USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Asia

Video of the Week: A Visit to Candlenut Farmers

This week’s video comes from our USAID Mission in Timor-Leste. USAID works with candlenut farmers and their communities to teach them how to increase yields and reach new markets.

An Oasis for New Moms

This blog post is published in conjunction with the Child Survival Call to Action, which was convened June 14-15 by the Governments of the United States, India, and Ethiopia, and is organized in close collaboration with UNICEF.

The new mothers I met at the Regional Maternity Hospital in Kyzylorda, a province in southern Kazakhstan, were as weathered as the salty desert earth all around us. Their young faces appeared determined but exhausted, hinting at the many hundreds of kilometers they had to travel to reach the hospital in time to give birth.

The newborns these mothers cradled in their arms weighed less than a handful of apples. This region historically has suffered from the country’s highest newborn mortality rates. Kyzylorda suffers from many unhealthy environmental factors, like the Aral Sea pollution crisis and toxic mining, which the local doctors tell us contributes to poor health outcomes for mothers and infants. Prematurity accounts for about 37 percent of newborn deaths worldwide.  Asphyxia and infections are other leading causes of newborn deaths.

If these babies had been born before 2008, they would probably not be alive today.  Before 2008, when USAID started helping the regional health department adopt World Health Organization (WHO) live birth criteria, these babies would not have received the life-saving interventions such as neonatal resuscitation that kept them alive in those precious hours after birth. In the four years since the Kyzylorda Oblast Health Department introduced neonatal care technology and adopted a 500 gram (1.1 pound) live birth definition, doctors here have saved around 200 babies’ lives. The WHO live birth criteria state that all babies showing any signs of life, such as muscle activity, a gasp for breath, or a heartbeat should be included as a live birth and provided with interventions to keep them alive. Under the Soviet-era definition, infants who were born before 28 weeks, weighing less than 1,000 grams, or measuring less than 35 centimeters, were not counted as live births if they died within seven days.

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Saving the Lives of Newborns in Indonesia

Dina, age 27, delivered her first baby Diandra at an Indonesian hospital in Central Java. Hospital staff kept Diandra away from her mother in the newborn care unit and fed her formula until they deemed Dina ready and strong enough to feed the baby. Diandra fell sick with severe diarrhea and died at the hospital ten short days later.

Each year, more than 80,000 newborn babies die in Indonesia within the first month of life from treatable conditions, the most common of which are prematurity, low birth weight, birth asphyxia, and neonatal sepsis.

“Every family has a sad story about a baby or mother they know who lost their life from complications during pregnancy, delivery or immediately after child birth. Many attribute the deaths to God’s will but with the right technology, equipment, and training for health care professionals, it can be stopped,” said Evodia Iswandi, Jhpiego deputy director for provincial operations in Indonesia. “Good hospital administration and policies can also go a long way to enable staff to work at their full technical capabilities.”

Through Expanding Maternal and Neonatal Survival (EMAS), a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – funded program in Indonesia, local health care providers receive training from one of Indonesia’s premier maternal and child hospital and other organizations on best practices in neonatal and maternity emergency services. Hospitals and community health centers learn how to prevent and treat hemorrhaging, premature delivery, low birth weight, high blood pressure, birth asphyxia, and other causes of death. USAID’s EMAS program also helps reform Indonesia’s referral system so that mothers and babies get to the right place, at the right time, in order to receive the right medical treatment.

“USAID is partnering with Muhammadiyah, one of the largest and most respected Islamic organizations in Indonesia committed to diversity and pluralism, to save lives and sustain EMAS even after the program ends,” said USAID/Indonesia Mission Director Glenn Anders.

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Make Every Mother and Baby Count

In early May, we witnessed a spectacular commitment to “making every mother and baby count” here in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through their Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, and in partnership with the Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), convened an important series of meetings focused on saving the lives of mother and their babies.  We wanted to tally for you the numbers that express just how much every mother and baby count:

  • Participation included more than 275 international maternal and newborn health professionals;
  • With over 29 countries represented;
  • Including over 100 individuals from Bangladesh.
  • But why?  Because just 1 maternal or child death is more than just a tragic occurrence. It affects the entire family, it affects social cohesion, and it dampens the economic growth of the countries. Data shows that after a mother dies there is an increased risk of death for surviving children.
  • Here in Bangladesh, about 20 women die every day from childbirth, about half of these due to 2 main causes, postpartum hemorrhage that is to say excessive bleeding and eclampsia (high blood pressure leading to convulsions). These are the very 2 factors that kill 50% of mothers in developing countries around the world.

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Video of the Week: Planting the Seed for Economic Growth

Ever wonder how Gladioli bulbs can help an estimated 1,000 families start earning their living and jumpstart a fledgling flower industry in Pakistan? USAID, through the Small Grants Program and the US Ambassador’s Fund, seeks to empower grassroots organizations and community groups working to strengthen civil society in Pakistan.

The U.S. Ambassador’s Fund provides small grants to improve basic economic or social conditions at the local community level. The Fund supports high-impact, quick-implementation activities, that can be completed within one year without requiring further funding.

On this occasion, we highlight one of the results of the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund in Rawalakot, known for its dire economic situation for the 540,000 residents who until recently only planted maize and wheat.

In a strategically located valley just 120 km from the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Rawalakot’s high elevation (1,615 m.) makes it ideal for growing gladioli bulbs which are increasingly becoming popular in major cities.

USAID financed the purchase of gladioli bulbs, training sessions for farmers, and consultations of an agricultural specialist to help the families grow the flowers correctly.  Thanks to the project, families have increased their revenues by over 70%, with women being the main beneficiaries of the project.  This project has enabled women to become salient participants in the flower industry and because of related activities involving the sale and distribution of the flower, it is estimated that many more families in surrounding communities will benefit greatly from this project.  As a result of the increase in income, families are now able to invest the money into their children’s education and household expenses.

Awarding Property Titles to Longtime Land Holders

I’ve long known that land titles mean empowerment for urban and rural poor, especially women, in developing countries.  Indeed, a paragraph in my “stump speech” notes that if women farmers could use their land as collateral to gain access to credit at the same rate as men, there would be a 30 percent increase in productivity, enough to feed 150 million people.  But during my visit to Batangas in the Philippines last week, the human dimension of this reality was brought home to me vividly.

USAID in the Philippines is working with national and local authorities and civil society on a project to bring to life the “Residential Free Patent Law.” That law provides expedited land titles to people who can show that they’ve long occupied their land.  In the Philippines, only about half of the estimated 22 million land parcels are titled.  Working with the Asia Foundation and the local Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), USAID is providing training and technical assistance to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and local government units to speed the titling process.

Last Thursday, I took part in a ceremony where we awarded land titles to long-time occupants of land.  No, we didn’t get the attention that a similar ceremony in Colombia attracted several weeks ago, but then again, I’m not Barack Obama, and I wasn’t accompanied by musical superstar Shakira.  But still it was a remarkable program.

When I gave one woman her land title, she squeezed my hand and wouldn’t let go until she told me her story.  She said that she was 60 years old and had occupied her land for four decades.  Each day, she would wake up wondering if, by nightfall, she would be driven off her property by land-grabbers or government officials.  She couldn’t use her land to get a loan, and even if she could, she was afraid that improvements on her house or farm land would make it attractive to interlopers.  Holding up her new title, she said, “This magic paper changes everything for me, my children, and my grandchildren.” And then she started to cry tears of joy as her family came forward to embrace her.

Only time will tell if that woman’s future is as bright as she imagines.  But thanks in large part to mission director Gloria Steele, John Avila, the entire USAID mission, and our partners, this woman and thousands like her are empowered to seek a more secure and prosperous life.

Picture of the Week: Deputy Administrator Steinberg Visits Asia

USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg visits Danang Airport where dioxin remediation project will be conducted. Photo Credit: USAID/Vietnam

As part of a three country trip to Asia, USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg attended the Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank in Manila, participating in the Development Partners Session.  In the Philippines, he visited several USAID programs, including the launch of the Partnership for Growth Cities Development Initiative, the issuance of land titles to several Batangas residents, and the signing of the Bilateral Agreement with the Philippine government.  Deputy Administrator Steinberg’s visit to Danang, Vietnam highlighted the USG’s commitment to remediation of Agent Orange dioxins, an important step in mending the painful legacy between our two countries.  During a short stay in Japan, he engaged with experts at the Japan Institute of International Affairs on “The critical importance of U.S. – Japan development cooperation and the post-Busan development landscape.”

New Facility Ensures Better Health for Filipino Children

One of the leading causes of illness in the Philippines is diarrhea.  It kills more than 27 Filipino children under 5 each day, and poor sanitation costs the Philippine economy nearly $2 billion each year.  I was reminded of these staggering figures as I journeyed six hours north of Manila to San Fernando City, La Union, to inaugurate a new sewtage treatment facility supported by USAID.

As a native of the San Fernando City area, I have seen its transformation from a quiet municipality to a booming metropolis that has become the seat of national government agencies in the region.  It is also a center of trade, commerce, and financial and educational institutions.

Unfortunately, rapid urbanization has taken a toll on the city’s sanitation management capacity.  To address this problem, USAID partnered with Rotary International and the city government to construct a septage treatment facility that will improve sanitation services by treating the waste from all the septic tanks in the city.

The facility is one of the five projects undertaken by USAID and Rotary International under the Water Alliance Program.  USAID and Rotary International together contributed a total of approximately $300,000 to cover both facility construction and technical assistance, while an additional $660,000 was put up by the city government.

The nearly 180,000 residents of San Fernando City will benefit from a cleaner, healthier environment as a result of this city-wide system.  The project is also an excellent demonstration of how partnerships between government and non-governmental organizations can yield positive results.  Collaborations such as this maximize the impact and sustainability of our programs in the communities that we serve.

USAID has partnered in the Philippines with local, provincial, and national governments; civil society; and the private sector to improve natural resource management. USAID has improved access to clean water and sanitation for 1.2 million Filipinos since 2005, and has protected and conserved over 1 million hectares of forest lands and coastal areas since 2004. We look forward to our continued work with our development partners as we strive to create a healthier environment conducive to sustained and inclusive growth.

USAID Complex Crises Funds Reinvigorate Agriculture in Sri Lanka

Farmer-returnees empowered to develop livelihoods, support their families, and participate positively in their communities.

Recently, I visited one of the agriculture programs supported by USAID in the northern region of Sri Lanka where the most intense fighting took place between the Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). More than two years later, the destruction from the last military offensive was still palpable. As we made the long drive north from the capital city of Colombo to meet our beneficiaries, we knew we had arrived in Mullaitivu when the landscape changed. The unpaved, bumpy road into the town was lined with bullet-ridden and bombed out buildings.

For over twenty years, Sri Lanka was entangled in a brutal civil war between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE. The conflict saw widespread destruction of property, the planting of millions of landmines, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Northern Sri Lanka. An estimated 70,000 people were killed in the violence. In May 2009, the Sri Lanka military declared victory after crushing the last resistance of the LTTE.

In Northern Sri Lanka, the final military offensive resulted in nearly 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who were confined to closed camps. Not only were the entire communities of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu displaced during the final stages of the conflict, they lost all of their productive assets, most homes were destroyed, many family members perished, and anything of value was looted.

In 2010, a year after the military defeat of the LTTE, the government began the resettlement of the IDPs in Kilinochchi and parts of Mullaitivu known as the Vanni. With little advance notice, hundreds of families were returned to their villages. But their homes were destroyed and their lands decimated during the fighting. Over 80 percent of the returnees were farmers, and their only means of livelihood was agriculture. With an urgent need to provide assistance to help resettle the IDPs and restart their livelihoods, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided resources through its Complex Crises Fund (CCF) to support a one-year program implemented by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Established in 2010, the CCF was created as a flexible resource to enable the U.S. Government to respond quickly during critical windows of opportunity and/or unforeseen political, social, or economic challenges that threaten a country’s stability or help create the conditions necessary for longer-term development. Generally speaking, the CCF is contingent upon an unanticipated urgent need or a significant triggering event that requires an immediate, robust response. In Sri Lanka, the goal was to restart and restore livelihoods for these highly vulnerable returnee populations. The timing of the request was critical because the Maha (planting season) was within weeks.

The activity focused on resuming basic farming and agricultural production in order to maintain community stability during the resettlement process. As a result of USAID’s program, nearly 120,000 acres of rice paddy seed were planted in the Vanni region. The beneficiaries included approximately 68,000 people, of which approximately 25 percent were single female heads of household. The agriculture assistance was coupled with training sessions on how to care for livestock as well as harvesting and planting techniques. The district agrarian training centers were also refurbished to ensure a safe and suitable community meeting place.

The CCF resources accomplished far more than just agriculture production and crop yields. It provided the foundation for a disenfranchised and highly vulnerable population to restart their life.

Reconciling the Sri Lanka of the Past and Present

One of the highlights of my recent trip through South Asia was returning to Sri Lanka.  The entire journey through the subcontinent was intense, with meetings scheduled back-to-back from 7 A.M. well into the late evening, including working lunches and dinners. Yet despite the busy schedule, it was a wonderful opportunity to see up close both the immense challenges on the ground and just some of the ways USAID is addressing them.

Sri Lanka was more of a homecoming for me.  I visited Sri Lanka in 1979 to attend a wedding of close friends – a British bride and Sinhala groom.  Their close friends were Tamil, from the north, and we continued the celebrations in Jaffna, during my three-week sojourn to Sri Lanka.  Jaffna was once the center of Tamil life, and full of excitement and prosperous.  Since the civil war erupted in 1985,  Jaffna sadly had been closed off to most foreigners.

During my recent visit, I was really looking forward to seeing a revived and rebuilt north. The government is rebuilding the infrastructure, but clearly nearly 30 years of war has left the population in the north severely traumatized.  Most striking was the impact on the women and their families.  Thousands of war widows are unable to reclaim family lands because they lack the documentation required to prove ownership.  As a result, even if they find land to settle on, they are prohibited from farming because they lack title to the land.  Poverty is extensive in these communities, and it impacts even male-headed families.

Although the government is providing jobs through infrastructure development, the jobs employ men imported from southern Sri Lanka, and not Tamils from the north.  In addition, large contingents of military soldiers are now embedded in massive camps dotting the landscape.  This has led to a breakdown in the social fabric, where survival requirements have pitted women-headed households with no employment opportunities against an influx of male soldiers and day laborers.  As I met with villagers to discuss their plight, my visit to Sri Lanka some 35 years ago became a distant past, with the country I was seeing now bearing no relation to what I saw in1979.

USAID has run a number of programs in Sri Lanka to both address the direct humanitarian crisis of the displaced persons, as well as to foster long-term interethnic reconciliation and cooperation. In the past, we’ve supported efforts to counsel widows and children affected by the trauma of war.

One USAID project assisted such widows by providing chickens as a source for family consumption and for sale. Now we are part of a public private partnership with a garment company to deepen interpersonal bonds among workers from several ethnic groups on the factory floor as part of the interethnic reconciliation process.

I’m hoping programs like these continue to provide support and raise awareness over the continuing humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, and particularly in the north.  While I can’t return to 1979, I do hope one day to return to the lively and thriving Jaffna I remember.

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