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Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa

USAID Delivers Materials for Southern Sudan Self-Determination Referendum

One of the highlights of my trip to Sudan last week was seeing all the work we at USAID have been doing to help southern Sudan prepare for its historic referendum on self-determination. Voting is due to start January 9, 2011.

Despite initial delays as the parties to Sudan’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement put in place the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) in Khartoum and Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau (SSRB) in Juba and established their operating procedures, preparations for the referendum are now in full swing on an extremely compressed timeline.  Our dedicated team of electoral experts, including both USAID Mission staff and an experienced team from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, have been working day and night with the SSRC and SSRB (which are in charge of the referendum) to plan and assist in carrying out this historic event.  We have also been working closely with the international community, particularly the United Nations, to ensure timely and coordinated efforts to support the referendum process.

U.S. Government and United Nations representatives in Khartoum on October 30 hand over to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) materials for southern Sudan’s January 2011 self-determination referendum.  From left:  U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration; USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa Larry Garber; UN Development Program Resident Representative Claudio Caldarone; SSRC Chairman Professor Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil; UN Integrated Referendum and Electoral Division Director Denis K. Kadima; Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Jasbir Lidder.  Credit:  Jim Parys/USAID

Working with the Sudanese, we are playing a key role by providing technical and material assistance, and have provided significant funding to international and domestic groups to both educate voters and ensure credible observation of the referendum.

On October 30, I witnessed a key milestone in this effort—we and our UN partners handed over more than 3,000 registration kits and training materials necessary for voter registration, which is due to start November 15.   Along with me and our Sudan team was U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan General Scott Gration; Mr. Jasbir Lidder, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General; and SSRC Chairman Professor Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil.

From all the participants, I heard words of gratitude for our support.  Mr. Lidder characterized the delivery of referendum materials as the “first fruits of our cooperation,” recognizing that much more effort is still required to ensure a credible referendum process.  Most encouraging to me was the presence of Professor Khalil, who described the registration process as “this complex task for this important event to allow all eligible southern voters—even those living in the north—to participate in this decision on the future for all southern citizens.”

Mapping Effort Will Paint Picture of African Youth

How does Africa’s growing youth population spend its time? How do they interact with society? What services do they use—and what services do they need? These are just a few of the questions a new USAID-funded assessment hopes to answer in the coming years.

A peer educator talks with Tanzanian youth about HIV/AIDS prevention.Photo Credit: IYF

The population of Africa is ballooning, expected to double to two billion people by 2050. This phenomenal trend is going to drive much of everything else in Africa over the next two generations in Africa—conflict, demand for school, healthcare, food, and water, and the ability of these countries to develop responsive democratic institutions.

With support from USAID, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) is launching a major assessment that will capture a comprehensive picture of the lives of young people in eight African countries—Angola, Ghana, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. “This is a terrific opportunity for us to dig deeper into how young people across Africa view their lives and what kinds of skills or opportunities they think they need to be successful,” said IYF President and CEO William S. Reese.

The $10-million YouthMap program will survey both in- and out-of-school, employed and unemployed youth, and investigate opportunities and challenges related to youth development in areas like education, livelihoods, economic growth, health, democracy, and governance. Complementing the assessment, the YouthMap Innovation Fund will support pilot activities based on the findings, test promising practices, support the transfer of results and experiences to stakeholders across participating countries, and scale up interventions in education and employability.

YouthMap is part of a larger USAID-funded program that is operating in Jordan, Latin America, the Caribbean, Mexico, Morocco, and the Palestinian

USAID Responds to Massive Flooding in Benin

More than 100,000 Beninese have been made homeless due to massive flooding caused by the country’s worst rains in a half century. According to the United Nations, 360,000 people have been affected, while 50,000 homes and 276 schools have been flooded or destroyed. In this Pennsylvania-sized west African country of 9 million people, the effects have been devastating.

On October 26, flood victims from Vekky village in Sô Ava county are transported to a safe site on the premises of the county council, where they can receive USAID-funded relief. Photo Credit: Simplice Takoubo/USAID

After the U.S. Embassy declared a disaster, USAID responded immediately, granting Catholic Relief Services $50,000 to purchase and distribute water storage units and water purification kits to flood victims in Sô Ava county—one of the worst affected areas that has been under water since the beginning of September. This assistance will provide 3,000 people with clean drinking water for three months, a crucial step in preventing the emergence and spread of disease.

USAID also donated plastic sheeting that will be used to construct 1,700 emergency family shelters and will soon provide an additional grant of $1.5 million to assist families in resuming their livelihoods and to help communities rehabilitate their infrastructure.

Throughout the disaster, USAID has been closely coordinating with the United Nations and the Government of Benin to ensure that aid is coordinated and reaches those most in need.

From the Field

In Ghana, media will cover Phase One of the Integrated Coastal and Fisheries Governance (ICFG) program.  The ICFG Program is a four-year program seeking to pilot strategies and actions to sustainably manage resources in the fishing sector, in relation to food security and the Feed the Future initiative in six coastal districts of the Western Region of Ghana.  The proposed activities include interviews with implementing partners and fishermen in communities in Aboadze/Bosumtwi Sam Harbor, Axim Landing and Assini Landing over a two-day period.

In Washington, DC on October 28th, we will support the Indian Diaspora – People to People Conference at the State Department.  Dr. Shah will be providing keynote remarks and Dr. Rushna Ravji (USAID/Global Health) will be leading a panel discussion on Health.

In Burkina Faso, The U.S. Ambassador and Burkina Faso’s Minister of Commerce and Industry will open a week-long series of seminars on increasing the competitiveness of West African handcrafts producers and exporters. SIAO is the world’s largest African handcrafts fair and connects more than 6,000 artisans from across the continent to professional buyers from around the world. Competing successfully in world markets requires sophisticated business knowledge and know-how, which USAID is providing during these workshops.

Ethiopia Partners with the U.S. to Put Girls’ Education First

First Lady Azeb Mesfin has been steadfast in her determination to collaborate with USAID on the award of scholarships to meritorious girls who would otherwise have to drop out of school. So it gives me great pleasure to participate in the signing of this agreement on behalf of the American people, to provide FreAddis the means to benefit over 1,000 female students.

USAID Ethiopia Mission Director Thomas Staal, First Lady Azeb Mesfin, and US Ambassador Donald Booth participate in an event sponsored by FreAddis. Photo credit: USAID

Education is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and all its trappings: hunger, disease, resource degradation, exploitation, and despair. Women are the caretakers and economic catalysts in our communities. No country can afford to ignore their potential. We all know women whose lives were transformed through education and who in turn transformed the lives of those around them.

I am pleased to welcome FreAddis as our newest partner in the education sector where we are working with the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of teaching and classroom materials for the greatly expanded numbers of children in primary schools all over the country. FreAddis hopes to eventually expand its reach and support to girls nationwide through funds donated by Ethiopians here and throughout the Diaspora.

In the future we hope to collaborate with more local institutions enabling them to carry out their missions and to make best use of the opportunities provided by the U.S. Government.

Southern Sudan’s Wildlife Thrives

Many readers of this month’s National Geographic magazine were surprised to find that the world’s second largest—possibly even the largest—wildlife migration travels through the formerly war-torn region of southern Sudan. According to a USAID-supported study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the annual movement of the white-eared kob—a type of antelope—through Sudan’s Boma-Jonglei landscape rivals the famed wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. Despite two decades of a brutal civil war, the area has become a thriving habitat for an amazing diversity of familiar African wildlife, like elephants, giraffes, lions, and buffalo, as well as lesser known species, like the tiang and Mongalla gazelle.

Staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Government of Southern Sudan Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism collar an adult male elephant with GPS satellite tag in Nimule Park in southern Sudan. Photo Credit: Paul Elkan, WCS

WCS had surveyed southern Sudan’s wildlife in 1982, but by the time the war ended in 2005, no one knew how many animals remained. After seeing wildlife populations devastated by the wars in Angola and Mozambique, many scientists assumed the worst. WCS teamed up with USAID, the Government of Southern Sudan, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the damage—and were amazed at what they found. “I have never seen wildlife in such numbers, not even when flying over the mass migrations of the Serengeti,” said J. Michael Fay, a WCS field scientist and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who conducted the surveys. Fay said that the numbers of wildlife they found were akin to a gold miner who “found El Dorado.”

So how did these animals survive? It seems that the isolation brought on by the conflict actually ended up protecting the animals. National Geographic explains:

As bombs and land mines exploded, humans who didn’t flee into surrounding countries hid in the bush. So did elephants and other migratory beasts; some fell to hunters, but many evaded gunfire by finding refuge in hard-to-reach places. They became, in the minds of the southern Sudanese, fellow displaced victims of war…. Soldiers hunted and ate the animals, but they also had rules: They would not shoot males, and they would try to avoid hunting any species to extinction.

Today, as Sudan prepares for its January referenda on self-determination, there is a critical window to take action to ensure that southern Sudan’s future development plans protect the region’s stunning biodiversity and prioritize natural resource management.

Check out the amazing photos of Sudan’s wildlife on the National Geographic website.

Related: National Geographic featured a story on Madagascar’s environment in its September 2010 issue that highlighted many of the findings in the USAID-funded report: Paradise Lost? Lessons from 25 Years of Environment Programs in Madagascar.

A Development Outreach and Communication Specialist from the Field Visits Washington

What an exciting experience it was! I was nervous when taking my first ever flight to the USA, even more nervous when I was ushered into the Legislative and Public Affairs (LPA) Office of USAID for a three-day assignment. However, it took me just a few minutes to feel fully empowered and on board the LPA and the Africa Bureau train – office space assigned, quick access to my USAID account, tour of the LPA to get to know the offices and the staff. Attending the USAID Senior Communications Group Meeting and being recognized by Administrator Shah and Moira Whelan, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, during an Award Ceremony are not things that happen every day and the same day in a Development Outreach and Communication Specialist’s (DOC) life, an Foreign Service National DOC’s life. A strong message of recognition and empowerment for the entire DOC community from the USAID senior leadership!

Moussa Doumbia, a DOC from Mali visits the Washington headquarters of USAID. Photo Credit: Laura Rodriguez/USAID

On my arrival, things went so fast and so smooth that I wondered: ‘’Why did it take so long to make the move to see my dream come true?’’ A widespread saying in my Malian helmet then crossed my mind: ‘’better late than never’.

The most memorable days in my DOC career are these three days I spent at USAID HQs from October 6 through 8, 2010, navigating between the LPA and the Africa Bureau. Nothing else could have brought as much insight to a DOC function as meeting face to face with the Agency communicators we deal with from the field office and attaching the names to their jovial faces.

What will make a huge difference in my way of doing business from a DOC perspective are the Senior Communications Group Meeting I attended, meetings with Moira and the DOC Team, Luigi Crespo on protocol and event planning, the social media folks (video, facebook, twitter and flicker), the Press Officers, the Frontlines and Telling Our Story staff, the Photo Gallery, the Africa Bureau Communicators and the Mali Desk Officer. This is an experience I could never have gained without coming down here.  I encourage fellow DOCs to consider a tour in LPA for a similar exposure

Food Voucher Program Will Assist Sudanese Families

Most U.S. food assistance to Sudan is “in-kind” aid—food that is grown by farmers in the United States, purchased on the open market, then shipped to Sudan. Voucher programs, on the other hand, offer an alternative and complementary approach that gives families access to foods they are already familiar with and boosts local economic activity. Recently, USAID awarded its first grant for a food voucher program in Sudan, a landmark initiative that will nourish hungry families by lowering the cost of life-saving foods already available in local markets.

Food aid being distributed in Darfur, Sudan, earlier this year. Photo: Rebecca Dobbins/USAID

This grant, awarded to the World Food Program (WFP), provides more than $2.25 million for food vouchers that will be distributed to 129,000 people affected by drought in North Kordofan and North Darfur through the end of the year. Using vouchers worth $8 to $20, families can select a minimum of three food items from approved merchants, alleviating some of the hardship brought on by seasonal drought.

Overall in 2010, USAID has provided $404 million in food aid to 6.1 million food-insecure people in Sudan.

From the Field

In Madagascar, as part of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), we will launch an indoor residual spraying campaign (IRS).  The campaign will cover 16 districts in Madagascar, including 6 in the central highlands, and 10 in the northwest and southwest. IRS involves the coordinated, timely spraying of the inside walls of houses with insecticides. Mosquitoes are killed when they land on these sprayed walls, reducing malaria transmission.

In Senegal, a report of a study on the Feminization of HIV/AIDS in Senegal will be released.  According to the 2008 United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) report, approximately two women are HIV positive for every HIV-positive man. This feminization of the epidemic is a sharp shift from the beginning of the epidemic, when the numbers of HIV-positive men were higher. Women 25 to 29 years of age now have the highest prevalence of any age group at 1.5 percent, according to the 2005 Senegal Demographic and Health Survey (SDHS), with the next highest group, men 35 to 39 years of age, at 0.7 percent.

In Zimbabwe, we will launch the Promoting Recovery in Zimbabwe (PRIZE) Consortium.  The PRIZE consortium is an initiative funded through the Food for Peace program to address the acute relief and recovery needs of Zimbabweans arising from economic, political and environmental shocks that have plagued Zimbabwe.  It provides emergency food aid and seeks to improve long term food security through agricultural program and development of community skills.

Maternal Health Matters to Everyone

The maternal mortality rate in northern Nigeria is one of the highest in the world. In Bauchi State, women bear an average of eight children in their lifetimes, yet only 45 percent of them receive prenatal care. Less than 1 percent of Bauchi’s children under age one are fully immunized. Bauchi is one of the last places where the wild polio virus is still a threat. And the average person living in Bauchi experiences two malaria episodes a year—with pregnant women and small children affected the most.

Traditonal and religious leaders in Bauchi State meet with officials to explore how leaders can work with government to improve community health care. Photo Credit: USAID/ Nigeria

Overcoming the extraordinary health challenges for women and children requires commitment and partnership at all levels, particularly with traditional and religious leaders, who can use their trust and authority to change health behavior.

USAID’s Targeted States High Impact Project (TSHIP), a five-year maternal, child, reproductive health and family planning initiative, is engaging traditional and religious leaders to change community behaviors and perceptions about health care. TSHIP strengthens community-based organizations, making them more responsive to the basic health requirements of members of their communities, especially women and children. TSHIP collaborated with the Bauchi government to host a two-day meeting to enable these leaders to discuss with health officials how they can improve health outcomes in their communities. The group explored issues such as the health status of girls and women, birth spacing options, and the importance of children receiving immunizations on schedule.

Change is never quick or easy; but because traditional and religious leaders have longstanding relationships with their communities based on trust, they are in a strong position to help overcome the cultural barriers preventing health-seeking behavior.

Traditional and religious leaders are now engaged in improving community health through advocacy. Interestingly, the meeting also illuminated that the concept of safe motherhood is entrenched in Islamic tradition that states that the shortest period between the births of two babies should be two years, and women are advised to breastfeed for two years. This changed many attendees’ perceptions, and leaders acknowledged that women should be empowered to seek medical services when needed.

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