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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

One Year On: Looking Back on Famine and a Smarter Response in the Horn

About six months into my tenure as Director of Food for Peace, in July 2011, I remember calling Nancy Lindborg, the Assistant Administrator of our Bureau, to let her know that famine had been officially declared in Somalia. It was with an air of both sadness and disbelief that I myself absorbed the news that we had actually reached this point. I had left the world of humanitarian aid for development and governance work in the mid-1990s, shortly after one of the most intense periods of my working life, responding to the 1991 Somalia famine. I was in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in those years, and we broke records by mounting the largest-ever (at that time) Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in the office’s history and spending more on a single disaster in a short span of time than the office ever had before. As a member of USAID’s DART in Somalia, I witnessed the crisis firsthand. I traveled with Fred Cuny, a great humanitarian, as he shared his insights into the nature of famine and the challenges of response. As the months unfolded and relief operations ramped up with the support of the U.S. military, names of towns like Belet Huen, Baidoa, Merca and Kismayo all became commonplace, as did the terrible images of starving children and sprawling graveyards.

We learned a lot from that famine response, and looking back I can say that we played it smarter this time around. Recognizing that mortality rates often spike due to outbreaks of preventable diseases, USAID prioritized health and hygiene programs such as vaccination campaigns and providing clean water and hand washing soap before the rainy season, when disease rates are known to spike. Much improved early warning systems gave us a clear picture of both nutritional needs and market prices. Based on this information, we prioritized cash and voucher programs that allowed people to stay in their villages and buy food and other supplies in their local markets. We found that markets did indeed respond to the increase in demand, inflation was kept at bay, and traders brought goods to areas that were off limits or too dangerous for aid workers.

The in-kind food distributions we supported through the United Nations World Food Program WFP) were also smarter. Thanks to the early warnings received from the experts at Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) and Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), our food aid was already pre-positioned in the region. WFP largely set aside general food distributions, which are often chaotic at best and violent at worst. Instead WFP focused on more efficiently reaching those in need by working together with health facilities to provide families with food aid, and if needed, supplementary nutrition. For many years USAID has been providing funds for partners to purchase ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to help those in crisis, but for the first time ever, Food for Peace provided an RUTF that it helped create. And we now have RUTF in our stockpiles.

While the food security conditions in Somalia have improved, our response this past year reflects our understanding of the fragility of the situation: Along with our partners, we are continuing to provide assistance that saves lives while also protecting and advancing livelihoods.

Last night I attended a celebration in honor of Senator George McGovern’s 90th birthday. He was feted with toasts that acknowledged his extraordinary contributions to feeding hungry children around the world. As an American citizen and public servant, I am proud to be part of the U.S. government effort that stays true to the spirit of Senator McGovern’s vision. In far flung and difficult places, including Somalia, we make a difference and make evident every day the compassion and generosity of the American people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video of the Week: “Development Credit Authority & Food Security”

USAID’s Development Credit Authority designs and delivers investment alternatives that unlock private financing in support of U.S. development objectives.

A Year After South Sudan’s Independence, a Needless War of Attrition Between South Sudan and Sudan

Originally published to the Huffington Post.

Earl Gast, USAID official photo

Earl Gast, Assistant Administrator for Africa

One year ago, the world welcomed South Sudan to the community of nations after a referendum supported by USAID gave the people of this war-scarred land the opportunity to choose their future through a peaceful, democratic process.

Those of us who watched this process closely knew that South Sudan’s independence would not resolve its longstanding disputes with Sudan, including agreement on their shared border and a key question that has brought the economies of both countries to a standstill — how much should South Sudan pay Sudan to use its pipeline to export oil?

When South Sudan seceded, three-quarters of the greater Sudan’s oil fields went with it, but South Sudan is a landlocked nation with no oil pipeline, and the only existing pipeline it can access is through Sudan. The disagreement over revenue sharing of this key resource has escalated into a war of attrition that is putting the economic well-being of the 44 million people in these two nations at risk.

Because of this dispute, the government of South Sudan decided in January to halt all production of oil, which provided 98 percent of government revenue. As one of the least developed countries in the world, as an oil producer with no oil refining capacity, and as a country where one of the legacies of war is a lack of large-scale farming and mechanized agriculture, South Sudan imports all of its fuel and most of its foodstuffs. This makes the population exceedingly vulnerable to stresses on the nascent economy. Inflation and rising prices can make food, fuel, and other necessities unaffordable for most South Sudanese.

More critically, a humanitarian crisis is escalating in both countries, further exacerbated by the economic crisis. Conflict in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states has severely affected or displaced half a million people, more than 200,000 of whom fled across the border to South Sudan or Ethiopia. Many Sudanese people are trapped in the conflict zone, with little access to food, water, shelter, or medical care. However, the government continues to deny international humanitarian organizations full and unfettered access to affected areas to help the hundreds of thousands still in need of life-saving assistance.

In the face of these critical challenges, I recently traveled to Sudan and South Sudan to evaluate the impact of the economic and humanitarian crises on the people of these two nations and ensure that U.S. assistance is sufficiently flexible to respond. A fuel shortage in South Sudan is creating hardships and hindering our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, particularly in areas near the Sudanese border, where needs are greatest. In Sudan, the government’s announcement that it will reduce food and fuel subsidies has triggered weeks of protests throughout the country.

USAID has a historic role as the lead donor to South Sudan. We are proud of the accomplishments we have helped achieve since the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan’s civil war, including lower infant and child mortality rates and a dramatic increase in primary school enrollment from 20 percent of children in 2005 to 68 percent. We are increasingly concerned about losing ground on these achievements due to the devastating impact of rising food and fuel prices. As more people fall into severe poverty because of the dire economic conditions, school enrollment rates are likely to drop and child mortality rates are likely to increase as families become unable to acquire sufficient food and medical care.

Regardless of the difficulty of resolving the major issues that remain between South Sudan and Sudan, our commitment to the people of these two nations remains steadfast. We are working in close coordination with the international community to prevent duplicating assistance efforts and focus our assistance on local leadership and communities where aid can be best targeted to those who need it most. With careful planning, increased donor coordination, and sustained pressure on both governments to behave responsibly, we may help to minimize the impact of a crisis on the peoples of these two nations. The steps we are taking and the adjustments we are making alone will not prevent a crisis. Only the governments of these two nations have that power.

We appeal to the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to reinvigorate their efforts to resolve their outstanding differences for the good of their citizens.

Taking Stock of Improvements in South Sudan’s Health Sector

As South Sudan celebrates the first anniversary of its independence on July 9, the new nation is taking stock of what it has accomplished over the past year.

After suffering through civil war for most of its history (since before Sudan’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1956), South Sudan remains one of the world’s least developed nations. Part of this underdevelopment stems from the fact that South Sudan had an informal health system during the war, which was supplemented heavily by relief agencies.  With a lack of skilled health professionals, vast distances between service delivery points, and a dearth of basic health education, the world’s newest country has some of the worst global health indicators, including one of the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality.

Overcoming the vast logistical, technical, political, and social roadblocks to improving health for the population of more than 10 million South Sudanese seems nearly insurmountable.  Deficiencies in infrastructure, human resources, supply chains, pharmaceutical management, education, and health policies produce challenges and delays at every step.

In addition to health and development needs, South Sudan continues to be challenged by conflict, instability, and population movements, including refugees fleeing conflict in Sudan and the return from Sudan of more than 400,000 people of South Sudanese origin since October 2010.  These conditions are taxing an already strained health system and exacerbating the existing deficiencies.

Despite these challenges, progress is being made. South Sudan’s child mortality rate dropped from 135 per 1,000 in 2006 to 106 per 1,000 in 2010. Infant mortality saw a similar decline from 102 per 1,000 in 2006 to 84 per 1,000 in 2010.

To sustain and expand these positive health trends, USAID is funding the Sudan Health Transformation Project, Phase II (SHTP II).  Led by Management Sciences for Health, SHTP II is working closely with South Sudan’s Ministry of Health and local partners to improve access to and demand for health services, while building the skills and knowledge of South Sudanese health workers.  One element of the project is the Leadership Development Program, which focuses on teaching health workers and managers how to identify challenges and seek solutions to overcome barriers to providing health services.  The program teaches teams to look at areas where they are underperforming, and find ways to achieve measureable progress.

At a recent workshop, Marco Agor, who works in the County Health Department in Tonj South, Warrap state, praised the program, saying, “The Leadership Development Program is very important. In my office, we had a lot of organization problems.  Those who had known Thiet in Tonj South before [the program] would say it is a different place. Now, Thiet is the best-run facility.”  The program has been so successful in SHTP II-supported facilities that the Ministry of Health is now assessing its own operational challenges using the Leadership Development Program. The Ministry is also currently working to develop a strategy for training even more of the nation’s health workers in this leadership development program.

Chronic Crisis in the Sahel Calls for a New Approach

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a More Inclusive USAID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the Field: Developing Kenya’s Leaders

At the end of May in Garissa, Kenya, 2,000 energetic youth gathered to celebrate their role as change agents in their communities. They came a long way since 2008, when high unemployment and frustration fueled some of the worst post-election violence in Kenya’s history. For three years, USAID has invested in developing the leadership skills of vulnerable youth in Garissa and fostering linkages to the work place, through the Garissa Youth Project (G-Youth).

With help from USAID, Ifra has become a leader in her community. She now manages a radio station that educates and empowers youth. Photo Credit: Joan Lewa, USAID

I have come to get an interview with one of the youth. They all look so confident and enthusiastic. Where do I begin?

Just then a young lady approaches me and confidently says, “I need to tell you my story – to let people know how my life was transformed through the G-Youth project,” she tells me with a smile.

Her name is Ifra. She told me that after her mother died, her older sisters supported her through high school. Now 20-years-old, she lives on her own.

In 2010, Ifra joined USAID’s G-Youth Work Readiness Program, where she learned leadership, interpersonal and communication skills. While in the program, she participated in radio production training and received a certificate in journalism.

Since 2009, USAID has also provided 1,100 scholarships to Garissa youth like Ifra to attend university or technical skills training courses. Ifra received a G-Youth scholarship, and she is now pursuing an associate’s degree at the East African Media Institute.

USAID convened 2,000 young leaders in May to celebrate how their new skills are opening employment opportunities. Photo credit: Joan Lewa, USAID

Today, more than 2,500 youth are better positioned to pursue employment and livelihoods opportunities following the successful completion of the work readiness training. This program is part of USAID’s larger commitment to engaging African youth in development, which was most recently highlighted at the Young African Leaders Innovation Summit.

The Ifra I met today is now the studio manager of the G-Youth radio program. She and her colleagues produce 30 interactive life skills and civic education radio programs for STAR FM and Warsan FM. More than 644,318 youth have been reached through these radio programs. “Thanks to USAID, I am living my dream. My voice is heard on radio all over North Eastern Region, educating fellow Garissa youth on how to improve opportunities for themselves and their communities.” 

“May I conclude here Joan? I need to go back to the studio.” “Of course yes,” I replied. After all, she has work to do.

  • Learn more about USAID in Kenya
  • Partner with us: Concept papers currently being accepted to elevate youth leaders and partnership for development in Africa

Democracy and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, and Carol Lancaster, Dean of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Affairs spoke today at USAID’s Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is an excerpt from their contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

Twenty-five years ago, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was a region of despair. Outside of Botswana and Mauritius, democracy was but a distant dream. Unelected and unaccountable governments held power across the subcontinent. Dictators treated their countries as personal fiefdoms, ruling by force and intimidation, taking what they wanted, doling out riches to a favored few, and sprinkling a handful of crumbs to the rest. The terrible scar of apartheid made a mockery of justice and plunged the entire southern region into conflict and crisis. And the politics of the Cold War made a bad situation worse, as East and West propped up unsavory rulers for their own purposes with little regard for the effect on Africans themselves.

The leadership crisis translated into an economic crisis that left the region effectively bankrupt. Authoritarian leaders used the state to try to control the economic commanding heights, in part to finance their patronage systems. In the end, their control only destroyed economic assets and personal livelihoods. For 20 years starting in the mid-1970s, nearly all of the countries of SSA saw zero or negative economic growth in per capita incomes. Promising businesses were ruined, and new investment virtually stopped, except for the grab for natural resources. Unemployment soared, and working men and women could no longer provide for their families. Schools and health facilities deteriorated badly. The only things that seemed to thrive were poverty, graft, and conflict.

But that was then. Today, all of that has begun to change—not across all of SSA, but across much of the region. Dictators are being replaced by democracy. Authoritarianism is giving way to accountability. Economic stagnation is turning to resurgence, with SSA today one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. Poverty rates are falling. Investors who never would have considered Africa a decade ago are lining up to look at new opportunities. Political conflict has subsided, and governments are strengthening the protection of civil liberties and political freedoms.

About half of the countries in the region have embraced democracy, fragile and imperfect, to be sure, but a far cry from the dictatorships of old. And most important, despair is being replaced by hope—hope that people can live in peace with their neighbors, that parents can provide for their families, that children can go to school and receive decent health care, and that people can speak their minds without fear.

What happened in SSA? How did authoritarianism begin to give way to democracy? How has the economic resurgence affected the move toward democracy, and how has democracy affected the economic turnaround? How is democracy likely to evolve in the future in SSA?

Read the full article on page 32 of USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.

Zimbabwe’s Great Leap Toward Preventing HIV in Children

Photo Caption: Josephat was born HIV-negative because of PMTCT in Zimbabwe, and recently celebrated his fifth birthday. Photo Credit: EGPAF/James Pursey

As featured on the Huffington Post

This week, I witnessed a milestone in the fight to end HIV/AIDS in children — and it happened in Zimbabwe.

Much of the news from Zimbabwe over the past decade has been around political and economic challenges, overshadowing a resounding public health success story.

Zimbabwe is one of the key countries to watch in the drive to eliminate pediatric AIDS in Africa.

On Monday, I attended a ceremony at Harare Central Hospital to launch Zimbabwe’s national strategy to prevent new pediatric HIV infections. I joined representatives from government, international partners, donors, health workers and people living with HIV.

It was a diverse group, but all dedicated to a common cause — that no child should be born with HIV — not in Zimbabwe, nor in any other country.

In June 2011 at the United Nations, a Global Plan was introduced to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015. Zimbabwe was among the first of many countries to answer the call, but its commitment on this issue was evident long before that.

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