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How Free is Your Media? A USAID-Funded Tool Provides Insight

On May 3, the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day. Reflecting on the day’s events, a few important questions arise about what role the media plays in a community and in a democracy.

First, how does freedom of the press compare to freedom of speech? Not only do journalists need freedom to speak and write without fear of censorship, retribution, or violence, but also they need professional training and access to information in order to produce high-quality work. Furthermore, journalists need to work within an organization that is effectively managed, which preserves editorial independence. People need multiple news sources that offer reliable and objective news, and societies need legal and social norms that promote access to public information.

Second, why is the media important? We care about the media because it is a powerful and critical tool for ensuring that citizens understand the state of their community, country, and world. In this way, citizens are equipped to participate in the democratic process. Media gives a voice to the people and helps to hold governments and institutions accountable for their actions. Media is also the way to spread critical community messages, such as how to prevent HIV infection, where to vote in the next election, and how to address difficult issues with balanced, well-informed analysis so as to promote peace and tolerance.

Lastly, how do we measure how well (or poorly) the media sector is functioning, and how do we gauge progress? With great interest in this subject, USAID has supported comprehensive, multi-year assessments carried out by IREX, which are reported in the Media Sustainability Index (MSI). This tool analyzes challenges in the media sector by country and allows for tracking of progress from year-to-year.  In this way, it helps USAID to better identify media development gaps and possible areas for technical assistance. The 2009 edition of the MSI for Africa is now available, and editions are also available for the Europe & Eurasia and Middle East regions. With multiple years of surveys now completed, the tool spurs discussion and understanding of both the current status of the media in a given country and region as well as the trends over time.

The MSI is both a quantitative and qualitative tool. It draws on a set of panels composed of local media and civil society experts from each country, and the resulting index assesses five objectives important to a successful media system, which include the quality and professionalism of journalism as well as the management and independence of media businesses. The results also capture the rapidly changing new media landscape on the continent.

MSI’s data is used by a variety of advocacy and human rights groups, as well as USAID, other donors, and academics who are interested in tracking the role of the media in larger development processes. Findings from the MSI can inform how we channel our resources; for example, the latest edition of the MSI reveals that weak business management and professional journalism skills are some of the key factors challenging the media sector in African countries today.  In response, USAID programming in countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, and the DRC are better cultivating local skills and building the professional capacity of media.

New USAID Report Highlights Achievements in Egypt’s Health Sector

Yesterday I joined former USAID Administrator Peter McPherson, Egypt Embassy Counselor Motaz Zahran, and more than 100 members of the Egyptian diaspora and global health communities to launch USAID/Egypt’s Health and Population Legacy Review (pdf, 1.5mb).

The report demonstrates impressive long-term results of USAID health sector assistance in Egypt over 32 years.  For example, over the past three decades, there have been declines in maternal mortality by more than 50 percent and in infant mortality by more than 70 percent, as documented by Egypt’s regularly released Demographic and Health Surveys. Medically assisted deliveries increased from 35 percent in 1988 to almost 80 percent in 2008.

I served in USAID’s Egypt mission from 1976 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1988, and I have seen with my own eyes the remarkable progress that has been achieved.  When I left Cairo in 1980 oral rehydration therapy was not part of Egypt’s health program.  When I returned in 1984 it appeared to me that there was an oral rehydration center in every neighborhood of Cairo and every village throughout the country.

The Egypt Health and Population Legacy Review attributes the success of programs like this to the duration of assistance and to robust funding and staffing levels.  Because USAID was a reliable partner with the Ministry of Health and Population over a 32-year period, it allowed not only for introducing new programs, but also for seeing them through various stages of program evolution. The substantial level of funding over the decades also helped ensure that programs were implemented on a large enough scale to achieve significant impact.

Despite the accomplishments, much work remains to be done.  And in many ways, the moment is ripe.  This has been a historic time for the people of Egypt and the Middle East.  And now, more than ever, it is vital that we use studies like these to learn from the past.

U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey said it best:

The emergence of a new political order in Egypt sets the stage for even greater improvements in the lives of Egyptians. The accomplishments, the institutional strengthening, the data and policy analysis, and – most important – the many new Egyptian health professionals and leaders, are a solid platform from which to launch new initiatives and innovations of many kinds.  In the Egyptian health sector, the past can inform the future.

Video Immortalizes USAID’s Largest Iraq Project

Last fall, I worked in Baghdad to capture on digital video the achievements of the USAID/Iraq’s National Capacity Development Program – the Agency’s largest project in the country – as the five-year project winds down.

In this age of fast moving information, it’s more and more important that development projects are captured visually to help explain the impact of that work. In Iraq, that presents unique challenges given the weather, moving from government office to government office and even technical issues, such as inconsistent power supply throughout the day.

Working closely with 10 Iraqi ministries and the country’s executive offices, Tatweer – “development” in Arabic, and the informal name of the project – provided the support necessary for Iraq to update and sustain modern public administration practices and systems.

The hope is that ultimately these systems and practices will give Iraq the tools necessary to effectively use its natural resources and human capital towards a prosperous future.

After five years and 105,000 ministry officials provided with training, Iraqis began taking pride in their work, leading the trainings themselves and taking ownership of their departments and offices.

“How do you train 100,000 staff in a few years under these extreme conditions?” Tatweer’s Chief of Party Rick Huntington said. “Our students often have 15 years of experience, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but haven’t had the chance to modernize their skills in decades. The Iraqi people can’t wait for a gradual improvement in governance, so we have cascaded good skills to more and more staff, like ripples in a pond.”

The video, Iraq: A Partnership for the Future, captures and shares some of the palpable pride witnessed in Iraq. Filmed in various training locations and Iraqi ministries and centers, the video gives a glimpse at the strongest elements of the program, and what ultimately accounts for its success – its advisors, participants and the commitment of the U.S. government to make this worthwhile investment.

As the National Capacity Development Program comes to a close, we look to a peaceful and productive future and partnership with Iraq.

USAID’s Frontlines – April/May 2011

Frontlines Banner Graphic

Read the latest edition of FrontLines to learn about the Agency’s work in global health and in Iraq, including these stories:

This photo of a woman administering a polio vaccine took second place in the latest FrontLines photo contest. Photo credit: Alain Mukeba, USAID/Democratic Republic of Congo

  • An exclusive interview with U.S. Lt. Gen. John Allen on how the United States’ military and civilian arms found common ground in Iraq. Allen is President Obama’s new nominee to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan
  • How the new Global Health Initiative is building on a foundation of partnerships as key to healthier families, communities and countries
  • How the historic Food for Peace program has proven to be an extremely versatile development tool in rural Mozambique. Listen to FrontLines’ first ever podcast.

Get these stories and more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you would like to receive a reminder about the latest FrontLines, you can subscribe here.

Women’s Month Profile: Improving Health Care in Afghanistan

Submitted by Sally Cooper,
Communications and Knowledge Exchange Officer at USAID Tech-Serve

Women gather outside a health clinic in the western city of Herat. Dr.Zareena’s work with USAID Tech-Serve supports the Ministry of Public Health in providing quality health care to women across Afghanistan. Photo: Sally Cooper, USAID Tech-Serve

Dr. Zareena sits quietly at her desk in the corner of a large office, her attention focused on the files open on the laptop screen in front of her. “We are very busy here today,” she said, adding with a smile, “actually we are very busy here most days.”

Zareena works at Tech-Serve, a USAID-funded project building capacity at the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). She works with health professionals at MoPH offices in USAID-supported provinces throughout the country, building their capacity to enable them to deliver quality health services for all Afghans. As part of a team looking after 17 provinces, Zareena’s days are full.

As a child growing up in Kabul through the years of the Russian occupation and the bloody civil war that followed, she recalls her family moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, escaping the fighting and seeking occasional refuge with relatives living in the provinces when the capital became too chaotic.

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 re-opened a world of opportunities for young women like Zareena. After finishing school, with her family’s permission, she enrolled in the prestigious Kabul Medical University to pursue a career in health care. She was the first girl in her family to study, a choice that brought with it a raft of social pressures. “It was different,” she said, “but it was not wrong.”

After graduation, Zareena said, “I wanted to work in health and learn more.” She worked for a number of health-focused organizations, gaining valuable experience in each before joining Tech-Serve.

One area in which she is particularly interested is Tech-Serve’s leadership and management program which works with public health managers around the country to enable them to lead their teams, face challenges and achieve results. “It encourages me to develop my career in management so I can work for better health of women and all patients,” said Zareena.

Afghanistan has rebuilt its public health system from scratch in the last decade. More women are accessing quality health care than ever before for both themselves and their families. Progress has been slow but, as Zareena notes, “progress has been made. The health of mother and child is better than it was even three years ago.” In 2010, seventy five percent of Afghans seeking health care services were women and children under the age of 5.

But in 2011, Afghanistan’s future remains uncertain. Political tensions and a revived insurgency eat away at many of the gains made in the past decade, particularly for the country’s women. Asked what she thinks Afghanistan will be like in three years, Zareena shrugs. “I wish a brighter situation than today. We see the reality but we shouldn’t lose our courage.” She turns once more to her computer screen, “this is our hope.”

Technical Support to the Central and Provincial Ministry of Public Health (Tech-Serve) is implemented by the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health and Management Sciences for Health.  Dr. Zareena’s name has been changed to maintain her privacy.

A Dispatch from the Tunisian and Libyan Border

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID on the ground. Photo Credit: USAID

Ras Jdir, Tunisia: I heard boisterous singing as I walked through the transit camp on the border between Tunes and Libya. There, forming a human chain to pass boxes of supplies into a tent, was a group of Tunisian youth, volunteering to assist the tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya. They provided a welcome counterpoint to the blowing sand and steady flow of Bangladesh, Somalia, Malian and other migrants struggling across the border and into the transit camp.

Only weeks after the Tunisians sparked a regional revolution on January 14th, toppling the corrupt regime of Ben Ali and inspiring the world with their aspirations for freedom and democracy, Tunisians have once again mobilized. The newly installed government of Tunisia quickly provided security and support for transit camps. Citizens across the country have spontaneously provided food, water and blankets, and driven to the border to volunteer. The energetic singers I encountered were part of a group of 40 Boy Scouts who came eager to help. There was a palpable sense of pride in their ability to organize and act in this new era of freedom.

Some 80,000 Tunisians worked inside Libya, alongside the more than a million guest workers from around the world — 200,000 have fled thus far. Already 30,000 Tunisians have returned, often to the poorer communities in the south, which means an influx of unemployed workers and loss of remittances. At the same time, the economy is reeling from loss of tourism in the wake of recent events and loss of important commerce with Libya. And yet, Tunisians, including those in these hardest hit communities, have generously reached out, determined to help.

I traveled with Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration at the U.S. Department of State to understand better the needs arising from the conflict now engulfing Libya. While there, we announced $17 million of urgent assistance, bringing the total U.S. Government aid to $47 million. Our assistance to-date has gone to UN organizations on the frontlines of managing the camps and transport, to international NGOs able to provide critical help to those still inside Libya, as well as to the Tunisian Red Crescent Society, now an important conduit for volunteers.

Our new funding will target urgent assistance to the Libyans who are still trapped inside a bloody conflict as well as enabling support for those communities in southern Tunisian hardest hit by this crisis. We are inspired by them and as Americans, we are proud to mobilize alongside them in this time of crisis.

I also stopped to talk with two migrants from Bangladesh. They had worked in Libya for a year, but had not received wages for several months. Their employer abruptly shut down the construction project where they had worked. Fearful of the rising violence they headed to the border and along the way were robbed of their remaining money and cellphones. When we met, they had joined the 40 Boy Scouts, inspired as well.

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

USAID’s Strong Partnership with Israel Ensured Rapid Response During Disaster

The wildfires that ravaged large areas of Mount Carmel forest, killing 41 people and damaging hundreds of homes in the Northern Israel in early December, were halted with the help of local and international emergency teams. The intensive coordination efforts of USAID West Bank and Gaza with the Government of Israel enabled the rapid mobilization of U.S. Government assistance to combat the forest fires.

Through communications with the Israeli Government, USAID West Bank and Gaza identified the emergency needs and immediately mobilized the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) which arrived to Haifa, Israel, on December 5, to work alongside the Israeli firefighters and offer technical expertise. The United States also flew nearly 70 metric tons (MT) of fire suppressant and 3,800 gallons of fire retardant concentrate to Israel.

In addition to assistance from the U.S. and Europe, Israel received help from its Arab neighbors, Jordan and Egypt, as well as the Palestinian Authority who sent three fire engines and firefighters to suppress the fires together with their Israeli counterparts. Responding to this conciliatory gesture, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his appreciation and thanks to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Helping Israel suppress its largest forest fire ever, USAID also played a role in passing information between different parties and providing emergency advice.

The fires have subsided, but the United States is ready to provide additional assistance to support the Government of Israel if needed.

USAID Administrator Statement on the Passing of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke

The following is a statement from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah on the passing of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

“Last night, we received the sad news that Richard Holbrooke passed away. Richard’s passing will be deeply felt by his family, those he worked with and those he served.

Much has been mentioned about Richard’s tireless commitment to diplomacy, one that stretched across five decades and was marked by incredible accomplishment-supporting the Paris peace talks as a foreign service officer in Vietnam, helping to normalize our relations with China as the youngest ever Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and designing the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia. He was one of this nation’s finest, most dedicated public servants and architects of peace.

But Richard was also deeply committed to development. He worked at USAID in the early years of his career and was a relentless champion of development in this country’s foreign policy pursuits. As Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard elevated the cause of AIDS and the concerns of Africa to the top of the international agenda. And most recently, as Special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he recognized the critical role development played in countering and ending violent conflict.

Islamabad, January 13, 2010 – U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke exchanges signed documents with Mr. Shahid Rafi, Secretary of the Ministry of Water and Power Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Pakistan

The late U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke exchanges signed documents with Mr. Shahid Rafi, Secretary of the Ministry of Water and Power Photo Credit: U.S. Emabssy in Pakistan

I know many of you have worked closely alongside Richard and learned much from him.  As a colleague and friend, he pushed us to excel and brought his tremendous intellect and diplomatic tact to our shared mission.  I will be forever grateful for his friendship, mentoring and support and will deeply miss his larger-than-life personality.

Please join me in extending condolences to his wife Kati and the rest of his family, and let us honor Richard’s enduring contributions both to his country, and to the cause of peace around the world.”

In Honor of International Human Rights Day

Today, in honor of International Human Rights Day and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.S. Embassies and USAID missions around the world are opening their doors to civil society; to the Russian journalists who bravely report on corruption and abuse in the face of grave danger; to the Egyptian human rights activists who fight every day for justice; to the Kenyan political activists who recently helped shepherd a peaceful vote on a Constitutional referendum.

In 1994, USAID became the world’s first donor agency to establish democracy, human rights, and governance as core development objectives.  Since then, USAID has become the leading development agency on these issues.  With over 400 experts worldwide, USAID manages and programs the vast majority of the U.S. Government’s total budget—over three billion dollars this year alone—devoted to these issues.

These investments are critical to our national security and to reflect our national character, making the word safer and more equitable. That’s why the Obama Administration has laid out an ambitious democracy, human rights, and governance agenda for USAID.  We are engaged in a renewed focus to help our partners deliver for their citizens.

In Colombia, USAID created an early warning system to help prevent human rights violations by illegal armed actors, paramilitaries, leftist guerrillas, and drug mafias.

In Indonesia, USAID worked across 9 provinces with nearly 600 local nongovernmental organizations to increase citizen participation in local governance and social service provision.

Across Asia, USAID helped uphold rights to access for at-risk populations, including transgender communities and men who have sex with men, to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment, as well as building regional and in-country capacities to respond.

In Egypt, USAID is supporting disability advocates to organize and lead the development of policies and programs targeting the inclusion of people with disabilities, impacting over 15,000 Egyptians with disabilities at both the local and national levels.

And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, USAID and its partners helped provide medical services, fight impunity, and promote community awareness of and response to sexual and gender-based violence for more than 100,000 survivors of rape.

At USAID, we cherish the fundamental liberties contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and we promote democratic institutions to fulfill these rights for every global citizen.

Every day, we are dedicated to making USAID the leader on advancing democracy, human rights, and governance globally.  Today on this day, with our friends, with our allies, and especially with human rights activists around the world, we support and honor the global efforts to expand human rights for all.

Palestinian Authority Capacity Enhancement Project Reaches Community Through Cartoons

The Palestinian Authority Capacity Enhancement (PACE) project is working to develop a more professional and competent public administration and civil service within the Palestinian Authority (PA), and to provide more effective, efficient and responsive services and benefits to the Palestinian people.

The project has produced a series of 30 humorous cartoon episodes educating Palestinians about issues concerning democratic behaviors, health and safety issues, etc. The cartoons are broadcast on Palestinian local TV stations. This is an new and innovative approach to pass educational messages to the Palestinian public.

It  has two primary objectives: a short-term focus on the delivery of improved services and a medium-term focus on capacity enhancement of government institutions. The project is currently working with five partner ministries: Ministry of Finance (MOF), Ministry of Transportation (MOT), Ministry of Interior (MOI), Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MTIT), and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (MOPWH).

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