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Facilitating Economic Growth through Infrastructure and Trade

Eric Postel is assistant administrator for the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment

Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 11 of the world’s 20 fastest growing economies. Economic growth in the entire region is expected to be strong – between five and six percent – in the next few years, and it will be led by the private sector; foreign direct investment now dwarfs foreign aid in Africa.

Yet, a recent World Bank report noted that regional trade barriers are cost African countries billions of dollars in potential revenue every year. Trade among African countries makes up only 10 percent of the region’s total trade volume. In East Africa, it costs 50 percent more to move freight one kilometer than it does in the United States or Europe, and in landlocked countries transport costs can be as high as 75 percent of the value of the goods they are trying to export.

On March 29, I participated in an economic growth roundtable with the Presidents of Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone and the Prime Minister of Cape Verde to discuss these challenges and to examine ways to strengthen trade and investment, enhance regional integration, and improve the four countries’ business environments.

The four African leaders called attention to a major impediment to trade and investment in Africa: poor infrastructure, which inhibits both regional and global trade.  That is why USAID is working with governments to assess and prioritize critical infrastructure needs.  For example, in South Sudan, USAID helped build a 192-kilometer-long Juba-Nimule Road, the largest infrastructure project ever built in South Sudan, and the young nation’s first paved highway. The road has reduced travel time between Nimule and Juba from eight hours to less than three, linking Juba with Uganda and providing the shortest, most efficient route to the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. The road has generated economic activities along the route, and created employment and training opportunities for South Sudanese communities, thereby enhancing stability.

Meeting with the four leaders allowed me to reaffirm USAID’s commitment to work with both the governments and private sector in all four countries to improve export readiness, and reduce the time and cost to trade.  In Cape Verde, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, USAID has helped establish Resource Centers to assist local businesses take advantage of the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers duty free entry for 6,400 products from qualifying African countries into the United States.

We are also supporting three regional Trade Hubs designed to help sub-Saharan African governments and businesses reduce the time and cost of trade, harmonize trade and regulatory requirements, and work directly with African firms to identify export opportunities. In Malawi, our Southern Africa Trade Hub has helped to streamline customs procedures and develop a national single window system, which allows traders to submit all required data into a single electronic system accessible to all border agencies. Systems like this one significantly reduce the time and cost of moving goods across borders and increase customs revenue.

We have also helped Malawi and Sierra Leone develop export strategies and stand ready to support strategy implementation and the crafting of similar strategies in Senegal and Cape Verde. When developed and implemented in consultation with the private sector, the strategies serve as an invaluable tool to facilitate trade and improve economic growth.

By working to reduce barriers to trade in African markets, USAID supports sustained growth in the region and improves bilateral trade and investment opportunities for both African and U.S. firms.

Learning Law Through Practice

On April 8, lawyers from USAID’s Office of General Counsel led a roundtable dialogue with two Iraqi and two Palestinian teams that participated in the annual Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which took place in Washington, DC, from March 31 to April 6. The competition was an opportunity for the four teams to highlight their litigation skills that are being developed through programs supported by USAID.

Iraqi and Palestinian teams in front of the USAID seal. Photo credit: USAID

The Jessup competition brings together students from 550 law schools that represent more than 80 countries and simulates a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations. This year’s participants addressed the factual and legal consequences of climate change on statehood, migration and sovereign lending. Teaching methodology has historically been lecture based in both Iraqi and Palestinian universities so the practical experience that students gain from the Jessup competition process, including competing against other teams and receiving feedback from distinguished judges, is extremely valuable.

The two Iraqi teams from Baghdad and Anbar Universities earned the right to represent Iraq after competing against over 100 law students and professors from 17 Iraqi universities. All of the teams were trained on courtroom etiquette and advocacy skills by USAID’s Access to Justice program in Iraq prior to their participation. The program promotes a practical approach to improving both legal services for vulnerable groups and the knowledge and skills of those who assist them.

The two Palestinian teams, from Bir Zeit and An Najah Universities, came in first and second in the Palestinian Jessup qualifying round. Palestinian partner universities received training as part of USAID’s Palestinian Justice Enhancement Project, which is designed to strengthen public confidence and respect for justice sector institutions and the rule of law in the West Bank.

The teams received guidance from competition judges, established new friendships with law students from around the world, and learned more about the United States while gaining important courtroom experience.  The Bir Zeit team had the honor of being elected by fellow competitors to receive the Spirit of Jessup Award for the team that “best exemplifies the Jessup spirit of comradeship, academic excellence, competitiveness, and appreciation of fellow competitors.”

Both the Iraqi and Palestinian students told the USAID lawyers that when they get home, they plan to gain practical experience in providing legal assistance through legal clinics supported by USAID in their law schools.

Palestinian competitor Obaida observed, “Jessup taught me to see international law from other perspectives. I now can argue and fully express myself before expert judges and I will bring back with me knowledge, success and memories.”

The students also toured the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and met with one of the court’s legal advisers.

“Competing in Jessup has helped to increase our experience and build our confidence as young lawyers,” remarked Baghdad competitor Ahmad. “We are so excited to represent our country and learn about the legal system in America.”

A New Era: Reflections on USAID’s First Public Consultation of a Draft Policy

Last month USAID distributed for public comment a new policy in draft form for the first time. Its Bureau of Policy, Planning & Learning’s Office of Policy solicited input on a draft of the Sustainable Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World (PDF). USAID aimed to improve the draft and sharpen our institutional focus. We shared it online to USAID’s Twitter followers and Impact e-newsletter subscribers and received more than 100 comments.

The Urban Services policy is a product of more than a year of extensive internal discussion and research, and last month’s public input – inspired by the Obama Administration’s Open Government Partnership commitment – is expected to draw attention to USAID’s attempt to help communities and countries provide pro-poor services in the midst of unprecedented urban growth.

Taken during a United Nations flight, the photo shows one of the many campsites that have sprouted throughout Port-au-Prince, Haiti, since more than 1 million people were left homeless after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. Photo credit: Andrea Sternberg, USAID

What kind of growth are we talking about? By 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities and more than 1.2 million square kilometers will have been converted into urban areas about the size of South Africa.

As we begin to analyze the results of the public outreach, I offer the following as a sample of early findings from our outreach (in percentages):

  • Roughly half of respondents affirmed that economic growth and trade (25) or democracy, human rights and governance (22) were program areas most likely to be affected – negatively or positively – by urban growth. About a fifth of respondents thought the program areas most likely to be affected were environment and global climate change (19) and water and sanitation (19). The effects on global health (8), agriculture and food security (3), and other programs (6) were also noted;
  • Respondents stated that USAID should pursue sustainable urban service delivery to increase USAID staff’s understanding and skills to deal with urban issues (29), increase the use of partnerships, particularly with the private sector and the donor community (29), and incorporate urban assessments into USAID Mission annual strategies and assessments (26). A smaller number affirmed that it was important to provide tools for Missions to design urban-focused programming (14).

In their submissions, many commenters applauded the Agency for recognizing and responding to the development challenges of urbanization. Several applauded the draft for addressing “the needs of marginalized groups, including women and persons with disabilities” and “highlighting of the role of governance as a prior condition for other service improvements.” Others noted a comparative advantage in the Agency’s local capacity building and its ability to “more easily work with [and] directly impact sub-national entities than most other donors.”

Some zeroed in on specific areas. For example a number of respondents recommended a focus on land rights and “more attention to the built environment – shelter, settlement and housing.” Others said USAID’s could heighten its role in supporting improved city management, “strengthening participative democracy at local level,” and supporting the “direct participation by the urban poor in the planning and implementation of service improvements.”

In terms of staffing, one commenter recommended a call for “strengthening the Agency with a cadre of Urban Development Officers.”

The impressive number responses suggests that the Urban Services policy is timely and an acceptance that development must adapt proactively to urban growth sustainably. Just as important, it showed that transparency has a role in development policy – before, after and during the time we implement our programs.

Building A More Tolerant, Inclusive World

David N. Cicilline is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-RI).

USAID is showing extraordinary leadership by establishing the LGBT Global Development Partnership to address serious issues of inequality and discrimination faced by LGBT individuals around the world. Both in the quality of USAID’s work and the way it is doing business, it has recognized that we cannot achieve our development goals unless we first learn to solve problems creatively, partner with our private sector allies, and address how equal treatment can empower individuals to be more effective and impactful members of society.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the bold step just a few years ago to assert that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” and this initiative builds upon her leadership as well as the incredible leadership of President Barack Obama, who addressed the nations of the world at the UN and said, “No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

America’s leadership in the world on the issue of LGBT equality is no coincidence. Equality and equal protection of the law are deeply embedded in the idea of America and the foundation of our democracy. We were, after all, a country that was founded on this radical idea – or at least radical at the time – that people have inalienable rights not because of the generosity of a monarch or a sovereign ruler, but as a result of the natural affairs of human existence and a recognition that every person has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

America’s real power in the world is the overwhelming might of these founding principles, and it is important to understand our responsibility to countless LGBT individuals all over the world who face violence, institutional discrimination, criminalization of their status, and violations of basic human rights. The challenges that USAID addresses – global health, access to food and water, education, and economic growth – cannot be fully met unless we are honoring basic human rights, especially the basic responsibility of keeping LGBT individuals safe. This partnership will do just that.

We must urgently make certain all LGBT individuals around the world are safe from violence and physical harm. In 2011, I introduced and successfully worked to pass an amendment out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would have empowered the Secretary of State to discourage foreign governments from sanctioning acts of violence against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I will continue to work with my colleagues to strengthen the collaboration between federal agencies and Congressional leaders in order to apply pressure to governing bodies that oppress LGBT communities abroad.

And I know that we can continue to make progress on these issues because LGBT voices are stronger than ever in Congress. I am one of six co-chairs of the LGBT Equality Caucus in the House, and our membership grows every day.

While our work to enact legal prohibitions against discrimination and violence continues, ultimately our progress must not only be reflected in the executive orders of our President, or even in the laws adopted by Congress, but in the words and actions of ordinary citizens in cities and towns all across America and the world who are seeing members of the LGBT community marry, serve their country openly and honestly, raise families, hold office, and distinguish themselves as business and academic leaders.

Seeing the power of these examples will, in the end, help advance the cause of equality all over the world.

Separating Children from Armed Groups in the DRC

On March 23, 245 combatants from the militia group Kata Katanga marched into Lubumbashi in Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After entering the UN Peacekeeping base there, the combatants, including 40 minors, reportedly surrendered and were disarmed. With support from USAID, UNICEF and its local partner Reconfort responded to the situation within hours, verifying and separating these 40 children from the surrendered group. UNICEF successfully negotiated to allow the children to be turned over for care in the transit center, rather than be handed over to government officials along with the Kata Katanga adult combatants.

Children formerly associated with armed groups engaging in recreational activities at a USAID-supported transit center in Bukavu, South Kivu. Photo credit: Dan Rono, UNICEF

These children, all boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who UNICEF and Reconfort were able to literally “separate” from the armed group, were placed in a transit center in Lubumbashi, which Reconfort was able to open, stock, and staff within a single day as a result of USAID’s ongoing work to improve the local organization’s capacity. In the transit center, these 40 boys are getting shelter, protection, medical care, psychosocial support, and opportunities for recreational and educational activities. Over the next few months, the youth will be reintegrated into their families and communities and enrolled in school or vocational training programs.

Murals at a USAID-supported transit center for children associated with armed groups in Goma, North Kivu. Written in Swahili above the murals are the sentences “Children are not intended to be soldiers” and “Help me to leave the armed group.” Photo credit: USAID

Since 2011, USAID’s child protection work with UNICEF has separated over 1,100 children from armed groups in North Kivu, South Kivu, Orientale, and Katanga provinces, provided separated children with temporary care in transit centers or foster families, supported their reintegration into their communities, and helped an additional 5,000 conflict-affected children to enroll in school or obtain vocational skills training. In addition, USAID has strengthened the capacity of 15 local organizations, like Reconfort, that are assisting children associated with armed groups, and we have created or strengthened over 70 community committees to promote child rights at the grassroots level and prevent child recruitment into armed groups. USAID has recently signed an agreement to continue UNICEF’s child protection project, bringing the total project amount to $5 million. This new agreement will give the project more geographic flexibility and build more capacity among local organizations to ensure rapid response to unexpected events like this one.

2014 Budget Affirms Commitment to End Extreme Poverty and Strengthen Reforms

Chuck Cooper is the Assistant Administrator of Legislative & Public Affairs

Earlier this year, in his State of the Union address, President Obama made a commitment to ending extreme poverty in the next two decades. Today, with the release of the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14), we are reminded of our role in fulfilling this commitment. As an agency, we’re fortunate to have this as our mission: to work on behalf of the American people to eradicate poverty and its most devastating corollaries, widespread hunger and preventable child death.

To seize this moment, USAID is fundamentally changing the way we work: harnessing innovation, science and technology; leveraging our resources to build partnerships that have an even greater impact; and focusing like never before on delivering and measuring results. To deliver these results, we are implementing an ambitious set of reforms called USAID Forward that have touched every aspect of our work.

While real progress has been made, we’re clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. Under the President’s budget, USAID will continue to strengthen our reform efforts. Our budget fact sheet outlines some of the critical programs that are funded under this budget – and details an important new reform initiative to modernize how the United States delivers food aid.

The President’s food aid reform proposal envisions a more efficient, effective, and timely program that will reach 4 million more hungry people each year. Today, Administrator Shah will share his vision on the future of food assistance at an event hosted by CSIS. To learn more about food aid reform, please visit our food aid reform page: www.usaid.gov/foodaidreform

Alongside diplomacy and defense, our development work will continue to play a critical role in America’s economic and national security. With just over one percent of the federal budget, the State Department and USAID budget moves us closer to ending extreme poverty, advances U.S. national security, protects Americans at home and abroad, opens markets overseas, creates American jobs, forges global partnerships and delivers real results for the American people.

For additional resources on the President’s FY14 budget and USAID’s work, please visit our website.

Photo of the Week: Pumping Water to Urban Nigeria

Three young boys look to be having some fun while they use a public standpipe in Bauchi town, Nigeria. This is one of the sites where town residents retrieve water since few have water taps at their homes. In December 2011, USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa project signed an agreement with town officials to help them expand and improve services to residents. Demand for water in urban areas like Bauchi exceeds 200,000 cubic meters per day—nearly four times the volume the town’s water utility is currently able to pump to its customers. Photo is from Emily Mutai, SUWASA.

Read the recently released FrontLines issue to learn how USAID is working to provide safe water to the millions who live without this vital resource, and how unique approaches to wipe out neglected tropical diseases are faring.

USAID Rallies During Final 1,000 Days of Millennium Development Goals

On April 5, USAID joined UN Foundation’s Momentum 1000 and millions around the globe in a digital rally to mark the 1,000 day milestone until the 2015 target date to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): A promise made to free people from extreme poverty and extend hope and opportunity to the millions living in developing regions. 189 nations are striving together to meet the MDGs. The digital rally encouraged partners around the globe to continue their commitment to end extreme poverty and build a better world for all.

In commemoration of the April 5 milestone, USAID hosted a Twitter chat with Policy Director Steve Feldstein, who discussed USAID efforts to meet President Obama’s to end extreme poverty within the next two decades.

GAIN moderated a live discussion on Google Hangout to address progress on food security with guests USAID and GAIN on April 5. Photo credit: USAID

In addition, USAID participated in a Google Hangout, hosted by US News and GAIN, to discuss progress made on global food security and nutrition as well as overall efforts to create a more nourished, food secure world.

Lastly, USAID Global Health hosted a Twitter chat with global health advisor Kamiar Khajavi on USAID’s work with meeting MDG #4, which is to reduce child mortality.

For a snapshot of the digital conversation, take a look at our Storify feed.

How is USAID working towards achieving all 8 MDGs?

  1. End extreme poverty and hunger;

  2. Achieve universal primary education;

  3. Promote gender equality;

  4. Reduce child mortality;

  5. Improve maternal health;

  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;

  7. Ensure environmental sustainability; and

  8. Develop a global partnership for development.

Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #MDGMomentum!

In Tajikistan, Little Drops Make the River

This originally appeared on FrontLines.

In Tajikistan, there is a familiar proverb: “In every drop of water, there is a grain of gold.” Water is the most precious resource in this mountainous, landlocked nation that is slightly smaller than Wisconsin.

More than 70 years of Soviet industrialization depleted water resources; moreover, many of the collective farms that maintained irrigation systems were dissolved 20 years ago and water systems have fallen into disrepair. For villages that have water, it is often contaminated. About half of all Tajik rural households do not have access to safe, potable water. In many instances, polluted irrigation water is the only source of water for household use.

School children in Khatlon enjoy their first taste of drinking water outside their school. Photo credit: USAID

According to the World Health Organization, waterborne diseases in Tajikistan account for 60 percent of gastroenteritic disorders such as diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid. Repeated illnesses linked to poor quality water not only keep children out of school and contribute to poor health outcomes, including stunted growth, but it is estimated that, in recent years, one in six deaths among children under age 5 in Tajikistan were linked to waterborne diseases.

Previous local efforts to build or maintain water systems were unsuccessful due to a cumbersome legal framework, lack of clarity over management responsibilities and lack of funding. Operators of small water systems often did not have training, and local residents had low awareness of the dangers of waterborne illnesses.

But, as communities begin to understand the value of steady access to clean water, they are coming together with USAID and other partners to install and maintain pipe networks. These new networks, often co-funded by local communities and built by local citizens, are proving sustainable in ways that earlier networks never were.

A Holistic Approach

USAID recognized that any solution would have to be multi-faceted and cross multiple technical sectors. To be successful, the safe drinking water program would need to build the skills of engineers, increase community awareness on water and health, and partner with local governments to democratically maintain the water systems. In addition, through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s flagship food security initiative, USAID is partnering with local government officials in their efforts to increase the role and effectiveness of community-based water users’ associations and increase household consumption of nutritious food.

Jamoliddin Gulomov, chairman of Novobod Township, was eager to partner with USAID. His village in the southern province of Khatlon has never had access to clean water. Residents relied on the river, but the high price of fuel kept most people from boiling water before using it. USAID trained township specialists to maintain and repair the pipe network. The project also trained local peer educators to teach residents about health and hygiene practices. Finally, to ensure that the system was financially sound and sustainable, the Agency provided technical assistance and training to the local government to develop a transparent scheme for user fees.

Community members spoke up at local government meetings to set user fees, dug the pipeline, installed the pump station and, finally, celebrated the opening of the new system.

In addition to reporting a dramatic decline in the incidence of gastroenteritic diseases, Gulomov said, “We now have proven that the local government and citizens can cooperate to make life better for everyone.”

A Focus on Sustainability

Gulomov’s experience mirrors that of other communities involved in this project. Priority areas for this program were those that had received the least donor assistance and that had the worst health indicators. Local townships applied and were selected based partly on their capacity to sustain the improvements.

USAID partnered with a local university to train engineers in maintaining the new water systems. Students received internships to practice their engineering skills. Communities formed water, sanitation and hygiene committees to create a community health index report of baseline data and develop community health action plans based on the results.

Over the past three years, USAID has invested more than $1.7 million in improving 57 drinking water systems that provide access to clean drinking water to 150,000 people in Tajikistan…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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Accelerating Progress with LGBT Global Development Partnership

Dr. Maura O’Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID.

Last weekend we joyfully celebrated the engagement of our white son to an African-American woman. It wasn’t that many years ago in our country that they would be thrown in jail for dating, let alone wanting to marry. As a mom I can’t imagine how I would survive the phone call Judy Shepard received letting her know that her beloved son Matthew, a University of Wyoming student had been tortured and beaten. Just because he was gay. Around the world this story is too common, robbing people of dignity and opportunity  and our communities of the tremendous contributions that people who are free to be who they are can make.

Frank Mugisha from Uganda wrote to us after he learned that Claire Lucas and Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg at USAID were committed to conceiving a way to create a different future- now- for the hundreds of millions of LGBT globally. “I get phone calls everyday about people being abused by their own families, threatened by neighbors, refused health services, expelled from schools, all because they are LGBT.”

Frank knows firsthand the hardships LGBT individuals face in many countries. In 2011, his friend and fellow advocate at the organization Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) was murdered after having won a lawsuit against a magazine that had identified him as gay and called for his execution.

In 2011, the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report outlining in detail the global pattern of human rights abuses against LGBT individuals. The report found that in every region of the world, LGBT individuals are subject to hate-motivated violence—including murder, so-called “corrective” rape, and torture—as well as discrimination in jobs, health care, and education.

To make matters worse, governments are often complicit in supporting such discrimination. In fact, 85 countries and territories criminalize LGBT behavior. And seven countries have a death penalty for same-sex sexual activity.

Fortunately, people around the world are recognizing that such violence, discrimination and governmental intolerance are no longer acceptable. In 2011 the United Nations passed a historic resolution endorsing LGBT human rights. President Obama issued a mandate that agencies involved in foreign aid and development, “enhance their ongoing efforts with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.”

At United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we know that progress is accelerated and lasting when we partner. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute (GLVI), the Williams Institute, and Olivia Companies joined us in creating the LGBT Global Development Partnership.

The LGBT Global Development Partnership is the largest initiative in the world to further LGBT equality in developing and emerging market countries. It works to strengthen LGBT civil society organizations, enhance LGBT participation in democratic processes and undertake research on the economic impact of LGBT discrimination.

As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her 2011 address to the United Nations, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” I couldn’t agree more.

The LGBT Global Development Partnership has the potential to make a huge difference in the daily lives of LGBT individuals around the world and the communities in which they live. Because in countries where LGBT individuals can be legally evicted from their homes or arrested simply for being themselves, building connections and a community of empowered LGBT leaders is absolutely critical. I hope you will take a moment to watch the rest of the message from Frank, just one of the millions of committed LGBT advocates out there literally putting their lives on the line to create a better future for all of our children.

Learn more on how USAID is moving forward on LGBT equality.

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