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Responding to Madagascar’s ‘Silent’ Emergency

With support from Catholic Relief Services, Sisters of Charity provide hot meals to the elderly and children in Tshiombe./Christopher LaFargue, USAID

With support from Catholic Relief Services, Sisters of Charity provide hot meals to the elderly and children in Tshiombe. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

Because of its slow onset, Southern Africa’s drought may not be headline news. But its impacts are being felt by millions. At least 12.8 million people in Southern Africa will face crisis levels of food insecurity by the end of this year.

Madagascar has been especially hard hit. About 80 percent of the population in the country’s seven southern districts—665,000 people—are in need of emergency food assistance.

I recently traveled to Madagascar with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture David Lane. There we met with communities struggling to find enough to eat after three years of consecutive drought made worse by El Niño.

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Soeur Josiane from Sisters of Charity speaks to Dina Esposito about the soup kitchen in Tshiombe. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

During our trip, we saw visibly malnourished children and adults, including many elderly. In Tshiombe, we spoke with Soeur Immaculata, a nun from Sisters of Charity, who opened up an emergency soup kitchen to provide regular hot meals to children and the elderly. She told us she had not seen so much suffering since the severe droughts of 1992 and 2006.

We also visited Ankilimafaitsy Primary School in Ambovombe, where the U.N. World Food Program is providing children with lunch as part of a school lunch program that feeds almost 300,000 Malagasy children daily. For most of these children, this school lunch is the only food assistance they receive; it has become a vital lifeline in these communities as parents struggle to put food on the table.

Here are three steps we—and other donors—must take to help the people of Madagascar during this “silent,” but devastating emergency:

20160518 Ambovombe WFP School Canteen 3 (1)

Children receive hot meals from the Sisters of Charity soup kitchen supported by Catholic Relief Services in Tshiombe. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

1. Coordinate support

During my trip, we announced an additional $8 million in food assistance to the Malagasy people, bringing the United States’ total El Niño response in Madagascar to $17 million. But we must work with the government and the donor community to coordinate our assistance. We encourage Madagascar’s national and local officials to assess immediate needs, more proactively mobilize their own response, and more effectively draw global attention to the crisis, mobilize contributions, and facilitate donor planning.

Ready-to-use supplementary food provide children with much needed protein, vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition./Christopher LaFargue, USAID

Ready-to-use supplementary food provide children with much needed protein, vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

2. Plan early for a scaled up emergency and recovery response 

As in the ongoing Ethiopia drought response, early warning is the key to early response. Forecasts indicate that Madagascar’s lean season could begin as early as August rather than October. Children under 5 in this area have unusually high rates of malnutrition. It is urgent that we complement expanded food assistance for families in these southern districts with specialized foods to prevent and treat malnutrition.  

I was particularly impressed by Madagascar’s National Office of Nutrition and its efforts to screen and treat cases of moderate acute malnutrition. We met with well-trained volunteers who were educating young mothers about nutrition. With USAID support, children are being provided with ready-to-use supplementary food. Sustained assistance will be critical in the months ahead to prevent children from sliding into the more serious condition of severe acute malnutrition.

Equally important will be ensuring that families can grow their own food in the next cropping season. A seed distribution plan must get seeds in the hands of farmers by September.

Women farmers in Amboasary tend to a cleared communal vegetable field through a World Food Programme food for assets activity. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

Women farmers in Amboasary tend to a cleared communal vegetable field through a World Food Programme food for assets activity. / Christopher LaFargue, USAID

3. Continue to invest in resilience

Although the current drought is outpacing the ability of many Malagasy farmers to cope, some farmers have remained self-reliant with our investments. Some of our disaster mitigation efforts include working with farmers to grow more drought-resistant crops like sweet potato and cassava. We are also helping farmers to build assets, access more land near water sources, and improve nearby water points for humans and cattle. Voucher programs help fishermen buy tools and other resources during this drought.

Under a creative arrangement, local farmers are growing corn on large-scale plantations, between rows of sisal (a plant used to make rope and rugs), in exchange for keeping the fields cleared and tended. The farmers keep one-third of what they grow to sell or eat, they reserve a third for seeds for the next season, and another third is sold to the World Food Program for its school lunch program.

The program has especially benefitted women farmers, one of whom told me, “We used to have to take our children out of school when they turned 15. Now they can stay on into high school. Our girls no longer have to ask men for money to buy soap [a local euphemism for prostitution].”

These efforts are making a clear difference as communities cope with drought. We must continue to scale up these investments—and help expand opportunities for populations to make a living during both good and bad times.

The people of Madagascar will inevitably face future climate shocks in addition to the current drought. We can help them to mobilize, plan and build resilience to those shocks to promote security and avert emergencies.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dina Esposito is USAID’s Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance. @DEsposito_FFP


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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.

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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.

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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.

Online to On the Ground: How Students in Virginia Supported Nepal Earthquake Recovery

Students and staff from AidData and the College of William & Mary participating in a Crisis Mapping event in April, 2015. / Hannah Dempsey, AidData

A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal just as I was finalizing plans to spend the summer working there.

At the time, I was a student at the College of William & Mary and a Summer Fellow with the AidData Center for Development Policy, a research and innovation lab that helps the development community improve transparency by mapping where funds and efforts flow. The geospatial data tools we create help universities, think tanks and civil society organizations make better decisions about aid allocation, coordination and evaluation.

In the midst of planning for my trip to Nepal, the earthquake struck, leaving 9,000 people dead, entire villages flattened and hundreds of thousands homeless. After receiving news that our friends and colleagues were safe, my classmates and I looked for a way to help Nepal from our campus in Virginia.

Our solution? Crisis mapping from our laptops.

As student researchers at AidData, our day-to-day focus is tracking, analyzing and mapping development finance data. With specialized data skills, we were ready and equipped to rapidly collect, process and send spacial data to the people in Nepal who needed it. We partnered with USAID and other organizations to identify areas of Nepal in need of assistance, and mapped this information so that responders, community members and others could take action.

Within 48 hours of the earthquake, my student team started Tweeting to recruit other students to data mapping trainings on our campus.

Disaster mappers needed

More than 50 students responded to our call to action. We mobilized volunteers quickly, teaching them how to use the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) platform to create and edit online maps of humanitarian and natural disasters — Nepal’s earthquake, in this case.

Volunteers meticulously combed through aerial images of the Nepali landscape for buildings, roads and residential areas damaged by the earthquake. Along with thousands of other mappers around the globe, we also examined satellite images to pinpoint areas of destruction outside of Kathmandu and provide data on where shelters were. Over the next five months, volunteers at William & Mary provided more than 111,000 updates to the map.

Satellite maps created through the AidData Nepal Info Portal played an important role in recovery efforts in Nepal. / AidData’s Nepal Info Portal

One challenge we faced was how to make all of our data, along with geo-referenced news reports and YouTube videos of the damage, accessible to policymakers and first responders. Save the Children and USAID helped us get our data where it was needed, informing the efforts of and keeping them out of harm during search and rescue operations.

Even though the immediate needs of the earthquake have subsided, our work continues. Inspired by the mapping fervor following the Nepal disaster, students began organizing open-source ”mapathons” and even created an OpenStreetMap club to further develop their skills so that they will be ready to mobilize the next time the call for disaster assistance goes out.

I was amazed by how quickly and easily students could plug into global efforts, make tangible differences and help the lives of strangers halfway across the globe.

This experience spurred my passion for using data to positively impact global development and I look forward to doing even more to uplift humanity through this type of work in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Dempsey is a Research Assistant with AidData and a Senior at the College of William & Mary, one of eight university-based Development Labs that is a part of the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN).

The AidData Center for Development Policy is one of eight USAID Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) university-based Development Labs. As part of the U.S. Global Development Lab, HESN is the Lab’s flagship program to engage universities in global development using science, technology and innovation-focused approaches. AidData, based at the College of William & Mary, is made up of full-time staff as well as a cohort of student research assistants that collectively work to improve development outcomes by making development finance data more accessible and actionable.

South African Firefighters Save Lives Halfway Around the World

South Africa deployed a firefighting team for an international wildfire response for the first time this summer. Their presence was proof that USAID’s investments in building local disaster response capacity are paying off. / U.S. Forest Service

South Africa deployed a firefighting team for an international wildfire response for the first time this summer. Their presence was proof that USAID’s investments in building local disaster response capacity are paying off. / U.S. Forest Service

As enormous wildfires raged through Canada’s boreal forests this summer, hundreds of firefighters from Canada, the United States, Australia, Mexico and New Zealand came together in an extraordinary international effort to battle the flames. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with these teams was a group of firefighters from South Africa.

The South Africans made headlines because of their habit of singing and dancing together before heading to the fireline. They told reporters this was a way to alleviate tensions and solidify team bonding. While this unusual firefighting behavior got attention, it also made a difference.

“Maybe it took us a day to learn how they [the Canadians] worked. Then the following day, we were like, ‘It’s our country.’ We owned the fireline,” one South African firefighter told News24, a South African news outlet.

It’s encouraging when many countries come together to save lives. In this case, South Africa’s participation was inspiring both for the firefighters and for me, a regional adviser with USAID. It was the first time South Africa deployed a firefighting team for an international wildfire response, and their presence half a world away in Canada was proof that USAID’s investments in building local disaster response capacity were paying off.

Since 2009, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Forest Service have worked with South African firefighters to strengthen their ability to respond to emergencies.  South African firefighters received training and technical guidance on the incident command system—the U.S. Government’s own framework for disaster response—that helps promote better coordination and collaboration during emergencies. USAID also launched an international wildfire management exchange program where fire teams shadow their counterparts to improve leadership, fire crew operations and fire prevention skills.

In six years, more than 3,600 South African fire personnel have received USAID-funded training. / U.S. Forest Service

In six years, more than 3,600 South African fire personnel have received USAID-funded training. / U.S. Forest Service

In six years, more than 3,600 South African fire personnel have received USAID-funded training, including 53 who have traveled to the United States for more intensive training. This training has helped transform South African firefighters into an elite team of disaster responders who can deploy worldwide to help others in need. In January 2015, a team deployed to Malawi to help the country respond to deadly flooding.

Then the fires in western Canada broke out.

In July 2015, 48 firefighters flew from South Africa to Alberta to join the international firefighting effort. The firefighters were able to deploy thanks to a program called Working on Fire, which was created in September 2003 as part of the South African Government’s initiative to create jobs and to alleviate poverty. Firefighters are drawn from poor communities, and part of their job is to train their neighbors on better fire safety.

Training firefighters is one way USAID and the U.S. Forest Service help countries like South Africa prepare for disasters. After undergoing drills, these firefighters deployed to Canada to help battle wildfires. / U.S. Forest Service

Training firefighters is one way USAID and the U.S. Forest Service help countries like South Africa prepare for disasters. After undergoing drills, these firefighters deployed to Canada to help battle wildfires. / U.S. Forest Service

“It’s about changing lives,” said Trevor Wilson of Kishugu, the company that owns Working on Fire. “Yes, these are the guys we call on when we’re fighting a large wildfire, but these are also the guys who are helping tell their friends and family and neighbors about creating a defensible space to limit the spread of a fire. Through this, we’re helping change the community.”

For most members of the crew deployed to Canada, it was the first time they or anyone in their family has traveled by airplane. They needed a crash course on exchange rates, jetlag and clearing customs, as well as tips on how to handle immigration at the airport.

One thing that wasn’t different? Their approach to fighting wildfires.

“If we hadn’t been coached by the Americans, we wouldn’t have gotten it right,” Wilson said. “When we landed, though, there was nothing alien in the system or the language. It was comfortable. We could make a difference right away.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Weimer is an OFDA Regional Advisor based in South Africa.

Unprecedented Coordination Helped Turn the Tide of an Unprecedented Outbreak

The response to the Ebola outbreak required coordination among a wide, varied array of groups -- and ultimately helped bring the disease under control. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

The response to the Ebola outbreak required coordination among a wide, varied array of groups — and ultimately helped bring the disease under control. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

The international response to the Ebola outbreak was truly unprecedented, combining humanitarian and public health interventions in ways and at a scale that had never been done before. Ultimately, controlling the outbreak required the combined efforts of not only disease experts and national governments, but ordinary citizens, political and religious leaders, community workers, NGOs, U.N. agencies and even militaries.

Writing in the latest edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases , officials from the Liberian Ministry of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization credit the control of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia to six factors: government leadership and sense of urgency, coordinated international assistance, sound technical work, flexibility guided by epidemiologic data, transparency and effective communication, and efforts by communities themselves.

At a glance, it is easy to see how all of these factors  are interconnected; the ability to act with urgency, guided by technical experts, and the full participation of communities guided by strong coordination. But, the authors are quick to point out that no single factor explains how the disease was brought under control in Liberia. There is still much to learn about the virus. But here is one thing we do know: the effectiveness of the response depended not on limiting action to what was known at the time, but taking action in spite of the unknown.

The United States played a critical role in the response, ultimately sending more than 3,000 people to West Africa and supporting more than 10,000 civilian responders in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. / Carol Han/USAID

The United States played a critical role in the response, ultimately sending more than 3,000 people to West Africa and supporting more than 10,000 civilian responders in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. / Carol Han/USAID

The United States was actively involved in fighting  Ebola from the beginning, sending more than 3,000 people—including aid professionals, public-health specialists, soldiers and logisticians—to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at the height of the response to support more than 10,000 civilian responders.

The CDC sent teams in March 2014, shortly after the outbreak began. To assist overwhelmed health agencies and local resources, USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)—a highly-skilled humanitarian crises response group that August.

Soon after, the U.S. military arrived, bringing speed and scale to the immense logistical effort of training health workers and operating laboratories. The U.S. Public Health Service contributed medical expertise, deploying hundreds of staff to the region to fight the deadly disease.

Author Justin Pendarvis first traveled to the region in July 2014 and helped stand up USAID's Disaster Assistance Response Team to coordinate the response. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Author Justin Pendarvis first traveled to the region in July 2014 and helped stand up USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team to coordinate the response. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

I first arrived in Guinea in early July 2014, visiting each of the affected countries to observe and gauge the growing outbreak, understand the coordination at play for the response and identify key challenges. I helped stand up our DART , with staff deployed in each the three affected countries and eventually to Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana.

Coordinating efforts among various U.S. Government agencies—as well as host governments, NGOs, other responding governments, local communities and the United Nations—was a heavy lift. Even as support rapidly scaled up, there was still no playbook on how to respond .

USAID coordinated with many partners that were doing jobs that they had never done before. For example, we worked with Global Communitie s (known best for its emergency shelter work) to support safe burials across all of Liberia, and UNICEF to develop tools for community-led social mobilization. We worked with the International Medical Corps and the International Organization for Migration on running Ebola treatment units.

Through Mercy Corps, we partnered with more than 70 local organizations to reach 2 million Liberians with life-saving information to protect themselves and their communities from infection. Through the International Rescue Committee and Action Contre la Faim, we ensured that the Liberian Ministry of Health had the necessary support to link together investigation teams, ambulances and burial teams, treatment facilities and community-led actions—linkages that were critical to stopping the explosive outbreak in densely populated urban Monrovia.

Because of our work in Liberia and other affected countries, local health systems are increasingly poised to maintain control and prevent future large-scale outbreaks themselves. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Because of our work in Liberia and other affected countries, local health systems are increasingly poised to maintain control and prevent future large-scale outbreaks themselves. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

All in all, USAID worked with dozens of partners, the majority of whom remain in the region, committed to working alongside their national counterparts to safeguard against new outbreaks and restore routine health and social services. And throughout the response, the DART worked closely with national and international agencies to ensure that all the resources brought to bear by the United States were aligned with a common strategic plan, minimizing the burdens on national counterparts so they could be more responsive to their own leadership and ultimately to those affected.

Safe burial teams were a critical component to controlling the outbreak in Liberia. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Safe burial teams were a critical component to controlling the outbreak in Liberia. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Our work has made a difference. While there have been a handful of cases reported in the region, national systems and local health actors are now increasingly poised and ready to take the immediate steps necessary to maintain control and prevent future large-scale outbreaks. And new treatments and vaccines are being tested that may dramatically reduce mortality and prevent new infections.

With so few cases in the region now, it can be easy to forget that a much larger humanitarian catastrophe was averted. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved. And despite the fact there were no days off on the DART, I am proud of the assistance we supported and grateful for the opportunity to have served alongside so many brave men and women on the epidemiological frontlines of an extraordinary response.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Pendarvis is a public health advisor with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

A Time of Unparalleled Need

A young boy smiles as he walks out of his local bakery, arms full of freshly baked bread. Families such as this boy’s family rely on local bakeries to get their daily bread.

A young boy smiles as he walks out of his local bakery, arms full of freshly baked bread. Families such as this boy’s family rely on local bakeries to get their daily bread.

It’s hard to believe that what began as a simple cry for opportunity and human rights has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Five years ago, at the height of the Arab Spring, the Syrian people took to the streets to peacefully protest for fundamental freedoms from an increasingly authoritarian leader. The response from the Syrian regime was unequivocal force and brutality that has left half of all Syrians dead or displaced, and spawned a breeding ground for extremists like the so-called Islamic State or Daesh.

If you want to know how this crisis feels, talk to some of the more than 17 million Syrians directly impacted by the violence—their homes bombed, their schools destroyed, their relatives and friends killed. That’s like upending the lives of everyone living in the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. And lives have certainly been shattered.

Ayyush is 80 years old. She recently lost her son in the conflict in Syria. She now only wishes for more years ahead to raise her grandchildren. Ayyush and her family live in the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey where they receive monthly food assistance through an e-food card program.

Ayyush is 80 years old. She recently lost her son in the conflict in Syria. She now only wishes for more years ahead to raise her grandchildren. Ayyush and her family live in the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey where they receive monthly food assistance through an e-food card program.

Today, 4 million Syrian refugees are living in neighboring countries—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt—in donated apartments, relatives’ spare rooms and tents. Another 6.5 million are displaced internally, trapped in a living hell that includes daily indiscriminate barrel bombing by the Assad regime on the one hand and Daesh’s murderous reign of terror on the other.

Behind the figures are children and the parents who would do anything and risk everything to keep them safe. For families inside Syria, the choice is agonizing: Stay and risk your child being killed on the way to school, or risk their safety on a treacherous journey across borders.

What are these Syrians facing every day?

Hunger for one. Since this crisis began nearly five years ago, USAID has provided $1.55 billion in food assistance, more than all other donors combined. Since 2013, we have given bakeries still operating inside the country 122,000 metric tons of flour and yeast, which comes out to more than 300 million daily bread rations. USAID has also helped distribute food vouchers—essentially preloaded debit cards—so refugees can shop for the familiar foods they yearn for and, at the same time, boost the local economies of Syria’s neighbors.

These two Syrian sisters now live as refugees in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian for USAID

These two Syrian sisters now live as refugees in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian for USAID

Nearly 2 million children in Syria and another 700,000 Syrian refugees are out of school because of the conflict. As Secretary of State John Kerry said recently: “The burden of the conflict falls most heavily on the smallest shoulders.” Without that daily stability in their lives, children are at risk of being exploited as laborers and young girls in particular may face the pressures of early marriage.

Our teams on the ground are helping refurbish and modernize public school buildings in Lebanon and Jordan so they can accommodate the extra load of new learners. Some of the schools have doubled or tripled shifts to ensure everyone gets a chance to learn and thrive.

USAID is also providing health care to people in need across 14 governorates in Syria—2.4 million this year alone—as well as clean water to 1.3 million.

We are also supporting women to be change agents for peace inside Syria, and assisting moderate civilian actors inside Syria to keep schools open, repair public services and literally keep the lights on for communities under siege.

We are proud to say that we reach 5 million people every month in spite of the often dangerous conditions to make those connections happen.

Our assistance inside Syria and the region is not only keeping people alive, but keeping their aspirations alive, too. A future Middle East needs peace and opportunity, not spirals of retribution.

“Our dreams are very simple,” said Mohamad, a former bus driver in Syria who is now a refugee living in a cramped apartment in Jordan with what is left of his family. He lost three sons in the conflict.

Bags of wheat flour inside a storage room at a Syrian bakery wait to be turned into bread. Bakeries such as this one are vital to providing food to Syrians in need.

Bags of wheat flour inside a storage room at a Syrian bakery wait to be turned into bread. Bakeries such as this one are vital to providing food to Syrians in need.

What he wants now is what any person would want: “To have a decent living so that we can be self-sufficient and not put out a hand to beg. We want people to look at us as humans because we are just like them.”

Though the United States has been generous—$4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance over nearly five years in addition to other aid—our funding that supports the heroic organizations working with Syrians on the ground throughout the region is simply not enough. Additional support is sorely needed.

The United Nations’ appeals for humanitarian aid to address the crisis in Syria are still only 48 percent funded for this year. This is a shortfall of over $4.4 billion in life-saving services.

We must support those suffering inside Syria as well as those fleeing across the border.

As President Barack Obama reminded the world at the G20 Summit in Turkey, Syrian refugees are leaving their country to escape violence and terrorism. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

This conflict has spiraled out of control for too long. And while we are undertaking herculean efforts to help the Syrian people and Syria’s neighbors, we cannot alleviate this crisis without more help. If we do not continue to work with our partners to address the Syrian crisis and its impacts now, the problem will only get worse.

That is why we are asking you to stand in solidarity with USAID, our partners and, most critically, the people of Syria. Visit Humanity Acts to learn more about the humanitarian crisis that directly impacts the majority of Syrian people and how you can join us in supporting them.

We’re on social media using the hashtag #HumanityActs and we invite you to use it as well. Together we can help put an end to the biggest humanitarian emergency of our time. It starts here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Staal is the senior deputy assistant administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Follow that office at @USAID_DCHA

Setting an Example, Emblematic of Recovery Possible in Nepal

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family's tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family’s tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

The summer sun is scorching the ground beneath our feet, and it is barely past 7:30 in the morning.

We move to a perch on an elevated platform, shaded by a large old tree. From here, we see a sweeping, yet jarring view. A horizon line of neat concrete houses, dotted with seasonal potted plants on their roofs, stands in stark contrast to fabric roofs covered in plastic tarp that dot the landscape in the foreground.

This is Camp Hope—a one square kilometer tent city in Jorpati, Kathmandu that serves as a temporary home to 330 households from five villages in the Sindhupalchowk district, just north of Kathmandu. The earthquake damaged or destroyed approximately 88 percent of houses in the district.

“We had to move,” said Sukra Tamang, an 18-year-old who now lives at Camp Hope with his family. “With all the debris and the ground shaking constantly, there was no space to even rest our feet.”

The April 25 earthquake and aftershocks displaced more than 500,000 families, uprooting the foundations of their homes and turning the hill terrain that supported their villages into rubble.

Camp Hope demonstrates the positive outcomes that are possible when private and public sector partners work together.

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / [PHOTO CREDIT: Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID]

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Welcome to Camp Hope

At the camp’s main gate, young volunteers check and register all visitors before they are allowed to enter. Inside, a group of senior citizens, already freshened up and dressed for the day, bask in the morning sun as chickens cluck as they scurry past them.

Camp Hope is alive and teeming with activities. It looks, feels, and even sounds like a village. Murmurs of conversation fill the air, people line up at the hand water pump, and children fill open spaces with laughter and play. A group of women wash clothes as the din of construction echoes in the background.

Built on a community football ground, Camp Hope is an exemplary model of private-sector led humanitarian assistance – a clear demonstration of the impact that is possible when the private sector engages with other partners.

“When we wanted to start a camp for these communities, we couldn’t get any government land,” says Sangeeta Shrestha, camp founder and operator of Dwarika, a boutique heritage hotel, owned by her family. “A local youth club came offering their football ground, so here we are.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) soon stepped in with additional support. Heavy-duty plastic sheeting provided by USAID was utilized to create shelters that are strong enough to endure the monsoon season. In addition to building temporary homes for displaced families at Camp Hope, USAID provided shelter and protection for approximately 310,000 Nepalis across earthquake affected districts.

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A partnership of hospitality

There are many advantages when a world-class hotel owner steps in to lead and manage a shelter like Camp Hope.

“We always have a lot of resources at our disposal, and I am lucky to have my hotel team of engineers and technicians whom I could call on to help set up the camp,” said Sangeeta, who now manages the camp full-time.

Adding a bit of comfort to the lives of displaced villagers, the camp offers a fully stocked kitchen and store room tent that is maintained by Sangeeta’s hotel. Camp residents are offered chicken once a week and eggs twice a week during their meals.

While shelter, food, and basic medical services address the physical needs of residents, their social and emotional needs are also important. Camp Hope offers a variety of programs and spaces to help residents as they heal. A prayer tent allows the community to continue their spiritual rituals in a minimalist manner. In the afternoon, women in the camp engage in sewing, knitting and other crafts in a facility has been set up for training. The camp also enrolled 83 children in a local school and regularly schedules field trips for youth.

“The plan, we hope, is to build back their villages so they can return to their communities,” said Sangeeta as she discusses what the future might hold for Camp Hope.

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Looking Ahead: Charting a roadmap to rebuild a better Nepal

But, returning home for many of the residents of Camp Hope will be a challenge. Questions remain, about when, if, and how rebuilding of some villages may happen. Massive landslides during the April 25 earthquake completely destroyed many communities.

A discussion about the road forward—for vulnerable villages in the most affected regions and across the country—is at the forefront as the Government of Nepal convenes key donors and development stakeholders together at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction.

As Nepal’s longest standing development partner, U.S government’s commitment to Nepal has stood the test of time. Our pledge at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction increases the total amount of U.S. emergency relief and early recovery assistance to $130 million, and is only the beginning of our contribution to Nepal’s earthquake recovery, which will span multiple years.

As recovery efforts continue, aid and investments from the U.S. Government will support efforts to get the most impacted people back on their feet and to create a Nepal that is more resilient in the future.

  • We will train Nepalis to rebuild seismically-stable houses in affected areas.
  • We will help build temporary learning centers for children who are learning outside in makeshift tents. Efforts are underway to establish approximately 1,000 Temporary Learning Centers in earthquake affected districts.
  • We are helping people rebuild livelihoods by injecting cash and strengthening agricultural systems, the economic lifeblood for nearly 75 percent of the population of Nepal. USAID has already jump started early recovery— our resilience and livelihood program is distributing cash for work to the hardest-hit families, so they can begin the enormous task of rebuilding damaged homes and much-needed infrastructure.
  • We will continue to protect Nepal’s most vulnerable, including those susceptible to human trafficking.
  • We will lay the foundations for a more resilient Nepal by building institutions that can respond effectively to future disasters.

All of these efforts, along with support leveraged from the private sector, can and will help build back a better Nepal.

Those in Camp Hope know that this dream is possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Dunford is USAID/Nepal’s Mission Director. Follow her at @beth_dunford, usaid.gov/nepal  and nepal.usembassy.gov.

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In Sierra Leone, Care Kits Deliver Assistance and Hope to Families

When a call comes in to report a suspected Ebola case, Sierra Leone’s national Ebola response system kicks into high gear immediately.

An ambulance and team of health care workers are dispatched to the site to transport the sick person to an Ebola treatment unit. As a precautionary measure, the patient’s family members are isolated in their home and monitored over 21 days — the period of time when an infected person is most likely to show symptoms of Ebola.

Even when this response system works perfectly, it can take a few hours or sometimes a day due to the remote area for the ambulance to arrive with a team of health care workers appropriately clad in personal protective equipment. Without protective suits, gloves and other equipment, it is dangerous to care for an Ebola-infected person.

Untrained and inadequately protected caregivers risk exposure to the Ebola virus when they come into contact with a sick person’s vomit, diarrhea and other bodily fluids. If caregivers clean or even hug a loved one who has fallen ill, they could be contracting this life-threatening disease themselves.

A man receives an interim care kit and is now able to better protect himself from Ebola. / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

A man receives an interim care kit and is now able to better protect himself from Ebola. / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

To ensure that no well-meaning caregiver falls victim to Ebola, USAID is collaborating with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Medair and Lifeline to deliver life-saving interim care kits to families across Sierra Leone.

USAID’s DART Deputy Team Leader Sonia Walia has been working on the Ebola response in Sierra Leone for almost a year. / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

USAID’s DART Deputy Team Leader Sonia Walia has been working on the Ebola response in Sierra Leone for almost a year. / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

The kits contain critical supplies like bleach, oral rehydration salts, chlorine, soap, and gloves. Although this kit is simple, it can make the difference between life and death for caregivers.

“These kits can save lives,” says the USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) Deputy Team Leader Sonia Walia. “Family members want to help their loved ones when they’re sick, so we need to give them the tools to do so safely. These kits are able to keep loved ones from getting sicker while also making sure caregivers are protected.”

Because people infected by Ebola lose large amounts of body fluids, extreme dehydration quickly deteriorates their health. Oral rehydration salts in USAID’s interim kits stabilize sick patients and offer victims the best chance of survival while they wait for an ambulance and health workers to arrive.

As the rainy season approaches, some remote areas of Sierra Leone will be almost impossible to access by road and air traffic. Reaching these remote communities to deliver interim care kits is more critical now than ever.

In Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown, USAID is working alongside our partners to deliver these interim kits — along with fresh produce and other food items — to families that are quarantined in their homes.

USAID and its partners deliver produce to quarantined homes. From left to right: Mandewa Momoh (Lifeline), Samantha Johnson (Medair), Nicholas Bishop (IOM), and Philemon Kamara (Lifeline) / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

USAID and its partners deliver produce to quarantined homes. From left to right: Mandewa Momoh (Lifeline), Samantha Johnson (Medair), Nicholas Bishop (IOM), and Philemon Kamara (Lifeline) / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

A day out for delivery

As part of USAID’s Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team, I recently joined IOM, Medair and Lifeline to deliver kits to homes in the Moa Wharf neighborhood of Freetown. After reviewing the plan for the day, the Lifeline teams led us downhill into the Moa Wharf neighborhood — a dense community with narrow alleys locatable only with a local guide.

The Lifeline team members knew the area well because of their ongoing work in the neighborhood. Every day, they visit the area so they can rapidly identify and isolate suspected Ebola cases.

Moa Wharf neighborhood, a hard-hit area where many families have been under quarantine. / Nicholas Bishop, IOM

Moa Wharf neighborhood, a hard-hit area where many families have been under quarantine. / Nicholas Bishop, IOM

We soon reached the edge of a wide, muddy, trash-covered shore that stretched out towards the Atlantic Ocean. In a little while, we would make a delivery to a home that reported a suspected case of Ebola in their household.

After pausing outside the home, a group of young men and one young woman shuffled out. We offered a round of warm greetings to one another, which the Lifeline team translated from Krio to English and back again.

The Lifeline team gave them a care kit — delivered in a set of bright red buckets — and explained how to use the contents if Ebola symptoms appeared. As we moved on to the next quarantined home, one of the young men raised the two red buckets over his head like a trophy as we departed ways for another delivery.

Since March, we distributed nearly 1,300 kits and pre-positioned an additional 1,500. / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

Since March, we distributed nearly 1,300 kits and pre-positioned an additional 1,500. / Paloma Clohossey, USAID/OFDA

The spread of the Ebola virus is due in large part to a uniquely human tendency: the desire to care for sick loved ones.

By equipping communities with the tools they need to protect themselves against contracting Ebola, we are not only stopping the spread of the outbreak, but encouraging communities to support each other in difficult times.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paloma Clohossey is an Information Officer with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Meet the Next Generation of Disaster Responders

It only takes one bad storm to kill or injure thousands, inflict billions of dollars in damage, and wreak havoc on communities in its path. As part of Hurricane Preparedness Week, USAID joins other response organizations in raising public awareness and preparedness efforts for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season.

While this national effort happens once a year, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) works year-round with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to reduce the impacts of hurricanes by helping them prepare for storms before they happen.

In Kingston, Jamaica, people take notice when the St. Patrick’s Rangers come to their neighborhood. The Rangers wear matching shirts, and have a certain swagger to their walk. And they always seem to make a beeline for the worst house on the block.

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is partnering with Catholic Relief Services to support the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a program to empower at-risk youth to become the next generation of disaster responders. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is partnering with Catholic Relief Services to support the St. Patrick’s Rangers, a program to empower at-risk youth to become the next generation of disaster responders. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

These organized and enthusiastic teens represent the next generation of disaster responders.

For years, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance has supported the work of Catholic Relief Services to transform at-risk youth into disaster preparedness leaders. By joining the St. Patrick’s Rangers, young people learn how to help communities plan for and respond to hurricanes, administer first aid, map out evacuation routes and set up emergency shelters. They also help people repair their homes after storms hit.

Jamaica is no stranger to extreme weather, having been slammed by some 50 hurricanes and tropical storms since modern-day record keeping began in the late 1880s. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

Jamaica is no stranger to extreme weather, having been slammed by some 50 hurricanes and tropical storms since modern-day record keeping began in the late 1880s. / Carol Han, USAID/OFDA

“People normally think that it’s older persons that are part of disaster risk reduction … who can [be] a leader,” said Tovia Rankine, a member of the St. Patrick’s Rangers. “And we, the young persons are taking on this mantle.”

Jamaica is no stranger to extreme weather. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan slammed into Jamaica, damaging the homes of more than 19,000 people — including the Kingston home of 64-year-old Lincoln “Bull” Parks.

“Ivan just took everything. Put everything on the ground flat and left me outside under the sun,” Bull said.

Lincoln “Bull” Parks lost his home when Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica. It wasn’t until the St. Patrick’s Rangers came calling that he got help to start over. / USAID/OFDA

Lincoln “Bull” Parks lost his home when Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica. It wasn’t until the St. Patrick’s Rangers came calling that he got help to start over. / USAID/OFDA

With his home leveled, Bull lived in a little hut made out of scavenged materials. It was so small that he had to crawl on his hands and knees to get inside. Having lost hope that help would come, he retreated from the community and only came out to “charge” at those entering his property, thereby earning his nickname Bull.

Then the St. Patrick’s Rangers came calling. Not only did they help rebuild Bull’s home, they also gained skills to build themselves a better future.

“Many of these kids weren’t aware of what they can do before,” said Dwayne Francis, a St. Patrick’s Rangers group leader. “And now they’re doing stuff that’s to their wildest dreams.”

What’s more, Bull now has a home.

“I said, ‘I thank everyone from the top to the bottom.’ Everyone involved. Grateful,” Bull said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Kimbrough is the Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
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