Asia is a dynamic region experiencing impressive but uneven growth while still grappling with the challenges of improved governance and sustainability. It is a region of opportunity and innovation where governments, civil society, and the private sector are increasingly partnering with international donors to tackle development challenges.
And no one is better aware of the development challenges facing Asia, nor the opportunities and innovations that can help address these challenges, than the diaspora community in the United States and around the world. Diaspora communities are becoming an increasingly important factor in helping their countries of origin, whether it be through remittances, through technical assistance, or through trade and investments via small and medium businesses.
As an Indian American, I know firsthand the important role that diaspora communities play in development. Asian countries are prominent on the Migration Policy Institute’s list of the top 15 diaspora groups. Remittances sent back home to these countries are a powerful force for development. I have seen this throughout the world, including in the town I was born in, in Gujarat, India, where much of the investment in public and private infrastructure was financed through remittances.
Asian diaspora communities tend to be close-knit, and they maintain strong ties to family and friends in their countries of origin. Their robust networks, familiarity with the culture and language, and strong interest in seeing the impact of assistance makes them especially valuable partners for us at USAID.
In USAID’s Asia Bureau, we have organized events to facilitate dialogue between the U. S. Government and Asian diaspora groups. Last year, we held events with members of the Indian and Vietnamese diasporas in the United States. The goals of these events were to listen and hear these groups’ ideas, thoughts, and concerns, and to give them information about how their tax dollars are being spent to assist their countries of origin. The events also detailed ways diaspora groups could partner with USAID, generating possible future partnerships with the U.S. Government.
We are exploring new and exciting ways to partner with Asian diaspora groups to support development efforts on the continent. For example, in Nepal, we’ve begun consultations on a Diaspora Collective Fund. The Fund will operate like a mutual fund and will direct contributions from the Nepalese diaspora into investments that will benefit the country’s development.
Moving forward, we would like to increase our work with diaspora groups and systemize this contact.
By working together, we can build on each other’s strengths and help ensure that our assistance is focused and coordinated, accelerating development and increasing the impact obtained with each taxpayer dollar.
In Indonesia, in collaboration with AusAID we designed and implemented a school reconstruction project for 34 West Sumatra primary schools using a “build back better” principle, which underscored that schools were to be reconstructed after earthquake damage to meet Indonesian seismic standards. USAID reconstructed 20 primary schools, including procurement of furniture and books. Project construction was completed in early April. This week, we will handover these Padang Schools to the West Sumatra people.
Also in Indonesia, we will hold a TechCamp. TechCamp Jakarta is a hands-on, two-day event that brings together civil society leaders, technologists and local officials in Jakarta to identify technologies that can make a positive impact in local communities. It focuses on providing a unique interactive opportunity for technologists, civil society groups, and officials from across Indonesia and the United States to collaborate and discuss ways in which new technology can be used for social good. The aim is for TechCamp to become a self-organizing, self-replicating event that can be organized by communities all over the world. This event will be interactive, with a participant-driven agenda tentatively focused on disaster relief and climate change.
In 1954, South Korea was still reeling from the devastation of the Korean War. Its economy was poorer than 2/3 of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and its people had an average life expectancy of 54 years.
In that same year, the International Cooperation Association—USAID’s precursor—developed a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the National University in Seoul. “The Minnesota Project” as it came to be called, facilitated an exchange of medical professors during a critical period of the country’s reconstruction.
The alumni of the Project went on to found hospital departments, build nursing schools, conduct open heart surgeries and kidney transplants. Continued US assistance helped construct Korean hospitals and medical schools. And today, South Korea has six times as many physicians as it did in 1954, many of them who now practice here in the U.S.
Throughout our history, USAID has worked closely with Asian countries, Asian diaspora groups and Asian organizations to help support development and humanitarian assistance missions on the continent.
In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan last month, we immediately activated our response teams, delivered nuclear emergency kits and held regular calls with Japanese-American NGOs to hear their thoughts and concerns.
We’ve also begun consultations for a Diaspora Collective Fund in Nepal. Modeled after a mutual fund, contributions from the Nepalese diaspora can be channeled into productive investments for the country’s development.
In 25 countries across Asia, from Kazakhstan to Papua New Guinea, we work to support the success of emerging economies and help address the challenges of hunger and poverty. We do this not just by extending a helping hand, but sharing the hope of the American Dream to people around the world—the mother who eats less so her children can eat more, the girl who risks her life to get an education, the entrepreneur who beats the odds to create a small business that employs his neighbors.
I remember seeing that dream at work in a remote village in South India. When I was in medical school, I volunteered in a poor tribal community. There in a one-room schoolhouse where children who didn’t speak our language and who didn’t enjoy our freedom from hunger and disease could look up on the wall of their classroom and find inspiration in the portraits of their heroes—Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru—and USAID’s founder John F. Kennedy.
With perseverance, innovative approaches and the support of diaspora communities, we can ensure these children grow up in a safer, freer, more prosperous world.
Dr. Raj Shah is the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Last Tuesday, at almost 3500m above sea level; cold, wet and muddy from a light snow storm that had been a steady drizzle a half-hour earlier, and out of breath from walking uphill for three hours straight, I considered myself fortunate. I was trekking through one of the most beautiful alpine regions in the world, Nepal’s Langtang region, together with 19 other fellow men and women, all prominent personalities from disparate sectors of the Nepali society. Our team was on a four-day mission to observe the impact of climate change on the Himalayan Mountain range and to learn about the ongoing climate change adaptation initiatives supported by USAID and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and led by local communities. The trek, called the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups.
Along the trek route, we passed through several areas affected by landslides and forest fires that had completely destroyed villages and ruined water sources for thousands of people. The landslides and fires are direct causes of changing weather patterns and deforestation in the Himalayas. Many of the people who lived in the region that we spoke to were gravely aware of the gradual, yet steady, change in the previously predictable climate of the region. The changes had been particularly drastic over the last ten years they said, from changing rainfall patterns to extended dry seasons, hitting their crops—and thus, their livelihoods, the hardest.
Those that took part in the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups. Photo Credit: USAID/Nepal
Along the trail, a farmer we met at Jibjibe village recited a poem on climate change for us. Remarkably, her poetry was not about the sublime and dramatic snowcapped and jagged Himalayan peaks but about carbon credits, changing weather patterns, depleted water sources and the need for heightened attention and action on climate change. We were left in awe, somewhat shocked and surprised that a farmer in such a remote village of the Langtang region could so articulately talk about climate change and its impact. He summarized the purpose of our trek in plain, simple language – an often difficult feat for many of us, including those in the development profession.
The diversity of the group added greatly to the discussions during the trek allowing for different perspectives and exchange of ideas. We were not only learning from our interactions with the communities and from our site visits, but also from each other. Mr. Anil Chitrakar, a leading energy and environment activist in Nepal and chairperson of the Himalayan Climate Initiative, shared “climate change is so big and beyond us that it requires urgent action on the part of all. This trek brought together such a diverse group of passionate Nepalis committed to advancing the many social, development, and political issues of the country, stimulated excellent ideas, and helped create a strong partnership network. If we stay committed, this network can grow from 20 of us to thousands and spur stronger joint action on climate change and environment conservation. That’s our goal, and I know this team, together, can make that happen.”
The trek closed back in Kathmandu with an Earth Day press conference on April 22during which trek highlights and remarks by key experts on climate change were the major theme. Speaking at the press conference, Dr. Kevin A. Rushing, Mission Director of USAID/Nepal, remarked “it is especially imperative to address climate change in Nepal because of its largest glacier concentration outside the polar region. Nepal hosts eight of the world’s tallest peaks and around 3,200 glaciers and 1,466 glacial lakes—with approximately 1.3 billion people dependent on the water that comes out of the mountains’ many rivers. ”
The Green Hiker-Green Planet Campaign also served as a sounding board and an informal inauguration of USAID’s new environment program in Nepal called Hariyo Ban Nepal ko Dhan (or Green Forests in English) which will contribute to the reduction of threats to biodiversity and vulnerabilities of global climate change in Nepal through interventions in two priority bio-diverse landscapes: the Gandaki River Basin and the Terai Arc-Landscape. The many ideas from the trek will feed into the program once it is rolled out in a couple of months’ time.
The trek was also held to commemorate USAID/Nepal’s 60th Anniversary and WWF’s 50th Anniversary. With 60 years of development efforts in Nepal, USAID has a long history of successful and cutting-edge environmental programs in the country, including its work with community forest user groups to support environmental governance, conserve biodiversity, and promote sustainable livelihoods.
On that Tuesday at 3500m in a snow storm, we stopped for lunch and shelter in a tea house in Singompa, a picturesque village in a beautiful pine forest with a breathtaking view of the Langtang range. Huddled together sipping hot soup, the trekking team had one of its most stimulating discussions at the tea house. Sunil B. Pant, one of the three parliamentarians on the trek and an upcoming political leader, commented, “The next major conflict in Nepal and elsewhere will be caused by climate change if we don’t act now to mitigate the threats it poses. The Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign is a great opportunity to discuss how we can all work together as partners to address climate change and its effects. The momentum we gain during this trek needs to continue.” The fog rolled up the mountainside bringing more rain turned into snow changing with it the mood of the trekkers inside.
We felt euphoria first, because for most of us living in Kathmandu, the snowfall experience is limited to the movies and TV we watch. But the euphoria soon turned into reflective discussions because of the unusual April snowstorm; snowfall season even in these mountains should have ended by March. For any and all of the skeptics in us, there wasn’t a bigger moment of truth than this – climate change was happening and is inevitable. “What were we going to do to prevent and mitigate its negative impact?”
For nearly 50 years USAID has been in the business of providing assistance to individuals in need to alleviate suffering, save lives, and foster a brighter future for families around the world.
Our mission here at USAID is a unique one: to put ourselves out of business. We seek to carry out development so effectively that people around the world no longer need the assistance we provide. To achieve our mission, we partner with countries, at their request, to assist them in the process of developing national structures that ultimately can function independently, without foreign aid.
Today, on the behalf of USAID, I accepted an award from the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea) Health Minister Chin Soo-Hee to honor a history of partnership that helped transform a once-struggling nation into a donor partner.
The collaboration began in 1954, when the International Cooperation Association, the predecessor to USAID, coordinated an agreement between the University of Minnesota and Seoul National University that facilitated the post-war exchange of medical education and research at a critical period in Korean medical reconstruction.
In subsequent years, USAID continued to provide health assistance that promoted the ongoing development of the Korean medical system. Today, we recognize the Republic of Korea as one of our longest-standing partners and identify them as a world leader in medical research and technology.
Once a recipient of U.S. development assistance, the Republic of Korea is now a donor partner that itself provides assistance to help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Today, the country produces high-quality, affordably priced vaccines that have played an invaluable role in preventing disease and childhood death around the world.
In 2010, the Republic of Korea became the newest member of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, or the DAC. Its DAC membership marks the only time since the OECD was established in 1961 that a country has joined the “advanced nations’ assistance club” after transitioning from an aid recipient to a donor. To have made this transformation in just a few decades truly speaks to the Republic of Korea’s extraordinary economic rise, the compassion of its people, and its commitment to effective and coordinated assistance.
We are very proud of the role USAID played in helping the Republic of Korea achieve its development goals. Its remarkable transformation in such a short time span is an inspiration and a reminder. It reminds me that our mission is achievable.
Local residents look at a mountain of debris left by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake in Natori in Miyagi Prefecture on March 16, 2011. Japan’s Emperor Akihito delivered a rare address to a jittery nation in dread of nuclear catastrophe on March 16 as millions struggled in desperate conditions after quake and tsunami disasters. Photo credit: Toru Yamanaka / AFP
If you’ve been following the aftermath of last week’s massive earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan you’re probably wondering how you can help. Millions are affected, recovery will be protracted and difficult.
Besides the initial, tragic effects of the disaster, millions of people in Japan still have no running water or power. Lines spanning city blocks and lasting hours are forming, as thousands look to acquire basic essentials. All supplies are being rationed.
As overwhelming images of the devastation rush in Japan, many compassionate Americans feel the urge to help. The best way, however, to contribute to the massive relief effort is not always clear. The Center for International Disaster Information provides some very useful information on how you can help.
When disasters happen abroad, the best and most effective way for Americans to help is to give cash. Donating cash instead of goods ensures that victims can get the quickest possible access to basic items on the ground provided by our experienced humanitarian partners.
By learning how to give responsibly, and by making sure that others understand the importance of cash donations as well, you can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of international disaster victims.
Red Cross worker Daniel Jordan counts donations during a “drive-through” fundraiser benefiting the American Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on March 15, 2011. Photo Credit: AFP Photo/ Mark Ralston
“The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy.”
-President Barack Obama
As part of the American effort to assist the Japanese Government’s response to the earthquake and subsequent Tsunami, USAID has deployed two urban search and rescue teams. The teams from Fairfax County and Los Angeles County Fire Departments include 144 personnel, 12 canines trained to detect live victims, and 45 tons of equipment. See below for some of the latest photos of the teams on the ground.
US rescue workers, including one with a fiber optic telescopic camera (R), check rubble for survivors in Ofunato while conducting operations in the devastated city on March 15, 2011. Rescue teams from the US, Britain and China began assisting in the search for survivors following the devastating 8.9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11. Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP
US rescue workers check rubble for survivors in Ofunato while conducting operations in the devastated city on March 15, 2011. Rescue teams from the US, Britain and China began assisting in the search for survivors following the devasting earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11. Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP
US rescue workers treat a dog which slightly injured its paw while searching for survivors in the devastated city of Ofunato on March 15, 2011. Rescue teams from the US, Britain and China began assisting in the search for survivors following the devasting earthquake and ensuing tsunami on March 11. Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP
Bangladesh is on track to meet the 2015 deadline for U.N. Millennium Development Goal 5 (50 percent reduction in maternal deaths). The Bangladesh Maternal Mortality and Health Service Survey [PDF] jointly funded by the Government of Bangladesh, USAID, Australian Aid (AusAID) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that maternal deaths in Bangladesh fell from 322 per 100,000 in 2001 to 194 in 2010, a 40 percent decline in 9 years.
The decline in direct obstetric deaths is most likely the consequence of better care seeking practices and improved access to and use of higher-level referral care. The decline in total fertility rate due to the successful family planning program has reduced exposure to high risk pregnancies and has thus prevented a large number of maternal deaths.
USAID’s program in Bangladesh has historically been very strong in family planning through the world’s largest social marketing program for non-clinical contraceptive methods and through the public sector for long-acting permanent methods. We can confidently say that our long and unwavering investments in family planning have had direct impact in lowering the total fertility rate, and thus the maternal mortality rate, in Bangladesh. Over the past five years, USAID has also invested in scaling up active management of the third stage of labor to prevent postpartum hemorrhage in the public and NGO sector.
The USAID program has also long invested in promoting and providing antenatal care through the NGO sector which linked women to the health system thus contributing to increased awareness and care-seeking for obstetric complications. USAID and CDC’s long term commitment to the in depth training of local scientists has resulted in the creation of Bangladesh’s premiere research institute, the International Center for Diarrheal Disease and Research, Bangladesh (ICCDDRB) which has the capacity to effectively guide valid and reliable research efforts such as the 2010 Bangladesh Maternal Mortality and Health Care Survey (BMMS).
USAID supported and provided technical leadership in implementation of the 2001 and 2010 BMMS to monitor the performance of the overall maternal health program. Without these two surveys it would not be possible for Bangladesh to monitor its progress towards achieving the MDG 5 goal.
Amanda Glassman, Director of Global Health Policy and a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, wrote “the results are also a good reminder that investments in family planning and girls’ education drive much of maternal health outcomes, and that USAID investment in social marketing of family planning and health seems to be paying off in improved health (see blog post).”
The Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is scaling up emergency obstetric care and active management of the third stage of labor; the Ministry has also recently approved distribution of Misoprostol tablets to all pregnant women shortly after delivery to prevent postpartum hemorrhage. There is also increasing availability of Magnesium Sulphate for management of pre-eclampsia. The predominance of hemorrhage and eclampsia deaths and deaths after delivery indicate a need to strengthen access to treatment for these two conditions, improve referral systems, and improve referral level care.
Every year, USAID provides basic health care services to nearly 20 million Bangladeshis, including provision of low-cost, quality family planning services and maternal and child health care. With USAID and international support, under-five mortality rates have declined by more than 50 percent in Bangladesh since 1990. USAID has trained and mobilized community health workers to provide critical maternal and child health care to supplement broader health interventions and support country-level capacity. Bangladesh already received a country award from the United Nations for significant progress in reaching MDG 4 (reducing child mortality) during the MDG Summit in New York on September 19.
The Government of Bangladesh and the United States jointly rolled out President Obama’s Global Health Initiative in Bangladesh on November 23. GHI in Bangladesh will focus on providing quality services to reduce maternal and child mortality, resuscitate family planning programs, improve nutrition status among children under age five, and strengthen overall health systems over the next five years.
By Dr. John Wilson, Director of the Office of Technical Services for USAID’s Middle East and Asia Bureaus
Imagine a water- and food-secure Middle East and North Africa. A region with a reliable supply of water, where no child dies of a water-borne illness, where the hungry are fed, and where no wars are fought over water.
(Left to right) Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani, Vice Chairman, QNFSP; Fahad Al-Attiyah, Chairman, QNFSP; HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan; and John Wilson, USAID Photo: USAID
A group of over 60 scientists, policy makers, and administrators did just that from February 28 to March 2 in Doha, Qatar. Seventeen water centers of excellence from 10 countries across the Middle East and North Africa came together to create the Middle East and North Africa Network of Water Centers of Excellence (MENA NWC). The meeting, co-sponsored by USAID and the Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP), builds upon a year of intense regional consultation. The network aims to link technical institutions across the Middle East and North Africa with each other, with counterpart institutions in the United States and elsewhere, with governments, and with the private sector to solve the critical water problems confronting the region.
USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Middle East Hady Amr welcomed the group at the opening dinner and introduced a series of inspiring speakers. U.S. Ambassador to Qatar Joseph LeBaron highlighted the words of Secretary Clinton: “The water that we use today has been circulating through the earth since time began. It must sustain humanity for as long as we live on this earth. We didn’t just inherit this resource from our parents; we are truly borrowing it from our children.”
After a one-hour prop plane ride from Kathmandu, followed by an 11-hour rocky drive through the stunning hills and valleys of Mid-Western Nepal’s upper hilly region, our team reached Salyan District’s remote and rural villages. We were there to video the successes of the USAID-supported, 50,000-strong Female Community Health Volunteer project. Working in every district of Nepal, these volunteers are often the only health care providers in such remote and isolated villages.
Female Community Health Volunteers of Marke District, Nepal, work to enhance health awareness, improve health standards, and save lives throughout their communities by utilizing the training they’ve received through the USAID-supported Nepal Family Health Program. Photo Credit: Gregg Rappaport/USAID
I’ve spent the last several days traveling with our group comprised of health specialists, program managers, and communicators (Gregg Rapaport, Senior Communications Manager, and Stuti Basnyet, USAID/Nepal) videoing, interviewing, listening and learning. The stories are nothing short of amazing, and the volunteers’ passion to fulfill what they consider a calling to serve their communities has been inspiring.
It’s been humbling to hear the stories of these dedicated volunteers giving care under arduous circumstances and to meet the many villagers seeking care – a health volunteer who recently saved a newborn baby’s life minutes after delivery; another who has committed more than 22 years to serving her community through this project; a group of women who, in the last six months, have counseled more than 85 couples on family planning; a man seeking care for severe knee problems who arrived in the village on a stretcher after traveling nearly two hours, carried high above the heads of his four nephews. These volunteers are changing the behavior of their villages, increasing awareness to improve health standards, and most importantly, saving lives. Of the 500 local children checked for pneumonia in the last six months, 73 were treated with antibiotics, 13 were referred to higher level health care at the district level, and all have made a full recovery.
One woman I spoke with, Laxmi Sharma, a volunteer in Salyan’s Ward 4, said that it’s not a matter of money, but rather a matter of helping her community. “We do this as volunteers,” she explained, “because we can improve the health of our communities.” The women play a crucial role in providing vitamin A supplementation, immunizations, family planning education, safe motherhood interventions, and community-based integrated management of childhood illnesses, particularly in the detection and treatment of pneumonia and diarrhea – Nepal’s top two childhood killers.
With support from USAID and other donors, Nepal is also one of only a handful of countries poised to meet more than one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in health by reducing the number of maternal and child deaths by nearly half in only 10 years! A remarkable achievement alone, that it was realized at the end of the nation’s prolonged 10-year internal conflict makes it even more profound.
Our return trip back through the town of Dang this afternoon was marked by a rather serendipitous event – hundreds of women, men, and children marched in solidarity to celebrate the global 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. One woman I spoke with explained, “Through this (march) forum … we can work to ensure women have equity, empowerment, and are at the center of mainstream politics. If all the women come together, this is something that is achievable, we just need to work at it.”
Around the world today, millions of people will flood the streets in their hometowns to voice their enduring support for the advancement of women and girls as key leaders in the creation of a better world. As new ideas and innovative ways are introduced, USAID/Nepal continues to incorporate these pioneering initiatives in its program design, placing women and girls at the forefront of building the country’s peace and prosperity.
But USAID/Nepal is not only working in the health sector – it is also leading the way in partnership with the Nepalese people to finding solutions to the toughest challenges to driving economic progress, promoting educational opportunities, promoting political stability, sustaining the environment, and feeding the population.
The Education for Income Generation Activity has trained more than 65,000 disadvantaged youth from the Midwestern region—the most conflict affected and one of the poorest regions of Nepal—in basic and business literacy, vocational training and agriculture productivity and enterprise development in the last three years. Of these, 7,900 youth received vocational training with 80% gainfully employed as a result of the training.
Through the Women’s Leadership Academy program, USAID has provided training on the fundamentals of democratic politics and constitution drafting to over 200 elected women parliamentarians and civil servants, providing them with the tools needed to draft the constitution and participate fully in party and parliamentary proceedings.
We know that supporting investment in women and girls can be compelling force multiplier for development and innovation. At the heart of Nepal’s advancement, women will continue to advocate on behalf of their communities, and promote advancements in education, economic growth, politics, climate change, and initiatives to improve access to food. USAID/Nepal will continue to move this agenda forward, and advance this priority by standing in solidarity with by the women and girls of Nepal.