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USAID in the Middle East: Using Data to Improve Regional Water Management (Part 1)

Note: This is the first post in a 4-part series. Read part two,  part three and part four.

Few places are drier than the Middle East and North Africa. Host to 5 percent of the world’s population, the region has only 1 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. Population growth and increasing demands for food, housing and jobs place extreme pressures on water resources, raising the potential for conflict within and between countries. Climate change could make a challenging situation worse.

The first step for effective water decision-making is data – understanding the location, availability and quality of water resources. To be effective, water management decisions need to be grounded in the best information available. However, political and economic constraints often mean that decisions affecting water use in the region rely upon outdated or inaccurate information.

Making use of NASA satellite data, USAID helps the region’s water managers understand and plan for current and future water needs. This land cover map of northern Tunisia was derived using USAID supported remote sensing and modeling tools. Photo Credit: International Center for Biosaline Agriculture

USAID is working to put accurate data – and the know-how to interpret them – into the hands of the region’s water decision-makers. Since many in the region access shared water resources we are also promoting international cooperation and data sharing toward effective regional water management. Our Middle East Regional Cooperation program (MERC), for example, brings together teams of Arab and Israeli scientists to address common development problems.

This series profiles several initiatives focused on data, technology, cooperation and decision-making. Last year’s World Water Day edition of Global Waters portrayed others.

USAID’s work around the region has helped to improve water and wastewater services available to the region’s citizens, lessen the potential for water-related conflicts, encourage cooperation and increase the region’s ability to adapt to climate change and maintain food security. Water plays a central role in every country’s development. Its availability and quality can hinder or accelerate socio-economic progress. As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in her 2012 World Water Day speech, “the water crisis is a health crisis, it’s a farming crisis, it’s an economic crisis, it’s a climate crisis, and increasingly, it is a political crisis.  And therefore, we must have an equally comprehensive response.”

Effective water decisions require accurate data. Using science and technology to improve water decision-making, USAID is helping the region to overcome scarcity, and ensure that water serves as a catalyst for sustainable development.

Regional: In Jordan and Elsewhere

Effective water management requires a regional approach. Water does not necessarily abide by the man-made lines drawn across the sand marking today’s international borders. Rather, it flows – above and below ground – along lines understood by geographers, not those drawn by cartographers. Therefore a transboundary approach, informed by accurate water resources data and decision-making tools, is essential. USAID has taken the lead in making available U.S. satellite data and remote sensing capabilities to key regional water decision-makers.

Joining forces with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the World Bank, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), and national agencies in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, USAID has developed a suite of advanced land surface models to provide regional scale hydrological data relevant to water resource planning and management. Satellite data is verified by local government measurements and fed into analytical models to turn raw data into decision-support tools.

“The overarching goal of these projects is to improve the data available to researchers and decision makers and help foster a culture of data-informed water resources policy and management,” said Mark Peters, USAID’s Regional Water Advisor.  ”USAID is playing an important role in making the most of increasingly scarce regional water resources around the Middle East. Our programs demonstrate the importance of science and technology in water resources decision-making, using data and decision-support tools to make optimal use of water resources and mitigate against water-related conflict.”

For example, in Jordan, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, USAID is working closely with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) to ground-truth NASA satellite data. The detailed satellite information on groundwater levels and vegetative cover are used in conjunction with population statistics and measures of water levels in wells throughout Jordan to enable NASA and USAID scientists to accurately track water levels in aquifers throughout the country. Making use of this resource, USAID and the MWI are able to improve water resource planning efforts, and avoid the over-depletion of key aquifers.

Models indicate that certain aquifers are at risk of over-depletion, and as a result USAID and MWI have redoubled efforts to reduce agricultural water use in these areas. Such findings are reinforced by cooperation between Jordanian scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey evaluating groundwater level and salinity trends around the country. Data produced as a result of this cooperation help prioritize locations for groundwater management, provide a baseline for evaluating impacts of the reduction of over-pumping, and increase public awareness of groundwater trends. “There is severe over extraction of the highlands aquifers,” argues MWI Secretary-General Basem Telfah. “With new information coming from both our well and satellite monitoring systems, it is very clear that Jordanians have to act quickly to change agricultural practices.”

Sound water management begins with good data provision. Groundwater resources are under increasing pressure in the MENA region, and declining levels in many aquifers highlight the need for careful future management. Given the growing and diverse needs for water, decision-makers need to understand current resource limits and the impacts of future policies as they balance competing demands. The United States is a leader in using satellite data and remote sensing technologies to inform water decision-making. We are making available these powerful tools around the arid Middle East as the countries of the region chart their own hydraulic future.

Read other blog posts in this series:

 

How a New USAID Was Born

Dave Eckerson serves as Counselor at USAID

Reflecting on the launch of the USAID Forward Progress Report today, I am reminded of the Mission Director’s Conference held four years ago in Leesburg when we all met Raj Shah for the first time. He had been nominated to be USAID’s administrator, but not confirmed, and his visit to our conference was unofficial—and under the radar of the press. I was mission director in Uganda at the time. And as the nearly 70 of us representing every mission in the world met the man who was about to lead us, the energy was palpable, his questions were many, and we were all impressed.

He had a vision to make USAID the best development agency in the world. He projected an aura of confidence that it could be done. And most important, with respect and humility, he said he couldn’t do it alone. He needed us to tell him how.

Raj left that night, and the next day we threw out the agenda the conference planners had painstakingly developed. Instead, we spent the day developing an agenda for action to present to our new administrator to restore the Agency’s place as the premier development agency in the world.

For all of us, the agenda was grounded in what we learned when we entered the Agency. Be focused and rigorous in what we do and what we don’t do. Develop strategic plans that explain country context, define development objectives, and describe intended results from our assistance. Work directly with host governments and local organizations. Build their capacity to govern and deliver services. Innovate. Use cutting-edge science and technology to enhance our efforts. Be rigorous in our evaluation and monitoring. Share the findings widely to improve what we do, and stop re-inventing wheels that keep falling off wagons. And finally, have enough staff to do the job ourselves, and not rely on hired guns.

I was a member of the group that took our agenda to Raj in his office at the Department of Agriculture the next week. We presented it to him, he asked a lot of questions, and as we left, we all felt he got it.

I returned to Uganda and spent the last three years implementing the agenda that became USAID Forward. We developed the first country development cooperation strategy in the Agency. We focused our resources on clearly defined objectives and results. Reforms in Washington led to major changes in the ways we could do business in the field.

We realized after a rigorous analysis (that we did ourselves) the key focus of our proposed value-chain work in coffee, corn and beans was already being done under a joint European program. Rather than duplicate their work, and pay overhead on a USAID program, we used newly issued procedures to award $20 million to the joint European program. Under the agreement we defined clear measures of performance and accountability. And by doing so, we saved both time and resources.

After two years of implementation, private farmers and farmer organizations are obtaining remarkable yields and services. In a similar vein, DFID recognized the success of our extremely effective reproductive health program and gave us $30 million to extend the program to every district in the country. Again, the USAID Forward reforms radically simplified the way we do business, and allowed us to double the resources we had in an existing grant (without excessive red-tape and bureaucratic delays) to provide family planning services throughout a country with one of the highest population growth rates in the world.

More than anything else, I was awed by the influx of new talent in the Agency under the reform effort. Our U.S. direct hire staff grew by a third during my tenure in Uganda, and the diversity, incredible energy, and talent they brought changed our culture and way of life. We mentored, managed, and watched them grow into remarkably gifted and capable officers. In turn, they taught us the power of mobile technologies. They showed us the reach of their insight, creativity, and new ways of looking at development challenges.

Today the USAID Forward Progress Report tallies up what we have learned and done as an Agency. We have had success. We have had challenges. There is a long way to go to reach our topline indicators.

But, I can assure you one thing. The spirit of USAID Forward is in the hearts and minds of everyone in the Agency. For me, the reforms are in the rearview mirror, and they are leading us to the lane ahead. They are our new reality…and as we take up the president’s call to end extreme poverty in a generation, they will be on the horizon as well.

Take a look at an infographic that illustrates the USAID model of development that puts us on a path to deliver more innovative and sustainable results.

Asking the Right Research Questions to Achieve Global Health Goals

This blog is part of the Global Health Research & Development Blog Series.

Asking the right questions is the first step to generating the ‘downstream’ evidence needed for the implementation of health policies and practices, as my colleague E. Callie Raulfs-Wang described in her March 12 blog. And fostering the right partnerships is crucial to determining the right questions. Partnerships facilitate operations research, or the testing of scalable solutions that overcome barriers to access, demand, and quality in real world settings. Investing in operations research to accelerate results is also a key strategy in the Global Roadmap of the Child Survival Call to Action. This pledge, signed by more than 160 governments, renewed their commitment to child survival and to eliminating all preventable child mortality in two decades, as USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah explained.

A thriving Ethiopian child. Photo credit: Nazo Kureshy

USAID’s Child Survival and Health Grants Program (CSHGP) supports new operations research partnerships among non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia, and ministries of health to generate evidence about how to solve critical challenges in the implementation and scale-up of high impact maternal, newborn, and child health interventions. By working in partnership with ministries of health, studies are designed to meet the ministries’ expressed needs for evidence that would strengthen their systems. Solutions are tailored to local contexts, with relevance to global implementation challenges, such as how best to: integrate services within and across sectors; improve the continuum of care to maximize access and lower costs; ensure equity in access to health information and appropriate use of services; and strengthen systems’ capacity for accountability to communities.

As USAID’s Jim Shelton commented in Nature magazine this year, promoting health literacy for preventive health behaviors such as handwashing and breastfeeding, and deploying community-based interventions for services and health education, are among the priority public health approaches needed now for universal access to health.

Some questions that must be addressed in order to operationalize these approaches include:

  • How can community health workers (CHWs) more effectively reach households with timely information, case management, and referral?
  • What are effective models for partnerships between health care providers and community agents/traditional caregivers to improve the continuum of care and increase demand for services through culturally appropriate and respectful care?
  • How can data collected by communities be used as a communication and planning tool to improve the quality of care and accountability?

The answers to these questions would facilitate the research goals of integrated maternal and newborn health, child health, and nutrition, as outlined in USAID’s Report to Congress: Health-Related Research and Development Strategy. As stated in the research goals for health systems strengthening (HSS), “Ensuring equitable access to high-quality essential health services requires an increase in the evidence base on how to best implement HSS interventions and promote uptake of best practices.” These partnerships have the potential to achieve more than the sum of their parts by bringing together perspectives and skills that yield rigorous, relevant, and practical evidence.

At this year’s Global Maternal Health Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, presenters from CSHGP’s NGO partners in Peru, Liberia, Pakistan and Ecuador shared experiences on bridging the gap between communities and health systems to meet the maternal and newborn health needs of their most vulnerable populations . These research projects are helping ministries of health learn how best to operationalize and improve current policies on providing culturally competent, respectful care, and are testing new systems for overcoming geographic and financial barriers to safe childbirth. These partnerships are meeting the evidence needs of ministries of health that are striving to implement policies that make access to care more equitable.

To learn more about some of these 30 research partnerships in 23 countries check out this brief (PDF).

Read other posts in the Global Health Research & Development Blog Series:

Follow USAID Global Health on Facebook and Twitter (@USAIDGH).

 

USAID Answers President’s Call to End Extreme Poverty

Rajiv Shah serves as Administrator at USAID.

Earlier this year, in the State of the Union address, President Obama called upon us to join the world in ending extreme poverty in the next two decades. It was an extraordinary moment, as the President set forth a vision for one of the greatest contributions to human progress in history.

The truth is that many people don’t realize that this goal is within our reach. I often find myself battling the perception that politics today cannot support great moral aspirations or that government cannot usher in innovative, cost-effective ways of achieving those goals.

But in my last three years as Administrator, I’ve seen just the opposite. From a church in inner-city Detroit that looks after an orphanage in Ghana to the nationwide response after the Haiti earthquake, I’ve seen the depth of passion and support that Americans have for our work. And at a time of seemingly uncompromising politics, I’ve seen leaders from both sides of the aisle stand together as champions for this global task.

Today, I am pleased to share with you our third annual letter about the work our Agency does around the world to help answer President Obama’s call.

From the Afghanistan to Ethiopia, we are building on this support and a foundation of reform to pioneer a new model of development that engages talent and innovation everywhere to achieve extraordinary goals. So for this year’s letter, we’ve gathered a few examples that focus on the capacity of partnerships to maximize our impact and scale meaningful results. From partnering with small community banks in the Philippines to local imams in northern Nigeria to multinational agriculture companies in Tanzania, we are trying to change the way development works to achieve extraordinary goals.

We’re excited about our progress, but we also know we have far to go to make this model a defining part of the way we work. I am eager to hear your thoughts and reactions, and I look forward to working with you to advance our mission and realize the end of extreme poverty.

USAID in the News

On Friday, March 8, USAID joined in celebrating International Women’s Day here in Washington, D.C., Ghana and around the world. At the Duffor R. A Primary School in Ghana, USAID, in-collaboration with the Ghana Education Service, celebrated International Women’s Day with students, teachers, and assembly members under the theme “A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Gender Based Violence in School,” Business Ghana reports.

USAID celebrates International Women’s Day. Photo credit: USAID

In response to the March 5 front page story in the Washington Post, “Project’s Key Step is Left to Afghans,” Alex Thier, assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, wrote a letter to the editor which appeared in Sunday’s paper. The letter challenges the article’s claim that USAID is “walking away” or “scaling back” efforts to complete the Kajaki Dam, but in fact USAID is tapping into the “increased capacity of the Afghans to take on responsibility for their own economic and social development.”

Why Institution Building in the West Bank is Critical for a Palestinian State

Mara Rudman serves as assistant administrator for the Middle East.

I recently spoke on a panel about U.S. support to Palestinian institution building at the 2013 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. The conference draws about 12,000 community and student activists from all 50 states, as well as many Israeli and American policymakers and thought leaders each year.

Speaking at the conference provided an excellent opportunity to discuss the importance of U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its key role as part of the two-track U.S. approach to Middle East peace. This approach couples resumed political negotiations to establish a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel with support for Palestinian institution-building so that the new state has the capacity to govern its people justly and provide needed services from its first day.

The United States is the leading provider of bilateral assistance to the Palestinians. We are working closely with the Palestinians to help them build the governance structures and the economy of a future state. We do this by working with all levels of government, with the private sector and with civil society. And we do so in a way that benefits not just Palestinians, but Israelis as well. From developing water infrastructure to connecting Palestinian ICT firms with Israeli companies to working with the justice sector on critical rule of law matters, we are bringing together Palestinians and Israelis to address important issues of mutual concern.

USAID and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) deliver food and other necessities to families in Hebron. Photo credit: USAID

Our work with the PA helps it deliver basic services to the Palestinian people. Since 1994 the United States has helped the Palestinian health system offer improved emergency services, enhanced diagnosis and treatment, and improved administration including an integrated health information system; and ensured that more than a million Palestinians had access to clean drinking water. When people see that their public institutions work—when a village gets piped water for the first time or a businessman interacts with a well-trained broker who makes the customs process easier—this helps build confidence in the institutions of government.

This work is helping to build a more democratic, stable and secure region, which benefits Palestinians, Israelis and Americans. The interest shown by the people who came up to me following the presentation who wanted to engage further was inspiring.  It  demonstrated  the value in USAID continuing to share  the story of our support for Palestinian institution building, as one part of the two-track approach, that coupled with resumed political negotiations, can help lead to the establishment  a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.

Innovation That’s Making a Difference: Integrated Pest Management in South Asia

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog.

The Hon. Marty McVey is a member, appointed by the U.S. president, of USAID’s Board for International Food and Agricultural Development(BIFAD). The BIFAD advises and makes recommendations to the USAID Administrator on food security, development efforts, and implementation of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. It also monitors progress. During his second trip in January with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab: Collaborative Research on Integrated Pest Management (formerly the Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program), McVey visited food security projects in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. India is a strategic partner with Feed the Future, and Bangladesh and Nepal are Feed the Future focus countries. We asked McVey a few questions about his visit and the exciting collaborations and progress he observed.

Marty McVey learns more about the IPM Innovation Lab’s work in tomato grafting with Rangaswamy Muniappan of Virginia Tech. Photo credit: Marty McVey

First, tell us a little about your trip. Where did you go and why were you there?

I accompanied a team of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab personnel from Virginia Tech, Penn State, and the Ohio State University to South Asia to review the activities of the IPM Innovation Lab in this part of the world. I attended workshops, regional planning meetings, toured facilities of private sector and NGO partners), and met with U.S. Ambassadors, USAID Mission directors, partner scientists, farmers, and members of farming cooperatives in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

The purpose of my trip was to see how Feed the Future’s goals are being accomplished, particularly through the work of the IPM Innovation Lab with its many partners and programs in South Asia. What I learned was encouraging.

Who did you spend time with during the trip? How did you see various food security actors, particularly from the research community, interacting and working together to achieve Feed the Future goals on the ground? 

In Bangladesh, scientists from all three countries I visited, as well as representatives from USAID and The World Vegetable Center, attended a regional planning meeting for the IPM Innovation Lab’s Southeast Asia project. Interaction among scientists from the United States and host countries was lively and facilitated collaboration.

While visiting with the vice chancellor of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India and our partnering scientists at that institution, I observed their strong commitment to working with us to foster increased use of organic farming methods.

In India, scientists from Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, and Guatemala—supported by Feed the Future through  the IPM Innovation Lab—attended a biocontrol workshop centered on the use of Tricoderma (a beneficial fungus used to attack fungi with deleterious effects) and Pseudomonas (a beneficial bacterium). Each of the scientists gave a presentation on the work they were doing in their home country. Through this kind of support, Feed the Future is exponentially expanding its impact and providing opportunities for scientists to learn new techniques. Those scientists then return home and share what they’ve learned, which translates to better in-country capacity.

The IPM Innovation Lab has also partnered with the Biocontrol Research Lab, a private company in India that produces biocontrol products to help farmers safely grow highly productive crops.

Through this partnership, farmers can learn about the benefits of using biocontrol methods to control pests and plant diseases and with the increased income they generate through these methods they are able to expand their use of such products. Companies find a viable niche in the economy. Everybody wins: Farmers increase their incomes without depleting or harming the soil and environment, companies are successful, and local communities have more and healthier produce to buy and consume. Public-private partnerships like this are helping to ensure that food security efforts in India are sustainable.

In each country I visited, the USAID Missions were pleased with the work of the IPM Innovation Lab and expressed that IPM Innovation Lab efforts are helping to achieve impact in advancing food security. In Bangladesh and Nepal, they are working to implement IPM packages (a set of techniques designed for a particular crop) in Feed the Future target regions.

What impact did you see the IPM Innovation Lab having? How was it making a difference? 

In Nepal, pheromone trap technology introduced by the IPM Innovation Lab is helping coffee producers manage the white stem borer of coffee, a serious pest in the region. Classical biocontrol of the papaya mealybug, thanks to an IPM Innovation Lab initiative, has restored production of papaya, mulberry, cassava, eggplant, and other crops to the pre-incidence level in southern India. And in Bangladesh, the IPM Innovation Lab helped successfully reverse the decline in eggplant production, a staple crop, by introducing eggplant grafting in 2004 to combat bacterial wilt. The farmers were very appreciative of this initiative.

The adoption of Trichoderma and Pseudomonas in vegetable farming in India is extensive. In Bangladesh, Trichoderma is produced with compost and distributed to farmers. The adoption of culture to attract and kill the melon fly on bitter gourd farms in Bangladesh is also very popular. The popularization of Trichoderma throughout the tropical world is spectacular and should be continued as it makes such a difference in the lives of smallholder farmers.

From your tweets, it looks like you spent some time with smallholder farmers. How was the IPM Innovation Lab working with them, particularly women farmers? What did the farmers have to say?

There are many success stories coming out of these countries regarding integrated pest management (IPM) thanks to the involvement of the IPM Innovation Lab. The farmers themselves are perhaps the most inspiring.

One of the biggest stories for me was my colleague’s account of a visit to a village near Kathmandu, Nepal. In this small village, women have been so successful at using IPM techniques that they are able to buy clothes for their children, pay for more schooling for them, and even build houses with the extra income they generate.

At another farmers’ cooperative, I learned that while it only has 27 members, 500 people benefit from the work of the organization. A woman sits at the head of this group. The members of this organization are able to make small loans to other members, allowing them to buy materials for building greenhouses, drip irrigation systems, sticky traps, or pheromones. All of this is allowing women farmers to sustainably grow more and healthier produce.

At a coffee plantation in Nepal I heard this story repeated: “Ninety percent of the beans that we grow are of better quality since we started using IPM tehniques,” one woman said. And I learned from our collaborating partner in Nepal, iDE, that it focuses on working with women because they’re more reliable and committed than the men, and they are also better savers. [continued]

Read the rest of the post. View photos from McVey’s trip.

Follow Marty Mcvey on Twitter.

Women Working in Innovation is Not Rocket Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is ”Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Le-Marie Thompson, from Bowie, Md., won a first place prize of $5,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company. Photo credit: Le-Marie Thompson

My product concept is an electronic component validation tool that companies can use when developing new products. The web-based tool would allow companies to verify if the microelectronic components they source from suppliers are produced using conflict minerals –minerals that are mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. This concept came to being while I was making a decision to change my life path. For over nine years I worked in the telecommunications industry, supporting the development of products and services that solved numerous business challenges.  However, I was restless and could not figure out why. One day in the spring of 2012, I decided that it was time for me to leave my corporate job and figure out something else to do – something that I could be passionate about while still utilizing my skills and experience. I did not know what that would be, but I knew I needed to clear my head first. So I packed up a few things and headed to India to volunteer with street children in New Delhi teaching math, science and English. I came back from India with a renewed sense of the things I cared about when I was a kid – fixing problems and serving others. Those two interests lead me to explore world challenges that may have technical solutions. The first of those challenges I decided to tackle was the issue of conflict minerals being used in electronic components.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Some of the major challenges that I have faced have been internal ones, mainly self-doubt and lack of confidence. My challenges with these emotions hindered me in taking the leaps I wanted to earlier in my career. At that time, I did not have the courage to be bold enough to share my ideas with others. Another challenge I had was accepting that I was a risk taker because in my mind, risk takers did not look like me. As a woman from a conservative immigrant background, I am supposed to be the type that plays it safe. But it helps to have a good support system of fellow entrepreneurs that push– those that encourage me to experiment and make mistakes quickly, so that I can continue to innovate.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the fields of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Organizations can encourage more women to enter these fields by not making it so complicated. Yes, some of what’s done in these fields is technically rocket science, but the disciplines of science and technology do not need to be placed on an unattainable pedestal.   It is not a monumental feat being a woman in these disciplines; in all professional disciplines, there are ups and downs, a core knowledge needs to be gained, and experience comes with time. Earlier exposure to science and technology, like with many other disciplines, will give women more opportunities to see if these fields fits in their life paths. Additionally, organizations should consider moving beyond a “build it and they will come” mentality to a “feed them and they will grow” philosophy.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company.

Saving Mothers: A New Initiative to Address Maternal Mortality

This originally appeared on Smart Global Health

“In Zambia, when women have delivered, we say ‘Oh, you have survived.’” This chilling reminder of the impact of maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa came from Professor Elwyn Chomba, a Zambian government public health official interviewed by CSIS for a new video about the challenges of maternal mortality and a new initiative to address it.

Pregnancy-related deaths remain an acute problem in many places, despite overall global declines in rates of maternal mortality. Every day, nearly 800 women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries. These deaths are largely preventable with interventions and training to prevent or treat complications such as hemorrhage, infection, and obstructed labor, and with increased access to reproductive health services and emergency care.

We traveled to Zambia because it has a disproportionately high rate of maternal mortality – an estimated 440 women dying for every 100,000 live births, which is 20 times higher than the U.S. But Zambia, as well as Uganda, is also the site of a new program, called Saving Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL), designed to reduce maternal mortality by up to 50 percent in selected districts in a year.

SMGL builds on the fact that most maternal deaths result from one or more of three delays: in seeking care, in arriving at a health facility, and in receiving appropriate care. SMGL is working to address those delays by supporting linkages between communities and health facilities through Safe Motherhood Action Groups (SMAGs); by improving communications and transportation in the districts to speed the care and referrals of pregnant women; and by training and hiring health care providers, while improving equipment and standards of care at health facilities.

Although the U.S. government has been a driving force behind SMGL, it is a public-private partnership. The U.S. Agency for International Development leads SMGL for the U.S. Government, in partnership with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Peace Corps, and the Department of Defense.  The other SMGL partners include the governments of Norway, Zambia, and Uganda, the Merck for Mothers program, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Every Mother Counts.

SMGL has generated excitement, but its implementers know that there is no quick fix for reducing maternal mortality. Accordingly, the initiative faces significant challenges to national scale up and to sustainability, and many experts believe that the changes required will take years – not months — to achieve.

Effectively addressing maternal mortality — in Zambia and elsewhere — will demand ongoing commitment, from national governments and international partners– and investments in community awareness, in improving health facilities and transportation, and in expanding women’s access to health services, including family planning programs. As Professor Chomba said, we want to get to a point where “every woman can look forward to labor, and not say, I may die.”

Conscious Tourism: Plan Your Next Vacation

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Fiona Mati from Kenya won a second place prize of $3,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6. Below is an interview with Fiona.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

“Conscious Vacations” seeks to deter tourists from visiting countries whose leaders perpetrate crimes against humanity, thus becoming themselves third party enablers. Most travelers remain unaware that their spending could possibly be used as a tool for sponsoring the activities of cruel dictatorships. Conscious Vacations intends to inform potential tourists by sharing data such as the amount of money the government spends on security or defense as opposed to other social sectors such as education and health, incidents of mass atrocities (and other human rights abuses), as well as the amount of government revenues raised from the tourism sector.

Fiona Mati is founder of Yipe!, a resource portal for young Kenyan entrepreneurs. Photo credit: Fiona Mati

To make the concept of Conscious Vacations more vivid to you, imagine for an instant lying on a sun lounger on a pristine beach. Now imagine if you knew that your being in that country enjoying the beach and all the facilities means that the local population will continue to live under the authoritarian rule of a dictator. How would you feel knowing that the dollars you spend are going to buying guns rather than school books or food? Would that beach look as pristine? This is what Conscious Vacations is about: acting as a virtual conscious-barometer to enable tourists to make informed decisions about their next holiday destination.

The idea came to me after reading an article that quoted Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi speaking in 1999 during the military junta’s rule. At the time a debate was raging among pro-democracy activists on whether to press the international community to boycott the country’s tourism. Her words spoke volumes to me when she said: “Burma will be here for many years, so tell your friends to visit us later. Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime.”

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Coming from Kenya, I have to say that the tech ecosystem is very supportive of women, so I can’t attribute my gender as presenting any obstacles. This has been the case particularly in the past five years with the growth of mobile phone use and the widespread adoption of mobile money systems such as M-Pesa, which has encouraged many women to venture into the tech space.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the field of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Kenya’s accommodating technology ecosystem is mainly urban-based, and it would be great if organizations would work on enabling rural women to access the same opportunities. It’s also important to continue encouraging more girls to pursue careers in science and technology. Judging from local university enrollments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, women by and large remain in the minority.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Fiona Mati is the founder of Yipe!, a resource portal for young Kenyan entrepreneurs.

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