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One Year Later—the Road to Resilience After Typhoon Haiyan

The United States is providing more than $47 million in humanitarian aid to help the people of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. This photo was taken in hard-hit Tacloban, Nov. 18, 2013. At least 200,000 people affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippine city of Tacloban and six surrounding districts are now receiving clean water for cooking and drinking, as the first water treatment plant came back to full operating capacity /  IOM/J. Lowry

The United States is providing more than $47 million in humanitarian aid to help the people of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. This photo was taken in hard-hit Tacloban, Nov. 18, 2013. At least 200,000 people affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippine city of Tacloban and six surrounding districts are now receiving clean water for cooking and drinking, as the first water treatment plant came back to full operating capacity / IOM/J. Lowry

This week a year ago, I was in the Philippines, flying with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team in a C-130 to Tacloban in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda). The strongest storm in recorded history, Haiyan hit on Nov. 8, killing more than 6,000 people, displacing 4.1 million, and affecting 16 million in total—about 14 percent of the country’s total population. Flying into Tacloban, I saw a flattened landscape littered with what looked like matchsticks—the splintered remains of homes, businesses and millions of coconut trees. The damage was immense.

The Philippine Government estimates the typhoon caused $12.7 billion in losses. More than a million homes were damaged or destroyed, and 33 million coconut trees, a source of income for many Filipinos, were wiped out. As the average growth span of a coconut tree is 12 years, the storm essentially wiped out a decade of livelihoods for many Filipino families.

USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg greets a man at the Tacloban airport who is set to board a flight to Manila, Nov. 19, 2013 / USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg greets a man at the Tacloban airport who is set to board a flight to Manila, Nov. 19, 2013 / USAID

While we have seen enormous progress by the Philippines to build back better, including plans to move 1 million people away from the coast, many of the 4 million people displaced by the storm are still living in temporary shelters. The Philippines continues to lose up to $5 billion, or 2 percent of its gross domestic product, each year to recurring natural disasters.

The Philippines’ steady but tough recovery one year after Haiyan underscores the importance of investing in resilience—of helping people, communities, countries and systems survive and recover from acute shocks and stresses.

Far from being an isolated incident, Haiyan is part of a litany of natural disasters that are coming faster and harder each year thanks to climate change. Research suggests that, as our oceans become warmer, the severity of storms will inevitably increase. The number of reported disasters has already nearly tripled since 1980, and the cost of those disasters is up 300 percent, to $200 billion every year.

As Haiyan illustrates, when disaster strikes, the most vulnerable populations are the hardest hit, often without a chance to recover before the next shock hits them. Many of the communities affected by Haiyan already had poor infrastructure, which was devastated by the storm.

We know that droughts, typhoons and other disasters will continue to happen. By investing in resilience, USAID has pledged to help the world’s most vulnerable get ahead of these recurring shocks. We have changed the way we do business to help communities adapt, mitigate and manage the risks that will inevitably come. These efforts include bringing our humanitarian and development teams together to integrate, layer and sequence our relief and development resources around the shared aim of reducing persistent emergencies by addressing underlying vulnerabilities.

Caption: Boxes of relief kits from USAID sit outside the heavily damaged Tacloban airport, Nov. 19, 2013 / IOM/J. Lowry

Boxes of relief kits from USAID sit outside the heavily damaged Tacloban airport, Nov. 19, 2013 / IOM/J. Lowry

Climate change adaptation is critical to mitigating the impact of disasters like Haiyan, and USAID is investing in these efforts. We are part of the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund, a $140 million partnership with the Department for International Development and the Rockefeller Foundation targeting infrastructure projects in Asian cities. We also launched the Pacific American Climate Fund, a $24 million program that provides grants to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In the aftermath of Haiyan, our humanitarian assistance of over $90 million helped the Philippines not only bounce back, but rebuild livelihoods and build up stronger systems to weather future shocks. Our Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance deployed people before the storm hit so we were prepared to provide immediate assistance to help save lives. We quickly turned our cash assistance programs into cash-for-work and cash-for-training activities, including emergency employment programs that engaged 118,000 people in essential reconstruction efforts to clear debris, repair more than 1,500 kilometers of roads, and restore services in 560 schools, 220 rural health care centers and more than 30 hospitals.

We also provided skills training and micro-enterprise and small business support to the most vulnerable populations, particularly small-scale coconut farmers.USAID joined together with Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola to help revive economic activity and livelihoods in Leyte, the province worst hit by the typhoon. These efforts helped restore damaged or destroyed sari-sari stores (small community stores) in public markets, and jump-start business by providing store owners access to micro-financing loans.

And we continue to seek the best ideas for building resilience in advance of a crisis. USAID joined forces with the Rockefeller Foundation and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency earlier this fall to launch the Global Resilience Partnership, which aims to catalyze innovation and scale what is already working in resilience efforts by bringing in new actors, including the private sector and academia. With an initial investment of $150 million from the three partners, the Partnership will help to drive evidence-based investments that enable cities, communities and households to better manage and adapt to inevitable shocks.

The Partnership’s first activity is the Global Resilience Challenge, a call for the creation of teams from all sectors to come together to produce locally driven, high-impact solutions to resilience challenges (application deadline: Nov. 30). Our focus will be in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia—areas with high resilience needs.

Through the Partnership, we seek to create a community of practice to strengthen resilience globally. In the face of shocks and stresses caused by epidemics, fragility and our planet’s changing climate, we need all-in ideas and solutions. The Partnership is an important effort to learn from disasters like Haiyan, build preparedness for the future, and help the world’s most vulnerable get on a solid path toward development.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Lindborg is the USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Follow here @nancylindborg

Recapturing Growth in Ebola-Stricken West Africa

With funding and support from USAID, construction crews work quickly to build a new Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia, Liberia, in front of the former Ministry of Defense building, Oct. 1, 2014

With funding and support from USAID, construction crews work quickly to build a new Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia, Liberia, in front of the former Ministry of Defense building, Oct. 1, 2014 / Morgana Wingard

Unlike a civil war or natural disaster, an epidemic does not destroy property. But it sharply increases the cost of doing business, with powerful effects on employment and investment.

This is happening in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone where the secondary impacts of the Ebola crisis have been seen in terms of shuttered businesses and closed schools. But just as economies can stall during an epidemic, we also know what expedites their recovery—a robust business climate that encourages private sector investment.

New Ebola cases continue to be recorded in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but as health workers have begun to contain the epidemic, we are already turning our attention, in partnership with host governments, to the task of restoring business activity in these countries. Liberia and Sierra Leone had been growing strongly before the crisis, driven largely by foreign direct investment in the mining sector; Guinea’s growth was weaker but had been expected to increase in 2014. All three economies have contracted sharply in the latter half of 2014, with full-year gross domestic products now expected to be at or below 2013 levels.

A first look at a 25-bed critical care hospital—staffed by U.S. medical professionals—in Harbel, Liberia, that will treat all Ebola health care workers in the country, Oct. 15, 2014

A first look at a 25-bed critical care hospital—staffed by U.S. medical professionals—in Harbel, Liberia, that will treat all Ebola health care workers in the country, Oct. 15, 2014 / Morgana Wingard

Public and private investment plans have been scaled back, suggesting that slow growth will linger through 2015 even if the epidemic is contained early in the year. This is actually not driven primarily by the loss of labor to sickness and health care, but rather by what economic epidemiologists call “social distancing”—when people avoid interacting with each other in order to avoid a perceived risk of viral transmission.

The benefits to workers, firms and farms to restoring normal economic activity can provide a powerful counterbalance to the effects of social distancing, suggesting that capacity utilization, employment and income will rebound as the epidemic is contained.  But tomorrow’s economy depends on today’s investment. The pace of economic recovery will therefore depend crucially on how private-sector firms view the evolving business environment.

Containing the outbreak will do much to restore that environment, but firms across the size spectrum—including potential new entrants—will be wary of their exposure to health-related losses even as the overall health system is strengthened. Reforms that enhance the quality of regulation and reduce the costs of doing business are therefore crucial components of the recovery effort.

Pick-up trucks-turned-ambulances drive hours through dirt roads in Bong County, Liberia, to collect patients, Oct. 9, 2014

Pick-up trucks-turned-ambulances drive hours through dirt roads in Bong County, Liberia, to collect patients, Oct. 9, 2014 / Morgana Wingard

The World Bank’s newly released business-climate survey of 189 economies—Doing Business 2015:Going Beyond Efficiency—highlighted sub-Saharan Africa as home to five of the 10 top reformers, four of which are in West Africa. “Doing business” reforms are changes in the procedure, time or cost of conducting business in a country, such as reducing the time it takes to get a construction permit or the number of approvals required to open a business. USAID has supported the Doing Business project since its inception in 2004.

Several of the highlighted business reforms from this year’s top reformers in West Africa (Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo) were the result of coordinated harmonization efforts led by the Council of Ministers of the Organization for Harmonization of Business Law in Africa. These efforts encouraged  business-friendly innovations throughout the region such as one-stop shops for registering a business, easier land registry and transfer processes, and improved credit information systems—including in the countries most affected by the outbreak.

Liberia and Sierra Leone took the impressive step of establishing public credit registries in the past year, making it easier to get credit in these countries. The resolve demonstrated by member governments in setting a regional reform agenda and implementing meaningful changes for business also bodes well for increased regional trade, which USAID supports through its regional Trade Hubs in West, East and Southern Africa.

USAID has been working with many of the reformers highlighted in this year’s report and will continue to partner with governments in the region as they tackle both the immediate challenges and the secondary effects of Ebola. Better regulatory environments, supported by governments taking the right steps to attract both domestic and foreign investment, will help these countries recover and prosper in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephen O’Connell is the Chief Economist for USAID

“Being LGBT” in Asia

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Thomas White, deputy director, Governance and Vulnerable Populations Office, Regional Development Mission Asia, USAID

This month marks the release of the eighth series of comprehensive country reports under USAID’s “Being LGBT in Asia” initiative, a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) begun in 2012. The initiative seeks to learn about, meet and engage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people across Asia, developing a better understanding of their lives as well as recommendations for further development assistance activities.

Conducted through national dialogues and interviews among LGBT communities—including over 650 LGBT people and 220 LGBT organizations—the initiative highlights the Asian LGBT experience and raises awareness about USAID’s LGBT rights and development policies.

Taken collectively, the reports highlight important trends and lessons about LGBT life. On the promising side, Vietnam has seen sweeping changes in the acknowledgement of LGBT rights in recent years, including dozens of television shows and interviews in the media with LGBT people, culminating in a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage earlier this year, although the measure did not pass. Thailand is genuinely friendly in many ways, and openly welcomes LGBT tourists. But LGBT people in Thailand face strong pressure to be “good citizens” and put family concerns before their own, a pressure that is similar in Cambodia.

The Philippines paints a mixed picture with high levels of basic social tolerance and acceptance, and even LGBT political parties. At the same time, there is widespread friction with the Catholic Church and the country’s Muslim communities. Other countries face deeper challenges. Basic social acceptance of LGBT people is lacking in most of Indonesia; if you are LGBT in Aceh province, the courts prescribe whipping, caning and egregious fines. Ultranationalist gangs have taken to violent repression of LGBT people in Mongolia. In China , being LGBT is deeply challenging with the country’s cultural focus on family and, in some cases, LGBT people marry and have children against their will to fulfill social requirements.

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To mark the global celebration of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), the United Nations Development Programme and USAID held a series of events to highlight the plight of LGBT people in the Philippines May 12-16, 2014, as part of the “Being LGBT in Asia” initiative. This is part of the ongoing exhibit at the RCBC Galleria Plaza in Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines / Being LGBT in Asia

Nepal is widely lauded for a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that annulled laws containing discrimination against sexual minorities, but being LGBT in Nepal is truly difficult because of the country’s poverty, continuing political crisis and powerfully entrenched patriarchal values. Brunei, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore continue to criminalize LGBT status, a position the United States opposes.

“Being LGBT in Asia” country reports are now available for Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, and reports are in both English and the associated local language.

In addition to country-level reports, USAID reached out to LGBT communities across Asia using social media, websites and crowd-sourced videos.  USAID also recently released its LGBT Vision for Action, a strong stand on developing an inclusive environment for all LGBT people.

Since the beginning of the initiative, U.S. ambassadors across Asia have held receptions to reach out to and recognize LGBT people. More recently, “Being LGBT in Asia” has garnered broader support that includes the White House, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

As President Barack Obama has said: “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas White, Deputy Director, Governance and Vulnerable Populations Office, Regional Development Mission Asia (RDMA), USAID

You Can’t Save Lives if you Don’t Fight Pneumonia

MCHIP immunization work in India.

MCHIP immunization work in India / JSI

For many problems in global health, we struggle to know the solutions.

Pneumonia is not one of them.

Since passing the 500 day countdown in August, the global public health community has talked a lot about what it will take to meet the ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). And one thing is clear: achieving MDG 4 – to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 – will not be realized without better addressing pneumonia, the leading killer in children under 5.

The good news is that pneumonia is preventable—and that safe, effective and affordable tools are helping to avoid and treat the disease.

Nepali village health worker counting the respirations of a sick infant

Nepali village health worker counting the respirations of a sick infant / JSI/Nepal Family Health Initiative

Pneumonia can be prevented by feeding children micronutrient rich foods, ensuring proper hygiene, including frequent hand-washing, and improving indoor air quality through well-ventilated cooking areas.

Most of all, the disease can be prevented by ensuring all children are vaccinated on schedule and treated promptly and appropriately if signs of pneumonia appear.

Devoted to combating the causes of under-5 morbidity and mortality, USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) is celebrating this World Pneumonia Day by working to ensure that every infant in the developing world is fully immunized.

Health worker in Mali assessing the respiratory rate of a sick child

Health worker in Mali assessing the respiratory rate of a sick child / JSI

In 2013, MCSP’s predecessor program—the USAID-funded Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program—joined USAID and more than 100 partner organizations, along with national and global experts, to express support for WHO and UNICEF’s first-ever global action plan to simultaneously tackle the two leading killers of children—pneumonia and diarrhea. Implementation of this plan, linked with ownership by national governments and partners’ involvement, will make these goals a reality.

The Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPP-D) calls on all parties to coordinate their approach to fighting pneumonia and diarrhea, for which there are complementary interventions to provide protection, prevention and treatment.

Immunizing in Kenya

Immunizing in Kenya / MCHIP

On this day of reflection and action, let us commemorate the brief lives of the children lost to pneumonia—nearly 1 million every year worldwide—by vowing to support and focus on implementing the Global Action Plan and strengthening countries’ routine health systems in partnership with communities.

The fight against this deadly disease can be won. Children are not dying because effective interventions do not exist; they are dying because these interventions are not readily available for all. To dramatically reduce child mortality, we must achieve high and equitable coverage.

Through effective use of pneumococcal (PCV), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and rotavirus vaccines, vitamin A, zinc, oral rehydration solution, breastfeeding and other interventions, we can address MDG4.

Collectively around the world, we owe it to the future generation to give them the best start in life and protect them from preventable and treatable diseases like pneumonia.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Robert Steinglass is the Immunization Team Leader and Katrin DeCamp is the Senior Communications Specialist for USAID’s Maternal and Child Survival Program.

Assistance Supports Dignity for Syrian Refugees, Markets for Jordan

This post originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State Official Blog, on October 31, 2014.


A refugee living in the community pays for groceries with his pre-loaded credit card

A refugee living in the community pays for groceries with his pre-loaded credit card

Jordan, a relatively small country of 6.5 million people, has welcomed more than 620,000 Syrian refugees since 2011 (Jordan also hosts Palestinian and Iraqi refugees).  This statistic only includes registered refugees, although many thousands more are believed to have entered Jordan without registering.  This is equivalent to 27 million people entering the United States, more than the population of Texas.  All of these people need housing, water, and food.  Health and education systems have stretched to accommodate the new arrivals.  Despite a strong desire to help, Jordanians are understandably concerned about the resources required to support their needs.

Last week, I met with refugees and the humanitarian workers running their assistance programs to learn more about how the United States and international community are responding.  I visited the Za’atri Refugee Camp which, which houses 78,000 residents. I also had the opportunity to speak with Syrians living with family and friends in the neighboring community.  Because non-citizens cannot legally work within Jordan, all are dependent on international aid for their survival.

Ambassador Lane observes the process of registering refugees to enable them to receive food vouchers

Ambassador Lane observes the process of registering refugees to enable them to receive food vouchers

As expected, the first concern for all the refugees, whether in a camp or not, is adequate food for their families.  The World Food Programme (WFP), with extensive support from USAID’s Food for Peace program, helps meet this need.  But feeding such a large population is neither easy nor cheap.  In fact, it costs $23 million per month.  One reason I went to Jordan was to observe how these funds are being spent, and the impact this support is having both on the refugees and on Jordan.  What I saw was encouraging.

Recent reforms to U.S. food assistance regulations have provided flexibility for USAID to choose between in-kind food assistance or the use of cash and vouchers to allow refugees to purchase their own food.  This flexibility is important in Jordan.  As a stable and relatively prosperous country, Jordan has well-developed markets.  However, as trade routes into Syria and Iraq have been cut, the economy has contracted, leaving farmers less able to export the food they produce.  By giving Syrian refugees the ability to purchase the food they need through the local markets, WFP is supporting the existing market system, contributing to the Jordanian economy, and helping to dispel concerns that refugees will drain Jordanian resources. Vouchers also give Syrian refugees access to a more diverse diet which can better meet their nutritional needs.

WFP and USAID elected to provide their support through vouchers and pre-paid credit cards, enabling Syrian refugees to purchase food in nearby stores.  While this seems like a small matter within the bigger picture of having to flee war in one’s homeland, the difference in how assistance is delivered has a large impact on how well people survive such difficult times.  One refugee described the dignity and sense of normalcy she feels when she walks into a store, chooses the food she wants to buy, and pays for it with a credit card.  While the efforts of WFP, USAID, and other donors are essential to helping Syrian refugees cope in very difficult times, the programs also help support the Jordanian economy by compensating farmers and entrepreneurs for their efforts, helping keep markets stable, and promoting economic activity that benefits Jordan and the people who call it home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ambassador David Lane serves as the United States Representative to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.

Moldova at a Crossroad

 USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Jonathan Katz (left) shakes hands with Iurie Ciocan, the head of Moldova’s Central Election Committee.


USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Jonathan Katz (left) shakes hands with Iurie Ciocan, the head of Moldova’s Central Election Committee. / Romand Purici

Moldova finds itself at an important crossroad. This past June, Moldova, together with Georgia and Ukraine, signed a European Union Association Agreement, and in September ratified the EU Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCTFA). The United States applauded the signing of these historic agreements that marked a major step toward Moldova’s integration with the European Union.

While these critical agreements deepen Moldova’s link to the common EU market, unlocking new opportunities for trade and assistance, they have also led to increasing economic and political pressure from Russia. As Moldova moves closer to EU integration with the West, the Russian government has enacted increasingly harsh bans on wine and produce from Moldova, a real economic hardship given the importance of the agricultural sector to the economy.

As Deputy Assistant Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, my visit to Moldova focused on strengthening the partnership between the United States and the Moldovan people and reaffirming our ongoing support at this important time.

Throughout my stay in Moldova, I was inspired by the civic responsibility of its citizens and their strong desire for closer economic and political ties with Europe. Sitting down face to face with wine and fruit producers, I learned about their perseverance in the face of Russian bans, their ongoing efforts to take full advantage of the new DCTFA, and the strong partnership they have with USAID.

Russia’s ban of Moldovan wine and fruit remains a major challenge for local producers to overcome, as Moldova’s economy depended heavily on trade with Russia. Today USAID is working hand in hand with Moldovans to respond to this challenge by helping ensure that they meet EU export requirements and supporting Moldovan producers in marketing and outreach to buyers in the EU as well as non-traditional markets.

Through USAID’s CEED project, we successfully helped Moldovans create a national brand—Wine of Moldova, A Legend Alive. This branding, along with USAID-assisted marketing efforts in other key Moldovan industries, has made it possible for 80 enterprises in Moldova to expand exports in regional markets.

Although Moldova is celebrated for the quality of its produce, many of the country’s farmers have been hit hard by the Russian bans

Although Moldova is celebrated for the quality of its produce, many of the country’s farmers have been hit hard by the Russian bans. / Roman Purici

While the Russian bans create a difficult challenge to Moldovan farmers, they also provide an enormous economic opportunity. As Moldova is connected to new markets, it gains the ability to increase both the volume of its exports and the price of its product.

The Moldovan people are ready to take advantage of this opportunity. During a meeting with local fruit producers, I learned that even in the face of the Russian fruit ban, businesses were able to increase exports. This is particularly impressive given that 90 percent of their apples were sent to Russia before the ban. Over the past year, USAID-assisted producers have made $16.7 million in export sales to several countries, with nearly $4.6 million of these sales coming from women-owned or managed businesses.

Moldova’s elections on Nov. 30 will be an important nexus of these different pressures and will be crucial in charting Moldova’s future course. The U.S. remains committed to working with Moldova to achieve its full democratic potential, including free and fair elections.

During my visit I saw up close the impact of our elections assistance, meeting with Iurie Ciocan, the head of Moldova’s Central Election Committee (CEC). He shared his insights into the upcoming parliamentary elections. For the first time, the CEC has mandated that all voting booths and boxes be standardized, an important component for transparent elections.

Ciocan highlighted USAID’s support for short- and long-term election observation efforts with an $800,000 award to the local entity Promo-Lex. I also met with local partners, as well as the National Democratic Institute, to learn more about the challenges of the upcoming elections. USAID is also supporting independent news analysis and providing information on political party platforms to help ensure the people of Moldova have all the information necessary to make an informed decision.

I look forward to my next visit to Moldova and building on a successful 20-year partnership with the Moldovan people. Since 1992, the United States has provided nearly $1.2 billion in assistance to Moldova, including over $22 million in FY 2013 and a five-year, $262 million Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact launched in 2010.

USAID will continue to provide assistance to strengthen Moldova’s democratic governance and economic growth as it moves toward deeper integration with the European Union and a stronger U.S.-Moldova bilateral relationship.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Katz is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Bill Berger: “There is no book on responding to this Ebola crisis… we’re writing it now.”

Morgana Wingard This is the fifth blog in our Profiles in Courage series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight against Ebola. This series records the experiences of our Disaster Assistance Response Team staff on the front lines of the Ebola response – from the security officers, to public health experts, to information specialists – and offers their reflections on this historic health crisis.
General Darryl Williams, Bill Berger, and U.S. Ambasador to Liberia Deborah Malac.

General Darryl Williams, DART Team Leader Bill Berger, and U.S. Ambasador to Liberia Deborah Malac. / Natalie Hawwa, USAID

“There is no book on responding to this Ebola crisis… we’re writing it now,” says Bill Berger, Team Leader for the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in West Africa.

A seasoned disaster expert, Bill has responded to more than 30 large-scale emergencies across the globe and led several DARTs for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

But how exactly are Bill and his team fighting this unprecedented Ebola epidemic?

“Day by day, pushing at a maximum speed on all fronts,” he says, and with every ounce of compassion and disaster knowledge they have.

As the DART Team Leader, Bill strategizes alongside the local governments and U.S. Ambassadors in the affected countries, the United Nations and NGO partners on the ground to mount the most effective aid effort possible. With Ebola, there are many complex technical pieces that need to come together to help save lives.

“We know the basic things that need to happen, such as building treatment centers, training health care workers, providing testing capabilities and coordination — but we also have a real opportunity here to transfer that capacity and boost national health care systems in West Africa.”

The DART is working across the region in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – each a unique country with its own dynamic for responding to Ebola. While there are challenges of navigating unknown territory for this unprecedented crisis, Bill draws strength from having the opportunity to help those affected by this tragedy. He’s also inspired by his team and the chance they have to contribute to such a critical and historic global issue together.

“Every DART is like living a full lifetime; you have many experiences and feelings in a short period, with so much confronting you daily,” he says. “Working with others during a crisis brings about wonderful and special bonds.”

Bill jokes that the DART will be giving each other the ‘Ebola bump’ — the new West African greeting of hitting elbows, adopted in lieu of a handshake due to the ‘no touch’ atmosphere — for years to come.

“Our DART is a very special group of dedicated people bringing in every piece needed for this Ebola response. It’s a great gift to lead this team.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. Check out her guest posts from USAID’s instagram

First Look at a New Hospital for Ebola Aid Workers: 10 Photos You’ve Never Seen

Morgana Wingard This blog is part of our Daily Dispatches series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight on Ebola. Her photo series and blogs from the team offer unique angles into the many facets of the Ebola story – from life inside a treatment center, to profiles of the health care workers battling Ebola from the front lines, to the many ways the epidemic is impacting the health, economy and future of the nation.

HARBEL, Liberia—”Where have you done this before?” USAID Administrator Raj Shah asked on October 15, as he stepped through the taupe colored tent flap into the new 25-bed critical care hospital being built to treat all health care and aid workers who fall ill to Ebola. “Nowhere, sir. No one has,” replied an army engineer.

Historically, mobile medical units like this one provide versatile trauma care for military operations. In this case, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) customized the Monrovia Medical Unit to treat highly contagious Ebola patients.

Once complete, the hospital will be operated and staffed by a team of 65 specialized officers from the USPHS Commissioned Corps – an elite uniformed service with more than 6,800 full-time, highly qualified public health professionals, serving the most underserved and vulnerable populations domestically and abroad.

The Commissioned Corps will deploy clinicians, administrators, and support staff to Liberia to treat health care workers with Ebola, and to continue efforts by USAID, DoD and international partners to build capacity for additional care in Liberia.

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The new 25-bed critical care hospital being built in Harbel, Liberia to treat health care and aid workers who fall ill to Ebola. The new hospital is expected to be online in early November.


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Rear Admiral Scott Giberson (Acting U.S. Deputy Surgeon General and Commander of the USPHS Commissioned Corps Ebola Response) gives USAID Administrator Raj Shah a tour of the new 25-bed critical care hospital for all health workers who fall ill with Ebola while on the frontlines of the epidemic in Liberia on October 15, 2014.  


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Colonel Joann Frye, nurse, Officer in Charge, U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command 633rd IPTS and USAID Administrator Raj Shah inside the new hospital.


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Tents are connected by a covered passageway inside the “Hot Zone.”  Soon the only people inside this area will be health workers either as patients or suited up in personal protective equipment.


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Inside one of the patient wings of a new critical care hospital being built by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Public Health Service in Harbel, Liberia.


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The new hospital’s supply room.


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CAPT Ed Dieser (Engineer, USPHS Commissioned Corps Safety/Facilities Officer) gives USAID Administrator Raj Shah a tour of the new 25-bed critical care hospital for health workers who fall ill to Ebola while on the front lines of the outbreak in Liberia.

(All photos by Morgana Wingard)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. Check out her guest posts from USAID’s instagram

Paloma and Alisha: The Information Gurus Behind the U.S. Ebola Response

Morgana Wingard This is the fourth blog in our Profiles in Courage series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight against Ebola. This series records the experiences of our Disaster Assistance Response Team staff on the front lines of the Ebola response – from the security officers, to public health experts, to information specialists – and offers their reflections on this historic health crisis.
U.S. Information Officers Paloma Clohossey and Alisha McMichael, left to right.

U.S. Information Officers Paloma Clohossey and Alisha McMichael, left to right.

Though Alisha McMichael and  Paloma Clohossey’s jobs on the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) aren’t as high profile as the health care workers who suit up in protective gear everyday, one could argue that their role is just as vital to the U.S. response.

“Alisha and Paloma bring all the threads of the operation together for reporting and information collection — they know the ins and the outs of the response as a whole,” said Bill Berger, the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader.

They are the DART’s Information Officers – also known as ‘IOs.’: the information gurus who compile, collate and verify all the information about the U.S. Government’s Ebola response efforts and the crisis at large. After absorbing every last detail and fact, they distribute them to team members on the ground and back to Washington, D.C. so that everyone is on the same page and has the correct information they need, when they need it.

In a disaster response environment – especially one like the Ebola epidemic, where everyday the international community is navigating new territory – information is critical. Alisha and Paloma constantly take in and filter information to ensure they’re up to date on the latest — no easy feat given the ever-evolving situation as the crisis progresses and the U.S. response gains momentum.

In fact, Alisha has been dubbed the DART’s ‘sync-master,’ responsible for tracking daily the progress of Ebola treatment units, community care centers, trainings for health care workers, burial teams, airlifts of relief supplies, and other response efforts – following the military’s Sync Matrix model. Meanwhile, Paloma writes daily updates about the situation on the ground to inform Washington and communicate key gaps, challenges and successes.

Being a DART IO requires a lot of attention to detail and long days, but working 24/7 doesn’t get them down.

“The best part by far,” says Paloma, “is getting to have the opportunity to do work that feels meaningful. I’ve been given a chance to contribute to something that I believe in.”

Adds Alisha, “This is a great team, and I know everyone gives their best everyday. That feels good.”

(All photos by Morgana Wingard)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. Check out her guest posts from USAID’s instagram

RELATED LINKS

“I’ve Never Had a Job Like This”: Life Inside an Ebola Treatment Unit

Morgana Wingard This blog is part of our Daily Dispatches series in which we’ve teamed up with photojournalist Morgana Wingard, who is on the ground with USAID staff in Liberia documenting the fight on Ebola. Her photo series and blogs from the team offer unique angles into the many facets of the Ebola story – from life inside a treatment center, to profiles of the health care workers battling Ebola from the front lines, to the many ways the epidemic is impacting the health, economy and future of the nation.

SUAKOKO, Liberia—”It becomes day-to-day life. You get into your PPE [personal protective equipment] and you go in every day and you feel safe,” explains Audrey Rangel – a nurse at the Bong County Ebola treatment unit run by International Medical Corps with support and funding from USAID.

Before landing at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia on September 8,  Audrey worked on a maternal, child health and nutrition program in Timor Leste. “I always wanted to do disaster relief work. The crisis started to take off. It was in the news a lot. People were talking about it. So I went online. I saw a position for an Ebola response nurse. To me it was just the right time. The description just kind of fit me. I was speaking with my husband and I was saying I can’t not do this. I can’t not do this…. They need people. There was an actual need for me. And I just kind of felt like the description was made for me. It was just perfect. I had to do it.”

The Bong County Ebola treatment unit where Audrey was stationed is a four hour bumpy journey from Monrovia. Bong has some of the highest rates of infection after Lofa and Montserrado Counties. Their two ambulances drive for hours every day to pick-up patients in remote locations like Bong Mines where they picked-up 18-year-old Cephas after his father carried him on his back for an hour to a location where the ambulance could reach him.

Audrey’s days are spent on the front lines of the Ebola response, suiting up in protective gear and caring for patients like Cephas. Even as she roots for survivors, she admits that it’s easy to get attached to her patients: “For some reason you’re sad to see them go.”

“It’s turned out to be an amazing, amazing experience. I wouldn’t take it back for anything.  I guess you can say it exceeded my non-expectations,” says Audrey.

To learn how qualified medical professionals can join the fight against Ebola, visit: www.usaid.gov/ebola/volunteers.

Watch Audrey’s Story

(All photos by Morgana Wingard)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Morgana Wingard is a photojournalist documenting the many facets of the Ebola crisis in Liberia. All this week she will be guest posting from USAID’s instagram

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