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One Year After Famine: The Need for a Continued Comprehensive Response

On July 20, 2011, I got a call from Dina Esposito, USAID’s Director of the Office of Food for Peace, alerting me of the official declaration of famine in Somalia. That moment, more than a year ago, is still deeply, vividly and painfully with me.

Famines are entirely man-made and have become increasingly rare. In my confirmation hearing, I quoted Amartya Sen’s famous words that famines don’t happen in democracies. So as the worst drought in 60 years gripped the Horn of Africa last year, it was only in Somalia, racked by 20 years of conflict and instability, and with limited access for humanitarian action, that famine was declared. The United States’ commitment and long-term work with Ethiopia, Kenya, and many of their neighbors have reduced the populations’ vulnerability to crises like this one and greatly reduced the need for emergency assistance.

In the humanitarian community, famine is a very specific technical term to describe only those most severe food crises that reach three clear sets of conditions. In famine, more than 30 percent of children are acutely malnourished; at least 20 percent of the population consumes fewer than 2,100 calories of food a day; and the mortality rate exceeds two deaths or four child deaths per 10,000 people on a daily basis.

This translates into unforgivable conditions in any country at any time — yet at this time last year, in parts of southern Somalia, the mortality rate reached as high as six deaths per 10,000 people with one child death estimated to occur every six minutes. These are staggering numbers — and this marked a tragic, unacceptable, unnecessary loss of life.

Because of lessons learned during the last Somalia famine in the early 1990s, we were able to mount a smart and effective response. Our disaster experts from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and Food for Peace used market prices and nutritional data to chart a strategy that focused on highly targeted cash and vouchers, attention to market dynamics. We also kept a focus on health programs, knowing that the leading cause of death for children in famines is preventable disease.

USAID worked around the clock in the region and in Washington to ensure strategies, supplies and partners were in place, including creative approaches to address the limited humanitarian access in many parts of Somalia.

By February, famine conditions had abated, thanks to a massive humanitarian mobilization and decent winter rains. However, the situation remains tenuous in Somalia and underscores that as natural disasters continue to strike, it is imperative to address the need for a stable, legitimate government that can meet the needs of the Somalia people. This is a priority of the U.S. government and our international partners.

Learn more about our response in the Horn of Africa and our Productive Safety Net Program.

From Evidence to Action: What Works for Women and Girls

In the coming days, thousands of political leaders, public health experts, activists, people living with HIV and other delegates from around the world will gather in Washington D.C. to debate, discuss, reflect upon, and celebrate the achievements that have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

But in Lesotho, and other southern African countries, the epidemic remains a painful reality.

During my recent trip to the Mountain Kingdom, a tiny country surrounded on all sides by South Africa, conversations about the epidemic inevitably turned to the fact that women and girls are a much greater risk for HIV due to a combination of biological, structural, and cultural conditions. In many ways, Lesotho clearly illustrates the nature of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60% of those living with HIV are women. In the nine countries in southern Africa most affected by HIV, prevalence among young women aged 15-24 years is on average about three times higher than among men of the same age.

In Lesotho, where women and girls have much higher rates HIV than men, our U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Country Team and implementing partners are acutely aware of the realities facing women and girls and are continuously seeking ways to ensure that programs and services use the most up-to-date evidence to meet their needs.

Fortunately, the evidence of what works for women and girls is just a click away.

What Works for Women and Girls: Evidence for HIV/AIDS Interventions

First launched at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna in 2010, this groundbreaking resource is a comprehensive website documenting the evidence for effective HIV interventions. Spanning more than 2,000 articles and reports with data from more than 90 countries, What Works for Women and Girls contains—in one centralized, searchable location—the evidence of successful gender-specific programming from global programs and studies, with a focus on the Global South.

Having the evidence of what works is crucial for organizations working on the front line of the HIV/AIDS response. In Kenya, for example, the evidence has been essential for crafting national policies on gender-based violence and HIV prevention for women.

From Evidence to Action

As we celebrate the rich evidence base in What Works for Women and Girls, we must now focus on what this means for the implementation and scaling up of the HIV/AIDS response. How can we ensure that the evidence is applied correctly and consistently to ensure quality programs at scale? Are our programs and services addressing the underlying gender inequities that not only put women and girls at risk for HIV, but men and boys too? How will we use the evidence to inform sound public health policies and priorities?

Most importantly, how can we ensure that the available evidence helps us to maximize the benefits so that we can, finally, turn the tide against HIV/AIDS?

For the women and girls of Lesotho, and across the southern Africa, there is not a moment to lose.

Keeping Faith in Afghanistan

This post originally appeared on Foreign Policy.

Just over a decade ago, in January 2002, the world came together in Tokyo in the wake of the fall of the Taliban regime to pledge our common support for political, economic and social transition in Afghanistan.

We were well aware of the long-term nature of the commitment we were making, in line with the ancient Afghan proverb, “One flower will not make a spring.”

As key world leaders convene this weekend in Tokyo to reaffirm this commitment and keep faith with the Afghan people in advance of the draw-down of international combat forces, it is important to also reflect on the significant achievements made in Afghanistan over the past decade, especially for women and girls.

Afghan women today live an average of 15 years longer than they did a decade ago, thanks to dramatically increased access to health care, increased midwife assisted births, a tripling of gross domestic product per capita, and a large decline in the number of people living in extreme poverty.

Educational opportunities for women and girls have expanded dramatically: nearly 40 percent of students enrolled in schools are girls and 120,000 female students have graduated from secondary schools in the last five years alone.

About 40,000 young women are enrolled in public and private universities, with more enrolling each year.

Some observers are concerned that these achievements, will unravel with the departure of international combat forces and that these gains could be reversed.  But, the Afghan people – with our support – are not prepared to sacrifice the gains they have made, particularly by Afghan women, as they understand that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind.

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Chronic Crisis in the Sahel Calls for a New Approach

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

It is the lean season in the Sahel, a spine of arid and dry lands that runs from Senegal to Chad in western Africa, and once again we are seeing the devastating images of children gaunt with hunger. This is a region that faces high childhood malnutrition and underdevelopment even under the best of circumstances so one poor harvest can push millions of the most vulnerable into severe risk. In the aftermath of poor rains, and with food prices stubbornly stuck on high since the food crisis of 2008, some 18.7 million people across eight affected countries in the Sahel are at risk of food insecurity this year alone. At least 8 million people are already in need of emergency assistance.

At USAID, we are determined to get ahead of these kinds of chronic crises. We know that millions of Africans living in the dry lands of the Horn and Sahel regions need new solutions. Last year, the worst drought in 60 years ravaged the Horn of Africa, driving 13.3 million people into crisis. And this summer, families in the Sahel are feeling the peril of depleting food supplies, high food prices, and rising malnutrition.

We can’t prevent what appears to be increasing cycles of drought, but we can and are working to create better solutions and build greater resilience among the most vulnerable.

Every crisis is complex, and the Sahel is no exception. A regional drought has been overlaid with instability stemming from the coup in Mali and conflict in the northern part of that country where armed militant groups have forced the suspension of critical relief operations. More than 184,000 refugees have fled to communities in neighboring countries that are already deeply stressed from drought. Though still functioning, local and regional markets have been disrupted, driving food prices even higher. And as of mid-June, swarms of locusts from southern Algeria and Libya had arrived in northern Mali and Niger; now expected to move southward, these infestations could result in crop destruction exacerbating an already worsening situation.

In these cases of chronic crisis, recurring shocks erase development gains and set local populations back into urgent need over and over again. With many in the Sahel still struggling to recover from the region’s last food crisis in 2010, they now face a new crisis of food access. Borrowing money to buy food or the seeds to plant this rainy season has the farmers of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and their neighbors incurring amounts of debt that are crippling, and a vicious cycle of suffering persists.

We cannot and should not accept this course as inevitable. Through smarter programming and a coordinated response, we can help make these recurring shocks less devastating. To this end and so that our relief work enables greater growth, we are committed to doing business differently in four key ways:

1. Early action in response to early warning: Last fall, thanks to early warning systems, we saw signs of the tough lean season ahead for the Sahel. USAID began committing food commodities as early as November and, in February, I traveled to Niger and Burkina Faso to assess the worsening situation and identify programs that work firsthand. As of July 1, 2012, more than 74,000 metric tons of food has arrived in the region out of a total of approximately 107,000 metric tons purchased, the rest of which will arrive in the next 30 to 45 days. This food will reach approximately 3.2 million people. The U.S. commitment to a strong humanitarian response and helping those in need remains unwavering.

2. A smarter, targeted and market-sensitive humanitarian response: We are determined to ensure our assistance is building resilience even as we save lives. Because food markets are still functioning in the Sahel — albeit at higher than normal prices — our cash-based programs allow vulnerable families and communities to access locally available food and basic goods in addition to our in-kind food aid. Through food vouchers, cash transfers, and temporary work opportunities, we support local markets and develop land reclamation and sustainable agriculture practices even while responding to acute needs now. In addition to including new food products and efforts to strengthen nutrition, our emergency programs are helping families keep livestock healthy and alive, as cows, sheep and goats are tantamount to savings accounts for many pastoralist families. And we are focused especially on women, as we know they are key to their families’ futures and to the health of their children.

3. More effectively connecting our relief and development programs: As we did in the Horn of Africa, we are bringing our relief and development teams together to identify ways to layer, integrate, and sequence programs with the goal of creating long term resilience. Later this month, I will return to the region to join colleagues in Dakar, Senegal who are leading our Sahel Joint Planning Cell (JPC), a comprehensive effort to connect our range of relief and development work in the field and in Washington to apply our humanitarian resources for the greatest good. Moreover, the JPC is working in lockstep with Feed the Future, President Obama’s landmark initiative to increase food security by battling the root causes of poverty and undernutrition through increased investments in agriculture-led economic growth.

4. Working in partnership with the international community to support effective country-led plans: At a recent high-level meeting with the EU Commission in Brussels, along with other donor governments, U.N. agencies, regional institutions, and humanitarian and development aid organizations, we reaffirmed our commitment to helping communities in the Sahel improve their ability to withstand future emergencies by forming the Global Alliance for Resilience Initiative-Sahel (AGIR-Sahel). This new partnership is linked to the Global Alliance for Action for Drought Resilience and Growth stood up together with international partners and African leaders in Nairobi this April with a focus on new country frameworks and mutual accountability.

The steps we are taking now are a direct result of the lessons we learned last year through our successful response to crisis in the Horn: that all tools must be applied in ways that are context-specific and cause no harm; that our impact multiplies tenfold when we work in close coordination with the international community and local leadership; and that to make the greatest difference, even during acute crisis, major donors from the humanitarian and development sectors must come together to identify causes of vulnerability to build resilience going forward.

Resilience programming can make a difference in the Sahel just as it has in the Horn. I have seen the effects firsthand in Burkina Faso, where USAID programs that have diversified livelihoods, introduced new seeds and highly nutritious crops, improved nutrition and increased access to water and irrigation have helped women farmers stand strong and feed their children even amidst drought.

With a total Fiscal Year 2012 commitment of more than $321.5 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance for drought-affected and conflict-displaced communities in the Sahel, we must use these resources in ways that both alleviate the dire situation at hand and lay the foundation for longstanding gains. Our mission to achieve real sustainable development — and millions of livelihoods — depends on it.

Ask the Celebrity: PSI Ambassador Mandy Moore on International Development Efforts

At the Frontiers in Development forum we had the opportunity to sit down back-stage with PSI Healthy Lives Ambassador and singer Mandy Moore and get her thoughts on international development. Below are our questions and her video answers. 

Q:”What would you tell young people that want to get involved in international development?” 

Singer Mandy Moore

 

Q: As a non-traditional figure in development, Mandy shares her insights on the best way to gain credibility from the broader international community.  We asked her, “How would you recommend other outside actors prepare themselves to engage development issues in an appropriate and responsible manner?” 

Mandy Moore

 

Q: How did you personally get involved with development, coming from a non-traditional background?

Mandy Moore

To see more questions and answers from our Frontiers in Development panelists, visit USAID’s Crowdhall page.

Video of the Week: “Bosnia Moves Forward”


Bosnia and Herzegovina endured a devastating war from 1992-1995. In the aftermath, the country not only underwent post-war reconstruction, but also launched the transition from a Socialist system to a system of democratic governance. As local governments work to overcome the challenges posed by reconstruction, democracy-building, and the global economic downturn, the Governance Accountability Project, Phase II, has been working with 72 municipalities across Bosnia – comprising nearly 60 percent of the country’s population – to improve the quality of life for members of their communities.

Progress, Promise, and Peril: A Generation of Change for Civil Society in Europe and Eurasia

Paige Alexander with Alex Sardar, Chief of Party for Counterpart International, Armenia. Photo Credit: Patricia Adams, USAID

This week, I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion about progress, promise, and peril debating a generation of change for civil society in Europe & Eurasia. We were fortunate to be joined in Washington DC by prolific leaders: Doug Rutzen, President and CEO of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law; Nadia Diuk, Vice President for Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy; Pavol Demes, Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund; Alex Sardar, Chief of Party for Counterpart International-Armenia; and Iryna Bilous, Deputy Chief of Party for PACT Ukraine.

We enjoyed a rich dialogue on the transformation, challenges, and hope for civil society on the occasion of the launch of the 15th edition of the Non-Governmental Organization Sustainability Index – now called the Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI).  The CSOSI reports on the strength and overall viability of CSO sectors in each of the twenty-nine countries in the E&E region.  The Index highlights both advances and setbacks in sectoral development, and allows for comparisons across countries and sub-regions over time.

When I arrived in Prague for the first time in 1990, it was still Czechoslovakia. Civil society had power but lacked organization, structure, and sustainability. Visiting with my family again last year after 20 years, it was incredible to see Prague’s transformation into a vibrant city with dynamic and engaged civil society. As the CSOSI highlighted, organizations in the Czech Republic and several other countries are branching out to use new technologies for their fundraising and advocacy efforts.

We have seen tremendous success and positive trends tracked by the CSOSI over the last 15 years, and continue to witness less successful interventions. This region, and the trends that are highlighted in the CSOSI, are an incredible resource for lessons learned and best practices that can be applied globally from the Middle East to Latin America.

The conversation today with our incredible partners taught us what has and has not worked over the last 15 years and how we can apply that knowledge into the future success of civil society.

Building a More Inclusive USAID

Earlier this week, Administrator Shah administered the Oath of Office to Peter Malnak, USAID’s new Mission Director to Rwanda.  As USAID works to build a more inclusive agency, Mr. Malnak’s swearing-in took on special significance as it marked the first time a same-sex partner of a new Mission Director participated in the event by holding the copy of the U.S. Constitution.  Mr. Malnak referenced the importance of the occasion in his remarks, portions of which are excerpted below:

Administrator Shah administers the Oath of Office to USAID Mission Director to Rwanda Peter Malnak as his partner John Palmucci holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Credit: USAID

I would like to thank Administrator Shah and Deputy Administrator Steinberg for their leadership over the past two and half years. Their vision for reform, and commitment to inclusive leadership, has made us a stronger organization that helps more people than ever before.

I would also like to acknowledge Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her commitment to inclusive leadership and tireless support for the LGBT community.

The story [of how I joined the Foreign Service] offers an example of the importance of personal leadership, how using your moral compass can change the lives of others, and provides a glimpse into how USAID has changed over the past twenty years by creating a more diverse, inclusive and global workforce.

When I joined the Foreign Service in 1992, Europe had just broken down internal barriers, and the dramatic changes in the former Soviet Union were still unfolding. Socially, there were important issues society continued to grapple with.  One was gay rights.  Being gay in 1992 was something many people didn’t speak about.  That’s not surprising as being gay in almost all states was grounds for dismissal from your job, removal from housing and within the federal workforce, in many cases, rejection of a clearance, based on security.  With the AIDS epidemic in the backdrop, significant bias continued.

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With a Little Help from the Crowd, USAID Increases Government Transparency

At USAID we’re fortunate to work on an incredible mission. But it’s an impossible one to achieve on our own. That’s why we’re always looking for creative ways to engage new problem solvers and develop new partnerships.

One of the best ways to engage the public is to open up our data. Set it free. Make it accessible. By opening up seemingly boring reams of spreadsheets to outside analysis, we have an opportunity to discover new trends, opportunities, and yes, inefficiencies.

In March, Administrator Shah wrote about how effective aid is transparent and accountable aid. This June, we took this commitment one step further when USAID’s GeoCenter and Development Credit Authority (DCA) hosted the Agency’s first-ever crowdsourcing event to open and map loan guarantee data.

Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving process whereby tasks are outsourced to a network of people known as “the crowd.” Without the staff or resources to comb through 117,000 loan records on our own, we turned to the crowd for help in opening our data to the public.

The idea that the public would be willing to volunteer their time to geocode data – that is, to pinpoint the location of USAID loan guarantee activities – raised some eyebrows.  Yet what we anticipated would take an entire weekend sorting through 10,000 hard to identify data points, only took 16 hours thanks to an incredible outpouring of support from the online volunteer communities Standby Task Force and GIS Corps. Social media tools helped bring many more people to the virtual table.

Ultimately, volunteers wanted to meet like-minded people, plug into USAID, and make a difference. And they did. DCA utilizes partial credit guarantees to encourage private financial institutions in developing countries to lend their own money for local development. The released data represents an anonymized 117,000 loans made by these institutions thanks to risk-sharing agreements with the U.S. Government.   While this data was extremely valuable, we couldn’t map it until all of the location records were standardized.

With the release of DCA’s data and associated map, entrepreneurs in developing countries can discover existing lending facilities in the sectors in which they work, USAID Missions can analyze guaranteed loans across borders for a more complete picture of development impact, and  donors can overlay their guarantee data onto USAID’s to increase future opportunities for collaboration. These are just a few of the immediate impacts of opening up our data.

This event also marked the first time that data.gov was used as a crowdsourcing platform.  And thanks to partnerships with private companies like Socrata and Esri, we were able to customize the event at no additional cost to the Agency. By thinking outside of the box, we were able to put existing tools to use in new and innovative ways.

The complete dataset, associated map, and case study can all be accessed on USAID’s website.  These materials were presented at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars on June 28th and available via livestream.

We invite you to explore the data, draw your own conclusions and add your analysis.

We’ll continue to explore unique ways to engage the public in our work.  Development isn’t something that happens overnight. But with increased transparency, we can start working together to solve development challenges in a more efficient – and fun – way.

Empowering Girls & Women Through Sport Across the Globe

Originally posted at the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition

Since I was seven years old, sports have been a major part of my life. Through training and competing, winning and losing, and World Championships and Olympics, I have had many unique experiences that helped shape who I am today. I treasure not just the joy and fulfillment I received from skating and competing, but the lessons learned from working hard when I was tired, persevering when things didn’t go my way, getting back up when I fell, and learning to trust my team of coaches, trainers and choreographers. I’ve found that the real power of sport is not just the success on the field or the ice, but how it can be used to teach valuable lessons and create healthy habits that last a lifetime.

That is why it is so important that everyone has opportunities like I did to participate in sports. In the United States, so much has changed for female athletes over the past 40 years since the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX has given millions of girls a chance to play sports, with female high school sports participation increasing from 300,000 to 3 million – that’s 10 times more girls who are experiencing the valuable life lessons that sports teaches us, both on and off on the playing field.

Since I retired in from competitive skating, I have been able to see the positive impact that sports has on individuals and communities. As a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, I travel all over the country to engage, educate, and empower Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to adopt a healthy lifestyle. This includes participation in sports and physical activity, which have been paramount in the development of my career and the success of many women in America. My fellow female Council members, including Title IX trailblazer Billie Jean King, Dominique Dawes, Allyson Felix, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Dr. Jayne Greenberg, and Donna Richardson Joyner all used sports to develop leadership and teamwork skills that help them in their professional and personal lives.

Even though great progress has been made to provide equal access to education and sports opportunities for girls and women across the country, there is still so much work to be done. Today there are 1.3 million fewer opportunities for girls than boys to participate in high school athletics and girls often still receive inferior equipment, facilities and scheduling. The President’s Council understands the importance of everyone having access to sports and physical activity and supports the many organizations around the country that are working to further opportunities for young girls, promoting and investing in the next generation leaders.

This issue is not limited to the United States. I have seen this first hand through my work as a Public Diplomacy Envoy for the U.S. Department of State. In many countries, women and girls do not have the same opportunities that we have here in America. If fact, there are some countries where cultural or political mandates for females, including specific attire and access to fitness facilities and programs, make it unsafe or impossible for them to participate in sports. I have traveled around the world, using my experience in sports as a tool for diplomacy to strengthen international relationships and impact change by offering solutions to cultural barriers that affect female participation in sports. It is important for me as an envoy and Council member to help women and girls discover how athletics can help them develop life skills and achieve success in the classroom.

The State Department recently launched an initiative called “Empowering Women and Girls through Sports,” with a goal to increase the number of females worldwide who are involved in sports. A component of this initiative called the Global Sports Mentoring Program was created to connect international and American women and girls and to create sustainable sports opportunities for underserved women and girls worldwide. As a member of the Council to Empower Women and Girls through Sports, I am proud to be part of this program, alongside current and retired athletes, coaches, executives, journalists, and social activists. Together, we will engage audiences at home and abroad to elevate the conversation about sports participation opportunities for women and girls.

Title IX’s th Anniversary allows us to reflect on and celebrate the important role that sport plays in communities all around the world. I am proud that, in the United States, sport has become an increasingly important catalyst for international engagement and development. Notably, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is using sport as a tool for girls’ development all over the world, from Kenya to Egypt, Afghanistan to Colombia, and South Africa. Across all cultures, sport is a compelling leadership platform for young women in their families, communities and society. Sports are even more important when vital life resources are scarce, as they are in developing countries. From the reduction of chronic disease, increased self-esteem and improved academic performance, participation in sport has helped pave the way for future successes. As sports opportunities rise, communities and societies will reap the benefits.

It is clear that sports and physical activity are valuable tools for growth both in the US and abroad. All boys and girls, men and women, regardless of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, or educational background, should have equal access to sport and play. The President’s Council, Department of State, and USAID are committed to ensuring that all communities and societies provide sports opportunities for women and girls across the globe, and we will continue to bring those stories of triumph to the forefront to help inspire others.

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