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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

At the Heart of Ebola — Health Systems That Need Strengthening

A man at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas tested positive for Ebola September 30th, the first case of the disease to be diagnosed in the United States. According to many experts, it was only a matter of time.

Health officials in the U.S. have been preparing since summer in case an individual traveler arrived here unknowingly infected. With stringent isolation protocols in place, infection-control steps to prevent the virus from spreading in health facilities, and efforts to trace people who have had close personal contact with the ill person, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Tom Frieden, was confident addressing media, saying “I have no doubt that we will contain this.”

But in West Africa, the Ebola epidemic is a sobering reminder of the lethal consequences of limited infectious disease surveillance and response capacities, and the vast development needs that persist in some of the region’s poorest countries despite rapid economic growth and investment.

At the heart of the Ebola epidemic sweeping across Africa, is a matter of health systems.

Health workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) wait to enter the hot zone at Island Clinic / Morgana Wingard

Health workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) wait to enter the hot zone at Island Clinic / Morgana Wingard

Much like cholera preys on weak water systems after a disaster, Ebola is preying on a weak public health system after years of conflict and upheaval in Liberia. And health system perfor­mance in many partner countries is challenged by critical health worker shortages, inadequate financing, poor or disjointed information systems, lack of essential information on public health threats, and inexperienced leadership.

Countries that already have limited ability to provide health care for their citizens can ill-afford to lose health care workers to sickness and death, close health facilities, or redirect resources for other development priorities to battle this epidemic.

As Ebola spreads, citizens are impacted not just by the virus itself, but also by the loss of other critically needed services. As hospitals and clinics become overwhelmed by the epidemic, they are unable to provide necessary maternal and child care and life-saving treatment for malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases.

Dr. Ariel Pablos-Mendez, USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Global Health, said, “The state of the health workforce and health systems has hampered the ability of these countries to respond to the Ebola epidemic – but these countries are hardly alone in having inadequate training, support and numbers of health workers.”

Zaira Alonso, a finance and administration director for USAID’s Rebuilding Basic Health Services project in Liberia implemented by John Snow International, paints a bleak picture. “The entire Liberian landscape has changed dramatically in just a matter of weeks. Many government ministries are practically empty, as non-essential staff were placed on 30 days compulsory leave. Roads are empty, as many Liberians are staying at home to remain safe, and a large part of the expatriate community has left the country. Most people are just simply scared.”

The U.S. Government, including USAID and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and others are using a broad disaster management approach to contain the epidemic. Since the spring of 2014, the United States has been providing health equipment and emergency supplies, training and supporting health care workers on infection control and case management, supporting public outreach campaigns and helping build the capacity of local health care and emergency response systems.

As part of the overall U.S. Government response effort, the United States recently provided support to the African Union’s urgent deployment of trained and equipped medical workers to West Africa to help combat the Ebola epidemic. This support is helping transport doctors, nurses and other essential personnel to manage and run Ebola treatment units that isolate and treat those affected by the disease, helping minimize the spread of Ebola. It will also provide urgent emergency supplies and health equipment to help these medical workers respond.

A health care worker checks on patients admitted to the Ebola Treatment Unit in Island Clinic. / Morgana Wingard

A health care worker checks on patients admitted to the Ebola Treatment Unit in Island Clinic. / Morgana Wingard


And President Obama earlier this month announced a major surge in U.S. assistance in West Africa to help recruit, organize and train new health care workers and build treatment clinics.

Adding qualified and trained health workers will make a big difference. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are among 83 countries worldwide that the WHO last year reported to have below the minimum ratio of doctors, nurses and midwives (22.8 per 10,000 people) needed to provide basic health services to a population. WHO and the Global Health Workforce Alliance estimate at least 7.2 million doctors, nurses and midwives are currently needed globally – a gap that could creep to nearly 13 million by 2035 if we keep with the status quo.

Dr. Larry Barat, senior advisor with the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative said one distinguishing factor of countries in Africa that have controlled malaria from those who still struggle to do so is the functionality of their health systems and their skilled human capacity. “Countries like Rwanda, Senegal, Ethiopia and Zambia have successfully reduced malaria burden, in part, because their health systems are able to deliver essential commodities to all parts of their countries, and people can access health services, with trained personnel.”

Haja Wurie, of COMHAS and the ReBUILD Consortium in Sierra Leone, where she has been working on health systems research, painted a vivid picture of a health system already weakened by years of war. Ebola first hit isolated, remote communities with limited access to health services. Their reliance on traditional healers and informal providers of health care may have exacerbated the spread of the illness. “Health staff face a very uncertain future as they bravely respond to Ebola,” she said. “They have inadequate supplies of the commodities they need to protect themselves. Many have watched their colleagues succumb to the illness die. They need urgent support and solidarity from the international community to motivate and incentivise them to face the tough times ahead.”

The Ebola epidemic reminds us that our global efforts to build the capacity to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to infectious disease threats like Ebola have never been more vital. If we use all of our might to ramp up the response to Ebola while also investing in strengthening critical health care systems (including the components that prevent, detect, and respond to infectious diseases), we can help bring the current epidemic under control and reduce the possibility of future outbreaks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Thomas is a Communications Advisor in the Bureau for Global Health providing strategic counsel to political and civilian leadership and technical staff on matters of public interest.

An Unprecedented Response to the Ebola Crisis

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established

The Ebola crisis has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. / Morgana Wingard

Today the world is facing the largest and most-protracted Ebola epidemic in history. Yesterday, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Obama declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a top national security priority and announced a clear, comprehensive, and global strategy to stop the outbreak.

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace. We’re prepared to take leadership on this to provide the kinds of capabilities that only America has, and to mobilize the world in ways that only America can do.  That’s what we’re doing as we speak.”

The United States has been combating the Ebola epidemic since the first cases were reported in March, and we have expanded our efforts and increased personnel in the region as the crisis has unfolded. More than 120 specialists from across the U.S. Government are on the ground in West Africa to prevent, detect, and stop the spread of this disease. USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team—or DART—to the region to oversee and coordinate the U.S. response, providing logistics, planning, program, and operational support to the affected countries; drawing forth critical assets and resources from several U.S. departments and agencies.

This crisis continues to escalate exponentially and requires an intensified speed and scale of response to address a rising rate of infection. It has quickly overwhelmed West Africa’s health system: new Ebola victims fill medical facilities faster than new ones can be established. Heroic doctors, nurses, and health workers are stretched to their personal and professional limits.

Against this landscape of overwhelming despair, there is hope. As the President declared in Atlanta:

“The world knows how to fight this disease. It’s not a mystery. We know the science.  We know how to prevent it from spreading. We know how to care for those who contract it.  We know that if we take the proper steps, we can save lives. But we have to act fast.“

That’s why yesterday afternoon President Obama announced a significant expansion of our response.

In an Ebola crisis, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with.

In an Ebola outbreak, chlorine is used to disinfect areas that people infected with the virus may have come in contact with. / Morgana Wingard

Through a whole-of-government approach, we’re mounting an aggressive U.S. effort to fight this epidemic and have devised a clear strategy with four key pillars to stop this epic crisis:

  • Controlling the epidemic;
  • Mitigating second-order impacts, including blunting the economic, social, and political tolls;
  • Coordinating the U.S. and broader global response; and
  • Fortifying global health security infrastructure in the region and beyond.

Our goal is to enable the most effective international response possible, using our government-wide capabilities to fight the epidemic on a regional basis. Our current efforts have focused on controlling the spread of the disease—bringing in labs for specimen testing; supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief supplies; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; supporting burial teams who are safely managing human remains to prevent transmission; and spearheading mass public awareness campaigns with communities to describe how to prevent, detect, and treat Ebola.

To complement these efforts, the President also announced the launch of the USAID-led Community Care Campaign, which will aim to provide every family and every community the critical information and basic items that can help protect them from this deadly virus.  Information will stress the importance of sick families members seeking help at a clinic or Ebola treatment unit and how to exercise basic infection control that can be life-saving, such as washing hands or not washing their dead relatives. Items like soap and chlorine can reduce transmission. Women are especially important to reach given their traditional role in washing the bodies of dead relatives — a prime transmission route of the virus. To reach people with low literacy, the campaign will train health volunteers and community leaders on how best to verbally provide messages to their neighbors.

Partnering with the affected countries, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and organizations on the ground, USAID will initially target 400,000 of the highest risk households in Liberia with this vital training and important tools.

The campaign is also rooted in a sobering reality. Half of all people who get sick don’t seek treatment at hospitals or Ebola treatment units. Many are frightened by rumors and deterred from traveling to hospitals where their friends and neighbors are taken and never return. A complex array of traditional beliefs and practices mean many of those who should seek help choose to stay in their homes – often putting those family members who care for them at risk.

The Ebola crisis is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola.

The Ebola epidemic is wreaking havoc on West Africa’s health care system. USAID is focused on supporting the construction and management of Ebola treatment units; airlifting critical relief and medical supplies; training health care workers; strengthening emergency response systems of the affected governments; and supporting public messaging with communities on how to prevent, detect and treat Ebola. / Morgana Wingard

This week, working alongside the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, we will airlift 50,000 USAID-funded home health care kits to be delivered to some of the most isolated and vulnerable communities in Liberia. We will simultaneously work with every part of society to educate people on how to prevent and detect Ebola through mass public awareness campaigns supported by radio, text, television and community announcements. As we scale up our response, the only way the virus will be controlled is if we make concerted efforts to reach every community, and every home in the affected areas.

We know tough months lie ahead. It will require a coordinated effort by the entire global community to help stem this terrible public health crisis. But every outbreak of Ebola in the last 40 years has been stopped, and this one will be, as well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

The Power of Scientific Research Investment in Africa

On Friday, August 1st, Mr. Melvin Foote and Dr. Nkem Khumbah published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing persuasively that scientific and technological progress is the key to African development. In their words:

“Scientific and technological advancement will help eradicate poverty and promote homegrown economic development by providing Africa with the tools to address its own challenges and expand its industrial productivity.”

In the days before the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah encouraged the U.S. Government to embrace “a science-led agenda in Africa” by pairing American higher education institutions, scientific research centers and tech entrepreneurs with African counterparts to spur economic growth and reduce dependence on aid.

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah’s vision is one that USAID fully supports and has already taken significant steps to catalyze. Today, Africans are the architects of their development, not just beneficiaries. This new model for development focuses on partnerships — with African governments, businesses, universities and civil society.

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

USAID-related science programs assist in expanding training for women. / Zahur Ramji (AKDN)

Building lasting partnerships with African leaders, thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators is at the core of USAID’s approach, which seeks to end extreme poverty by investing in Africa’s greatest resource: its people. Many of our newest initiatives reflect not only our renewed commitment to science and technology, but the central importance Africans play in global affairs throughout the 21st century.

USAID is constantly seeking new African partners in an effort to support great ideas from people all over the continent. Under efforts like USAID’s new Global Development Lab, which brings together diverse partners to discover, test and scale new solutions to chronic development challenges, we have identified 200 promising innovations that are currently being tested and evaluated.

Many of these solutions come from developing country entrepreneurs, including African entrepreneurs. A prescription medication verification and tracking system invented by Sproxil, a Kenya-based company (and USAID partner) has reached over 2 million customers in Ghana, Nigeria and East Africa by placing scratch cards on packs of medication. The scratch card reveals a numerical code, and when texted to a Sproxil-provided phone number, will verify whether the drug is genuine or fake. Dozens of similar innovations that have the potential to save millions of lives are currently being tested in Africa, including inexpensive chlorine dispensers in Uganda, Kenya and Malawi and stickers to encourage passengers to urge bus drivers in Kenya to slow down, thereby reducing traffic accidents and related deaths.

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Site supervisor Haji Huessen Ngwenje of Symbion Power analyses cables at the Mtoni service station in Zanzibar, Tanzania. / Jake Lyell for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

Power Africa is another example of USAID’s new model in action. Through the U.S. Government’s partnerships with African governments, private investors, developers and others, not only is Power Africa saving lives by, for example, bringing electricity to a rural clinic, but it is also spurring long-term growth by scaling new technologies, generating new jobs, and reducing the risks for foreign investment.

Power Africa may have been conceived by the U.S. Government, but the private sector has since taken the lead — the U.S. Government commitment of $7 billion in financing and loan guarantees has given both international and African businesses the confidence to invest in Africa’s emerging electricity sector to the tune of more than $20 billion to date.

As Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah note, it is critical to train the next generation of Africans in science and engineering. USAID supports a number of efforts to this end currently, and is hoping to do more in the near future. In November 2012, USAID and seven universities launched the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) with the goal of bringing their intellectual power and enthusiasm closer to real-time development innovations in the field. This network currently collaborates with labs at four African universities to support studies of how communities respond to changing conditions such as urbanization, changes in local climate, and post-war recovery.

In addition, members of the network collaborate with and support existing S&T based African-led enterprises and emergent community led technology development. The Higher Education for Development (HED) program has supported dozens of partnerships between U.S. universities and African peer institutions. These partnerships typically last years beyond the U.S. investment and result in broad and deep connections between the U.S. and Africa.

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK).

Forest monitors in Western Tanzania receive training on how to collect field data using Android smartphones and Open Data Kit (ODK). / Lilian Pintea, Jane Goodall Institute

Similarly, the Research and Innovation Fellowships (RI Fellowships) program and Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program foster science and engineering partnerships on the individual level. RI Fellowships currently supports more than 60 African scientists to collaborate with U.S. fellows in applying their scientific and technological expertise to local development challenges. The PEER program funds scientists who see problems in their midst to do the in-depth research required for creative solutions, while simultaneously expanding research ecosystems in the developing world.

One hundred and fourteen PEER scientists around the world tackle local challenges with tenacity and intellectual vigor, guiding the local development agenda and building an academic foundation for progress. The recent 2014 PEER awardees’ meeting brought 39 PEER awardees from 10 African countries to Arusha, Tanzania to build new connections. As part of the conference, the Vice President of Tanzania, His Excellency Mohamed Bilal, delivered the keynote address in which he said, “Science, engineering and technology education in Sub Saharan Africa holds the key to unlocking the continent’s great potential that could propel sustainable growth and development.”

Mr. Foote and Dr. Khumbah are right on the mark that a new model of development for Africa must be inclusive, grounded in the latest scientific and technological advancements, and focused on African priorities. Working with counterparts across Africa is the best way to catalyze the technological and scientific change that will be necessary to make the continent’s economic growth sustainable far into the future. Great ideas backed by 21st century science and technology – many of them home-grown in Africa – are the surest path to lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty for good.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jerry O’Brien is the Director of the Center for Data, Analysis, and Research in the U.S. Global Development Lab. Follow the Lab @GlobalDevLab

Making for a Stronger Africa

This post has been cross-listed with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog

This month, the first class of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellows converged on Washington, D.C. for their inaugural Presidential Summit. During the Summit, many of the Fellows joined the US Global Development Lab and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at Fab Lab DC to discuss the role of making in Africa’s economic and community development.

Mandela Washington Fellows gather to discuss how making will help shape Africa’s future. / Mike Star

Mandela Washington Fellows gather to discuss how making will help shape Africa’s future. / Mike Star

The Maker Movement is transforming the way we design and produce things – both here at home and overseas. At this year’s first-ever White House Maker Faire, President Obama described making as “a revolution that can help us create new jobs and industries for decades to come.” In recognition of the potential of young African visionaries to advance the Maker Movement, YALI is working to equip change-makers with the tools they need to foster progress across the continent.

 Community maker spaces are already springing up around the world, providing public access to tools and technologies like 3D printers, laser cutters, and low-cost modular electronics, which dramatically change the rules of invention – anyone with an idea can bring that idea to life. By democratizing the means to create, digital manufacturing lowers the barrier to entrepreneurship around the world, including in developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa.

WoeLab inventor Afate Gniko with his e-waste 3D printer. / woelabo.com

WoeLab inventor Afate Gniko with his e-waste 3D printer. / woelabo.com

 In 2012, Togolese entrepreneur Sename Koffi Abdojinou founded WoeLab, a bootstrapped maker space and business incubator built on an ethos of community design and open-access hardware in low-resource settings. Illustrating the power of this philosophy in action, WoeLab member Afate Gnikou invented a 3D printer made primarily from discarded electronics, or e-waste, scrapped from landfills. The invention’s design has been openly published, so makers across Africa and the rest of the world can leverage his ingenuity to sow the seeds of digital fabrication in their own communities. This year at the Fab10 maker conference, WoeLab’s e-waste 3D printer was awarded the Global Fab Award.

Maker spaces like Abdojinou’s WoeLab promote hands-on STEM education; they empower ordinary people to develop local solutions to the challenges faced in their communities; they encourage entrepreneurship.  In October 2013, Togo celebrated its ten most promising young entrepreneurs. Three of them came from WoeLab.

The maker movement paves a clear path toward local problem solving and entrepreneurship, both hallmarks of the Mandela Fellowship, as we learned firsthand:

Fellow Abibatou Banda Fall helps women develop products to improve their livelihoods, like a low-cost thermal basket to keep goods warm as they’re taken to markets, in Senegal.

Lukonga Lindunda operates a co-working space to support innovative tech entrepreneurs in Zambia.

Selma Neves helps struggling single mothers lift themselves out of poverty through self-employment training and support in Cabo Verde.

Ruth Lukwaro pairs inventors with business students to build sustainable social enterprises in Tanzania.

Mutoba Ngoma turns agricultural waste into consumer goods like biodiesel fuel for local markets in Zambia.

Tatiana Pereira runs a business incubator for early-stage startups in Mozambique. “I can have greater impact on people’s lives by sharing knowledge and strengthening the ones around me,” she said.  “Success is the entrepreneurs that start and succeed.”

 The Fellows also had an opportunity to speak with Emeka Okafor, founder of Maker Faire Africa, who encouraged them to cultivate a culture of making. “Making is central to leading Africa where it needs to be: a developing, problem solving region,” he said. “It’s imperative that communities from Cairo to the Cape unfetter their populations with tools from within. Making is pivotal if this is to occur.” Maker Faire Africa showcases makers’ ingenuity and strengthen their pan-African network. Started in 2009, the organization has hosted events in four different African countries. The next Maker Faire Africa will be held later this year.

 Looking forward, makers in Africa are faced with a spectrum of challenges, ranging from amplified versions of those familiar to American entrepreneurs like gaining access to venture capital and low-cost manufacturing, to more frustrating hurdles like inadequate electricity and supply chain infrastructure. Daunting though these challenges may be, the gritty determination of young African leaders like Abdojinou is unwavering. Africa’s makers and entrepreneurs will help shape the future of the continent.  “Growth,” said Pereira, “comes from people who act and make things happen – entrepreneurs. Africa is full of opportunities and young people with great potential.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric King (@eric_m_king) is an Innovation Specialist at the U.S. Global Development Lab.
Stephanie Santoso is a Researcher at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Kate Gage (@kategage) is an Advisor at the U.S. Global Development Lab at U.S. Agency for International Development.

On the Frontlines of the Ebola Response: an Inside Look at a Program to Help the Grieving

The West African Ebola outbreak is the worst outbreak in history, affecting four countries. The U.N. World Health Organization declared it an international health emergency

The West African Ebola outbreak is the worst outbreak in history, affecting four countries. The U.N. World Health Organization declared it an international health emergency / Christina Goldsmith, CDC

In Liberia, a country gripped by Ebola, the outbreak has not only taken its toll on health care workers but also on the professionals who comfort the grieving.

“The outbreak of Ebola was very shocking and overwhelming to our country,” said Jestina Hoff, a counselor with the Liberian Red Cross. “It brought a lot fear.”

As a counselor with the Liberian Red cross, Jestina Hoff must find ways to comfort Ebola victims or their families without getting close to them

As a counselor with the Liberian Red cross, Jestina Hoff must find ways to comfort Ebola victims or their families without getting close to them. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

The outbreak has also hampered Hoff’s ability to do her job. “As a counselor, I talk to parents who lost a child or to someone who has gotten sick with the virus,” said Hoff. “They are feeling so discouraged, and I have to help them accept the situation and comfort them, but without touching them.”

Francesca Crabu, a clinical psychologist with the International Committee of the Red Cross, explained that having close contact with those who are grieving is key to providing psychosocial support. But in Liberia and other parts of Western Africa, preventative measures require people to stay at arm’s length from each other.

“Here in Liberia, it is very painful that you cannot shake hands. If somebody is dying I cannot hug you,” said Crabu.

To make matters worse, once Ebola claims a life, the body is taken immediately, before families have time to mourn their loss, according to Eliza Yee-lai Cheung, a clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Red Cross.

Eliza Yee-lai Cheung (right) a clinical psychologist with the International Federation of the Red Cross, listens as counselors in Monrovia share stories about helping families cope with Ebola

Eliza Yee-lai Cheung (right) a clinical psychologist with the International Federation of the Red Cross, listens as counselors in Monrovia share stories about helping families cope with Ebola. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“They cannot hold a memorial service or burial according to their culture,” said Cheung. “That’s why it’s very hard for them.”

To give psychosocial counselors the tools to help grieving communities, the USAID Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is partnering with IFRC in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. Among other things, the DART and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are working to raise public awareness of Ebola’s mode of transmission, teach disease prevention practices to communities, and train health workers and volunteers.

Training materials passed out to counselors will help them train others in the community

Training materials passed out to counselors will help them train others in the community / Dagny Olivares, CDC

In a classroom, 19 people—counselors with the Liberian Red Cross, staff with NGOs and social workers with the Liberian Ministry of Health & Social Welfare—are learning from Crabu and Cheung how to organize culturally appropriate activities to help families cope with their loss. They are also taught ways to keep themselves safe from the virus and how to provide support to each other. This group will then go on to train others in affected communities with the hopes that such efforts will help the country come to grips with Ebola.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Hoff. “But we have a goal. I have a goal. We have to serve our country. We need somebody to take a step to help others move forward. It’s scary, but there’s hope.”

Crises on Four Fronts: Rising to the Call

In a time of unparalleled need, the response from our nation’s humanitarians and our partners has been inspiring. Children and their families trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq are receiving U.S. military airdrops of food and water. In South Sudan, life-saving supplies are arriving by air to vulnerable communities cut off by violence. In West Africa, health workers are fighting the Ebola virus, even at great risk to themselves. And in the refugee camps on the Syrian border, we’re getting children into school so that this devastating crisis doesn’t rob them of their future.

USAID and The World Food Programme providing humanitarian aid to Iraq / USAID

USAID and The World Food Program provide humanitarian aid to Iraq. / USAID

From the Central African Republic to Gaza, from Burma to Yemen, millions of vulnerable people are relying on the life-saving assistance that the United States and our partners provide. Food to revive malnourished children. Hygiene kits to stop the spread of disease. Safe spaces for children to laugh and play.

This is the first time in our Agency’s history that we have been called on to manage four large-scale humanitarian responses at once—in addition to reaching other vulnerable populations worldwide and preparing communities ahead of natural disasters. We are not working alone. We are grateful to our U.N., NGO, and local partners, who have demonstrated exceptional fortitude and compassion in the face of relentless tragedy.

health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body

Due to the outbreak of Ebola virus, health professionals use full safety clothing covering every part of the body. / Jean Louis Mosser, European Commission DG ECHO

They are epidemiologists who have flown into the epicenter of one of the world’s deadliest diseases to help track its spread. They’re logisticians who are coordinating with the U.S. military to airdrop food and water to families stranded on Mount Sinjar. They’re engineers who have helped design displaced persons camps so that women and girls can walk around at night without risking their lives. They’re doctors who are staffing clinics where children have arrived riddled with shrapnel or wasted by hunger.

Today, we are able to equip these heroes with new tools and technologies that have dramatically improved our emergency response, including satellite maps to forecast the risk of famine in South Sudan and debit cards that enable families to shop for their own food at local stores in refugee camps on the Syrian border.

USG Humanitarian Assistance to South Sudan

United States Government humanitarian assistance to South Sudan

These crises are far from over. We will continue to work closely with our essential partners, especially our fellow donor nations, to do more to save lives and foster lasting solutions. Despite the challenges, we remain committed to providing help in an emergency—regardless of danger or difficulty. It is one of the most profound expressions of who we are as the American people.

If you would like to contribute, I encourage you to make a monetary donation to a reputable humanitarian organization already working on the ground. Nothing will get there faster or help more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rajiv Shah is USAID Administrator. He tweets from @Rajshah

Sharing Agricultural Success with President Obama: One Year Later

originally posted on the Feed the Future Blog

Nimna Diayte. / Stephane Tourné

Nimna Diayte. / Stephane Tourné

It’s been a year since Nimna Diayte met President Obama in Senegal when he stopped by for a chat at her booth at the Feed the Future Agricultural Technology Marketplace.

The president was impressed by Nimna’s can-do attitude and the way she had become a community leader and entrepreneur.

Nimna made quite the impression! In fact, President Obama even mentioned her earlier this week during a discussion at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Washington, DC.

As she told President Obama, a few years ago she decided to convene other women farmers to form an association because she realized that by working together, they could leverage skills, tools, and products to become more competitive in the agriculture sector. She received support from Feed the Future through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to access bank credit to buy seed and fertilizer, enabling her to boost her yields and earnings. By the time she met the president, she had made enough to even buy a tractor!

“When I met President Obama, he challenged me to drive it myself,” said Nimna, noting that she’s so busy running her business now that she hires drivers to help. She generates additional income by renting the tractor to other farmers when she isn’t using it.

Since the president’s visit last year, Nimna has paid off the loan she secured with Feed the Future’s help. The farmer association she was heading at the time has changed its legal status and is now a full-fledged limited liability cooperative – one of the first in Senegal to adopt this innovative business status. Nimna is the current president of the association, and its 2,023 members accessed loans to buy enough seeds and inputs last year to sow 4,000 hectares and produce 11,000 tons of maize, achieving yields that were double the national average.

Nimna reports that all members sold their maize very well this year. The association was awarded a short-term loan of $150,000 so members collectively could produce and sell high-quality maize to an industrial buyer. “It was difficult to convince our members to sell through the co-op because business is good in their own communities,” she said. “But since we are increasing our production, it’s important for the future that we build relationships with the large millers.”

In total, the association’s members made more than $2 million last year in revenues from selling maize. Nimna yielded 63 tons of maize out of the 23 hectares she planted; some of it certified as seed, which sells at a premium.

“[The association] gives a good service and farmers now accept that we charge a small fee on the inputs as well as on the sales to cover management costs,” she said, adding that they have started training farmers in other communities about quality control. “We also use clean new bags that have an association brand on them,” she said.

The miller we sold to is very pleased – our maize is just like the imported one now.

She suggested that this helps make their products more competitive. “The miller we sold to is very pleased – our maize is just like the imported one now. At one point there will be a lot of maize to sell and [the association] must be ready with high quality maize to be taken seriously by the very large mills.”

 

Nimna (center right) and her board of directors. Their association is fast becoming a major player in the Saloum region’s maize sector in Senegal. /Jeff Leitner, Engility

Nimna (center right) and her board of directors. Their association is fast becoming a major player in the Saloum region’s maize sector in Senegal. /Jeff Leitner, Engility

Nimna has encouraged the association to adopt new practices to mitigate risks associated with external factors that can impact farmers, such as the effects of a changing climate. The association is adopting a new rain-index insurance promoted by Feed the Future, for instance, which pays farmers automatically when rainfall totals are low.

“Last year, 47 farmers got a payment because rain in their area was not sufficient. This way they could cover their loan and start again next year,” she said. “This year [the association] is promoting this new insurance service to all farmers getting loans. And we get a little fee from the insurance company for the trouble.”

Her passion for farming and ability to support others’ success as a leader inspired Nimna to run for mayor in her local rural district. Ultimately, she was not elected, but she sees it as a good experience and maintains the upbeat, positive outlook she shared when she met President Obama, saying of her mayoral run, “Better luck next time!”

With business acumen and a little support from Feed the Future, Nimna is just one example of many entrepreneurial farmers thriving in Africa.

Responding to Dire Needs in South Sudan Three Years after Independence

Three years after the Republic of South Sudan’s exhilarating independence on July 9, 2011, following decades of civil war, the people of this young nation are facing their most dire crisis yet.

 Since fighting erupted in the capital of Juba in December 2013, thousands of South Sudanese have been killed or traumatized and more than 1.5 million have been displaced. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently told the U.N. Security Council that by the end of 2014, half of South Sudan’s population of 12 million will be in flight, facing starvation or dead.

When I returned to South Sudan in May for the first time since the crisis began, the significance of this tragedy was clear. Tension and fear permeate the capital, Juba. Women and children no longer fill the streets as they used to, walking safely to school and marketplaces. Some parts of town are empty of residents, who now live in crowded sites in squalid conditions, afraid to go home after violence they witnessed months ago. The U.S. Government is working with heroic South Sudanese staff and international partners to respond to this heartbreaking crisis with urgency within South Sudan and in neighboring countries that are hosting South Sudanese refugees, increasing our food and other lifesaving assistance and adjusting our existing development programs to respond to the current crisis.

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Unity State use water lillies as a primary food source. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

South Sudanese displaced by conflict in Unity State use water lillies as a primary food source. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

In the desperate and crowded conditions where tens of thousands of South Sudanese are now taking shelter, hygiene and sanitation are a major concern, as illnesses such as cholera could spark an epidemic. Since April, the U.N. World Health Organization has reported more than 2,900 cases of cholera, including 67 deaths in South Sudan, primarily in Juba and surrounding areas. Through radio and innovative means of reaching displaced populations, such as loudspeaker announcements delivered by quad bike in compounds where displaced people have taken shelter, we are reaching tens of thousands of South Sudanese with important information on topics such as hygiene and how to prevent cholera. Ninety-eight percent of residents sheltering at the U.N. Tongping protection site are familiar with the program, a survey by our partner Internews showed, and two-thirds said they had changed their behavior, in hygiene or other ways, as a result of information from the program.

In Mingkaman, Lakes State, which hosts South Sudan’s largest displaced population, I saw the importance of USAID support for an FM radio station that broadcasts information to tens of thousands of people, including programs on available medical services and clean water, and safety issues such as the danger of crocodiles in the nearby river where people bathe. This station and other USAID-supported radio stations have call-in shows that give citizens a platform to say what they have been through – an important outlet in a traumatized society.

 In response to a nationwide stockout of essential drugs including antibiotics and anti-malaria medication, and with funds contributed by the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom, we are delivering desperately needed basic medicines to cover the entire population of South Sudan for one year. In the midst of conflict and the rainy season, which makes many areas impassable by road, this is no easy feat. But through our ongoing advocacy efforts, we have secured government permission to deliver to the most conflict-affected states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, where needs are greatest and tensions between opposing forces highest.

 As tens of thousands of children have fled their homes due to violence, we launched a new program with UNICEF to provide education to 150,000 displaced children, so that they have safe spaces and materials to learn. This effort includes targeting 60,000 girls for education, as part of USAID’s Let Girls Learn initiative. A grateful educator told me during the event in Juba where we launched the program that South Sudan’s children have the right to learn, despite the challenging circumstances they face, and that our investment in these children would last even if buildings and roads were destroyed during the fighting. Education creates an important sense of normalcy in the lives of children affected by violence. It is critical that the next generation in South Sudan is literate and gains life skills through education, which can help avert the cycle of violence that has defined South Sudan’s tragic history.

 Davorah Nyariera escaped fierce fighting in Bentiu, South Sudan, empty-handed with her children and grandchildren. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

Davorah Nyariera escaped fierce fighting in Bentiu, South Sudan, empty-handed with her children and grandchildren. / Jacob Zocherman, Mercy Corps

In a polarized conflict situation, it is also important to enable many citizens’ voices to be heard and many viewpoints expressed. So we are helping to strengthen civil society in South Sudan, including by providing support to enable civil society organizations to participate in South Sudan’s peace process. What I heard repeatedly from all of the citizens I talked to was that peace is possible—and that it is the one thing that everyone could agree on.

And perhaps most urgently, famine conditions threaten up to 1 million people in parts of South Sudan. In addition to lifesaving humanitarian assistance including food, nutrition and clean water, USAID funds the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which is providing crucial information on crops and food availability. This information, along with other sources of information about the growing humanitarian crisis, galvanized the international community to provide more than $618 million in needed humanitarian funds at a conference in Oslo in May – nearly half provided by the United States.

We are continuing to provide assistance in agriculture, focused in the relatively stable Equatoria states, where agricultural potential is greatest. Before conflict erupted, USAID assistance to farmers in the Equatoria states helped them achieve a tripling of crop yields – an achievement we can build on to strengthen food security in South Sudan.

While the people of South Sudan have in many ways not yet reaped the benefits of their independence, I came away from my latest visit reassured that the efforts of those responding to the crisis are saving lives, and that many more people in South Sudan are committed to peace and an inclusive future than those who are content to tear their nation apart. I was asked by a reporter on the day I was leaving South Sudan if the United States thought it could save South Sudan.  After hearing the stories of a diverse, proud, and resilient nation of people, I was able to respond that we could be part of the solution that the South Sudanese people are fashioning for themselves.

As we reflect on South Sudan’s third anniversary of nationhood, USAID remains more committed than ever to the people of South Sudan and we will continue to help them build the peaceful and secure future they deserve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Etim is Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, overseeing the Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs and the Office of East African Affairs. She most recently traveled to South Sudan in May.

 

Mobilizing ‘Makers’ for a Better World

Making, with a capital “M,” is a new term used to describe an ancient act: creating physical things. Far from old-fashioned, a perfect storm of cultural and technological advances is fueling a revolution in Making.

3D printers, modular electronics, and online libraries of open-source designs empower tinkerers and inventors to bring their ideas to life with groundbreaking speed and creativity. Thousands of community hackerspaces (and Fab Labs and maker spaces) are opening their doors to Makers all over the world. Crowdfunding and low-barrier manufacturing turbocharge the innovation pipeline from invention to market.

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / Marco Zennaro

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / © Marco Zennaro

Today, the President celebrates a “Nation of Makers” as a powerful force of innovation and entrepreneurship across the country. And beyond the impressive promise of revitalizing American hardware manufacturing, the Maker movement offers a truly unprecedented resource: global creation.

Great ideas can come from anywhere. How many times in human history must inspiration have struck those who lacked the means to create a prototype? How many of our great ideas have gone unrealized? By democratizing the means to create, the Maker movement is poised to unlock humanity’s power of invention.

Recognizing this potential, USAID is challenging Makers around the world to create sensor technologies that can improve the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. Our U.S. Global Development Lab has launched a “Sensors for Global Development” Fab Award in partnership with the World Bank, Intel Corporation, and the Fab Foundation.

Sensors for Development

Sensor technology is an integral part of the Maker movement. Sensors allow homemade robots to navigate through physical space. Wearable sensors like Shine give you feedback on your personal health habits. Birdi monitors the quality of the air in your home – it’ll send an alert to your phone when you should open the window. Information about our physical world is increasingly detected, analyzed, and returned to us as useful insights that can improve our lives. The development of this so-called “Internet of Things” is owed in large part to hackers and makers.

There is a vast hole, however, in the Internet of Things. Much of the developing world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, is a sensors desert. Here, ironically, the world’s most vulnerable people stand to gain the most from improved access to critical information on essential issues like agricultural productivity and the availability of clean drinking water.

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world.  Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world. Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

Useful information streaming in from sensors in near real-time also may permit adaptive decision-making to maximize the effectiveness of USAID programs around the world.  Much in the way that the ubiquity of cell-phones has already transformed the global development enterprise, the promise of sensor networks presents a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog traditional methods of gathering important information and empowering individuals.

The Sensors for Global Development Fab Award challenges the Maker movement to get involved. We’ve called for Makers to focus their efforts on creating robust, low-cost sensor technologies that promise to help improve the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable. By tapping into this pervasive cadre of solvers to take on society’s most fundamental challenges, we stand ready to bend the curve toward a more prosperous, resilient, and democratic global community.

Today, at the White House Maker Faire, we announced the six Fab Award finalists:

  • MoMo (mobile monitor) – a mobile device with a sensor that collects data to track infrastructure and improve accountability in the developing world. WellDone’s water MoMo identifies where village wells are broken and alerts repair teams to fix them.
  • Fresh Air in Benin – a network of air quality sensors being developed to monitor urban air pollution in Africa
  • GrowerBot – a smart sensor system for small-scale agriculture that monitors and tracks environmental conditions, providing customized guidance to help growers optimize their productivity.
  • Nano Plasmonics Biosensor – a nano-scale optical sensor for identifying organic molecules with a wide range of applications from medical diagnostics to detecting water contamination.
  • KdUINO – a low cost DIY sensor buoy system that empowers students and citizen scientists to monitor the environmental conditions of seas and rivers
  • Safecast – an open source vehicle-mounted sensor network system to empower citizens to collect and publish data, with a focus on mapping radiation levels

The finalists will compete for a $10,000 prize at the Fab10 Conference in July.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric King is an Innovation Specialist with the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Data & Analytics Team. Follow him @eric_m_king

Reuniting Families Separated during Conflict in South Sudan

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December. / Jacob Zocherman for Mercy Corps

Violence and insecurity in South Sudan have forced more than 1 million people from their homes since mid-December.

Among those fleeing are thousands of children lost from their families — heaping tragedy upon tragedy. Some were sent to safety by parents who could not afford a journey to safety themselves. Others became separated from their parents during the recent violence that has ravaged their country and left them traumatized.

Tracing the families and reunifying these separated children is challenging due to the constant movement of people searching for safe havens in and out of the country. Unaccompanied children face being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces.

Since the onset of violence December 15, USAID through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has helped launch five programs dedicated to identifying and supporting boys and girls who have become separated from their families and reuniting them with surviving caregivers, when possible. One of the programs USAID is supporting established a group of community outreach workers working within the displaced community to identify lost children. Another is training and supporting social workers who are on the ground addressing the needs of children who become separated from their families. Working alongside the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, USAID has helped identify more than 3,000 unaccompanied, separated, and missing boys and girls–and have helped reunite more than 400 with their families so far.

Nyawal Ruach, a young mother from Bor, is just one of the people USAID has helped. Ruach lost track of her two sons amid the chaos of a big tank shooting. She was gathering clothing from their home so they could flee the violence when her two boys – who Ruach had tied together to ensure they would not get lost from each other – went missing. They had followed a group of people running to escape. Ruach was able to find her sons through a center USAID is helping support to trace families and rescue lost children.

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families or unaccompanied by an adult and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. Photo Credit: Phil Moore / AFP

Thousands of South Sudanese children are separated from their families and at risk of being trafficked, abused, illegally adopted or forcibly recruited by armed forces. / Phil Moore, AFP

USAID is also providing safe and nurturing spaces for displaced children to learn, play and engage in psychosocial support activities—helping South Sudanese children cope with the traumas of war while reducing their exposure to risks for exploitation and abuse.

The people of South Sudan face a steady stream of challenges as violence and insecurity continue to mount. And in a twist on tragedy, the outbreak of famine is becoming a real possibility for up to 1 million people over the coming months if there is not increased fast and sustained aid to the world’s newest country.

No child should be forced to uproot. In South Sudan, more than 380,000 children have already faced violence and displacement when they should be playing in the safety of their own communities. Helping these devastated families reunite may be one of the few bright spots in the midst of this horrible conflict.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eileen Simoes is the Response Manager for the South Sudan Response Management Team

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