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NOAA-USAID Join Forces for Global Development

As featured in the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy Blog by Hillary Chen

Hillary Chen is a Policy Analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of joining with scientists and development experts at a workshop jointly sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  The workshop focused on ways to re-energize scientific collaboration between the two agencies and help developing countries deal with challenges in climate change, biodiversity and human health, and geospatial analysis capacity.  It brought together NOAA’s and USAID’s scientific and technical experts in a range of fields including science-based ecosystem management, weather monitoring and forecasting, climate services and analysis, satellite-based and information services, and spatial analysis and geospatial technologies.

The workshop fits within the Administration’s larger efforts to make better use of science, technology, and innovation for global development under President Obama’s Policy Directive on Global Development.  OSTP Director John Holdren and USAID Administrator Raj Shah have noted that as a global leader in science, technology, and innovation with $148 billion invested in domestic research and development (R&D), the United States can have a significant impact in developing countries by applying its technical expertise to global challenges.

Past successful collaborations between NOAA and USAID include the Indian Ocean Tsunami Early Warning System that was established after the devastating tsunami of 2004.  Current joint efforts between the two agencies include the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), which uses satellite and ground-based data to provide timely food security information for 25 countries in Africa and other parts of the developing world and the U.S. Coral Triangle Initiative Support Program, which aims to improve the management of millions of hectares of coastal and marine ecosystems to protect food security and strengthen resilience to climate change for the 363 million people who live in this area.  At a time when we are all reminded that natural disasters anywhere in the world can have widespread and even global implications, it was inspiring to see NOAA and USAID building their shared capacity to understand and respond to challenges beyond our borders.

This latest collaboration between USAID and NOAA is a great example of how U.S. R&D can be leveraged efficiently to accelerate growth and make societies around the world—including our own—more resilient to environmental changes around the globe.

Celebrating National Women’s History Month: Mother and Daughter Team Up for Development

USAID 50th anniversary banner

The phrase “like mother, like daughter” can refer to common physical traits or hobbies, but in the case of Paula and Caroline Bertolin, it is their shared passion for development work that best applies.

March is National Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the countless women who are making a difference in the world.  For Paula, it is through her work at USAID.  She believes in the Agency’s mission of humanitarian assistance. “USAID does what needs to be done for countries that need it,” she explains.   Paula is an officer in the Office of Food for Peace, working on issues of food security for Ethiopia for the U.S. Government’s longest-running and largest food assistance program.  These initiatives respond to short-term relief and long-term development.  Before working at USAID, she served over five years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, and has worked for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and in Kenya.

Caroline, 30 years old, followed her mother down the development career track.  She recently became a member of the Foreign Service where she is a Contracts and Agreements Officer, overseeing the execution of contracts and assistance awards.  She works on the business side of USAID, in partnership with recipient governments and organizations to make USAID assistance as effective and efficient as possible.

“My parents were very proud and excited,” she says of their reaction when she decided to work for USAID. In the career choice, she has also emulated her father, a 30-year Foreign Service veteran. For Caroline, it’s not just a career, but a lifestyle.  She believes kids who spend a part of their childhood surrounded by different cultures, languages and people develop excellent skills of observation and adaption.  She acknowledges that when growing up, her best answer to the “where’s home” question was:  “wherever my family happens to be at the moment!”

Although Paula has spent most of her career working in the Africa region, Caroline is ready for assignments in any region of the globe.  She explains: “Part of the beauty of being a Contracting Officer is that you are a true generalist.  You get to work with a variety of programs from any and all technical sectors at USAID and you are always wanted—and  needed – everywhere!”

Reflecting on National Women’s History Month, Paula believes that women in the work force still have “a long way to go, particularly if you choose to take time out for childrearing.” She cites that women, especially with interrupted careers, are victims of the pay gap, which was recently cited in a White House report.

The younger Bertolin gives her mother’s generation credit for breaking into USAID’s male-dominated Foreign Service Corps. However, she states, “the women of my generation need to produce more representation at the top levels of USAID — we need more women in high-level leadership roles.  This will affect how girls at home and abroad think about women and their role in development.”

Like mother, like daughter.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (3/21/2011–3/25/2011)

March 22 The Sherman Oaks (CA) Patch reported that alongside a Fairfax, Virginia team, USAID dispatched 74 LA County firefighters to Japan two days after they returned from an earthquake rescue mission in New Zealand. In addition, six search and rescue dogs trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation helped firefighters look for survivors in the debris. On its website, CNN also posted a video highlighting the work of the Search & Rescue teams.

March 23 The Financial Times published an op-ed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calling for “an international effort to avoid a repeat of the 2007-2008 spikes in food prices.” He advocates for more transparency on food production and limiting restrictions on exports, and says that a 70% increase in food production will be necessary in the future. The USAID-led Feed the Future initiative is heading this productivity effort.

March 24 On World Tuberculosis Day, Voice of America published an editorial highlighting USAID’s work to prevent and control TB in countries around the world. “USAID will strive to treat 2.6 million TB patients and initiate treatment of at least 57,200 new cases by 2014,” said USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.

USAID Official Featured as Voice of America’s “American Profile of the Week”

Ellyn Ogden, USAID’s worldwide polio eradication coordinator, immunizes a child during a festive kick-off event for a polio vaccination campaign in Kabul, Afghanistan.

USAID’s Worldwide Polio Eradication Coordinator, Ellyn Ogden, has devoted her career to eradicating polio and advocating for children’s health.

Read more about her life and work in this week’s VOA profile.

Making the Unavoidable Unacceptable

On World Water Day, March 22, safe drinking water and sanitation experts gather across the globe both to celebrate successes and to develop more effective, sustainable ways of meeting this vital development need. One element of those conversations is that the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation in developing countries poses a number of multidisciplinary challenges:

  • This is primarily a global public health challenge, but requires primarily public works solutions.
  • Water and sanitation are important in their own right, but both are also vital to sustainable progress for other important development challenges including health, nutrition, education (especially for girls), poverty alleviation, and human security.
  • Solutions require innovation, but most importantly they require appropriately and sustainably scaling the answers known since Roman times, or at least since the introduction of chlorine into New Jersey’s municipal water supply in 1903.

As challenging as it is, however, we can undeniably achieve universal access to water and sanitation with today’s technology, funding, and political leadership.

That last statement resonates most loudly for the 884 million people who lack safe drinking water today, and for the 2.6 billion people who lack improved sanitation facilities. The approximately two million deaths due annually to unsafe water and sanitation, and the waterborne diseases causing those deaths, can for the most part be prevented. And preventing them is not simply smart development policy for the United States; it is a life and death situation for millions of people, and a significant leadership opportunity for this Administration and country.

On World Water Day let us recognize that this challenge is not simply solvable. It is being solved by communities all over the world, and the government of the United States and its philanthropies, corporations, and citizens are helping in often very effective and sustainable ways. Health specialists, engineers, and economic development experts work together to not just drill more wells and build more latrines, but to strengthen capacity of indigenous groups and communities in developing countries to provide these services themselves.

So as USAID and its partners in the United States and abroad continue to implement fully the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 [PDF], some suggestions follow on how to accelerate that progress and make sure the work sustains itself over the long run:

2011 is the year of quality, effectiveness, and sustainability in the water and sanitation sector. Implementing agencies of the U.S. Government and outside entities (nonprofits, philanthropists, civic groups like Rotary International, corporate philanthropies, and private citizens) should always ask themselves the tough questions during the early stages of each program:

  • Is the activity they are implementing or supporting likely to endure technically? Are local businesspersons trained and incentivized to manage a supply chain?
  • Is the financial model in place to ensure that the funds will be available locally to repair, upgrade, or expand the system?
  • Is the ribbon-cutting ceremony not just the self-congratulatory end of the program, but simply the next step toward a sustainable water and sanitation intervention that endures 15-20 years?
  • Is there an ongoing monitoring and evaluation program whose successes and failures are frequently updated and knowable to all stakeholders?

In today’s tight fiscal times we need the answer to these questions to be “Yes” more frequently than in the past. This will get the biggest possible bang for our dollar, be it a development assistance or a philanthropic dollar.

So on World Water Day let us take a closer look at sustainably tackling the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation. This is an unassailably grave yet solvable development challenge, and a multi-track diplomacy opportunity with almost unlimited upside. The United States government and citizens have an opportunity to prevent more waterborne illness and mortality and should redouble efforts to do so in a sustainable, scalable fashion. Let us work together to turn water-related death and disease from an unavoidable fact of life to completely unacceptable.

World Water Day events in the Washington DC area: www.waterday.org
The United Nations World Water Day website: www.worldwaterday.org
UNICEF / WHO Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation: www.wssinfo.org

John Oldfield is Managing Director of the WASH Advocacy Initiative, a nonprofit advocacy effort in Washington DC entirely dedicated to helping solve the global safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) challenge. Its mission is to increase awareness of the global WASH challenge and solutions, and to increase the amount and effectiveness of resources devoted to solving the problem around the developing world.

Maryam’s Story—Reflections on International Women’s Day

Submitted by Meghan Feeley

After the International Women of Courage Award ceremony at the U.S Department of State I had the opportunity to speak with Maryam, a special guest from Afghanistan. This is the story she shared…

Beneficiaries of USAID assistance Vivian (Kenya), Terhas (Ethiopia) and Maryam (Afghanistan) celebrated International Women’s Day with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on March 8, 2011. Photo credit: Department of State

Maryam: As a child growing up as a refugee in Iran and Pakistan, I had seen the white tarpaulins with blue ink of “USAID” on them. They had helped my family to move back to Afghanistan and start our life. Years later, I was in disbelief when I found an email from Ms. Meghan Feeley, who introduced herself as a member of USAID working for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs. I read her email carefully and yet did not believe it was sent to me. In her email, she mentioned that I was invited to the White House on March 8th for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day to represent Afghanistan.

It was an unbelievable experience. Tuesday, March 8th, 2011, I attended the International Women of Courage Award ceremony at the U.S Department of State. I was sitting at the front row with two other students representing Kenya and Ethiopia. The event was hosted by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the special guest was First Lady Michelle Obama. During this ceremony Secretary Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, the Prime Minster of Australia, Julia Gillard, and the President of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, were among the speakers.

After the event, the USAID had a surprise for us. We got to go to Hillary Clinton’s chamber and briefly introduced ourselves and had a chance to take pictures with her. Just being in the room with her was powerful enough to inspire us to be optimistic for a better world.

At the White House, the USAID staff made sure we were at the front lines after First Lady Michelle Obama delivered her inspiring speech; she spoke about how women have been empowered over these 100 years and the growth that has occurred in terms of global recognition of women’s rights. Yet we still have a long way to go to reach where our male colleagues stand in this country. After her speech, she came around and gave each of us a hug.

The phenomenon of being in the room where powerful women were speaking so passionately about how women can change the world one step at a time made a huge impact on me. One quote from the day that really stuck in my mind was that “courage is contagious.” I felt that the courage of these women was being transferred from the stage to the women in the audience. This day was one of the most powerful, inspiring and unforgettable days of my life. I was truly honored to be a part of this event. I was thrilled to represent Afghanistan at the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day at the White House.

Visit our blog tomorrow to read Part Two: Vivian’s Story—Breaking the Cycle of Poverty by Educating and Empowering Girls.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (3/14/2011–3/18/2011)

March 14 In a letter to the editor of The Washington Post, Deputy USAID Administrator Donald Steinberg wrote that USAID remains committed to empowering women in Afghanistan. “USAID is providing more support than at any time in our agency’s history to address the illiteracy, poor health, extreme poverty and political exclusion.”

March 14 The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post reports that foreign aid has arrived in Japan after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit the country early Friday morning. The outlets report that rescue teams USAID sent from Los Angeles County and Fairfax County, Virginia have arrived in Japan to launch a massive search and rescue operation.

March 17 Multiple news publications, including AP, the Washington Times, and Voice of America reported on Administrator Shah’s appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to talk about budget requests for the following fiscal year. Administrator Shah said that proposed cuts to his agency’s budget would have “an absolutely devastating” impact on its humanitarian assistance programs and that foreign assistance is the key to national security.

How You Can Help Japan: Give Cash not Goods

Local residents look at a mountain of debris left by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake in Natori in Miyagi Prefecture on March 16, 2011. Japan’s Emperor Akihito delivered a rare address to a jittery nation in dread of nuclear catastrophe on March 16 as millions struggled in desperate conditions after quake and tsunami disasters. Photo credit: Toru Yamanaka / AFP

If you’ve been following the aftermath of last week’s  massive earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan you’re probably wondering how you can help. Millions are affected, recovery will be protracted and difficult.

Besides the initial, tragic effects of the disaster, millions of people in Japan still have no running water or power.  Lines spanning city blocks and lasting hours are forming, as thousands look to acquire basic essentials. All supplies are being rationed.

As overwhelming images of the devastation rush in Japan, many compassionate Americans feel the urge to help.  The best way, however,  to contribute to the massive relief effort is not always clear.  The Center for International Disaster Information provides some very useful information on how you can help.

When disasters happen abroad, the best and most effective way for Americans to help is to give cash. Donating cash instead of goods ensures that victims can get the quickest possible access to basic items on the ground provided by our experienced humanitarian partners.

By learning how to give responsibly, and by making sure that others understand the importance of cash donations as well, you can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of international disaster victims.

Red Cross worker Daniel Jordan counts donations during a “drive-through” fundraiser benefiting the American Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on March 15, 2011. Photo Credit: AFP Photo/ Mark Ralston

Educating 1+ Billion Girls Will Make the Difference for Women’s Equality

This week we celebrate International Women’s Day and it’s as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the remarkable accomplishments toward achieving gender equality—and of the challenges that remain to ensuring that the 3.4 billion girls and women on our planet have the same chances as boys and men to lead healthy and satisfying lives.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “equal access to education, training, and science and technology,” is a powerful affirmation of the many benefits of educating girls, which come from improving women’s well-being, such as through better maternal health and greater economic empowerment. A recent Lancet article concluded that half of the decline in child mortality in low-income countries over the past 40 years can be attributed to better education of girls. Another recent study concluded that countries that have more educated women have coped with extreme weather conditions better than other countries—and  these are just two studies that have found empirical evidence for why investing in girls’ education is smart policy.

Girls’ enrollment in primary education has risen from 79% to 87% in the past decade, and gender equality, as measured by the ratio of girls’ to boys’ enrollment rates, seems almost within sight. Even in rural areas in poor countries, more girls are entering school. But these gains have not been the same across countries or even within countries. Being poor, living in a rural area, being from an indigenous community and being a girl means having much less schooling. According to the 2010 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report, for example, poor Hausa girls in rural Nigeria complete only one-third of a year of schooling as compared with more than 10 years for rich, urban boys and girls. Indeed, in many countries across the world, multiple sources of disadvantage leave girls’ schooling lagging behind that of boys. The uphill battle for these girls in areas torn by conflict is even worse.

Special challenges exist for girls. These challenges may be a heavy workload that takes time away from schooling and learning. In Mozambique, for example, young teenage girls work 50% more hours each week than boys, not only cooking and taking care of younger siblings but also collecting water or firewood for their families. Because they are often not expected to use academic skills later in life, girls and their parents may not place sufficient value on schooling—and probably just as typically, their teachers may believe that it is more important to teach to the boys than to the girls in their classrooms. 

When I first joined the World Bank 20 years ago, girls’ education was the first issue I worked on. With three other women who were passionate about the issue (two at USAID and one at an NGO), I organized the panel session on girls’ education at the Education for All conference in Jomtien, Thailand. We have come a long way since. We now know more about the effectiveness of programs such as targeted scholarships or vouchers, conditional cash transfers, and removal of tuition fees that influence the family’s demand for girls’ education. We also know that making more people aware of the benefits of girls’ education, measuring gender inequalities, and rallying more voices to speak about those inequalities are powerful ways to remind people of this critical development issue.

Educating girls is a priority for the World Bank and is a fundamental tenet of our forthcoming Education Strategy 2020, which is dedicated to ensuring that all children, everywhere, are afforded the right to learn and reach their full potential.

Elizabeth King is Director of Education for the World Bank. Elizabeth blogs on Education for Global Development, at blogs.worldbank.org/education.

USAID’s Frontlines – February/March 2011

FrontLines

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories:

In this photo, a runner-up in FrontLines’ February/March 2011 photo contest, a child peers around the corner in the waiting room of the HIV Comprehensive Care Clinic of Meru District Hospital in Kenya’s Eastern Province, with two pediatricians standing in the background. The clinic has a newly renovated pediatric ward, with private rooms for HIV testing and counseling for children, pregnant women and families. A support group meets in one of the rooms for children infected and affected by HIV. See the winning image from the photo contest and nine other runner-up images taken by FrontLines readers on the FrontLines web page. And get your cameras ready: the deadline for the next FrontLines photo contest is April 1. Get more details at here. Photo credit: Mia Collis, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation

Get these stories and more in the new issue of FrontLines. And, if you would like to automatically receive a reminder about the latest FrontLines, you can subscribe here.

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