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Making Progress in the Fight Against Hunger: World Food Day 2011

Jonathan Shrier serves as Acting Feed the Future Acting Deputy Coordinator for Diplomacy/Acting Special Representative for Global Food Security, and Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.  Originally posted on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State Official Blog.

Today, World Food Day, reminds us that hunger is a reality for nearly a billion people worldwide. Rising and volatile food prices since last year have pushed tens of millions of additional people into the ranks of the hungry.

This is a particularly poignant day as we have just returned from the Horn of Africa, where there more than 13 million people are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. In Somalia, a lack of effective governance and the actions of the al-Shabaab terrorist group in preventing humanitarian aid from reaching those in need have turned a bad drought into outright famine.

We traveled to Ethiopia and Kenya with USAID Administrator Raj Shah, where we met with our partners in the region, including government officials, civil society, and private sector representatives, to discuss improving food security over the short, medium, and long-term.

With our partners, we’re making progress.

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USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (10/10/2011 – 10/14/2011)

October 8: Over the weekend, The New York Times published an editorial supporting the budgets for the State Department and foreign aid. “Savings squeezed from the State Department and foreign aid — which together are less than a tenth of the basic Pentagon budget — would be a tiny share of the $3.8 trillion federal budget. Yet the effects would be hugely damaging to American foreign policy.”

October 9: Ethiopia’s Addis Fortune published excerpts of an interview with USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, on his meeting with Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his visit to the region.

Nobel Peace Laureates Awarded for their Work in Promoting Women’s Rights and Peace

I was thrilled to learn that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni leader Tawakkul Karman.

President Johnson Sirleaf, Gbowee and Karman were announced as recipients of the prize today by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo. They were honored for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Elected in 2005 as Africa’s first female president, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has worked tirelessly to rebuild Liberia after 14 years of devastating civil wars that killed an estimated 250,000 people. USAID had the honor of hosting President Johnson Sirleaf at a development forum this year, where she spoke about her mission to move Liberia past the need for development assistance by 2020. Johnson Sirleaf is involved in the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to raise awareness of issues of critical importance to women.

A social worker and mother of five, Leymah Gbowee is head of the Accra-based Women Peace and Security Network Africa, which works to build relationships across the West African sub-region to build women’s capacity in preventing, averting and ending conflicts. She organized the non-violent movement that eventually ended the Second Liberian civil war in 2003. Gbowee is also the central character in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which has been used as an advocacy tool in post-conflict zones like Sudan and Zimbabwe, mobilizing African women to petition for peace and security

And chairwoman of Women Journalists without Chains, Tawakkul Karman, is a human rights activist and journalist. At 32, she is one of the youngest Nobel Prize recipients. Karman has been among the leaders of the peaceful protests challenging the rule of Yemen’s President Ali Abdulla Saleh, arguing for women’s rights, democracy and peace. In January this mother of three, took to the streets of the capital with about 50 university students demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
I applaud the Nobel Committee for recognizing these extraordinary leaders and for shining a spotlight on the role women peace-builders play in creating more stable, prosperous societies around the world.

At USAID, we remain proud to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment as integral components of all our development initiatives. As we continue our commitment to improving the lives of women and girls everywhere, we should recognize these living heroes as critical partners and allies.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (10/2/2011 – 10/7/2011)

October 3: Foreign Policy’s “The Cable” blog reports that USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah is traveling to Ethiopia and Kenya this week to visit areas affected by the drought. Administrator Shah will be visiting heads of state and senior leadership, as well as pulling together the humanitarian and NGO communities, to assess progress on the challenges that the drought has brought to the Horn of Africa.

October 3: In a blog posted on ABC News’ website, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah calls on readers to take the Million Moms Challenge, which aims to help mothers and newborns around the world who are at high-risk of complications and death during the first 48-hours of childbirth.

October 4: The Associated Press and Voice of America reports that while visiting Ethiopia this week, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah pledged an additional $127 million in aid on behalf of the American people. The three new aid grants, including a major food security program, will help reach 1.5 million Ethiopians who are suffering from chronic hunger conditions.

October 4: In an op-ed published in The Huffington Post, singer-songwriter and actress Mandy Moore writes of her work as an Ambassador for PSI, a global health organization that works closely with USAID. Moore writes, “When our country invests in global health, we are doing the right thing. When USAID succeeds, we all benefit. We invest less than 1% of the federal budget in strengthening the health and economic development in other countries, and we get incredible results.”

October 5: The Associated Press reports that countless lives have been saved as a result of interventions to stop famine spreading throughout the Horn of Africa. During his visit to the region, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah explained that nearly 4.5 million people have been able to withstand the drought as a result of inoculating their livestock against diseases. While in the region, Administrator Shah also encouraged the governments of Ethiopia and Kenya to make reforms in their agricultural sectors to boost agricultural growth and food self-sufficiency over time.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (9/26/2011 – 9/30/2011)

September 23: Last Friday, Federal News Radio aired a story about USAID’s FWD campaign that seeks to raise awareness about the famine in the Horn of Africa through interactive communications.  The Famine, War, and Drought (FWD) campaign aims to build a strong online presence and utilize social media to inform the public about the crisis and raise more awareness.

September 28: Dartmouth College’s student newspaper highlighted the appointment of one of its alums, Mara Rudman, Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Bureau. Rudman was sworn in on Tuesday and will oversee development, diplomacy and defense efforts in order to promote stability in the region and protect the interests of the United States.

50 Years of Partnership with Kenya – Part 1 of 4

Agriculture is the largest single employer in Kenya and counts for one fourth of the country’s GDP, but the current agricultural production methods in Kenya are inefficient, causing economic stagnation and poverty.  USAID and partners on the ground in Kenya have developed competitive programs for maize, dairy, passion fruit, and small hold farmers to help improve productivity.  These initiatives – like USAID’s Feed the Future – have transformed lives, promoted sustainable agricultural development, and improved the nutritional options for many of Kenya’s people.

In the coming weeks, we will highlight 4 videos celebrating USAID’s partnership with Kenya. The first video in this series shows the variety of agriculture programs and activities that have occurred over the past 50 years and the impact that they have had on the people of Kenya.

From the Field

In Batticaloa, Sri Lanka we held a friendly cricket tournament between youth from the East and South  to mark International Peace Day.

In Jaffna, Sri Lanka we opened a collection center and distributed “freezer trucks” to farmers as part of USAID’s public-private alliances program.  This hand over of equipment, tools and grants will improve productivity and profitability of fruit and vegetable cultivation in the conflict-affected Northern Province. These partnerships will not only provide employment to young men and women in the conflict-affected districts but also offer training and social integration among members of diverse ethnic groups.

In Vavuniya, Sri Lanka under our Office of Transition Initiatives program, we will hand over a large truck  to recently resettled farmers in the North in a bid to enhance their marketing potential and to foster relations between the North and the South. Farmers will also receive water pumps and sprinklers on a credit basis.

In Iraq, as part of an ongoing effort to improve local governance and build local capacity, we held a competition for the best District Council website.  The websites will evaluated based on their content quality and quantity, layout/ organization, update frequency, and objectivity/reliability.

In Jordan, as part of our water resources management program, we began work at a new wastewater treatment plant.  Jordan is one of the ten most water-deprived countries in the world. The treatment plant will help improve the health and environmental conditions of the surrounding areas.

In the Ukraine, we will hold a 10th Anniversary celebration of Telekritika, a key media watchdog in Ukraine and a long-standing USAID partner. The celebration includes award ceremony to honor TV producers and TV journalists whose activities represent the highest ethical reporting standards to strengthening independent media in Ukraine.

All Hands on Open Data: Mapping the Famine

USAID is starting to take a new approach to the data we release – from the types of data we release to the public, to the ways we actually release it.

On Monday we launched a new campaign to raise awareness about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and, with it, released a set of open-source maps. Sharing this data in an interactive format allows visitors to our site to visualize the crisis in a whole new way and will in turn, we hope, help to create new ideas and solutions for fighting famine and drought.

Today, we want to highlight some of the ways other organizations have used this data released by USAID.

If you have seen maps of the drought and subsequent famine in the Horn of Africa, including those from our FWD campaign, they probably include color-coded areas that show the extent and severity of crisis. The areas hardest hit by the drought and famine are usually shown in a deep red color and concentrated in southern Somalia, in regions currently inaccessible to humanitarian assistance.  You also may have seen maps showing a decline in vegetation and rainfall levels over the past year.

The files and data used to make many of these maps come from two USAID-funded programs called the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or FEWS NET, and the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, or FSNAU.  These two early warning systems use various data sources to provide timely and rigorous early warnings to the humanitarian community on emerging and evolving food security issues.

We are pleased to see that many organizations have used this data over the last several months to spread the word about the drought and the millions of people affected.

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Social Media in International Development

If this week’s Social Good Summit in New York could only prove one point, it would be that social media has a crucial role to play in communicating the story of international development. Whether it is a blog, a tweet, or a large Facebook presence—social media is a way to actively engage the public on development issues.

A view of the Social Good Summit. Photo Credit: UN Foundation

The second annual summit, hosted by Mashable and the UN Foundation, brought innovative thinkers dedicated to solving the world’s biggest problems, such as famine, malaria, maternal health mortality, and child marriage, together with bloggers and social media types.

The four-day summit included a star-studded line up—from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to cycling legend Lance Armstrong. It was live streamed by Mashable, and bloggers and attendees watched the panel discussions and livetweeted throughout the event using the hashtag #socialgood. The conversation was viral with thousands actively participating around the world via Twitter.

The highlights of the week include USAID Administrator Raj Shah launching our new FWD campaign, which is a  digital campaign that showcases interactive maps to tell the story of crisis and response in the Horn of Africa. The website is a place where people can get the latest information, forward the facts, and find ways to do more.

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USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (9/19/2011 – 9/23/2011)

September 19: The Huffington Post reports that at Mashable’s Social Good Summit, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah launched a new public engagement effort to raise awareness about the devastating famine in the Horn of Africa. Known as the FWD Campaign (Famine, War, Drought), the campaign aims to increase awareness and a call to action in the Horn of Africa

September 20: In an interview with PBS NewsHour, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah discussed the new Horn of Africa public awareness campaign, called FWD. Administrator Shah also provided an update on the crisis in Somalia and the new tools being implemented to track food prices throughout the region. A Reuters journalist also interviewed Administrator Shah, who discussed the use of innovative technology USAID is using to distribute food aid. In Somalia, cell phones have been used to help distribute mobile money for people to safely purchase food.

September 20: An op-ed written by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah was published in The Huffington Post. In it, Administrator Shah discusses the famine in the Horn of Africa introduces the new FWD campaign, asking people to “get informed, get engaged and forward this information on to their friends and families.

September 21: A USA Today article included a story about a USAID-hosted sports and development event that took place during the UN General Assembly. Former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo, who has traveled extensively in Africa, spoke on a panel discussing the importance sports can play in international development. Mutombo was joined by former All-Star pitcher Pedro Martinez and four-time Olympic gold medal speedskater Johann Olav Koss.

September 21: Reuters and The New York Times reports that PepsiCo is partnering with USAID to provide chickpeas to target malnourished children in Ethiopia. PepsiCo unveiled the plan on Wednesday at the Clinton Global Initiative.

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