In October 1999, two cyclones hit the eastern coast of India, and the impact was devastating with nearly 10,000 lives lost. This October, another strong cyclone, Phailin, hit the country and the death toll has been reported at about 50. In this installment of USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series, we explore what happened in the intervening years to bring about such a different result to two seemingly similar events and how USAID played a key role.
Benjamin Franklin is famous for the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Today, we are faced with great challenges brought about by increasing population and urbanization, a changing climate, and a demonstrated increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters. To continue to tackle these challenges, what has become clear is this: We need more than an ounce of prevention; we need pounds of prevention!
Photo is courtesy of the National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal.
Smartphone enthusiasts can find just about anything on the app store to entertain, connect with friends and learn new things that make our lives more enjoyable and productive. And this month, a new app is out that will make it easier for traders to do business in Vietnam.
Most of us have never had to look up an HS Code. But there is one for just about every item used in daily life. Your coffee cup, your pen, your office furniture — maybe even what you had for lunch — all have a code in the Harmonized System (HS).
A woman tries the STAR Plus app. Photo credit: USAID Vietnam
These internationally standardized classification codes cover 5,300 articles or commodities organized under headings and subheadings, arranged in 99 chapters, and grouped in 21 sections. Sound overwhelming? It can be. Because HS codes inform tariff rates, choosing the correct one is not only required by international law, but it can mean the difference between competitive or noncompetitive margins of cost for entrepreneurs who move goods across borders. Not long ago, HS classification information was hard to find and hard to navigate. Misclassification of HS codes is a common complaint of businesses in Vietnam. But now, thanks to our USAID STAR Plus Program, there’s an app for that.
The new Mã HS Việt Nam app, developed by USAID STAR Plus and available for free on iTunes, links traders directly to the Vietnam Customs website and places HS Code data at the fingertips of importers and exporters with iPhones or iPads. If and when Vietnam successfully joins the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, having easily accessible HS Codes with new tariff rate data will be very advantageous.
The Mã HS Vietnam app is just one example of the innovation and adaptability of our program in Vietnam. USAIDSTAR Plus and its predecessor projects date back to 2001 and are credited with helping Vietnam implement a Bilateral Trade Agreement with the United States and accede to the World Trade Organization — two achievements acknowledged by many to be the foundation of Vietnam’s dramatic economic rise from developing to middle-income country status in less than a decade. The secret to USAID STAR’s success has been agility of program design combined with responsiveness, particularly to long-standing relationships of trust and mutual interest established over time with the people and Government of Vietnam.
Working successfully with Vietnam’s General Department of Customs to streamline processes, create business-to-government partnerships and align operations to international best practices in trade compliance are just a few of the project’s contributions. Similar progress is evident through other counterpart relationships, such as work with the National Assembly and the State Audit of Vietnam. Rule of law, banking and finance, fiscal transparency, and civic participation are all areas improved during the USAID STAR Plus era of informed cooperation. By remaining committed to innovation and adaptability the U.S.-Vietnam partnership will continue to achieve more inclusive, sustainable, and transformative growth long into the future.
USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) enhanced its partnership with the China Earthquake Administration (CEA) in late September, signing a Letter of Coordination that formalized efforts to strengthen collaboration on future disaster responses.
As one of his first official duties as the new USAID/OFDA Director, Jeremy Konyndyk signed a Letter of Coordination with CEA Administrator Chen Jianmin. Photo credit: USAID
The agreement represents an important commitment by both USAID/OFDA and the CEA to bolster cooperation in the field of earthquake preparedness and response, urban search-and-rescue and other humanitarian issues. Partnerships like this best illustrate how donor governments can join forces for the greater benefit of those most in need, sharing the responsibility of helping other countries in the wake of a humanitarian emergency.
Asia remains one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, with earthquakes and tsunamis affecting tens of thousands of people each year. China is especially vulnerable, being susceptible to the most deadly earthquakes ever recorded. By strategically combining resources and expertise, USAID/OFDA and the CEA will be able toimprovecoordination on earthquake responses across Asia—ultimately saving more lives and reducing the economic and social impact of future disasters.
“It is great to take this next step and further strengthen our relationship, as we together continue to invest in disaster preparation and mitigation activities in Asia,” said USAID/OFDA Director Jeremy Konyndyk.
HARVEST teaches efficient rice planting techniques that help Cambodian farmers increase their yields. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin
Soon after I arrived in Cambodia, I made a trip to see a few of the activities that USAID supports to improve the lives of rural Cambodians. Agriculture — especially rice — is of huge importance to Cambodia and I was able to see how our support is helping farmers become more successful by introducing new techniques. I also saw how our funds are improving Cambodian children’s education by strengthening school facilities and increasing their knowledge about nutrition.
Rebecca Black (second from right) learns how HARVEST is helping increase rural incomes by building skills like basket weaving. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin
Not far from Cambodia’s most famous landmark, Angkor Wat, farmers in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces are learning about better, more efficient ways to raise fish and grow crops and vegetables. In addition to the training and supplies they receive through our food security program, USAID HARVEST, rural families are also eating better as a result of the nutritional information provided by HARVEST’s trainers. The bottom line is that their production is allowing farmers to earn more income and provide their families with a more diverse and nutritional food basket. Greg Beck, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Asia Bureau, saw this when he enjoyed personal interaction with one such farmer during his visit this year. Read about his reflections on his Cambodia visit here.
School kids in Kampong Thom learn about the importance of sanitation and have access to clean water at school through USAID’s support. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin
Nutrition is a very important priority for me and my team, as it continues to be one of Cambodia’s main development challenges. Studies show that too many Cambodians suffer from malnutrition. That’s why USAID’s program (Improving Basic Education in Cambodia) not only focuses on the classroom, but in the vegetable garden, too. In addition to providing computer labs, the project also teaches students about nutrition, water and sanitation by teaching them to install and maintain a vegetable garden. They also learn about the importance of protein and how important fish is to their protein requirements. These valuable nutritional resources will help school children eat right, grow strong and eventually join Cambodia’s growing workforce.
This blog is part of an interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.
When did you first become interested in climate research?
New England snow storms sparked my interest in weather at a young age. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of Massachusetts to study Meteorology. During my second year as an undergraduate, I became interested in how weather patterns behaved over the entire globe on longer timescales, climate time scales. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts and worked on projects that linked Central Asia climate to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. The regional atmospheric circulations of Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa are intertwined, so those are now my regions of focus.
Can you talk a little bit about how UC Santa Barbara and FEWS NET work together to explain the broader concept of food security?
I can only speak to the climate side at UC Santa Barbara. At UC Santa Barbara, we’re interested in how rainfall has recently changed over East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and what climate features have forced those changes. We take the lessons that we’ve learned from the recent changes and we draw conclusions about how the climate will change in the future.
When you first began researching climatic weather patterns in the Western Pacific Ocean, did you have any idea that your work would help guide future international development decision making?
I’ve been researching the links between the tropical western Pacific Ocean and the global climate since about 2006, my first year of graduate school. Initially, graduate students, including me, are usually focused on learning or pleasing their advisor. In 2008, I met Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group at UCSB, and we collaborated on a paper that investigated the links between the Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures and East African climate and how those links influence food security. This was the first time I considered that my work might guide international development and decision making.
What was the motivation for writing about drying conditions in the East Africa Horn? What did you and your team seek to explain?
Our overarching goal is to understand how climate variability influences East Africa. This paper is a very brief review that links recent changes in East African climate (since the late 1990s) to an abrupt warming in west Pacific sea surface temperatures. The video below explains more.
What sorts of technology and techniques did you use in this study?
In the beginning of our study, we show how the climate from 1999 until recently has behaved in terms of East African rainfall and tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures. From this, we were able to show that (at least) superficially that East Africa rainfall and tropical Indo-west Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures could be related.
In the second part of our study, we use an atmospheric model forced by observed sea surface temperatures to confirm that west Pacific sea surface temperature changes were influencing East African rainfall. The study can be found here (Article 15).
What’s next for you and your team? How will you continue to work with FEWS NET to explain climate patterns and its effects on food security?
Our team will continue to investigate what factors influence climate variability over East Africa, the Middle East (specifically Yemen) and Central Asia. We focus on a wide variety of time scales, from individual seasons to multiple decades. We are most concerned with changes on decadal time scales because they are most important to long-term food and water security. However, our understanding of climate variability for individual seasons is also very important because it is this climate variability that primarily forces short-term droughts and famines (e.g. 2010/2011 over East Africa).
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The Global Business Coalition for Education, chaired by Gordon Brown, hosted a breakfast meeting to facilitated conversations between the business community and the education sector with the overall goal of more coordinated collaboration to improve education. Malala Yousafzai was in attendance as a special guest and together she and Administrator Shah encouraged the business community to invest in improving educational outcomes, with a particular emphasis on increasing equitable access to quality education, especially for girls.
Administrator Shah with Malala Yousafzai; Alhaji Aliko Dangote, founder of the Dangote Group (far left); Christie Vilsack, USAID Senior Advisor for International Education; and Malala’s father (far right) at the Global Business Coalition for Education event. Photo credit: USAID
As a part of the Learning for All meetings, Administrator Shah participated in the “Learning for all Pakistan” meeting. The Administrator expressed the USG’s continued interest in working with the Government of Pakistan and provincial governments to improve access to education and education quality. He also encouraged Pakistani government official to continue to show increased leadership and commitment to education. Malala Yousafzai also spoke and expressed the importance of education, particularly for girls, In Pakistan and worldwide. She encouraged the leaders in Pakistan to further increase spending on education and make secondary school compulsory.
I recently experienced the richness of Uzbek fruit at a USAID-sponsored local Peach Variety Contest in the Andijan Province of Uzbekistan. It was an unforgettable opportunity for me to witness the rich abundance of Uzbekistan’s land. Farmers came and presented their own samples from six provinces: Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, Namangan, Fergana and Andijan. It was difficult to believe that there were so many different varieties of peaches and nectarines! After a round of objective judging, the farmers with the best ones were awarded various farm tools as prizes. The event also served as an opportunity for farmers to learn new approaches for harvesting and post-harvest management of their produce, and female participants learned new techniques for processing their homemade jams and preserves.
Rural children enjoy prize-winning fruits of the Ferghana Valley at a USAID-sponsored agricultural contest. Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
In rural and farming communities, word of mouth is the most meaningful means of information dissemination. Farmers are as curious and competitive as they are cautious; they are always interested in what crops their neighbors are growing, what approaches they use, and, most importantly, what results they achieve. These fruit contests are an important opportunity for local technical experts to share their knowledge with other farmers. For example, the household-level peach processing training conducted for Uzbek women during the Andijan peach contest will help them improve their family’s nutrition in the winter time. With over two-thirds of Uzbekistan’s population residing in rural areas, agricultural development is crucial to increasing local economic opportunity and addressing rural poverty and food security.
The history of private farming in Uzbekistan is very new; it has been only seven years since the production cooperative farm organizations(shirkats) were disbanded and all farm production responsibilities were transferred to private farmers. Since then, USAID agricultural projects have been at the cutting edge of providing Uzbekistan’s new private farmers with a strong production-based set of technology transfer activities that positively impact farm level quality and productivity. During our first year of this project, USAID introduced 3,000 farmers to new production techniques that, at a minimum, doubled crop yields and resulted in up to six-fold increases in sales. This agricultural assistance in Uzbekistan has increased some farm incomes by up to 80 percent through improved agricultural techniques.
Although prizes were given to farmers with the best varieties of peaches presented at the contest, one could see that there was not only competition among farmers, but collaboration among them as well. It was inspiring to see them discussing the characteristics of different samples that were presented; their advantages and their weaknesses; sharing their own experiences and knowledge; and offering tips to each other. A majority of farmers and their families attend variety contests because they learn something new that will help to improve their family’s nutrition, decrease spoilage and increase their profits. After most variety contests, farmers arrange for visits to each other’s farms to continue exchanging information and learning from each other. Winning farmers are inundated with requests for transplants and grafting material from their prized plants. For me, this is a classic example of how USAID fosters events with lasting results. The connections that farmers make with each other and the skills they transfer will continue beyond the life of any one project.
Take a look at photos from the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Watch a video from the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Vietnam’s mountainous Dien Bien Province, 500 km (about 310 miles) west of Hanoi, is home to the well-known battleground of Dien Bien Phu, where Vietnamese soldiers fought and won a decisive 55-day battle in 1954 against the French Union that brought an end to that war. Today, Vietnam is now engaged in another battle — against HIV/AIDS. And Dien Bien is one of Vietnam’s two provinces with the highest HIV prevalence.
Ms. Ca Thi Hinh, 32, a member of the Thai ethnic minority group in northern Vietnam, grew up in the province’s Tuan Giao district, an HIV hotspot. Born into a poor family, Hinh married in her early twenties. Her husband was also poor, and all they had was a temporary shelter. They both worked hard as hired laborers, saving as much as they could and looking forward to the moment when they could afford a decent house.
In her traditional costume typical of the Thai ethnic minority group in northern Vietnam, Hinh tells her story to a reporter from Vietnam Television with confidence, shining eyes and a radiant smile. Photo Credit: Richard Nyberg/USAID
In 2007, Hinh’s husband was diagnosed with HIV when he was treated for a high fever, and died shortly after. Hinh then found out that she had contracted HIV from her husband, and the sky seemed to fall down on her. She could only gather her courage when she thought about her two small children. “I must live,” she thought. “My children need me to take care of them.”
As stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS are still problems in Vietnam, people like Hinh have difficulty finding jobs, face unfair treatment in accessing social services and experience discrimination in healthcare and other settings.
Hinh looked to animal breeding as one option to earn an income, but she was turned down for a loan from a state-owned bank. Then she learned about M7/CFRC, a microfinance service provider supported by the USAID HIV Workplace Project. M7/CFRC staff trained her in financial management and gave her a microloan of $150. Adding $50 from her own savings, she bought two goats, one of which was pregnant. Three months later, her herd had grown to eight and she sold two goats for $215. With this money, she is able to support her children and her sister.
“I am very grateful for the support and care from the project. My children are now well-fed and educated, and I, myself, am more confident,” Hinh said. She hopes to have more goats soon, so that she can sustain her income.
Since 2008, the project, funded under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR), has helped 1,400 people living with or affected by HIV in Vietnam. With microloans from the project, people like Hinh have found jobs and realized their dreams of running their own businesses. The success of the microfinance model for people living with HIV has encouraged local microloan providers to commit $1 million in loans to this target group.
The Government of Vietnam has also adopted the project’s microfinance models and is developing a new policy to provide loans to populations at highest risk of HIV in Vietnam.
Kunchok Dolma lives with her 89-year-old husband in a simple house in the Jampaling Tibetan refugee settlement near Pokhara, Nepal. At 68, Kunchok struggled to grow vegetables to feed her family, a fact she attributes to her lack of knowledge about gardening in her new home, which is quite different from what she knew and practiced on the Tibetan Plateau.
“I used to farm using traditional methods, but we are in a different climate here and I didn’t have much idea about what to do when harmful insects attacked our plants,” she says. Kunchok yearned to be able to grow crops again in her new surroundings. “It keeps me going and is necessary for living.”
With organic gardening techniques learned through USAID’s EDOTS project, Kunchok Dolma now produces enough vegetables to feed her family as well as help her save on her monthly expenses. Photo credit: TechnoServe
I learned about Kunchok’s story in New Delhi, where USAID partners recently met to share successes and lessons learned from the Economic Development of Tibetan Settlements in India and Nepal project (EDOTS). The project is improving the economic status of Tibetan settlements through a range of activities that address unemployment and underemployment. By improving livelihood opportunities in the settlements, the hope is that Tibetan youth will find enough opportunities to remain, thus ensuring that Tibetan identity, cultural and linguistic traditions are passed on through the generations.
Kunchok was a keen participant in the EDOTS agriculture outreach activities. Through project funding, she obtained the basic necessities to start a small kitchen garden next to her house and joined a group mushroom growing cooperative as well. More than 50 farmers from Kunchok’s community took part in the EDOTS-sponsored organic gardening and mushroom cultivation workshops.
Kunchok’s garden thrived through both the winter and summer growing seasons, and she was able to improve her family’s diet with the produce harvested, which included tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables and spices. “Now I have a clear idea of jholmol [organic pesticide] techniques for controlling insects and managing a kitchen garden, which makes me more interested in my farming work,” she says.
Finally, she says with emotion, “We, the people of Jampaling, are hard workers. The [USAID EDOTS] project has made us hard workers in agriculture again. This project has restored the culture of farming in Jampaling and has made me and my people great. Thank you.”
Though the EDOTS project is slated to end soon, Kunchok and the other project beneficiaries are upbeat. With their niche, high-value produce in demand at nearby markets and restaurants — especially by tourists — they are confident of their ability to more fully participate in the broader Nepali economy now and in the future.
Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?
USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.