Archives for Latin America and the Caribbean
In recognition of Earth Week last week, we explore the connections between climate change and the environment we depend on to sustain us.
Climate change is already impacting life in the Dominican Republic. Hurricanes, flooding, and dramatic changes in weather are all becoming more prevalent and severe. Throughout the country, rainfall is highly variable—in some areas, rain is becoming increasingly more extreme, while in other areas lower rainfall and high temperatures are bringing more prolonged droughts. This is threatening the already shaky livelihoods of farming communities whose soil, crops, and livestock are highly sensitive to the changing climate. In coastal communities, like Samaná, coral reefs and mangrove forests are rapidly being degraded by both climate and non-climate stresses, leaving communities without their natural buffers to protect their precious beaches from erosion and their property from storm surges and flooding.
USAID is supporting programs in the Dominican Republic to help people of all ages not only understand the effects of climate change, but also communicate those changes to their fellow citizens, creating new leaders in this critical area.
As part of this effort, USAID and partners—The Nature Conservancy and the Center for the Conservation and Eco-Development of Samaná Bay and its Surroundings (CEBSE)—are holding workshops about climate change adaptation for local youth. Youth in Samaná are now fired up and eager to put into practice the knowhow they have picked up from their recent training. They are reaching out to other members of their community and teaching them about the dangers of climate change and ways to adapt to these changes locally.
Workshop participants Ulrich and Vanessa say that they want to hit the ground running: “We’re going to communicate in schools and colleges what we learned in the climate change workshops so that young people in our communities get to know the environmental problems that face us…and realize that part of the solution is that we have to adapt and that this in turn requires a change in our attitudes to our environment.”
The focus on youth is essential—more than 60 percent of the population of the province of Samaná is composed of young people. They have an important role to play in solving problems affecting their environment, and bringing this awareness of how to act in a climate-sensitive manner into the future.
Leani and Deliz, two other workshop participants, are eager to get started by using twitter and blogs to “communicate on the internet about climate change, not only with our peers but also with a view to exchange ideas with young people from other areas of the Dominican Republic as well as from neighboring islands facing the same threats.”
According to one participant, “I did not really understand what global warming and the greenhouse effect meant. Now I know how they relate to climate change…but more importantly, I learned about mangroves and coral reefs. Although we live so close to them we were not aware how they protect our coast and what an important role they play in our livelihoods.”
The youth benefitting from this workshop are already becoming leaders in their community by leading conservation efforts as volunteers with CEBSE, working in their local Mayors’ offices, and seeking learning opportunities on climate change outside of the program. Fifteen-year-old participant Daniel Aurelio Reyes Gomez has grand aspirations to keep his momentum going and eventually become a great political leader for his nation. The program will continue to support these future Dominican leaders by expanding to
education centers and fifteen high schools, training 20-50 students at each school.
USAID is also helping smallholder farmers in the Dominican Republic to access and use new methods to deal with climate risks, such as adjusting planting cycles, and better managing natural resource inputs. Farmers are being instructed in ways to take full advantage of climate and weather forecasts and market-based insurance products that complement risk reduction efforts. Such efforts help ensure that farm productivity is sustainable into the future.
This not only reduces the impacts of shocks that farmers themselves face, but also improves the environmental condition of resources downstream, such as the mangroves and coral reefs in coastal communities like Samaná, which are degraded by an onslaught of negative impacts, from upstream agricultural pollution to climate change-induced alterations in ocean chemistry.
By working with those whose livelihoods are currently impacted by the effects of climate change, and by engaging the youth in impacted communities, USAID is promoting multigenerational awareness of and engagement with climate change resiliency.
This originally appeared on the OPIC Blog.
“You can’t build a country without concrete.”
The statement has particular relevance in Haiti, where, more than three years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake resulted in extensive death and destruction, the country is still working to repair and rebuild and assume a path of sustained economic vitality.
Luis Garcia (pictured), spoke about the importance of basic building materials like concrete when he described his work in Haiti to an OPIC delegation in February. As Vice President for Planning at Haiti 360, Garcia oversees projects that not only produce badly-needed concrete, but also highlight the critical role of the private sector in addressing urgent developing world needs such as modern infrastructure.
Haiti 360 – one of multiple OPIC-supported projects that were initiated after the 2010 earthquake – has used a $6 million OPIC loan to support startup costs of two plants producing high-quality concrete used to rebuild homes, roads and even an airport runway. In 2012, more than 500 homes were built with concrete from the new plants. Some of the homes, like those pictured below at the Cabaret housing settlement, were built to tap into the country’s sunny climate. They have solar panels on the windows and come with ATM-like machines, where residents can swipe cards to keep track of the power they use. Haiti 360 is now one of Haiti’s largest concrete producers, and is establishing a series of micro-mixing sites around the country so it can better meet the demands of local builders in different regions. The company is also planning to donate a percentage of its profits to local charities.
My work in international development has led me to Haiti several times but when I visited the country in February with an OPIC delegation led by OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield, it was my first visit since the earthquake three years earlier. Today there are about 300,000 Haitians living in tents, down from almost three million who were left homeless after the earthquake. Long a poor country facing multiple development challenges, Haiti today faces the immediate challenge of housing and feeding a large displaced population, and is hoping to do so in a sustainable manner. Construction underway throughout the country is aimed not just at repairing damage, but extending roads, bolstering infrastructure and fostering new industrial development beyond the capital city of Port au Prince, which is overcrowded with displaced people and job seekers.
The work I witnessed during my visit in February also underscored how governments, private businesses and NGOs all have an important role in this country, which U.S. Ambassador Pamela White has described as “too rich to be poor.” Indeed, Haiti is rich in talent, youth, innovative spirit and land. All of these resources were on display when our delegation visited the Cabaret Housing Settlement, where about 156 houses will be built with the support of Development Innovation Group (DIG). A Maryland finance and development firm, DIG is using a $17 million OPIC loan, together with grants from USAID and the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, to support lending in amounts as small as $1,000 for mortgages and home repairs for low-income borrowers. Builders at the Cabaret site are sensitive to the urgency to construct more housing and have organized a friendly-yet-fierce competition between two construction teams to see who can complete the most homes.
Development Innovations Group offers a good illustration of OPIC’s ability to form partnerships to achieve a greater developmental impact. As the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, OPIC helps private businesses invest in frontier markets and often collaborates with other agencies or NGOs to channel additional investment into projects addressing major social and environmental needs. As the builders’ contest illustrates, DIG and other OPIC-supported projects have responded quickly to the need in Haiti. [continued]
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What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction? What does having access to savings and credit have to do with disaster risk reduction?In this next installment of the USAID Pounds of Prevention series (PDF), we discuss the important role that financial services play in reducing vulnerability to disasters and facilitating post-disaster recovery. We travel to Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean where USAID supports a number of efforts that increase people’s access to finance and also strengthens the preparedness capacity of the providers themselves. Photo by USAID.
On February 1, 2013, the Department of Chocó (Pacific Coast), one of the Colombian departments with the largest Afro-Colombian population, celebrated 200 years of independence (1813-2013). The United States Agency for International Development supported this commemoration as well as the development of several initiatives aimed at improving the living conditions of the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous population in the region.
On April 29-30, Administrator Shah travels to Colombia with Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator for Latin American and the Caribbean to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos and other senior government officials to discuss economic and social development initiatives and aspects of the ongoing peace process.
Read more about the Administrator’s trip to Colombia.
Visit USAID Colombia for more information about USAID’s work in Colombia.
Follow @rajshah on Twitter for updates of his trip.
Gangs are often seen as a problem of boys and men. Historically, communities have focused on men as both perpetrators and victims of gang related crimes, which include assault, kidnapping, extortion, illicit substance and human trafficking, theft, and murder. And to date, the answer has also been a predominantly male approach – police and court systems that focus on penalizing individuals for these crimes.
However, gangs don’t only make boys and men vulnerable; they make communities insecure for girls and women, too. Although the majority of homicide victims and perpetrators are male, there is an alarming trend of girls joining gangs as well as becoming victims of sexual assaults and femicide.
Fed up with the violence and driven by a desire for positive change in their communities, women are taking leadership roles to tackle gang violence and crime. Through youth movements, such as Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia (Youth Movement Against Violence) in Central America, young women are leading efforts and bringing together communities, governments, and youth to form partnerships and find creative solutions.
“I am worried about the alarming situation and of the number of youths that are killed every day, and the impact that the violence has on my family. So I decided to take part in finding a solution,” says Vivien Rueda, one of the founders of Youth Alliance Association in Guatemala City.
The Youth Alliance Association project takes a whole-of-community prevention approach. Through USAID’s outreach centers in high-crime areas, the group helps to provide a safe space for recreational activities and job training for at-risk youth as well as ex-gang members. In order to strengthen a sense of community, the centers are called “Outreach Centers for My Neighborhood,” which is similar to a local, common catch phrase “for my neighbor, for my neighborhood.”
The visibility of youth activism was raised to the national stage in Honduras by Alejandra Hernandez, former head of Movimiento Jovenes Contra La Violencia in Honduras. In addressing the Honduran National Congress, she echoed the frustration of youth, of which 2.3 million are girls: “We are here to say that we are tired of being just observers of the violence in our country, now we want to be actors in the construction of solutions that allow us a safer Honduras.”
Women are unique actors and add value to these crucial conversations. They are instrumental to help achieve peace in their communities by bringing diverse perspectives, mobilize a variety of community actors, and ensure that all citizens have their security concerns heard.
In the slums of Latin America, 117 million people live in poverty. The region’s megacities, including Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, and Lima, generate over-crowded living conditions without access to clean water or electricity, poor nutritional status, and often lack of basic health services. These marginalized populations are made up of the poor, the homeless, and vulnerable indigenous groups that have migrated to the city in search of a better life; they are the urban poor of Latin America.
The combination of these social determinants generates a breeding ground for tuberculosis (TB).
Around the world, tuberculosis rates are often high in urban areas and in the Americas it is no exception. Twenty-five percent of Peru’s urban poor live in Lima-Callao, which reports 60% of the tuberculosis cases for the entire country and 85% of drug-resistant tuberculosis cases which is difficult and costly to treat.
As populations continue to explode throughout the region, health conditions will continue to worsen if they are not addressed, particularly in slums. In 2011, 30,000 people died of tuberculosis in the Americas and there were 268,000 new reported cases. Worldwide, 1.4 million lost their fight against the disease. Tuberculosis, once thought an old disease, is the new emerging problem for the most vulnerable.
Tuberculosis has been used as a prime example of a “social disease” because it finds its nest among the poor and marginalized. The control of tuberculosis in cities requires social, economic, and environmental interventions to improve living conditions and increase access to health services. USAID has funded the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to tackle this concentrated epidemic in key cities across the Americas.
PAHO currently works with municipalities in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; and Lima, Peru to improve their tuberculosis programs that service the urban poor. The successes from these cities will be shared with Mexico City, Guayaquil, and other megacities in Latin America and around the world.
As urbanization rates continue to increase, so are the chances of tuberculosis among the urban poor. Tuberculosis is contagious but also curable; acting now while the epidemic is concentrated will help avoid astronomical costs for treatment and keep the region healthy.
USAID Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein joins youth from San Martin in sports activities organized in their municipalities as part of their crime prevention projects. USAID/El Salvador recently launched a $42 million public-private alliance called “SolucionES” (“Solutions”) to help local governments and citizens to prevent crime at the municipal level.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In observance, this week USAID is profiling brave individuals and dynamic programs focused on addressing gender-based violence around the world.
The nightmare began when she was thirteen. For two years, Cindy was the victim of repeated rape and sexual abuse by her uncle. The details of the case are heart-wrenching; she also suffered death threats against her mother and grandmother if she reported her case.
Cindy’s happy childhood was interrupted by a sexual predator; her life of play was replaced by horror and shame, and later by courtrooms and lawyers. The last time Cindy was raped was two months ago, just before her uncle was formally charged for rape and sexual abuse.
This case underscores the ongoing tragedy of gender-based violence in Latin America. Many women and young girls like Cindy are afraid to speak out because they are threatened by their attackers and fear being stigmatized by their family and communities. Hence, official statistics do not reflect the true scale of the problem.
Guatemala has long been seen as one of the worst examples of crimes against women in the hemisphere. In the past decade alone, nearly 4,000 women were killed. Some of the victims had sought help but were rebuffed by local authorities. Less than four percent of these cases were solved.
Mounting pressure pushed authorities to pass legislation outlawing gender-based violence. In 2009, a law for femicide, violence, sexual abuse, and trafficking was enacted, but only three men were convicted and sentenced even though in the first two weeks of that year 26 women were killed.
In Guatemala, as in other Latin American countries, cases of gender-based violence fall in the lap of an overburdened criminal justice system with no specialized services for women victims. Most women simply opt for dropping charges.
Local leadership and donor cooperation
Recently, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and former President of the Supreme Court, Thelma Aldana identified the need for a specialized court for cases related to violence against women, exploitation, sexual violence and human trafficking.
USAID Guatemala responded to their request and provided technical assistance, training, and equipment to operationalize a new specialized 24-hour court located in the Attorney General’s Office. The new model opened in October 2012 and includes a criminal court, a public defense office, a police substation, and a forensic clinic, and is staffed by prosecutors, psychologists, doctors, and lawyers. The integrated approach ensures victims receive the assistance they need and strengthens criminal investigation by using scientific evidence. The 24-hour court also includes a special Gesell Chamber that allows judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to observe interviews with minors conducted by psychologists.
This court, one of the first in Latin America, represents a fundamental change in Guatemala’s justice system. Since the 24-hour court opened its doors, 846 protection measures for women and 307 arrest warrants have been authorized. In total, 125 people have been sent to prison for violence against women and sexual exploitation. Although Cindy is forever marked by the horror she endured, justice for women in Guatemala is finally within reach.