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Building Back Together: Nepal, One Year Later

USAID recovery and reconstruction projects, like Baliyo Ghar, train construction professionals and homeowners on how to build back safer using local materials and earthquake-resistant best practices. / Laxman Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

USAID recovery and reconstruction projects, like Baliyo Ghar, train construction professionals and homeowners on how to build back safer using local materials and earthquake-resistant best practices. / Laxman Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

Today marks a most solemn occasion — it has been a year since the devastating 7.8 earthquake in Nepal took 9,000 lives and injured 25,000 people. Nepalis lost their homes, their treasured monuments and, in some cases, their livelihoods. The past 12 months have been some of the most difficult Nepal has ever faced.

Since April 25, 2015, Nepal has suffered 445 aftershocks greater than 4.0, and a prolonged border and fuel crisis. There is no doubt Nepal has weathered a very turbulent series of storms.

But the clouds are beginning to clear.

This optimism is born of my firsthand experience working in Rwanda for the last four years. Like Nepal, Rwanda is a landlocked country reliant on its neighbors for access to waterways, fuel and other important imports. Rwanda also suffered a very dark hour in 1994 when it turned on itself.

But through significant reforms, Rwanda has seen sustained economic growth over the last decade, transforming into a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy — making it an increasingly valuable neighbor. The last parliamentary elections saw a majority of the seats taken by female candidates; other development successes, such as rapid poverty reduction and reduced inequality, have set the stage for even more success.

Rwanda’s story offers hope, assuring people that even in the darkest of times, a nation can emerge stronger and more focused on creating the future it wants — vibrant and reflective of people’s hopes and dreams.

To jumpstart recovery in the agriculture sector, USAID is delivering much-needed agricultural tools and supplies to farmers. / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

To jumpstart recovery in the agriculture sector, USAID is delivering much-needed agricultural tools and supplies to farmers. / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

Immediately after the earthquake, USAID mobilized its partners to provide recovery support. Our health programs are preventing the spread of diseases by ensuring access to clean water and proper hygiene, delivering family planning services and counseling to women, and distributing Vitamin A supplements to 3.2 million under-5 children.

Our education programs helped get children back to school quickly and created safe spaces for them. Our agricultural programs have distributed supplies and other farming tools so that fields and gardens could get replanted. And with the spike in human trafficking, our counter trafficking in persons programs are working to reintegrate women and girls back into their communities.

USAID’s reconstruction investments include our contribution to the World Bank’s Multi-donor Trust Fund, which is supporting an earthquake beneficiary survey and providing cash subsidies for housing. The survey, deployed in all of the 14 most-affected districts, assesses earthquake damage, house by house, informing the Government of Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority who is in most need of the cash grants.

Another way USAID is supporting Nepal is through training and technical assistance. USAID is funding two housing reconstruction projects, Baliyo Ghar and Sabal, to train more than 13,500 local construction professionals and educate 285,000 affected homeowners on building earthquake-resistant homes over the next five years. These projects will also establish local-level reconstruction technology centers and demonstration homes, and offer vocational trainings.

Finally, USAID is supporting communication and outreach in partnership with the Government of Nepal so that affected households know where to access resources and services and are armed with simple, actionable steps to build back safer.

As we put the past year behind us, it is important to take a step back and acknowledge

everything we accomplished together with the people of Nepal. When disaster struck and before aid arrived, Nepalis picked each other up and supported their families and neighbors with shelter and food.

They define resilience and defy despair. I have only been here two weeks, and yet it is clear these qualities are inherent in the Nepali people. They are the heroes of the past year.

Over the next two weeks, USAID’s mission in Nepal will remember the 9,000 people who perished a year ago today and honor the local heroes who represent the best of Nepal. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter (#RebuildingLives) as we pay tribute to Nepal.

On behalf of the mission, I extend my deepest condolences to those who have experienced loss over the past year, and assure the people of Nepal that we remain a committed partner as we build back together. I’m hopeful for Nepal’s future, and I look forward to serving as USAID Nepal’s new Mission Director.

We stand with you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Malnak is the new Mission Director for USAID/Nepal.

The Real Heroes Behind USAID’s Nepal Earthquake Response

Nepal_Rubble

Last year’s earthquake in Nepal claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people, injured more than 22,000 others, and damaged or destroyed more than 890,000 homes. / Kadish Das Shrestha, USAID

On April 25, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck central Nepal—the worst to hit the country in over 80 years. It caused widespread damage across the country, nearly destroyed entire villages, and triggered landslides and avalanches. The earthquake was followed by more than 100 aftershocks, including a magnitude 7.3 trembler on May 12.

I had lived and worked in Nepal for 18 years, establishing very close personal and professional ties during my time there. When I got first word of the earthquake, I immediately felt terror for the people and places I had come to love. Then, I went into response mode.

A medium sized urban search and rescue team made up of 57 members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and 60,000 pounds of equipment, activated by USAID, board a C-17 Globemaster III at March Air Reserve Base, April 27, 2015. The team is in response to the magnitude 7.8 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks which struck near the city of Kathmandu, Nepal on April 25. The C-17 is assigned to the 337th Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. (US Air Force Photos by Master Sgt. Roy A. Santana/Released)

Within hours, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team deployed to Nepal. / U.S. Air Force photos by Master Sgt. Roy A. Santana

Within hours, I was in a U.S. Air Force C-17 on the way to Kathmandu, leading a 136-person Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) deployed by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to coordinate the U.S. government’s response efforts.

Some of our work made front-page news, especially when our urban search-and-rescue teams assisted in two miraculous rescues: the first, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled from the rubble five days after the quake hit. The other involved a 41-year-old woman who was saved from a collapsed building 50 miles east of Kathmandu.

Nepal Rescue

The DART’s urban search-and-rescue teams helped rescue 15-year-old Pemba, five days after the earthquake hit. / Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

But in my opinion, the unsung heroes of this disaster were the Nepalese people, themselves, many of whom were able to play critical roles in their country’s response—all while dealing with a tremendous sense of loss.

More than a thousand people had the ability to save lives in their neighborhoods, communities and villages thanks to training and tools USAID has been providing for more than two decades.

Nepal sits on the boundary of two massive tectonic plates. Previous large-scale earthquakes occurred in 1833 and 1934, and we knew it would only be a matter of time before another catastrophic quake struck.  While we can’t stop earthquakes from happening, we knew we could help people better prepare and respond to disasters.

Bal Krishna 1

USAID’s DART meets with Dr. Vaidya, who implemented a disaster plan in his hospital with the skills he learned from a USAID program. This planning allowed Nepal’s largest medical facility to remain open after the earthquake, helping to save many lives. / USAID

Since 1998, USAID has supported the Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response. This program helps Nepal’s disaster management agencies organize and conduct trainings on medical first response, collapsed structure search-and-rescue, and hospital preparedness for mass casualties following a disaster.

After taking one of these trainings, Dr. Pradeep Vaidya helped his hospital develop a disaster plan. As a result, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Teaching Hospital fastened furniture to the walls, laminated windows, prepositioned supplies, and installed a seismic-resistant blood bank.

These efforts allowed the hospital to stay open right after the earthquake; its doctors treated 700 patients and performed more than 300 surgeries.

CADRE

More than 600 people like Sanam and Kritica put their USAID training into action after the earthquake hit, helping their fellow Nepalese by providing first aid and distributing relief items./ Kadish Das Shrestha, USAID

We’ve also been training communities on basic life support, light search and rescue, dead body management, and best practices on how to respond to multiple casualties through a program called Community Action for Disaster Response, which we support in partnership with the American Red Cross and the Nepal Red Cross Society.

Because of this training, 600 team members deployed to hard-hit areas after the April 25 earthquake to participate in search-and-rescue operations, provide first aid to the injured, and assist with damage assessments and distributions.

Imagery captured during an aerial survey flight flown by members of Joint Task Force 505, May 7, shows areas affected by an earthquake in outlying villages near Kathmandu, Nepal. The Nepalese government requested the U.S. government’s assistance after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country April 25. U.S. military services came together to form JTF 505, which works in conjunction with U.S. Agency for International Development and the international community, to provide unique capabilities to assist Nepal. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Anderson)

Experts trained by USAID assessed more than 126,000 structures to ensure they were safe after the earthquake. / U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Anderson

Finally, for more than 15 years, we’ve been building a qualified pool of engineers and technical experts through our partnership with the Kathmandu-based National Society for Earthquake Technology.

We trained people on how to conduct seismic risk assessments and develop earthquake preparedness plans. After the earthquake struck, our partner mobilized 400 earthquake damage inspectors and 450 volunteers who surveyed more than 126,000 structures to ensure they were safe.

At the same time, we also trained homeowners and masons on how to make buildings more earthquake resistant—work that still continues to this day.

Nepal_Construction

Homeowners and masons rebuild using seismic-resistant building techniques. / NSET

While the April 25 earthquake caused significant damage, I’m proud that the preparedness investments we put in place prior to the disaster helped save lives. We now have a cadre of earthquake experts in the region with a depth of knowledge to make a difference in their communities. And these experts are grateful.

USAID Bill Berger head shot

After living in Nepal for 18 years, and working to help the country prepare for disasters, USAID’s Bill Berger led the Disaster Assistance Response Team that responded to last year’s earthquake. / Kadish Das Shrestha, USAID

All during my time in Nepal, I had people come up to me and tell me amazing stories of how their training helped them save others. By my calculation, we trained about a thousand Nepalese who then went out as first responders after the earthquake.

These investments must continue. History has shown that another big earthquake will be coming, perhaps even worse than the April 25 disaster. Hopefully, these stories prove that if you equip people with the right tools and training, they can make a real difference.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Berger is the Senior Regional Advisor for South Asia for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. During the Nepal earthquake response, Berger served as USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader.

Could Sri Lanka’s 2015 Elections Signal a New Era of Democracy?

Sri Lankans line up to cast their vote during the country’s presidential election in January 2015. / USAID

Sri Lankans line up to cast their vote during the country’s presidential election in January 2015. / USAID

Sri Lanka held two elections this year that were markedly different from those in the past. Why? Nobody could predict the outcome. It was a true victory for democracy.

In the election for president in January, Sri Lankan citizens succeeded in making their voices heard, voting for an unconventional choice—a candidate who did not belong to any established political party. In August, parliamentary elections led to a coalition government instead of a majority party holding power.

The news media framed the outcomes as a signal that citizens were voting against a history of nepotism, corruption and abuse of power. Turnout was high—at about 82 percent and 78 percent, respectively. International and domestic election monitors praised the elections as some of the most transparent and credible in the Asian region.

A changing political landscape

But it hasn’t always been like this. In past elections here, we’ve seen violence, vote rigging and mudslinging. This year, we were impressed with how well organized the Sri Lankan election officials were and the level of planning and professionalism that made these elections a success.

Sri Lanka has come a long way. USAID has supported this small island nation off the southern tip of India by investing in its economy, society and institutions since 1956. The cornerstone of our work this year has been supporting free and fair elections and a democratic transition.

Domestic election monitors at a polling booth during 2009 elections in Sri Lanka / USAID

Domestic election monitors at a polling booth during 2009 elections in Sri Lanka / USAID

Our work has included training and deploying 15,000 election observers to oversee polls, providing mail-in ballots, establishing counting centers, and conducting workshops on electoral laws, financial management, and how to take security precautions and report elections violence at polls.

During the parliamentary elections, we noticed how USAID-trained election monitors worked with polling officials and the police to immediately stop a political candidate from campaigning at a polling station on Election Day—a violation of electoral law. They took him away from the crowd of voters and brought the situation under control so well and amicably that no one seemed to notice.

The election monitors also paid close attention to the dynamics in each of the voting districts. For example, in a district close to Colombo, they noticed a tense atmosphere—small groups of people were whispering to each other as they watched vehicles and passersby suspiciously. Keeping close watch, the election monitors asked police to be on hand in case of trouble.

USAID has also supported the design and printing of an election observation handbook, a trilingual guidebook on the electoral process, and a braille pamphlet on the electoral process for the visually impaired. We’ve supported voter education, helping vulnerable families register to vote and obtain necessary identification documents.

New direction for elections

During the August elections, the law appeared to be enforced equitably, irrespective of the wealth and status of candidates and voters, and election violations were addressed quickly. Invalid votes were low compared to previous years.

Thanks to newly enforced election regulations, government institutions and the state media took a more neutral stance, showing less bias to the ruling party, a common practice in the past. Government institutions were mandated to remove political billboards and posters and reduce the number of rallies and people who canvassed homes.

And in the weeks leading up to the elections, more Sri Lankans stayed informed by hearing from political candidates directly on social media platforms instead of depending only on the traditional news media.

The nation and the region can learn from the practices of the 2015 elections. We fervently hope to see these practices in future elections.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Anil Liyanage and Angelina Hermon are Foreign Service Nationals working with USAID in Sri Lanka.

Passanna Gunasekera, a Program and Outreach Specialist working with USAID in Sri Lanka, contributed to this blog.

Disruptive Innovations Bringing Nepal Closer to Ending Extreme Poverty

Nurses apply chlorhexidine to the umbilical cord of a newborn at Nepalganj Medical College & Teaching Hospital. USAID is helping Nepal bring the life-saving antiseptic gel to villages, communities and health centers across the country. / Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID

Nurses apply chlorhexidine to the umbilical cord of a newborn at Nepalganj Medical College & Teaching Hospital. USAID is helping Nepal bring the life-saving antiseptic gel to villages, communities and health centers across the country. / Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID

In the maternity ward of a USAID-supported hospital in Dhulikhel, a town on the eastern rim of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, I watched a nurse apply a disinfectant gel to the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. That tube of the antiseptic chlorhexidine — worth under 15 cents — has been shown in a randomized control trial, to reduce neonatal mortality by a remarkable 34 percent in Nepal.

All around the country, more than 50,000 female community health volunteers  are sharing this innovation and saving thousands of lives in the process.

Thanks to simultaneous advances in health, education, nutrition and access to energy, Nepal stands at the edge of its prosperity. On the path to overcoming the remnants of internal conflict and transitioning to democracy, the Nepalese have cut extreme poverty by 50 percentage points in the last two decades.

Gita, a female community health worker, visits a pregnant woman and her family to show them how to use the chlorhexidine antiseptic gel and how to apply it to the umbilical cords of newborns.   / Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID

Gita, a female community health worker, visits a pregnant woman and her family to show them how to use the chlorhexidine antiseptic gel and how to apply it to the umbilical cords of newborns. / Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID

Innovative programming like chlorhexidine application is growing more common in Nepal and around the world. USAID is also supporting creative community-based approaches to countering human trafficking, including a novel effort to criminalize organ sales that has won landmark court cases, setting new precedent in Nepalese law for holding traffickers accountable.

Suaahara, a comprehensive nutrition program  that translates to “good nutrition,” teaches skills for nutrient-rich backyard vegetable farming, raising poultry, improving sanitation and hygiene, and controlling pests through demonstration farms and new mothers’ discussion groups.

A focused effort to improve early-grade reading is supporting the Ministry of Education’s School Sector Reform Plan by strengthening curricula and training teachers, school committee members, parents and technical support staff in more than 27,000 Early Childhood Education Development centers across the country. Just a 10 percent increase in the share of students with basic literacy skills can boost a country’s economic growth by 0.3 percentage points, while laying the foundation for their later learning.

We need these kinds of disruptive innovations to help bend the curve toward increased child survival, better access to justice, lower malnutrition, greater literacy and skills, and, ultimately, the end of extreme poverty. Solutions like these will drive broader development progress and elevate our efforts to realize transformative change, and now, 2015, is the time to do it.

This year will be a pivotal year for international development. In Addis Ababa this summer, leaders will come together at the third Financing for Development conference to agree on a new compact for global partnership.

In the fall at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, heads of states will ratify a post-2015 development agenda, a universal, more comprehensive, more ambitious follow-on to the Millennium Development Goals, outlining a vision for the next 15 years of development progress. And in Paris next December, member states will adopt a new agreement to combat global warming at the 21st Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Substantial challenges lie ahead for Nepal. Tensions from the recent conflict remain, simmering below the surface. The government has set a January 2015 deadline to approve a constitution – after a failed attempt in 2012 – to be followed by local elections, which haven’t been held in 16 years. And a quarter of Nepal’s population still lives on less than $1.25 a day.

Based on current projections, Nepal is likely to eradicate extreme poverty before 2030. If Nepal can navigate the pitfalls ahead, it is well-positioned to see long-term, sustainable growth by developing its immense hydropower potential, exploiting its unparalleled tourist draw, and producing goods and services for the growing middle class on its doorstep – the belt from eastern Pakistan through northern India to Bangladesh that constitutes the most densely populated area on earth.

A worker for Lomus Pharmaceutical packs tubes of a chlorhexidine antiseptic gel that is one of Nepal’s great innovations and success stories in global health. The gel, when applied to the cut umbilical cord stumps of newborns, instead of traditional substances like oil, curry powder or ash, can reduce the risk of infant death by up to a third.  / Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID

A worker for Lomus Pharmaceutical packs tubes of a chlorhexidine antiseptic gel that is one of Nepal’s great innovations and success stories in global health. The gel, when applied to the cut umbilical cord stumps of newborns, instead of traditional substances like oil, curry powder or ash, can reduce the risk of infant death by up to a third. / Thomas Cristofoletti for USAID

While the solution to a vexing challenge like neonatal mortality may seem as simple as applying a bit of antiseptic ointment at the right time, this breakthrough came only after a dedicated and concerted effort to hammer away at the problem. USAID worked in partnership with academic researchers, government service providers, community extension workers, private-sector drug manufacturers and others to rigorously pilot, test and scale the Chlorhexidine project.

One particular obstacle, for instance, was that in much of Nepal mothers traditionally rub substances like cooking oil, ash, or even cow dung, on their babies’ umbilical stumps. For widespread adoption to be viable, USAID and its partners had to develop a gel that could be applied similarly to traditional salves, and spend as much effort on behavior change and institutional strengthening as on the technology.

By focusing our efforts on disruptive innovations such as Nepal’s successful chlorhexidine project and using the U.S. Global Development Lab to design, test and scale similar interventions around the world, USAID will help bend the curve towards the end of extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Thier is the Assistant to the Administrator in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning. He tweets from @Thieristan

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Lessons Learned a Decade after the Indian Ocean Tsunami

Ten years ago today, the Indian Ocean tsunami roared across more than 3,000 miles and a dozen countries from Southeast Asia to Africa, killing 200,000 people and leaving 40,000 missing. I remember watching the news from my parents’ kitchen, in the aftermath of Christmas, as hour by hour the enormity of the disaster registered on the world.  And it was Aceh, a conflict affected province of Indonesia, that suffered the greatest impact, accounting for nearly half of the total casualties.

Eight days later, I was in Aceh.   I will never forget the surreal sights and stench of such massive destruction.  In a humid heat, bodies were still trapped beneath towers of debris and piled along the road.  Boats were in trees and houses were upended.  Survivors and humanitarian workers alike had a dazed look.

The December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history, destroying lives, homes, and livelihoods. In the disaster’s immediate aftermath, USAID provided emergency support in the form of food, shelter, water, sanitation, and medical supplies. In the years that followed, USAID has continued to work alongside survivors to help affected communities rebuild and create jobs.

The December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history, destroying lives, homes, and livelihoods. In the disaster’s immediate aftermath, USAID provided emergency support in the form of food, shelter, water, sanitation, and medical supplies. In the years that followed, USAID has continued to work alongside survivors to help affected communities rebuild and create jobs. / USAID

In the face of this utter tragedy, the world mobilized to save lives and reconstruct.  The tsunami generated an unprecedented outpouring of support from the international community. Indonesia received more than $7 billion in aid, the most generous response ever to a natural disaster.  In three years, Indonesia built new airports, roads, schools, and over 130,000 new homes.

USAID was front and center in the response, deploying a multi-country Disaster Assistance Response Team to the most affected areas immediately following the tsunami. USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and Food for Peace provided more than $96 million in emergency support in the form of food, shelter, water, sanitation, and medical supplies. In the immediate aftermath USAID airlifted 20,000 kitchen sets, 20,000 mosquito nets, 8,400 ten-liter water containers, 2,000 hygiene kits, 230 rolls of plastic sheeting, and two 12,000-liter water bladders. Partners built or rehabilitated more than 1,600 water systems in villages throughout Aceh, benefitting more than 77,000 people. Repaired sewages systems and sanitation facilities improved hygiene conditions for over 90,000 people. In the years that followed, USAID has continued to work alongside survivors to help affected communities rebuild and create jobs.

So what have we learned since 2005? Below are six lessons that inform the way we respond to disasters a decade after the Indian Ocean tsunami:

1. Early Warning Leads to Early Action

Although there was a lag of several hours between the earthquake and the tsunami, almost all of the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami were taken by surprise, because there were no early detection or early warning systems in place.   In the aftermath of the tsunami, USAID provided $16.6 million to support the development of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS), an integrated early warning and mitigation system that allows countries in the Indian Ocean region to detect and prepare for tsunamis and other coastal hazards. When the Banda Aceh earthquake struck in 2012, the IOTWS system successfully alerted communities across the Indian Ocean and millions of people were able to move away from the coastline.  As a result of these and other early warning efforts, countries and communities, USAID and its development partners are better prepared to respond and mitigate the impact of disasters before they strike.

In addition to aiding recovery and reconstruction, USAID has supported the development of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean region to help governments detect and prepare for tsunamis in the future. / USAID

In addition to aiding recovery and reconstruction, USAID has supported the development of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean region to help governments detect and prepare for tsunamis in the future. / USAID

2. Effective Civil-Military Cooperation is Essential

More than 15,000 U.S. soldiers participated in Operation Unified Assistance, the U.S. military’s response to the Indian Ocean tsunami.  Without the unique strategic and tactical lift capabilities of the military, we would not have reached remote places with life-saving supplies as quickly.  Yet, civil-military coordination was a major challenge, with 17 militaries and hundreds of international NGOs responding.  Over the past decade, UN agencies, donors, relief organizations, and the U.S. and other militaries have learned to coordinate more effectively on disaster responses, from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to last year’s typhoon in the Philippines. USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is the designated U.S. government lead agency in disasters and has worked closely with the military and other U.S. government agencies to create a more seamless system for calling forward needed capabilities. In the current Ebola crisis, USAID and the U.S. military are working hand in glove to sustain an agile and effective response to one of the most complex emergencies of our time.

3. Focus on Jumpstarting Economies

In Aceh, Indonesia, USAID, in partnership with Chevron developed and hosted three-month vocational courses for hundreds of young people from the region, like Junaidi and Syahrizal (pictured). Courses ranged from welding and masonry to bookkeeping and automobile repair. These courses gave graduates the skills they needed to rebuild their communities, and also improved their ability to find jobs with higher wages. / USAID

In Aceh, Indonesia, USAID, in partnership with Chevron developed and hosted three-month vocational courses for hundreds of young people from the region, like Junaidi and Syahrizal (pictured). Courses ranged from welding and masonry to bookkeeping and automobile repair. These courses gave graduates the skills they needed to rebuild their communities, and also improved their ability to find jobs with higher wages. / USAID

In Indonesia, the 2004 tsunami completely razed coastal towns like Banda Aceh, but left others further from the shore untouched. The massive outpouring of aid in the aftermath of the tsunami provided life-saving relief to devastated communities, but also threatened to create a second crisis by smothering local markets that remained active across the country. The tsunami helped catalyze a greater understanding of the power of pivoting quickly from delivering commodities to a focus on using cash for work and other strategies to revive local markets.  USAID supported cash-for-work recovery projects that employed 70,000 people, and helped finance the construction of 278 fishing boats to revive Aceh’s fishing industry. In partnership with Chevron, USAID also developed and hosted three-month vocational courses for hundreds of young people in Aceh, like Junaidi and Syahrizal (pictured above). In the decade since the tsunami, the humanitarian community has increasingly recognized the value of cash-based approaches to emergency responses. USAID has continued to be a trailblazer in these efforts, using mobile e-payments and harnessing public-private partnerships to help jumpstart economies after a crisis, including in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

4. Give Cash, not Goods

The second stop on my 2005 trip was Sri Lanka, where I encountered a depot of donated goods—a new shipment of bikinis, ties and other donations clearly ill-suited to meet the needs of ordinary people trying to survive the aftermath of the tsunami. The outpouring of generosity after the Indian Ocean tsunami was truly impressive and unprecedented. However, it also led to massive “goodwill dumping,” as well-meaning people flooded the region with unnecessary goods that overwhelmed transit points and ended up as trash. As this experience and many other disasters have illustrated, donating cash instead of goods is always the best option, allowing victims to get the quickest access to basic items in local markets

5. Disasters Can Spur Conflict Resolution

The Indian Ocean tsunami caused massive social upheaval, uprooting the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.  Sinhalese and Tamil communities came together in Sri Lanka around the common enemy of a natural disaster.  In Sri Lanka, I saw an Office of Transition Initiatives program that brought together Sinhalese and Tamil youth to work side by side to clean the debris and rebuild their communities. And, recognizing that their own people needed to rebuild not fight, the Free Aceh movement signed a peace deal with the Indonesian government in August 2005. Indonesia’s experience sparks important lessons for how— if given the right circumstances and leaders willing to put their people first— disaster response can catalyze opportunities for peace and inclusive governance.

6. Build Resilience

Most importantly, we know that tsunamis, typhoons, droughts and other shocks will continue to batter communities, hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.  Since 2011, USAID has been at the forefront of a global conversation on building resilience.  We know that all our development gains can be wiped out in an instance if households, communities, countries and regions are not better able to adapt, prepare, and recover from the shocks we know will continue to occur. That is why in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and Swedish sida, we launched the Global Resilience Partnership, which will drive evidence-based investments and innovations that enable cities, communities, and households to better manage and adapt to inevitable shocks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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A Spotlight on the World’s ‘Invisible’ Workers

Haitian construction workers in the Dominican Republic include an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants. The USAID Global Labor Program is supporting research and advocacy for international standards to protect their rights. / Ricardo Rojas

Haitian construction workers in the Dominican Republic include an estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million undocumented migrants. The USAID Global Labor Program is supporting research and advocacy for international standards to protect their rights. / Ricardo Rojas

USAID invests in people and their communities. But the people who do the most to bring wealth, infrastructure and services to a globalizing world may be those who leave their communities behind. They are construction workers, nurses, dishwashers, farm workers and maids. They are not likely to vote, or be leaders in their communities, or even lead their own households. But they do provide nearly half of all financial flows to developing country economies. They are the world’s 232 million migrant workers.

“Than,” one of many Burmese migrant worker in Thailand’s fishing industry, who face some of the worst abuse in the world.  / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

“Than,” one of many Burmese migrant worker in Thailand’s fishing industry, who face some of the worst abuse in the world. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

“Than,” whose full name is protected for his privacy,is a 16-year-old Burmese boy who came to Thailand with his parents to find work. He works on fishing boats, earning only a little over $200 for an entire one-month boat journey. His father was arrested for not having a work permit, so now Than must provide for his two younger sisters, and earn back the money his family paid for a labor broker to bring them across the Thai border. His sisters hope to attend a school for migrants. Than only completed a sixth grade education.

Than is one of the luckier ones. Many Burmese migrant workers in Thailand’s seafood industry are little more than forced laborers. A report by the Solidarity Center found many workers were forced to work 16 to 20 hours a day and went without pay for months. Employers told workers their wages were being used to repay the labor brokers who brought them to Thailand.

Unemployment and underemployment have forced over half of Dominican Republic workers, many domestic workers from Haiti, into the precarious informal economy.  USAID’s partner Solidarity Center is supporting these workers to organize for their rights. / Solidarity Center

Unemployment and underemployment have forced over half of Dominican Republic workers, many domestic workers from Haiti, into the precarious informal economy. USAID’s partner Solidarity Center is supporting these workers to organize for their rights. / Solidarity Center

Thanks to interventions supported by USAID, some of these workers have been able to win back wages and better working conditions.

Even when migration is voluntary, life can be very difficult. Domestic workers migrating from Asia to the Middle East often lose the ability to communicate with their families or even their children; yet they keep working for wages they hope will enable those children to have a better life.

Even though migrant workers’ contributions to global financial flows are stunning (in 2014, remittances from expatriate workers were estimated to be $436 billion up from $132 billion in 2000), these workers are almost never the beneficiaries of any development program. They are largely invisible, restricted by law from participating in political or civic life in their countries of destination, and cut off from family and community ties in their countries of origin. They fall outside of human rights norms, and therefore are often victims of exploitation.

Between 2 million and 4 million migrant workers toil in Thailand as dockworkers, in seafood and domestic work. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

Between 2 million and 4 million migrant workers toil in Thailand as dockworkers, in seafood and domestic work. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

However, human rights advocacy organizations are beginning to advocate for the rights of these workers in new and innovative ways, and USAID is supporting a range of activities in several countries with high numbers of migrating workers.

According to the national census data in Nepal, as of 2011 over 700,000 Nepalis were recorded as working in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with over a quarter of the country’s GDP coming from remittances. Unfortunately, too many Nepali workers are also exploited and trafficked as they migrate for work and in the destination country.

In Qatar, it’s been reported that more than 400 Nepali workers have already lost their lives working on World Cup construction sites. To help thwart the exploitation that may occur in the labor recruitment and migration process for foreign employment, USAID’s CTIP Project in Nepal has established 250 Safe Migration Networks to help educate community members on safe migration and monitor those who do migrate for employment. Much more needs to be done, such as ensuring ethical labor recruitment practices in countries of origin and decent working conditions in countries of destination.

The Thai fishing industry in Thailand has been described as being built on the slavery of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

The Thai fishing industry in Thailand has been described as being built on the slavery of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. / Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Solidarity Center

USAID’s Global Labor Program has elevated the profile of some of the world’s most invisible workers: domestic workers around the world. A successful global campaign led by representatives of migrant domestic workers themselves succeeded in winning a new international convention on the rights of domestic workers, and bringing them from their homes into the world’s spotlight.

On this International Migrants Day, civil-society groups from around the world are presenting a framework for migration and development called the “Stockholm Agenda” to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. This initiative is a starting point for a broad and robust dialogue on how to ensure we spotlight and support the world’s migrant workers. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that “migration works for all.”

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Bama Athreya is a Labor and Employment Rights Specialist
Marina Colby is a Senior Counter-Trafficking in Persons Advisor
Both work in USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance

Ending Extreme Poverty in Asia through Universal Health Coverage

A woman in the Philippines receives a tetanus shot during a pre-natal visit. / HealthPRO

A woman in the Philippines receives a tetanus shot during a pre-natal visit. / HealthPRO

The 2010 World Health Report on Health Systems Financing and the unanimous endorsement of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by the United Nations in 2012 have paved the way for rich and poor countries alike to take a closer, more critical look at how raise resources and improve access to health services, particularly for the poor. Asia is home to 3.9 billion people and accounts for a third of the global economy. Despite the region’s robust economic growth, almost two thirds of those in extreme poverty still live in Asia.

While there are many paths that a country can choose to get out of poverty, mobilizing domestic resources towards the health sector – in the form of Universal Health Coverage policies that seek to increase access to services especially for the poor – is a sound and sustainable investment that can lead to great economic returns. These reforms that empower the poor are critical because poor health and health shocks are leading causes of chronic poverty and impoverishment.

An Indonesian patient awaits further instructions during a check-up. / USAID

An Indonesian patient awaits further instructions during a check-up. / USAID

Rapidly growing Asian countries, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam have shown that improving health indicators and reducing extreme poverty are clearly linked. Declines in infant and child mortality rates in these countries preceded periods of strong and sustained economic growth.

Clearly, an agenda to end extreme poverty must include UHC goals.

Ill health prevents the poor from climbing out of poverty and can impoverish the near poor. When a household member falls ill, this can mean diminished labor productivity. In addition, households often make catastrophic financial outlays paid for by selling their assets, reducing their consumption, dipping into their savings, or borrowing at high interest rates for seeking health care.

High rates of out-of-pocket spending, a highly regressive way of financing health systems, create financial barriers to accessing health care., This financing represents 36 percent and 61 percent of the total health spending in developing East Asia and Pacific and South Asia regions, respectively.

Pupils in Vietnam's Bac Giang Province take part in a USAID deworming project . /  Richard Nyberg, USAID)

Pupils in Vietnam’s Bac Giang Province take part in a USAID deworming project . / Richard Nyberg, USAID)

UHC reforms come in different shapes and sizes. Some common characteristics include improving revenue collection mechanisms so that they are fair and affordable;, helping people move away from paying for health services out of pocket and toward prepayment and risk pooling; improving value for money with strategic purchasing;, and targeting the poor through subsidies.

Many of these reforms across Asia have increased access and utilization of health care, provided financial protection, as well as improved health care outcomes.

Countries such as China and Bangladesh successfully piloted schemes. In Bangladesh, the pilot voucher program to improve maternal and child health successfully increased pre-and post-natal care and facility-based deliveries, while reducing out-of-pocket spending and the costs of these services, and decreasing neonatal mortality rates by a third to almost half in home-based interventions. Bangladesh has adopted UHC as a national policy goal and USAID is providing assistance to support implementation of their health financing strategy.

Vietnam and Indonesia have reached partial coverage of their populations by around two thirds, and have recently taken additional steps to expand their coverage.

Analysis of various UHC schemes in Vietnam (public voluntary health insurance, social insurance and the health care fund for the poor) showed that they had improved financial protection – significantly decreasing spending for the beneficiary insured and providing evidence of positive impacts on their nutrition indicators. And in January of this year, Indonesia set out on the path towards UHC with the goal of covering its entire population of 250 million people by 2019.

The dynamic economic environment in fast-growing Asia means that the role of donors like USAID and the development assistance architecture will need to evolve as well.

Individual countries and the region at large will need to grapple with growing migrant populations and the need for portable schemes that ensure access for migrant labor populations across porous borders. A large and growing informal sector, individuals not covered by the labor and social security provisions, will continue to test how countries communicate expanded coverage to remote and often marginalized communities. Equally as important will be the question of how to finance and address the changing mix of population health needs arising from demographic trends and the emergence of non-communicable diseases.

As many of the developing countries in Asia continue to grow, they will have sufficient resources to afford a basic package of health services for their entire population; however, governments tend to under-invest in their health sector relative to their economic potential.

As a result, oftentimes as countries grow wealthier, public health systems fall further behind.

In Asia and globally, growing domestic resources represent a critical window of opportunity where countries must have the vision and courage to strategically direct this increased wealth towards the health sector so that development dollars are crowded out.

By financing policies that focus on increasing equity and access to quality essential health services – the aim of universal health coverage – countries will be taking concrete steps towards the bold vision of ending extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristina Yarrow is a Senior Health Technical Specialist in the Asia Bureau, backstopping technical areas specific to health systems strengthening and research such as health financing, UHC, and implementation research.

Caroline Ly is a Health Economist in the Bureau for Global Health’s Office of Health Systems.

RELATED LINKS:

“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

New Promise for a Greener, More Productive Future in Indonesia

The destruction of tropical forests is a major challenge for global development, threatening precious livelihoods, biodiversity and the earth’s atmosphere. In all, tropical deforestation contributes about 12 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions causing climate change.

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon emissions, owing mainly to companies clearing large tracts of forest and peatland to cultivate oil palm and grow pulpwood for paper.

That’s why a major announcement from the recent U.N. Climate Summit has attracted so much global attention. Four of the world’s largest palm oil companies agreed to stop clearing and burning high carbon stock forest and peatland in Indonesia. Clearing peatlands in particular releases dangerous amounts of carbon. According to one recent study, from 2000 to 2012, Indonesia lost about 6 million hectares of primary forest, an area half the size of England.

Deforestation for agriculture is threatening the rainforests of northern Sumatra. USAID is working with villages to help keep remaining tracts of forest intact.

Deforestation for agriculture is threatening the rainforests of northern Sumatra. USAID is working with villages to help keep remaining tracts of forest intact. / Anne Usher


Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, KADIN, was the leader in forging this landmark “zero deforestation” commitment. The four companies that signed on – Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources, Asian Agri and Cargill – together account for about 60 percent of globally traded palm oil, the world’s most widely used edible oil.

Globally, the world consumes more than 50 million metric tons of palm oil per year – about the weight of 500 cruise ships stretching 100 miles out to sea. We use palm oil for cooking and in products ranging from cookies to cosmetics.

And while oil palm produces more oil per acre than other crops, clearing native forest to plant it not only releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it destroys a precious resource for millions of Indonesians, who depend on forests to supplement nutrition and livelihoods. This makes conserving forests a win-win proposition at a time when the world is increasingly feeling the effects of climate change.

The commitment by palm oil companies is in the spirit of Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020, a public-private partnership kicked off by the U.S. Government and the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of companies including Unilever, Nestle, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and others, whose sales add up to more than $3 trillion per year.

Workers load palm oil fruit onto a truck in northern Sumatra.

Workers load palm oil fruit onto a truck in northern Sumatra. / Anne Usher


TFA 2020 is working to curb forest loss caused by major commodities, starting with palm oil, paper, soy and beef, which account for about 40 percent of tropical deforestation. Partners include governments, businesses and civil society organizations from around the world.

As the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia has been a focus of U.S. Government and TFA 2020 support. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to cut carbon pollution between 26 and 41 percent by 2020, and we and other U.S. officials have been working closely to support Indonesian officials in meeting that pledge.Vice-chairwoman Shinta Kamdani said KADIN became involved because individual Indonesian companies would not reach national emissions targets acting on their own. “When we set a vision, we can’t do it halfway,” she said.

With U.S. Government assistance, KADIN and the other signatories are now working to identify policy and regulatory reforms that will create incentives to encourage the conservation of high carbon stock forest instead of clearing and burning. At the local level, companies still have strong incentives to clear forests. They can sell the timber, legally or illegally harvested, and unused land can be confiscated by the government after a certain period of time. Laws also require companies to process whatever palm fruit arrives at their mill, making it difficult to discriminate between sustainable palm oil and palm oil originating from deforested land.

Last week’s announcement is an encouraging milestone on Indonesia’s path to cleaner, more sustainable growth. The United States stands with Indonesia on this important journey.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Blake is U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia & Eric G. Postel is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Economy and Environment. Follow him @EricPostel

Will Our Generation be Responsible for Killing Off the Tiger?

Will our generation be responsible for killing off the tiger?

As the world marks International Tiger Day, the tigers’ fate seems grim. From a high of 100,000 in 1900, as few as 3,500 tigers are thought to survive in the wild today. Tiger numbers and habitat have declined by 40 percent in the last decade alone, lost largely to habitat loss, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and human-tiger conflict.

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma,  PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

The illegal and unsustainable exploitation of wildlife in Asia has pushed tigers and other Asian big cats to the brink of extinction. Today, the greatest threat to Asian big cat survival are organized criminal groups who control the burgeoning and highly lucrative illicit trade. Their operations crisscross international boundaries, making it impossible for any one country to tackle the crime alone.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia's majestic tigers.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

With partners ranging from non-governmental organizations to policy makers in the United States and abroad, USAID is uniquely positioned to combat wildlife trafficking along an entire spectrum of efforts. Whether it’s decreasing demand for wildlife products on the ground, supporting research or ensuring coordinated training for customs officials on wildlife trafficking, USAID enables a holistic response to this complicated challenge at various levels.

In fact, in honor of International Tiger Day, and as part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. A $393,000 grant to INTERPOL’s Project Predator will focus on finding high-profile wildlife offenders running criminal networks; and $500,000 to the World Bank’s Global Tiger Recovery Program Multi-Donor Trust Fund will go towards the fund’s goal to double the number of tigers in the wild by the year 2022 through habitat protection, scientific studies and a reduction in the illegal trade of wild tigers and their parts.

These efforts are already having an impact. During one Project Predator operation in Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, officials arrested over 50 individuals and confiscated big cat skins, body parts and other wildlife products. Nepal in particular has excelled at curbing the illegal poaching of wild tigers. There were no recorded deaths in 2013, and between 2009 and 2013, the number of wild cats grew by over 60 percent.

Biodiversity is the fabric of our lives and planet, and the iconic tiger is one of its golden threads. Promoting stewardship of nature is a critical and effective strategy for fighting extreme poverty and fostering resilient societies. By supporting tiger conservation, we cut off funding streams to criminal networks intent on destroying our world and profiting from the illegal wildlife trade. We give communities alternatives to develop their economies sustainably. And, most importantly, we give the tigers a fighting chance to survive into the next generation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Melnyk, USAID Asia Bureau’s Environment Team Leader.

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