USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Middle East

Building the Foundation for a Two-State Solution

Last month I visited USAID’s West Bank and Gaza Mission and witnessed how our diverse programs bring tangible benefits to the lives of Palestinians. I came away from another whirlwind visit certain that USAID’s work helps build the foundation for peace.

The Palestinian hi-tech industry, for example, now consists of more than 250 mostly small-sized companies, where few existed only a couple of years ago. USAID helped spur this growth by holding competitions, seeking prototype solutions, and awarding subcontracts to help innovative entrepreneurs develop their startups and products. The “Hi-Tech Hub” event I attended in Ramallah showcased newly developed gaming and tourism apps under a USAID competition. The innovative spirit on display during that event was electrifying, and I look forward to seeing which final products will go forward to be developed. I also met with Palestinian students enrolled in a mini-MBA program offered jointly by Northwestern and Tel Aviv Universities. Not only does the program impart the exceptionally bright students with tools that will help them build their businesses and the Palestinian economy, it also builds bridges between Israeli and Palestinian academics and future entrepreneurs.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski and Administrator Rajiv Shah play soccer with a student at the Az Zeer school in Harmala.  Click to view more photos from their visit to the Middle East

Deputy Assistant Administrator Romanowski and Administrator Rajiv Shah play soccer with a student at the Az Zeer school in Harmala.

During my visit, I also met with a range of businesspeople, including Palestinian business leaders. We discussed the Palestinian economy, focusing on which sectors are ready for expansion and investment. They stressed the need for a business enabling environment with proper regulations. I also met with representatives from global hi-tech companies, including Cisco, Qualcomm, iMesh and Amital. I encouraged them to develop and expand partnerships with Palestinian tech firms to take advantage of the untapped potential within that sector, thus increasing employment, exports and revenues.

One of the highlights of my trip was accompanying Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Bethlehem, which reminded everyone that the city has tremendous potential as a tourism center. We toured a USAID road renovation project that will not only enhance driver and pedestrian safety, but will also link Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity to the city of Bethlehem itself. It was during our visit to Manger Square that Secretary Kerry announced an additional $75 million in support to the Palestinian Authority’s High Impact Micro-Infrastructure Initiative (HIMII), bringing the total U.S. Government commitment to $100 million. USAID’s role in implementing HIMII will be critical, as we continue to create jobs, upgrade basic infrastructure, and deliver tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians.

While at Manger Square, I also saw the positive outcomes of USAID’s engagement with youth. I spoke with representatives from USAID-sponsored Youth Shadow Local Councils and learned about their experiences working in their local communities on projects ranging from job fairs to providing food assistance and beautifying parks and roads. I also visited students at the Az Zeer Elementary School in Harmala, near Bethlehem. There, I saw how hundreds of students are benefiting from a USAID school renovation project that provided students with access to more facilities and classrooms.

My visit also reconfirmed the importance of agriculture to Palestinian society. During a meeting with Palestinian agribusiness representatives, I learned about the challenges they face and the ways in which USAID is helping them overcome obstacles to export their products. If the olive oil, dates and vegetables I sampled were an indication of excellent food products, we would all stand to benefit from greater access to these products in our own grocery stores and markets.

My interactions highlighted the importance of our activities in building the future for the Palestinian people. With all our partners and government counterparts working together, we continue to move forward to implement sustainable development projects that benefit the Palestinian people and promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

View photos from Deputy Assistant Administrator Alina Romanowski’s recent visit to the Middle East on USAID’s Flickr site

Political Transition Assistance and Prevention of Gender Based Violence

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

She was abandoned as a baby at a rural hospital in Bihar, India. The hospital, at a loss for what to do with an infant girl, gave her away – to a brothel. Through concerted efforts of an anti-human trafficking organization in India, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, she was adopted and housed at the nonprofit’s shelter for girls. Thanks to Apne Aap, she escaped the brothel at an early age, rescued from a life of forced prostitution that awaited her. This year she graduated from secondary school. She wants to be a doctor.

In a nearby village named Khawaspur, I met a girl about the same age who was living a very different life. Despite significant efforts to remove her from the red light area of the village, she was forced into prostitution at the age of 12. For the past 5 years she has been living with daily exposure to sexual violence. Forced to lie about her age to authorities, she lives in hollow silence.

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

I saw these two stories with my own eyes, and learned of the cruel cycle that we at USAID try to break:  poverty, women’s systematic exclusion, and a lack of education, among other factors, all contribute to endemic gender-based violence (GBV) and the disproportionate maltreatment of women.   Endemic GBV and women’s inequality on the other hand threaten the stability and development of any given country or region.  In addition, we know that in conflicts and crises, GBV is more prevalent and these issues are magnified.  This is why USAID continues to be focused on ending GBV.

GBV is the violation of human rights on the basis of gender, and encompasses a wide-range of issues including bride kidnapping, sexual violence, and human trafficking. Given the breadth and complexity of the issue, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) helps increase community education, support for prevention and response, and women’s inclusion in political processes – all critical issues that threaten both the stability and rights of citizens, such as GBV.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, where bride kidnappings are a serious issue, OTI partnered with a local NGO to engage students from three universities in the southern city of Osh in discussions on bride kidnapping and recent changes to laws that increase jail time for perpetrators. Young women – and men – are uninformed about bride kidnapping laws and the legal process, and women often face stigma from communities and families when attempting to resist captivity.  With OTI’s support, the local organization activity utilized street theater performances, t-shirts, brochures, and public service announcements to empower students to take a stand against bride kidnapping and serve as an example for others.  In addition to confronting bridal kidnapping, the program functioned as part of a larger effort to address sources of instability and support the democratic transition,

In Burma, OTI supports a local organization to conduct a qualitative study on violence against women.  Women’s rights organizations plan to utilize the findings to enhance service and response mechanisms and support prevention and response programs around the country.

To address sexual violence in Sri Lanka, OTI-supported youth led more than 1,000 individuals in protests against sexual violence, with representation from diverse ethnic and religious groups from six districts across Sri Lanka.  Support for these youth groups was delivered through OTI’s Sexual Assault Forensic Evaluation (SAFE) program.

In addition to these activities directly addressing gender-based violence, the Office of Transition Initiatives supports a number of other initiatives as components of transition programming in countries including Syria, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and Burma. These initiatives promote women’s participation in the political process, build the role of women in government and civil society, and raise awareness on critical issues impacting women and girls. Inclusion of women in transition processes will promote their positions as equal stakeholders in democracy, and encourage prevention of gender-based violence. In conflict and crisis environments, providing an inclusive platform for those impacted by sexual violence to become agents of change in their own communities is critical for protecting the rights and security of individuals, and for the development of legitimate political processes.

With writing support from Lisa Bower, Program Manager and Gender Point of Contact at the Office of Transition Assistance, and  Melissa Hough, Special Assistant to the Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.

Preparing Syrians for a Harsh Winter

An Arabic translation is available.

The crisis in Syria continues to escalate and 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance—more than 40 percent of the country’s total population. With winter fast approaching, these staggering numbers speak to the urgency of preparing Syrians for the upcoming cold weather.

A young Syrian boy receives a box of clothing at a USAID-supported distribution site. Photo credit: USAID Partner

A young Syrian boy receives a box of clothing at a USAID-supported distribution site. Photo credit: USAID Partner

Majd and his family are one of many receiving winter relief assistance from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Intense fighting forced him to flee Homs with his wife, three-year-old son and elderly mother. When they reached safety in Tartous, they had nothing but each other and the clothing on their backs.

The family managed to find shelter in a small room of a shared compound housing several displaced Syrians, but this new ‘home’ was in no condition to protect them from a cold winter. It had no furniture, bed, or floor coverings, leaving them with nowhere to sleep but the hard, cold floor.

Due to the conflict, Majd had been out of work for close to a year. Left without any source of income, he was unable to buy even one blanket for his family. It was USAID partners that provided Majd with mattresses and extra blankets to help keep his family warm.

With many more people now in need since last year, the United States began preparing winter relief kits and coordinating distribution plans over the summer. Efforts to distribute thermal blankets, warm clothing and additional plastic sheeting for shelter will ramp up as the cold weather sets in.

USAID partners are also working to improve infrastructure in both camp and urban areas to provide people with adequate protection from winter weather elements.

The United States has accelerated its humanitarian response at every step to meet the increasing needs, having contributed more than $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid to date.

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Andrew Hoell on Dryness Conditions in East Africa

This blog is part of an interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

When did you first become interested in climate research?

New England snow storms sparked my interest in weather at a young age. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of Massachusetts to study Meteorology. During my second year as an undergraduate, I became interested in how weather patterns behaved over the entire globe on longer timescales, climate time scales. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts and worked on projects that linked Central Asia climate to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. The regional atmospheric circulations of Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa are intertwined, so those are now my regions of focus.

Can you talk a little bit about how UC Santa Barbara and FEWS NET work together to explain the broader concept of food security?

I can only speak to the climate side at UC Santa Barbara. At UC Santa Barbara, we’re interested in how rainfall has recently changed over East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and what climate features have forced those changes. We take the lessons that we’ve learned from the recent changes and we draw conclusions about how the climate will change in the future.

When you first began researching climatic weather patterns in the Western Pacific Ocean, did you have any idea that your work would help guide future international development decision making?

I’ve been researching the links between the tropical western Pacific Ocean and the global climate since about 2006, my first year of graduate school. Initially, graduate students, including me, are usually focused on learning or pleasing their advisor. In 2008, I met Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group at UCSB, and we collaborated on a paper that investigated the links between the Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures and East African climate and how those links influence food security. This was the first time I considered that my work might guide international development and decision making.

What was the motivation for writing about drying conditions in the East Africa Horn? What did you and your team seek to explain?

Our overarching goal is to understand how climate variability influences East Africa. This paper is a very brief review that links recent changes in East African climate (since the late 1990s) to an abrupt warming in west Pacific sea surface temperatures. The video below explains more.

What sorts of technology and techniques did you use in this study?

In the beginning of our study, we show how the climate from 1999 until recently has behaved in terms of East African rainfall and tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures. From this, we were able to show that (at least) superficially that East Africa rainfall and tropical Indo-west Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures could be related.

In the second part of our study, we use an atmospheric model forced by observed sea surface temperatures to confirm that west Pacific sea surface temperature changes were influencing East African rainfall. The study can be found here (Article 15).

What’s next for you and your team? How will you continue to work with FEWS NET to explain climate patterns and its effects on food security?

Our team will continue to investigate what factors influence climate variability over East Africa, the Middle East (specifically Yemen) and Central Asia. We focus on a wide variety of time scales, from individual seasons to multiple decades. We are most concerned with changes on decadal time scales because they are most important to long-term food and water security. However, our understanding of climate variability for individual seasons is also very important because it is this climate variability that primarily forces short-term droughts and famines (e.g. 2010/2011 over East Africa).

Interested in learning more about one of USAID’s programs or want to hear from one of USAID’s leaders? We want to know! Please provide your suggestions below.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

USAID in the News

The Huffington Post reports that The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) initiative just announced its investment in mWater. A non-profit tech startup, mWater has created an app for mobile phone users to instantly test and analyze water quality from local sources and share this information on their global, open-source water monitoring database.

The Nation reported that The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will help expand the U.S.-Asean Business Council’s training programs for small and medium-sized enterprises. The council’s and USAID’s new ASEAN connectivity through trade and investment programs will partner to expand the resources, scope and diversity of SME training in the run-up to the creation of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

AP reported that Nancy Lindborg, a USAID assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance, said Washington had allocated $45 million out of $1 billion in aid for Syrian refugees in Iraq and “we’re looking at how we can contribute more.”

Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported that Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (USAID) announced on Tuesday it was to provide USD 2.4 million worth of food aid to societies in Jordan, which are suffering from food insecurity.

From the Field in Lebanon: Learning that Water Is Everyone’s Responsibility

I found myself transported back to childhood as I cheered with a group of boys and girls in a school auditorium. We were watching a USAID-sponsored puppet show, “Chasing after Water,” which ran in schools and public libraries in nine cities and villages across the Bekaa region of Lebanon.

Located 30 km east of the capital, Beirut, and part of the Litani River Basin, the Bekaa is the Lebanon’s central agricultural valley. The entire area has suffered from depletion of the water table due to unsustainable agricultural practices and individual water-use habits. Efficient management of the region’s water resources is paramount. It is also a region that has hosted large numbers of those that have sought refuge from the crisis in Syria.

The king of the puppets considers solutions for water shortage, during a USAID-sponsored performance in the Bekaa, Lebanon. The shows were part of USAID’s partnership with the Lebanese government to increase awareness about water conservation. Photo credit: USAID

The king of the puppets considers solutions for water shortage, during a USAID-sponsored performance in the Bekaa, Lebanon. The shows were part of USAID’s partnership with the Lebanese government to increase awareness about water conservation. Photo credit: USAID

To help raise awareness about this need, USAID’s Litani River Basin Management Support program collaborated with the Litani River Authority to put on a series of activities, including the puppet show I attended. Around 5,000 children between the ages of 6 and 11 attended the shows, in addition to 100 children with special needs.

The show starts by telling the story of a king who is concerned about a water shortage in his kingdom. He embarks on a mission to find the root of the problem and — eventually — a proper solution. With the help of a loyal citizen, he traces the causes of the shortage: water pollution and absence of water conservation practices. The children in the audience watched with great enthusiasm and were eager to hear about the solution. As it turns out, that solution lies in the hands of consumers, young and old.

As part of each performance, children were called on-stage to participate in a role-playing activity that emphasized the show’s theme: that it is everyone’s responsibility to conserve water. At the end, students heartily sang a jingle and took home a booklet with water-related games they could play with their families.

كلنا مسؤولين؟ ايه! مسؤولين كلنا!

كلنا بالهوا سوا وأكيد بمايتنا!

Are we all responsible? Yes, we are all responsible!

We are all in this together … when it comes to our water too!

— Refrain from the “Chasing after Water” jingle

Children got to be on-stage during the shows, playing games that helped reinforce the messages about their role in responsible water use. Photo credit: USAID

Children got to be on-stage during the shows, playing games that helped reinforce the messages about their role in responsible water use. Photo credit: USAID

The students’ enthusiasm as they learned about managing their water consumption habits and protecting water resources confirms the importance of initiating awareness in early life. Such initiatives complement USAID’s other efforts to develop infrastructure that will improve water service delivery for all Lebanese citizens.

My journey back to innocence continued as I sang the jingle myself as we drove back from the school. I was even prompted to share the water conservation tips with my 9-year-old daughter and start practicing them in our home. So, we are also reinforcing the program’s message that “water is everyone’s responsibility.”

The USAID Litani River Basin Management Support is four-year program that supports more efficient and sustainable water resource management in Lebanon’s Litani River Basin. Learn more about USAID’s work in Lebanon

Video of the Week: Youth Initiatives in West Bank/Gaza

Yesterday was International Youth Day and this year focused on Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward. Created in 2000, the day brings attention to the challenges facing young people as well as their contributions to their communities, nations and the world. USAID is celebrating International Youth Day by reflecting on the linkages between youth migration and development, exploring the positive aspects of youth migration, and accounting for the risks and challenges young people frequently face when they migrate.

This week’s “Video of the Week” was produced by youth as part of the Ruwwad Youth Empowerment Project about USAID’s youth programming in the West Bank and Gaza. Ruwwad is implemented by the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and funded by USAID.

Learn more about youth programming at USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013. 

Quiet Heroes Save Lives Daily in Syria

An Arabic translation is available.

The U.S. government is providing nearly $815 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria. This aid is not a pledge; our aid is at work on the ground every day in some of the most affected areas, including Aleppo, Dar’a and Al Qusayr. As part of this assistance, USAID is supporting more than 144 field hospitals, medical clinics, and medical points across Syria. The doctors, nurses, and other medical staff working in these facilities are on the front lines of the brutal conflict in Syria, and every day they are risking their lives to save lives.

Last week alone, a doctor and 2 medical staff were killed and a nurse and 3 medical staff were injured when mortars were dropped near their clinics in Homs and Rif Damascus. The week before, the medical staff who survived the clashes in Al Qusayr – which killed one nurse, injured 2 staff, and left several others unaccounted for – had divided up supplies from their destroyed clinics and were already treating patients in nearby towns.

Doctors remove a bullet from the leg of an injured man. The injury required major surgery, which the makeshift field clinic was not equipped to handle. With ongoing fighting nearby and limited options, the surgeon proceeded with a minor surgery and was able to save the patient’s leg. Today, he can walk freely on it. Photo credit: USAID Partner

Along with widespread destruction and violence in Syria, health facilities are being destroyed, and medical staff are being targeted. And yet doctors, nurses, and medical staff—tireless heroes in this conflict—have been quietly working at USAID-funded health facilities across Syria since February 2012. To date, USAID-supported medical teams have performed over 85,000 surgeries, treated hundreds of thousands of patients, and saved countless lives.

The teams who help provide medical supplies to health facilities continue their heroic efforts as well. In the midst of some of the heaviest fighting in Al Qusayr, an international NGO working with USAID had to wait nearby for a week before they were able to deliver of life-saving medical supplies to a clinic on the
front lines of the battle. USAID medical programs in Syria provide medical supplies and equipment, pay doctors’ salaries, and train additional first responders and medical staff. Every day, U.S. humanitarian aid saves lives in Syria.

Learn more about USAID’s commitment to help the innocent children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

USAID Boosts Agricultural Production in Yemen

During my recent visit to Yemen, I had the opportunity to see the many ways that USAID is supporting development in the country at this crucial time. I was particularly impressed by USAID’s successful effort to demonstrate to Yemeni farmers how they can boost agricultural production and conserve water use at the same time by introducing new technologies in the fields.

Yemen faces many challenges, and one of the greatest is critical water shortages. Water is a precious commodity, and nowhere is it more so than in Yemen today. Recently, a school rehabilitation that USAID is supporting in the central highlands of Taizz has been stalled by a local conflict over scarce water resources.

Acting AA Romanowski meets with a Yemini farmer to discuss how USAID’s Community Livelihoods Project is helping Yemen’s agricultural sector. Photo credit: Dorelyn Jose, USAID/Yemen CLP

This scarcity of water is also having a serious impact on agricultural productivity. Yemen’s agricultural sector needs to adapt green technologies to improve efficiency and raise productivity. USAID’s agricultural demonstration site in eastern Sana’a is showing the way.

In early 2012, as the country was embarking on a post-Arab Spring transition, USAID’s Community Livelihoods Project supported the construction of a solar-powered greenhouse with a highly efficient drip irrigation system at the farm owned by the Sawan Agricultural Cooperative Union in Sana’a. USAID’s support did not end there. USAID also recently completed the construction of a rainwater harvesting system on the site, which will give it a fully sustainable water supply going forward. This is another step further in demonstrating sustainable water solutions where they are most needed.

The greenhouse has since successfully demonstrated that it is possible to grow ten times more vegetables compared to traditional methods while saving water irrigation use by as much as 70 percent. Not only that, the produce from the Sawan greenhouse is of a superior quality, with farmers using just a fraction of pesticides – less than ten percent – normally used in other greenhouses. This is really impressive, I know, because my husband is a “city farmer” and perhaps he should take a look at the Sawan Demonstration Site to boost his crop yields.

When I visited the cooperative, it was expecting to harvest 12 times more than they could reasonably expect from a traditional field of a similar size. The farmers I met filled me with hope for the future of Yemen. I met the sharecropper at the farm, who is now making exponentially more money than he did before the greenhouse was built. I also met some of the farmers who have been inspired by what they saw to replicate these technologies on their own farms. Not far from the demonstration site, six new greenhouses are now up and running. There are now at least 25 new greenhouses farther south of Sana’a, in Damar governorate, initiated by intrepid Yemeni farmers who have been trained at the Sawan Demonstration Site.

I am encouraged to hear that the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the nationwide Agricultural Cooperative Union are now looking at ways of joining forces to support more Yemeni farmers in adapting these green technologies.

In Washington, we talk about our vision of economic resiliency for vulnerable countries and of “feeding the future,” or helping countries transform their own agriculture sectors to forge long-term solutions to chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. Our vision involves increasing the agricultural production and the incomes of both men and women in rural areas. My visit to Yemen confirmed to me how these concepts are translated into reality in places where they can promote much-needed stability. The happy and hopeful faces of Yemeni farmers and their children that I have seen must be a sign that we are doing something right.

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