broader region through improvements in food security, health, and education.

There is strong reason to believe, in other words, that the figurative roadblocks to peace and prosperity for Liberia may be overcome as soon as the actual ones are.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Michael Nicholson is an Economist for the USAID Liberia mission @dr_nicholson
Colin Buckley is a Program Analyst at USAID in the Office of Economic Policy @colinhpbuckley
Kristen Schubert is an Economist at USAID in the Office of Economic Policy @KristenSchub

10 Reasons Vaccines are the Best Protector of Human Life

A young boy receives an oral polio vaccination at a USAID -funded medical clinic on July 13, 2010 in Petionville, Haiti.  In 2011 in Haiti, the U.S. Government  vaccinated nearly 157,000 children under the age of one for routine childhood diseases and provided more than 350,000 antenatal care visits and more than 131,000 post-partum/newborn care visits.  The United States is providing access to health services for 50 percent of the people of Haiti.  Kendra Helmer/USAID

A young boy receives an oral polio vaccination at a USAID-funded medical clinic on July 13, 2010 in Petionville, Haiti. In 2011 in Haiti, the U.S. Government vaccinated nearly 157,000 children under the age of 1 for routine childhood diseases. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

Immunization is one of the most powerful health interventions ever introduced. Every year, the World Health Organization estimates, vaccines save between 2 and 3 million children from killers such as polio, measles, pneumonia, and rotavirus diarrhea.

To mark World Immunization Week, USAID partner PATH is reporting on the lifesaving potential of vaccines against four illnesses that kill more than 2 million young children a year: malaria, pneumonia, rotavirus, and Japanese encephalitis. Here, Dr. John Boslego, director of PATH’s Vaccine Development Program, lists the top 10 ways vaccines make a difference for children and for global health. This post originally appeared on PATH.

No. 10: Vaccines lower the risk of getting other diseases.

Contracting some diseases can make getting other ones easier. For example, being sick with influenza can make you more vulnerable to pneumonia caused by other organisms. The best way to avoid coinfections is to prevent the initial infection through vaccination.

Here a Nepalese boy demonstrates the water flow of a USAID-built electric tube well used for irrigation in the Terai region of Nepal. Patrick D Smith/USAID

A Nepalese boy demonstrates the water flow of a USAID-built electric tube well used for irrigation in the Terai region of Nepal. / Patrick D Smith, USAID

No. 9: They keep people healthier longer.

Some vaccines protect people for a limited time and require booster doses; others protect for a lifetime. Either way, vaccinated people are much safer from many serious diseases than people who haven’t been vaccinated, both in the short and long term.

As part of a USAID-supported polio initiative, a vaccinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) administers the oral polio vaccine March 23 in the Commune of Ndjili, Kinshasa. On that day, Minister of Health, Victor Makwenge Kaput officially launched a vaccination campaign against the wild polio virus in the capital city. USAID/A. Mukeba

As part of a USAID-supported polio initiative, a vaccinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo administers the oral polio vaccine in the Commune of Ndjili, Kinshasa. / USAID, A. Mukeba

No. 8: They are relatively easy to deliver.

Through national immunization programs and mass vaccination campaigns, vaccines can be delivered quickly to large numbers of people, providing widespread protection. Thanks to creative strategies, delivery in even the remotest parts of the world is becoming easier.

USAID and the Medical Relief International Charity (Merlin) support cholera treatment centers in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.  Pictured is a young child suffering from cholera and receiving food aid from the Agency.  /  Frederic Courbet

USAID and the Medical Relief International Charity (Merlin) support cholera treatment centers in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Pictured is a young child suffering from cholera and receiving food aid from the Agency. / Frederic Courbet

No. 7: They prevent disease where medical care isn’t an option.

Too many children die because high-quality care is unavailable. When a child in poverty gets sick, medical care could be inadequate or several days’ travel away. Stopping disease before it starts could be that child’s only lifeline.

Solar lights funded by OTI in Cap Haitien and en route to Caracol, Haiti, on Oct. 19, 2012.. / Kendra Helmer/USAID

Solar lights funded by USAID help children read at night in Cap Haitien. Haiti, on Oct. 19, 2012. / Kendra Helmer, USAID

No. 6: They play well with other interventions.

Vaccines complement other global health tools. We’re seeing this with the integrated strategy to protect, prevent, and treat pneumonia and diarrhea through basic sanitation, safe drinking water, hand-washing, nutrition, antibiotics, breastfeeding, clean cook stoves, antibiotics, zinc, oral rehydration solution, and vaccines. Leveraging these tools across diseases could save the lives of over 2 million children by 2015.

This photo took third place in the FrontLines photo contest. Maamohelang  Hlaha tenderly kisses her young son Rebone. An HIV-positive mother of four, Hlaha’s  village is inaccessible by vehicles and a three-hour hike from the nearest health clinic.  She receives HIV treatment through the Riders for Health program, which is funded  by USAID and run by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. As part of the  program, pony riders and motorcycle riders transport blood tests, drugs and supplies to  Lesotho’s remote mountain health clinics. The system allows people to receive HIV test  results sooner, access life-saving drugs and ensure an uninterrupted supply of medication.  Rebone, whose name means “we have witnessed,” was born HIV-free in August 2008. / Reverie Zurba, USAID/South Africa

A mother of four who receives HIV treatment through a USAID-funded program tenderly kisses her young son in South Africa. Thanks to the treatment, her son was born HIV-free in August 2008. / Reverie Zurba, USAID

No. 5: They continue to evolve.

Tackling unmet health needs requires us to continue to pursue the next generation of better and more affordable vaccines. Candidates like RTS,S for malaria and ROTAVAC® for the leading cause of severe diarrhea—rotavirus—are two examples of innovative technologies on the horizon that give families and communities more cause for hope.

This photo was chosen as a finalist in the FrontLines photo contest. These schoolchildren in Aqaba, Jordan, are beneficiaries of the Jordan Schools Program and  Education Reform Support Program. Both of these projects are funded by USAID to  support the Jordanian Ministry of Education’s reform efforts in improving the quality of education in the country. March 2011. / Jill Meeks, Creative Associates International

These schoolchildren in Aqaba, Jordan, are beneficiaries the Jordan Schools Program and Education Reform Support Program. Both  are funded by USAID to support Jordan’s efforts to improve the quality of education in the country.  / Jill Meeks, Creative Associates International

No. 4:  They indirectly protect loved ones and communities.

For many diseases, immunizing a significant portion of a population can break the chain of transmission and actually protect unvaccinated people—a bonus effect called herd immunity. The trick is immunizing enough people to ensure that transmission can’t gather momentum.

A little girl in Tajikistan eats mashed potatoes with greens, which her mother prepared for her. Over 5,000 Tajik children under 5 years old tasted new foods such as pancakes ("blini") with cottage cheese and vegetable salads that their mothers prepared for them after a training. / USAID

A little girl in Tajikistan eats mashed potatoes with greens, which her mother prepared for her. Over 5,000 Tajik children under 5 years old tasted new foods such as pancakes (“blini”) with cottage cheese and vegetable salads that their mothers prepared for them after a USAID-supported nutrition training. / USAID

No 3: They are safe and effective.

Vaccines are among the safest products in medicine and undergo rigorous testing to ensure they work and are safe. Their benefits far outweigh their risks (which are minimal), especially when compared to the dire consequences of the diseases they prevent. Vaccines can take some pretty terrible diseases entirely or nearly out of the picture, too. That’s the case with smallpox and polio, and others will follow.

School girls in Sana’a gather for their lesson. Since many girls in Yemen do not attend primary school or graduate from it, recent USAID-backed measures have ensured all girls a right to attend school and increase literacy. / Malak Shaher, USAID/YMEP

School girls in Sana’a gather for their lesson. Since many girls in Yemen do not attend primary school or graduate from it, recent USAID-backed measures have ensured all girls a right to attend school and increase literacy. / Clinton Doggett, USAID

No. 2:  They are a public health best buy.

Preventing disease is less expensive than treating severe illness, and vaccines are the most cost-effective prevention option out there. Less disease frees up health care resources and saves on medical expenditures. Healthier children also do better developmentally, especially in school, and give parents more time to be productive at home and at work.

This image captured top honors in the FrontLines photo contest. These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. The lessons, based on Southern Sudan’s primary school syllabus, complement classroom instruction in literacy, English, mathematics, and life skills for grades one through four. July 2010. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

These rural schoolchildren participate in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, which uses radio to broadcast interactive student lessons. The lessons, based on Southern Sudan’s primary school syllabus, complement classroom instruction in literacy, English, mathematics, and life skills for grades one through four. July 2010. / Karl Grobl, Education Development Center Inc.

No. 1:  They save children’s lives.

Roughly 2 to 3 million per year, in fact. In short, vaccines enable more children to see their 5th birthdays, let alone adulthood. That’s reason enough to top my list.

Development Financing “Sea Change” Drives Real Change

farm in East Africa

This farm in East Africa received local financing thanks to a USAID guarantee with a local bank. / Morgana Wingard, USAID.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg News published an article explaining how USAID is undergoing a transformation – attracting private capital, rather than U.S. tax dollars, to finance development:

It’s a sea change for an agency that for years simply gave out money. The program, called the Development Credit Authority, was begun in 1999 [...] with authority from Congress to provide loan guarantees, but in the 10 years before 2011 it backed $2.2 billion in credit. Since 2011, the authority has issued $1 billion in guarantees.

As one of the newest employees of USAID’s Development Credit Authority, I recently had the opportunity to see the impact of this major shift.

I traveled just outside of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on my first overseas trip with USAID to visit one of the 140,000 entrepreneurs USAID has helped access local capital from a private entity. As a new portfolio manager for DCA’s guarantees, I wanted verification that a difference was being made here, on this farm, in this entrepreneur’s life.

The farm belongs to Alex, a local farmer that started his business 13 years ago with three pigs and a $30 microloan. His ultimate goal: to rebuild his father’s house and improve the lives of his family members. After his father’s death, his role as the eldest son changed. His drive to succeed is fueled by responsibility toward his family and his will to secure them a better future. He is proud and he is kind. He smiles through the entire visit and is generous and joking, eager to tell his story.

It is a story heavy with reference to microfinance, small loans he was able to secure, and how those first loans gave him the leg up he needed.

Here’s how it works:

  • Access to financing enabled him to grow the farm from three pigs to 30.  The loan also helped him acquire more than 1,000 chickens, two cows, and a side business renting rooms.
  • Today, he owns land, his children are in school, and his dream of rebuilding his father’s house has been realized. But it almost never happened. “It was difficult,” he says, “I did not have any collateral.”
  • Things fell into place for Alex in part thanks to a 2010 partnership between USAID and the local microfinance institution PRIDE Tanzania. With a DCA loan guarantee, PRIDE was able to offer the first ever bond of its type in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Farms like this one, in East Africa, depend on financing to grow. USAID helped this farm access local credit by sharing risk with a local bank. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Farms like this one, in East Africa, depend on financing to grow. USAID helped this farm access local credit by sharing risk with a local bank. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Through the bond, PRIDE raised $10 million from private investors, allowing the MFI to open 18 new branch offices offering loans to micro and small entrepreneurs. This opened the door to credit financing not only for Alex, but for 60,000 other entrepreneurs, many of them poor farmers who previously lacked the collateral to qualify for loans.

Through DCA, USAID partners with financial institutions like PRIDE to guarantee loans or bond issuances targeting underserved sectors. The guarantees help to change the perception of creditworthiness of those potential entrepreneurs generally ignored by banks. With the help of a USAID/Tanzania guarantee, Alex was given a chance. Now his financing is growing: in 2013 he secured a loan with PRIDE worth $3,200.

Small businesses are economic drivers. And all small businesses are run by entrepreneurs with big ideas. But ideas cost money, and money is hard to find.

In places like rural Tanzania, the demands of daily necessity can stifle a dream before it begins. Even a $30 loan can be life-changing. And that’s why I work in development: to be a part of some seemingly small but life-changing moment in someone’s life.

Video: Ghanaian Town Takes on Malaria

A couple in Ghana sits with an insecticide spray technician. / Erin Schiavone, Abt Associates

A couple in Ghana sits with an insecticide spray technician. / Erin Schiavone, Abt Associates

When it’s a buggy summer day, Americans may dust off the old bottle of Off, or light a citronella candle. Here, a mosquito bite is a nuisance. In many parts of the world, it’s a deadly killer.

 In 2012, there were still 207 million cases of malaria and over 600,000 deaths –  three quarters were children under 5. Approximately half of the world’s population is still at risk of malaria.

What choices do people in malarial zones have to protect themselves from this flying terror? And what are we doing to help?

 One of the most effective methods being supported by the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) around the world is spraying homes in the areas where the mosquitos live with an insecticide.

According to the World Health Organization an estimated 3.3 million lives were saved as a result of the scale-up of malaria control interventions over the last decade. Over the same period, malaria mortality rates in African children were reduced by more than half.

This delivers a massive, concerted blow to the mosquito population. In order to have an impact, indoor residual spraying, as it is called, must be carried out in least 80 percent of the homes in malaria-prone areas, use an effective insecticide and be executed by a well-trained workforce.

In Ghana, the entire population of 25 million is at risk for malaria; indoor residual spraying is helping protect families from this deadly disease. But it doesn’t happen on its own. A network of “social mobilizers” help communities realize the benefits of spraying, and encourage other health-improving behavior as well.

Bertha Moisob a passionate public health advocate working on a PMI-funded program in Ghana says this:

“My hope for the future is to see that reduced malaria burden.. Children are healthy, pregnant women delivery safely…”

Watch this video on how Bertha and her community are mobilizing against malaria

Full Speed Ahead on Malaria

 

Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer / Platon

Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer / Platon

Today, the greatest success story in global health is anchored by a continent once known mostly for famine and war. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are making unprecedented gains in child survival and reducing the devastating burden of malaria—a disease carried by mosquitoes and a major killer of children.

According to the World Health Organization an estimated 3.3 million lives were saved as a result of the scale-up of malaria control interventions over the last decade. Over the same period, malaria mortality rates in African children were reduced by an estimated 54 percent.

Most Americans are unaware of the devastating impact of malaria. But the insidious disease, a root cause and consequence of poverty, conspire against young children and pregnant women. The anopheles mosquito is a serial killer — a flying syringe that injects parasites during nightly blood meals.

Just a decade ago, the malaria story was one of despair across wide swathes of the African continent, killing more than 1 million people, and burdening health systems — up to 45 percent of all hospital admissions were caused by malaria.

A mother and child under a malaria-fighting bednet. /  Maggie Hallahan

A mother and child under a malaria-fighting bednet. / Maggie Hallahan

I was raised in Asia, and was infected by malaria as a child. Although malaria no longer threatens boys and girls in the United States, across Africa and in parts of Asia, it is still a frightening and literally gut-wrenching fact of life. Each case can be a struggle for survival.

Because malaria remains one of the foremost health problems on the African continent it is vital to test all children with fever and treat those who test positive for malaria as well as provide appropriate treatment to those with non-malaria fevers. With many people living great distances from or lacking transport to health facilities, community health workers are often the first and only link to providing health services essential to child and maternal health.

Community health works, like these in Madagascar, are often the front lines of defense against malaria. Photo Credit: Maggie Hallahan

Community health works, like these in Madagascar, are often the front lines of defense against malaria. / Maggie Hallahan

Thanks in part to American investments made through the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented together with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 61,000 front-line health workers were trained on how to treat malaria cases. Many were also trained to diagnose and treat the other main causes of childhood illness, diarrhea and pneumonia.

In the past year, Americans, through PMI, protected over 45 million people with a prevention measure (insecticide-treated nets and/or indoor residual spraying), as well as procured more than 48 million antimalarial treatments and more than 51 million rapid diagnostic tests.

In Madagascar, people line up to receive insecticide-treated bednets and treatment. Photo Credit: Maggie Hallahan

In Madagascar, people line up to receive insecticide-treated bednets and treatment. / Maggie Hallahan

Success is a triumph of partnership – the initiative was launched by President George W. Bush, and expanded under President Barack Obama. We have benefited from strong bipartisan support in the Senate and House. And with host country government leadership, donors, partners like the Peace Corps, and countless groups like Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, Malaria No More and Nothing But Nets – we are taking malaria and other public health interventions the last critical mile, to communities in the most remote parts of malaria endemic Africa.

‘Without Access we are Looking at Famine’ in South Sudan

Last week Nancy Lindborg, our assistant administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, wrote about her recent trip to South Sudan where she witnessed how rapidly escalating violence is sending shockwaves through the world’s newest nation.

The people of South Sudan face a spiral of conflict, displacement, and hunger that this fragile, young country can ill afford. More than one million people have been forced to leave their homes and the numbers keep growing. Almost 70,000 people are sheltering in crowded UN compounds around the country that sprung up overnight and were not built to house tens of thousands of civilians. Many of these people can literally see their homes over the compound walls but remain too terrified to return, fearing they will be targeted by government or opposition forces and killed.

Lindborg called on the international community to take urgent action.

With the rainy season already upon us, there is little time to move life-saving assistance to those most in need. Even in the best of times, South Sudan presents a complex logistical challenge. Now, we need to use all possible avenues for reaching people: rivers, roads, air, and moving across borders.

Yesterday she and Khalid Medani of McGill University spoke about the escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan on PBS Newshour. Lindborg voiced the U.S. Government’s extreme concern over the recent attacks on the U.N. compound in Bor and on civilians in Bentiu; and called on South Sudan’s leaders and all parties to the conflict to let international aid reach the country’s displaced, vulnerable and malnourished.

“If we are not able to reach the hard to reach areas through better access that is now being blocked by both sides, we are looking at famine.” Lindborg said.

Watch the full interview:

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