USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

FWD the Facts

On Saturday, September 24, 2011, I had the privilege to help organize a panel discussion at the United States Mission to the United Nations in NYC, followed by a presentation on the new USAID FWD the Facts campaign that had just been released a few days prior.  The panel consisted of civically engaged youth both domestically and globally and was moderated by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero.  There were well over fifty young people in the audience ranging from college students to professionals.

Ross Seidman is a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors, and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO. Photo Credit:Nicole Goldin/USAID

After the panel ended, we regrouped for a presentation and workshop led by Nicole Goldin of USAID (with collaborating representatives from the Ad Council and RGA) to educate the audience on the new FWD the Facts campaign.  It is a new effort that hopes to educate and engage the American public on the crisis affecting over 13 million people in the Horn of Africa.  After being presented with the facts and goals of the campaign the audience split up into three groups to discuss both the strengths and opportunities we saw.

We loved that the website is so simple and that it is so easy to become engaged in the initiative through the “ACTION” tab, specifically the “FWD Knowledge” download.  Many people also brought up the campaign’s opportunity to build connections through personal experiences of those living in the Horn of Africa.  This would motivate people to get involved as we want to see both the macro and micro dynamics of the situation.  Much of the conversation also centered around what college students could do on campus to bring awareness and action to the cause.  Ideas that floated around ranged from creating a network of “interns” on different campuses that could work with preexisting campus groups and administrators to finding corporate sponsorship to create an online interactive platform that could include a direct action piece via the web.  People also suggested an App and serious gaming.

It was an empowering opportunity to be a focus group for such a large initiative and have the ability to provide direct input and ideas to representatives from USAID, RGA, and the Ad Council.  Programs like this are exactly the types of things that make us feel directly involved in the process in a meaningful way.  These occasions are the motivation that many young people need to become involved in initiatives and some of the ideas from those in attendance have the potential to empower even more young people in meaningful leadership experiences through service-learning.  I know this was the beginning of the conversation, not the end, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

Ross Seidman is a freshman at the University of Maryland, a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO.

Remembering A Green Revolutionary: Wangari Maathai

KENYA, Nairobi : Then-Senator Barack Obama plants a tree with Wangari Maathai during a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 28, 2006. AFP Photo: Simon Maina

Wangari Maathai was a pioneer. The first female African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, her Green Belt Movement, launched in 1977, was ahead of its time in integrating sustainable development with women’s rights. The organization now has branches in 30 countries, promoting action on climate change, community regeneration, and equal opportunity. To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 45 million trees across Kenya to combat deforestation, stop soil erosion, and generate income for women and their families.

Wangari Maathai was a humanitarian. She fought the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and poverty. Poor families struggling to meet their own needs often have to strip their own environment for resources, but when those resources disappear, families have an even harder time making a living—and even fewer chances to create a better future. Maathai understood this and worked to ensure that her efforts to conserve the land also led to employment and empowerment among the most vulnerable people.

Wangari Maathai was a peacemaker. The Nobel Committee awarded her its 2004 Peace Prize in recognition of the fact that proper management of natural resources reduces conflict and is critical to peace and stability. Her Nobel citation does not even mention the word “environment,” instead crediting “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”

While today we mourn Wangari Maathai’s passing, we also celebrate her life and her indelible impact on the world. We too can make a difference if we follow in her footsteps to never give up on protecting our future.

Photo Essay: Community Volunteers Help Women Suffering from Fistula in Guinea

The volunteers make their way to the next family in Faloboa village. Sometimes the volunteers encounter village women who have suffered with fistulas for many years without any access to medical help. USAID’s program is able to support these women with diagnosis and treatment. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Fakan, USAID/Guinea

The average Guinean woman will have six children during her lifetime, but due to the lack of obstetric care, many develop fistula, a painful injury that is especially traumatic due to the stigma associated with it. During obstructed labor, a baby’s head may be pressed against his mother’s pelvic bone, cutting off circulation to tissue in the area and literally creating a hole or “fistula” in her bladder or rectum. Aside from the physical pain, many also suffer psychological trauma, as they are often shunned by their families and communities due to the foul smell resulting from their injuries. The internationally renowned Hamlin Fistula Foundation says that although this condition was eradicated in the United States over a century ago, more than 2 million women in developing countries still suffer from it today.

USAID is helping more than 1,500 women in Guinea access treatment for fistula and working with communities-women and men, secular and religious leaders-to understand, prevent, and treat fistula while better supporting those who have suffered from it. In addition, USAID is strengthening the national health system by training doctors, nurses, and midwives in fistula prevention and care.

USAID at 50: Improving Health Services in Ethiopia

To commemorate USAID’s 50th anniversary and the concentrated efforts to improve health in Ethiopia, USAID co-sponsored the 2011 annual Every One Campaign Race to raise awareness about maternal and infant mortality rates within the country. While Ethiopia has some of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world, USAID and its partners are working to strengthen health systems, train skilled providers, and expand the coverage of important health services such as vaccinations and pre-natal care. Death rates among children under five have almost halved across the past twenty years.

The event was attended by world long distance record holder Haile GebreSelassie and 2010 New York marathon winner GebreEgzabhir GebreMariam. Festivities included a pre-race concert, entertainment, and even a skit that demonstrated the importance of health care centers as safety mechanisms for mothers and children.

No mother should die giving birth.

All Hands on Open Data: Mapping the Famine

USAID is starting to take a new approach to the data we release – from the types of data we release to the public, to the ways we actually release it.

On Monday we launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and, with it, released a set of open-source maps. Sharing this data in an interactive format allows visitors to our site to visualize the crisis in a whole new way and will in turn, we hope, help to create new ideas and solutions for fighting famine and drought.

Today, we want to highlight some of the ways other organizations have used this data released by USAID.

If you have seen maps of the drought and subsequent famine in the Horn of Africa, including those from our FWD campaign, they probably include color-coded areas that show the extent and severity of crisis. The areas hardest hit by the drought and famine are usually shown in a deep red color and concentrated in southern Somalia, in regions currently inaccessible to humanitarian assistance.  You also may have seen maps showing a decline in vegetation and rainfall levels over the past year.

The files and data used to make many of these maps come from two USAID-funded programs called the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS NET, and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, or FSNAU.  These two early warning systems use various data sources to provide timely and rigorous early warnings to the humanitarian community on emerging and evolving food security issues.

We are pleased to see that many organizations have used this data over the last several months to spread the word about the drought and the millions of people affected.

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Mapping the Famine with Open Data and Open Source Tools

Check out USAID’s new FWD campaign and you will find something that you haven’t seen a lot of on USAID.gov in the past—a suite of interactive maps designed to tell the story of the crisis and the response.

The six maps available now show food insecurity, drought, affected populations, refugee and IDP movements and USAID’s response- all with interactive layers that let you see the details of the crisis. And we are developing more to be released over coming weeks.

The FWD campaign—which stands for Famine, War and Drought—was launched Monday to increase awareness about the devastating drought that has taken hold of the Horn of Africa and is pushing over 13.3 million people into crisis.

This campaign is different than anything USAID has done in the past. With its launch comes a shift in the way that USAID communicates with the American public, and the way we share information.

Through this campaign we are using data as a communications tool—using interactive maps and infographics to visualize the story behind the data. Explaining the crisis in easy to understand ways brings further meaning to the powerful information the humanitarian community collects every day.

But this isn’t just about making maps. It’s also about making data social and making data open.

Which is why we are working to unlock the underlying data sets we used to build the maps and release them in accessible formats, some of which you can find featured on data.gov. It’s also why we built these maps using open source tools and made them as easy to share or embed.

Our challenge now is to enable as many people as possible to leverage this information as we come together to solve these global challenges.

As Administrator Shah said at the Social Good Summit, “By making this story and making the all the data we have accessible, live, and real time that we will unlock a great deal of ingenuity and enterprise in trying to address these problems…. to solve this problem we need more of you engaged. We need you to make this visible.”

Stay tuned as we release more maps and data sets on data.gov in coming weeks. Feel free to embed these on your blog or website. And if you have feedback on stories you would like to see told or data you would like to see shared, email us at FWD@usaid.gov

Learn more at usaid.gov/FWD and usaid.gov/data.

Scaling Up Nutrition: Supporting country-led efforts to promote healthier lives

Through Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative, the U.S. Government supports the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, which helps children in countries like Mozambique maximize their potential by staying healthy. Photo Credit: Kelly Ramundo/USAID.

Back in June, I posted here about the negative impacts of global undernutrition as my colleagues and I prepared for Feed the Future’s agriculture and food security Research Forum in Washington, D.C. This week, as I attend two meetings for the international Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement during U.N. General Assembly week in New York, I’m moved to reflect once again on the issue because, quite frankly, we can’t give it enough attention.

The numbers haven’t changed since my last post, nor should our sense of urgency. The fact remains that two billion people in the world do not consume enough nutrients to live healthy, productive lives; and nearly 200 million children under age 5 suffer from chronic undernutrition. To put that last number into perspective, that’s about 24 times the population of the densely inhabited city where these U.N. meetings are currently taking place. That’s 24 New York Cities full of little children who deserve a better future.

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FWD the Facts about Famine, War, and Drought in the Horn of Africa

As many of you know, the worst drought in 60 years has devastated communities throughout the Horn of Africa, leaving more than 13 million people in a state of crisis—greater than the population of Los Angeles and New York combined.

In Somalia—where twenty years of war and violence has limited humanitarian access and destroyed the country’s ability to respond—the drought has led to an outbreak of famine. According to UNICEF, as a result of this crisis, a child is dying in Somalia every six minutes.

The millions suffering from the effects of this crisis are facing incomprehensible suffering. Left with nothing, many are walking more than 100 miles toward refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Because the crisis in the Horn is so complex and because the scale is so difficult to comprehend, we have not seen people come together to respond in the same way they did after the earthquake in Haiti. Many who do hear about the crisis are left with the impression that we can’t successfully do anything about it.

But I know for a fact that we can fight this famine.  We were fighting it before it started. Through safety net programs, we have helped 7.5 million Ethiopians withstand the worst effects of this drought without the need for humanitarian assistance.

And as a result of Feed the Future investments, we have seen more than a 300 percent increase in grain yields in Western Kenya in just one year, securing the nation’s agricultural backbone and helping lower the price of critical staples throughout the region.

But despite being the single largest donor of assistance in the region, we recognize we cannot fight the famine alone.

That’s why today, I’m announcing the launch of the FWD Campaign—in partnership with the Ad Council—to highlight the uniquely devastating nature of this crisis and to ask people to help spread awareness.

FWD—stands for Famine, War, Drought: the three major crises that have led to this perfect storm of devastation in the Horn of Africa. But it also stands for our call to action—that people get informed, get engaged and forward this information on to their friends and families.

The FWD campaign is our attempt to make our world smaller—to connect people with the clear knowledge and understanding of exactly what is happening in the Horn—and giving them a powerful way to respond.

The campaign has three components. One is an effort that’s centered on using a strong online presence and social media to raise awareness.  If you go to FWD, you’ll see a number of new ways we’re using to inform and engage with people. We’re providing infographics, interactive maps and tool kits that people can use to learn about the crisis in simple, clear ways—and more importantly share that information others.  And we’re partnering with Google, Facebook and Twitter to make sharing this information as easy as searching, updating your status or sending out a tweet.

There’s also a series of Public Service Announcements we’re filming with some key celebrities that will air in major media markets throughout the country. These PSA’s will go up on our Web site, as well as You Tube.

Finally, we’re also launching a text campaign with NGOs that are delivering critical assistance in the Horn.  If you text “GIVE” to 777444, you can donate $10 to famine relief.   To help get the campaign started, General Mills has agreed to match the first 2,000 text donations that come through the FWD campaign, up to $20,000.

But beyond donations, the most powerful contribution people will make will be to share what they learn. I ask that you encourage your friends and families to do more than donate. Have them visit FWD and follow @USAID on Twitter so they can forward the facts.

Horn of Africa Update

Each week USAID produces a fact sheet with updates on the drought in the Horn of Africa.  These fact sheets provide background information about the crisis, key recent developments, data on U.S. humanitarian assistance to the region, and public donation information.

We’ll now be featuring the key developments of the week on our blog as well.   We encourage you to follow along for the latest updates and information relating to the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Key developments

  • The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the Horn of Africa currently stands at 13.3 million—up from 12.4 million at the end of July, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Approximately 750,000 Somalis—including 490,000 in rural areas, primarily in Bay, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, and Bakool regions, and 260,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu and the Afgooye corridor—are reportedly at risk of death during the next four months without sufficient relief, according to the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit–Somalia (FSNAU). Insecurity and lack of humanitarian access continue to significantly constrain relief efforts in southern Somalia. For example, on September 8, armed militia reportedly shut down feeding centers in Lower Shabelle and Gedo regions, denying life-saving assistance to drought-affected populations, according to the U.N.
  • Humanitarian assistance to Somalia in August and September to date has increased significantly since July. In August, humanitarian aid—including assistance sent by many Gulf and Arab countries—arrived in Mogadishu and other parts of southern Somalia by air and sea, according to OCHA. However, the humanitarian community remains particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Bay, Bakool, and Middle Shabelle regions, where access and coverage of humanitarian needs remain the lowest.
  • Despite ongoing relief efforts, food security conditions are expected to deteriorate further in some areas of Somalia over the coming four months. By December, famine may extend to some areas of Gedo, Juba, Middle Shabelle, and Hiran regions, according to USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

Picture of the Week

As universal access to primary education takes shape in South Sudan, families are eager to send their children to school as long as qualified teachers are present. School girls in Nagagwu, Western Equatoria State of South Sudan on September 8, 2011. Photo Credit: Ezra Simon/USAID

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