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Photo of the Week: 2013 Hurricane Preparedness Week

As America saw with Hurricane Sandy, it takes just one bad storm to wreak havoc, kill and injure hundreds and inflict billions of dollars of damages. If one hurricane can do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

Forecasters are predicting an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. During this week, we will be highlighting USAID’s work—through its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance—to prepare disaster-prone countries and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean for hurricanes.

The photo above is of children playing in the streets of a camp for internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti after Hurricane Tomas made landfall in November 2010. Photo is from Kendra Helmer/USAID.

Wall of Wind’ Helps USAID Test Shelters for Hurricane Relief

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

There is a place in Miami, Florida, where deadly, hurricane force winds can be felt year-round without the threat of destruction.  In fact, it’s a place that’s being used to help save lives.

It’s called the Wall of Wind, a cutting-edge lab at Florida International University (FIU) that can simulate hurricane conditions using 12 giant fans, stacked two high, capable of generating winds with speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour, packing the punch of a Category Five storm.

 

USAID built temporary shelters in Chile, using a combination of durable plastic sheeting and wood boards, to meet humanitarian needs in 2010. Photo credit: USAID

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is working with FIU to harness these hurricane force winds to test the strength and design of transitional shelters. Transitional shelters are not tents, but they’re not quite houses, either. They are a mix of the two, constructed using new and salvaged building materials to safely house people who’ve been hit hard by disasters until they secure a permanent home.

Hurricanes can be catastrophic, uprooting communities, taking out entire coastlines, and killing thousands of people in the process. Flying debris—often from pieces of roofs and homes—contributes to being one of the most deadly and destructive side effects of these storms.

This is why it’s crucial that transitional shelters are strong enough to withstand nature’s worst, and that is where the Wall of Wind comes into play. Take a look at the video, and see for yourself if a transitional shelter constructed with USAID-identified best practices could really stand up to a hurricane.

See video clip here:

The transitional shelter was blasted by wind speeds of more than 100 miles per hour—well in excess of a Category One hurricane—and remained standing.  USAID’s work with the Wall of Wind not only helps improve the quality of emergency shelters, it can also have a real impact on the way future homes and businesses are built in hurricane-prone areas.

USAID Prepares for Hurricane Season in Latin America and the Caribbean

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 26 through June 1, following the release of the official forecast for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. This week, USAID is highlighting the work we do to help disaster-prone countries prepare for and recover from hurricanes.

Top forecasters are saying it could be an extremely active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, with the National Hurricane Center on May 23 predicting that up to 20 named storms will develop this year, with between seven to 11 of the systems expected to become hurricanes.

Plastic sheeting provided by USAID helps give much needed shelter to a family in Nicaragua following Hurricane Felix in 2007. Photo Credit: Alejandro Torres/USAID

No matter how accurate the forecast turns out to be, Hurricane Sandy taught us that it only takes one major storm to kill more than 70 people in this country, injure hundreds of others, and inflict billions of dollars in damages. If one hurricane could do so much damage in the U.S., imagine the impact of similar storms on less developed countries.

USAID is prepared to meet the demands of an active hurricane season. All year, experts with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) have been working closely with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to make sure emergency and evacuation plans are in place. USAID has emergency stockpiles in Miami, including medical supplies, hygiene kits, shelter materials, and water purification equipment. We have the ability to charter planes in eight different countries to deliver these life-saving items quickly to countries hit hard by hurricanes. When we know a storm is coming, we can pre-position staff and relief supplies to provide immediate assistance.

But arguably, the most vital resource USAID has is its people. In addition to the 25 disaster experts USAID/OFDA has in the region, there are also about 350 consultants in 28 countries who can immediately jump into the action when a hurricane makes landfall. These consultants live in the region, so they know the country, culture and local officials and can quickly report the conditions on the ground and help USAID prioritize humanitarian needs.

USAID airlifted emergency relief supplies to the Bahamas when Hurricane Irene made landfall in 2011. Photo credit: USAID

“They are our eyes and ears, and they allow USAID to be fast, aggressive and robust in a disaster response,” said Tim Callaghan, USAID/OFDA’s Principal Regional Advisor in Latin America and the Caribbean.  ”They work to save lives and alleviate suffering.”

All this week, we will be highlighting what USAID and its partners are doing in preparation for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, from protecting people from deadly flash floods to teaching children in Jamaica to become the next generation of disaster experts.

USAID in the News

Cargill and National Farmers Union back Food Aid Proposal

In its “The Caucus” blog, the New York Times reports, “One of the world’s largest food companies offered its support on Wednesday for changes to the way the United States provides food aid to developing countries.” In response, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said: “We have seen growing momentum behind this proposal and the need to modernize our food assistance programs to address today’s challenges, become more flexible and save more lives with maximum efficiency,” he added.

 Administrator Shah on Kojo Nnamdi Show
WAMU-FM , DC, on its “The Kojo Nnamdi Show,” interviews USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah. He said that for less than 1 percent of the federal budget, “we help promote American safety, security and economic prosperity in more than 80 countries around theworld.” He added He explained that USAID reaches “the world’s most vulnerable people and places to help build a more stable world with more economic prosperity, because we’ve seen time and again that that helps to improve American security, and it helps create American jobs.”
PGH Program aims to Deliver Aid Faster 
The Thompson Reuters Foundation reports on Pledge Guarantee for Health (PGH), a new public-private financial partnership that aims to decrease the lag time between donor commitment and aid disbursement, by giving aid recipients access to bridge financing. “This announcement builds on our efforts to partner with the private sector to help end preventable child death within a generation,” said USAID Administrator Raj Shah.

USAID Brings New Communications Options to Remote Communities in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

In late April, residents across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were pleasantly surprised to receive phone calls from friends and relatives living in the remote northeastern corner of the country. For the first time, the people of Niangara, in the heavily-forested Haut Uélé District of Orientale Province, have access to a cellular communications network in their isolated community. This breakthrough in communications potential is part of a public-private partnership between USAID and Vodacom Congo to pilot four low-cost and light-weight “AltoPod” base transmission stations that will provide cellular coverage in remote, conflict-affected areas of Haut Uélé and Bas Uélé Districts.

Satellite communications equipment at Niangara cellular tower site. Photo credit: Vodacom Congo

The first Vodacom pilot tower, in Niangara, went live on April 21, 2013, and will be followed in the coming days and weeks by the activation of additional towers in Bangadi, Doruma, and Ango. Each of the four towers, all partially funded by USAID, will provide a minimum of 315 square kilometers of cell phone connectivity to 1,200 mobile phone users. This project represents one of the most technologically advanced communications initiatives attempted in the DRC. While the new base transmission station technology, pioneered by the Ireland-based Altobridge company, has proven effective and profitable for mobile network operators in a handful of areas around the world with similar profiles – low population density and poor infrastructure – it is only now being tested by a mobile network operator in the DRC. Should the pilot project prove economically viable for the company, it is envisioned that Vodacom Congo or other DRC mobile network operators will branch into additional remote regions of the country currently still lacking cellular coverage.

In launching this pilot project, USAID is seeking to increase communications options in isolated corners of the DRC that have been subject to armed attacks. This expansion of cellular coverage opens the door to potential advances in a variety of different domains, including civilian protection, humanitarian response, public service delivery, and economic activity. It is up to the individual community members in each of the target sites to decide how to best make use of this new cellular connectivity to improve their daily lives. From mobile banking applications to the exchange of health-related information to increased citizen communication with government, security, and humanitarian actors – a host of new possibilities are now available for communities to consider.

More than 30,000 Fistula Repair Surgeries Supported by USAID

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health.

On Thursday, May 23, the world will be marking the first-ever International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, as recently designated by the United Nations General Assembly. USAID commemorates this day by celebrating a milestone in global maternal health: Over 30,000 fistula repair surgeries have been performed with U.S. support since 2005. Fistula, a devastating childbirth injury believed to affect millions of women in developing countries, can be surgically repaired up to 90% of the time. Unfortunately, most women who suffer from fistula lack access to a skilled surgeon or fully equipped health center, making treatment and prevention too often out of reach.

Fistula clients in Uganda after receiving treatment. Photo credit: Fistula Care/EngenderHealth

Ten years ago, USAID launched a global effort to both treat and prevent fistula and is today one of the largest funder of such activities worldwide. To date, through initiatives such as the EngenderHealth-led Fistula Care project, and in collaboration with local governments, regional health care organizations, faith-based organizations, and other partners, USAID has supported training and equipment for medical teams in 15 countries at 56 health facilities across Africa and Asia for fistula repair surgery. Efforts to support fistula prevention have been supported by Fistula Care at an additional 43 sites.

Obstetric fistula is an injury caused by prolonged or obstructed labor, when the head of the baby cannot pass safely through the woman’s birth canal. The baby often dies as a result, and the woman is left with an abnormal opening in the birth canal and chronic incontinence.

The hopeful part of the story is that in addition to most cases being reparable, fistula is almost entirely preventable. This is why USAID-supported projects work to improve access to routine and emergency obstetric care and cesarean deliveries for women who experience complications during labor and delivery. Together with skilled attendance at all births and access to voluntary family planning, these efforts can make fistula as rare in the developing world as it is in the United States. USAID works to engage all levels of society to raise awareness about fistula and its underlying causes, including early pregnancy, poverty, and a lack of education and empowerment for women and girls.

As the largest USAID-supported effort to both treat and prevent fistula, EngenderHealth’s Fistula Care project is committed to transform the lives of thousands more women and girls around the world.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

ROADS II Video: Transforming Corridors of Risk into Pathways of Prevention and Hope

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 18-27 we will be focusing on an AIDS-Free Generation. 

Since 2005, the Regional Outreach Addressing AIDS through Development Strategies (ROADS) Project – Phases I and II - funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) East Africa and bilateral missions, has linked communities along transport corridors of east, central and southern Africa with critical HIV and other health services. ROADS is also helping vulnerable men, women and children reduce their vulnerability to HIV by expanding economic opportunities, improving food security, supporting community-based substance abuse counseling and working to protect women and girls from sexual exploitation and abuse. In this video, ROADS II project director Dorothy Muroki describes how the project takes an integrated approach to human development and how it is transforming corridors of risk into pathways of prevention and hope.”

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

The Future of Mobile Money in Afghanistan

Steve Rynecki serves as Mobile Money Adviser at USAID. Below is a follow-up to his June 2012 blog.

Afghanistan is a fascinating place to introduce new technology. The country is leap frogging in the mobile technology space and capturing the world’s imagination with its success with mobile money. Where there were no mobile phones in Afghanistan in 2000, there are now 18 million and growing. Competition in the voice market is fierce in Afghanistan, as it is in much of the world today. In fact, anyone arriving at Kabul International Airport is immediately struck by the numerous advertisements for mobile services. It’s truly an amazing development in the market and has people taking notice.

Afghans are finding new ways of using this technology for public benefit. They’re sharing health advice and commodity price information. They’re creating security and traffic alerts and innovating in ways unimaginable even 5 years ago. When I was here in 2008, Roshan just began the use and promotion of the M-PAISA mobile money service. Over these past five years, I’ve seen remarkable progress in the mobile money space here and globally. Back then, Roshan was the only mobile provider in Afghanistan and optimism for the benefits of mobile money was high. Fast forward to 2013 and we see the picture has changed significantly. Roshan is now competing with three, and soon to be four, other mobile operators, each offering their own mobile money product (Etisalat, MTN, AWCC and AfTel).

Afghanistan is leap frogging with mobile technology. Photo credit: USAID

These products include mobile wallet technology, where customers can store their money digitally as opposed to using cash. They can exchange the digital value for in-store purchases and in transferring funds anywhere a corresponding agent is located. Mobile money can be used to pay utility bills, top up mobile phone minutes and pay school fees. It’s also a great way to distribute salaries and social service benefits like pensions and public assistance. Under the right conditions, it could even be used for cross border Customs duty payments. The possibilities are limited only by our imagination.

To truly understand the mechanics of this technology, I tried it myself. In about 10 minutes I had an M-PAISA account set-up with a local agent in Kabul. I loaded my mobile wallet with the Afghan equivalent of $700.00. Since I can’t live in Afghanistan without buying carpets, I used M-PAISA to pay a carpet dealer in Herat and a friend in Mazar-i-Sharif who lent me cash to purchase another carpet. I was able to pay them both with mobile money in less than 5 minutes. There I was, standing in Kabul, sending money to two different people in two different cities. Each person received a text message from M-PAISA telling them how much I sent. The carpet dealer and my friend simply went to their local Roshan shop and cashed-out. It worked for me. The transfer fee for $700.00 came out to $3.00. But if you add the $6.00 I paid to withdraw $700.00 from the Afghanistan International Bank ATM, we’re looking at closer to $10.00 to transfer the funds. Still, it was worth for me.

So why isn’t everyone using mobile money in Afghanistan? What’s keeping this great service from taking off? As mobile money continues to evolve here, USAID and our partners have identified the following opportunities to help scale the uptake and use of mobile money by:

  • Pricing that allows for rural inclusion
  • Providing interoperability between banks, mobile operators and merchants
  • Exploring new branchless banking laws to help mobile money flourish
  • Better understand consumer preferences for informal money transfers (Hawala)
  • Strategies to ensure rural market liquidity (enough cash in the till for payouts)
  • Business models for mobile operators and agents to ensure their sustainability, as well as challenges on agent recruitment and management
  • Increasing caps on mobile money transactions for Customs duty payments and government salaries

The challenging conditions facing the mobile money industry here are not insurmountable, but they do hinder the uptake of mobile money and need to be carefully taken into consideration. With some 70% of Afghan adults using mobile phones, many local technology and business experts believe there’s a case for operators to offer mobile money. And, I would surmise, the lack of convenient bank branches would be reason enough for Afghans to seek out mobile transfers for their funds.

Consumer behavior is challenging in a country where cash is often salted away in tin cans hidden in walls, etc. And, where assets are often converted into precious metals like gold, savings accounts are rare. Rural Afghans often barter goods and cash is seen as an inconvenience, or even irrelevant when basic needs are met by subsistence farming. Given this environment, USAID and our Afghan partners are working in the following areas to help scale the use of mobile money. Here are a few of the activities we’ve completed or are currently underway for 2013-14:

  • Assisted Afghanistan in becoming a member of the Better Than Cash Alliance
  • Helped establish the Afghan Association of Mobile Money Operators (AMMOA)
  • Working with regional leaders of bank-led branchless banking practices to share knowledge with Afghan counterparts
  • Funding monitoring and evaluation on the utility and teacher salary payment pilots
  • Exploring interim and long-term interoperability solutions to link banks, mobile operators and merchants with international payment systems
  • Working closely with the Afghan government in scaling mobile money pilots for salary and utility payments
  • Designing public-private consumer awareness campaigns
  • Exploring possible regulatory reforms that encourage formal financial transactions

I’ve seen firsthand, for several years now, that mobile technology continues to scale. We’re getting a better understanding of market forces and figuring out how to bring interoperability into this burgeoning market. Who would have believed that in this once shattered country millions of ordinary people would be communicating almost daily on mobile phones. The future is indeed bright and the opportunities are limited only by our imagination.

 

Advancing Food Security by Opening Markets

This originally appeared on the UnitedStates Trade Representative Blog.

Ambassador Isi Siddiqui attended The Chicago Council’s Global Agricultural Development Initiative’s fourth annual Global Security Symposium yesterday in Washington, D.C. The symposium was on “Capitalizing on the Power of Science, Trade, and Business to End Hunger and Poverty: A New Agenda for Food Security.” As chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Siddiqui is responsible for bilateral and multilateral negotiations and policy coordination regarding food and agricultural trade.

We face dual challenges in food security: We need to get food to the people who need it today and grow more for the people who will need it tomorrow. Open, well-functioning markets can help.

Global markets are an essential element of food security. Open markets for agricultural commodities, agricultural inputs, and food products help to efficiently move these goods from those who develop and produce them to those who need them, benefiting both producers and consumers.

Markets that allow businesses and countries to share technologies help producers increase yields and output, reduce post-harvest losses, and adapt to climate change, while preserving the incentives for future innovation and transfer that are critically important to improving food security.

Rural chicken farmers like Sagnol Salimata, pictured here, have received technical training and barn-construction support through agricultural development projects. Photo credit: Jake Lyell.

The U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, is driving a new model for development that, among other activities, integrates trade. Trade policies that promote open markets enable job creation, and can sustain and accelerate economic growth around the world.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) lends our expertise and broader global work—increasing the transparency, predictability, and openness of agricultural trade through bilateral and multilateral exchanges—to the initiative’s goals of reducing global hunger, poverty, and undernutrition.

At the World Trade Organization (WTO), for example, we’ve put forth proposals in the area of trade facilitation that would go a long way toward removing barriers to agricultural trade by cutting and reducing border delays. Reducing delays for import clearances is particularly important for perishable food and agricultural products to help ensure that quality products reach consumers.

We’re also working closely with our partners at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) on the APEC action plan on food security to continue progress toward our shared goal of free and open trade by 2020. Trade agreements, such as the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), and ongoing negotiations like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are also important tools to facilitate trade, provide reliable market access, and establish dependable distribution systems and supply chains.

Recognizing that agricultural production needs to substantially increase to meet growing global demand for food, USTR promotes science-based, transparent, and predictable regulatory approaches that foster innovation, including in agricultural biotechnologies. These types of approaches contribute significantly to a safe and reliable global food supply as the world’s population grows, and they help producers adapt to climate change.

Through Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFAs), we engage countries in discussions on trade and investment policy reform. We have TIFAs with Feed the Future focus countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Liberia, and key regional economic organizations like the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), to name just a few.

In East Africa in particular, there is great opportunity for spurring growth by ensuring Feed the Future and the U.S.-East African Community (EAC) Trade and Investment Partnership (TIP) synergies. The EAC and the United States have taken important steps to advance the TIP, which supports regional integration of the EAC and recognizes the importance that trade and investment play in economic and social development, including in agriculture. Through this partnership, we’re focusing on trade facilitation, a regional investment agreement, stronger private sector linkages, and capacity building.

USTR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development work collaboratively to help countries move from aid to trade.

Together, our efforts to create transparent, efficient global markets help advance global food security.

Follow USTR on Twitter @USTradeRep and read more on the USTR blog. Join USTR and other U.S. Government trade agencies on Twitter every Thursday this May for #TradeChat

Building Capacity: Racking Warehouses in Ethiopia

During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 18-27 we will be focusing on an AIDS-Free Generation. 

Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa, and the thirteenth largest in the world. The current population of 84 million is expected to reach 120 million by 2030, and 145 million by 2050. Ethiopia will play a large role in meeting the global goal of putting 15 million people on HIV treatment by 2015 and in helping create an AIDS-free generation. To do so, the population of Ethiopia needs reliable and consistent access to medicine. At present, however, the ability to acquire medicine is limited due to challenges of access, supply, distribution and cost.

The Ethiopian government is undertaking a bold initiative to ensure that medicinal supply and access are available throughout the country. A major challenge is reaching a population whose majority lives in rural areas. Through a series of centralized and regional hubs, this initiative aims to serve thousands of health centers all over the country and overcome the hurdle to reaching patients. Achieving this aim is a complex undertaking, which is becoming increasingly more so as the diversity and volume of medicines regularly expands.

The Supply Chain Management System (SCMS), a project of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) administered by USAID, has stepped in to support this nation-wide initiative. At ten warehouse sites across Ethiopia, the physical warehousing capacity has greatly increased due to the introduction of a warehouse racking system. Warehouse racking allows for vertical storage without damaging stacked products due to weight.

An Ethiopian warehouse, before. Photo credit: SCMS

The racking system enables improved material organization, as products are stored and sorted by rack location. This ensures that short shelf-life products can be located and distributed in a timely manner. It also helps prevent stockouts as regional hubs can respond faster to need requests. Thus, warehouses become more efficient in terms of space utilization, organization and loss-prevention.

Improved warehouse distribution also enhances the ability of warehouses to reduce and prevent product expiry and handle emergency situations, such as product recalls. Furthermore, a better ability to respond to the supply and demand of the population, as well as reduce loss, facilitates for a reduction in product cost.

In Adama, for example, the warehouse capacity was increased by 35 percent, to 880 pallets (the platforms that boxes of commodities sit on for shipping and storage) with the introduction of racking. Organizational improvement is evident, which facilitates for improved cost-efficiency as the products can be stored, located and distributed in a more systematic manner. That, however, is just the beginning.

An Ethiopian warehouse after support from SCMS, USAID and PEPFAR. Photo credit: Jiro Ose, SCMS

The government, with support from PEPFAR and the Global Fund, is constructing ten new – and larger – warehouse facilities to greatly increase warehouse capacity.

SCMS will outfit these new warehouses and expand upon existing facilities. When Adama’s new warehouse is complete, and racked, the pallet capacity will increase from 880 to 5,160. Across the ten sites, the existing pallet capacity of 6,039 will increase to 27,007.

The outfitting of racking in warehouses is only one contribution of many mechanisms that SCMS has provided to enhance and support the Ethiopian government in their aims of providing reliable and consistent access of medicine throughout the country. SCMS is not only meeting the needs of today, but planning for the needs of tomorrow.

Follow USAID for Global Health (@USAIDGH) on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation.

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