Archives for Disaster Relief
Earlier this week, I visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, where thousands of exhausted and starving refugees have sought food, water and medical care after fleeing from famine-stricken lands in southern Somalia. The United States is providing life-saving help for millions of people across the eastern Horn of Africa, as the region experiences its worst drought in 60 years.
Although we will always provide aid in times of urgent need, emergency assistance is not a long-term solution. To address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, we need to invest in agriculture, build strong markets and harness advances in science and technology. Spearheaded by USAID, President Obama’s food security initiative—Feed the Future—is helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.
Together with Dr. Jill Biden and Senator Bill Frist, I had the opportunity to see some of the innovative work Kenyan scientists and researchers are doing to help transform agriculture in the region. At the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), we saw new drought-resistant seed varieties of sorghum, millet and beans, as well as a gigantic cassava root and the orange-fleshed sweet potato. Unlike other kinds of sweet potato common to the region, the orange-fleshed sweet potato is rich in vitamin A and helps children build resistance to river blindness. We also saw irrigation systems in affordable greenhouses that are designed expressly for smallholder famers.
Since pastoralist communities throughout the region rely on livestock for their livelihoods, we are helping protect animal herds through vaccine programs and accessible veterinary care. In Ethiopia, we are supporting a government-led safety net program that builds boreholes for water, constructs health clinics and educates vulnerable communities about nutrition.
These programs are already making a difference. That is why—even though this is the worst drought in 60 years—it is not the worst famine in 60 years.
The circumstances are still dire, however. In Kenya, I heard from families whose crops and livestock had withered in front of them and who themselves were barely surviving. I know that there is another way. Feed the Future is making smart, cost-effective investments in agriculture to ensure we address many of the root causes of today’s crisis. Together, we can shape a better, safer future for the region’s families.
Eighty kilometers from Kenya’s border with Somalia, the Dadaab Refugee Complex—already the world’s largest refugee camp—has seen on average 1,500 exhausted and starving men, women and children arrive each day. Fleeing from famine that is now gripping a large portion of southern Somalia largely inaccessible to aid workers, thousands of refugees have walked days—or even weeks—to reach help. The United Nations estimates that over 12.4 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical care, across the drought-stricken eastern Horn of Africa.
Yesterday, I arrived in Dadaab with representatives from across the United States Government, including Dr. Jill Biden, Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith, Senator Bill Frist and Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz. The trip underscored the commitment of the U.S. Government—the single largest donor in the region—to respond to the immediate crisis with life-saving assistance and investments in long-term solutions to hunger. Ultimately, we know that it is smarter and cheaper to invest in food security than face the consequences of famine and food riots.
In Dadaab, we visited the Dagahaley camp’s reception center, where newly arriving refugees receive a medical screening and three weeks’ worth of food to tide them over until they complete a formal registration process. The USAID-funded rations include high energy biscuits, corn meal, vegetable oil, yellow split peas, salt and sugar. Medical staff weigh the children and measure the circumference of their small arms to determine their nutrition status. Today, the worst-affected regions in Somalia have the highest malnutrition level in the world, with nearly half the population malnourished.
Because the high rates of acute malnutrition make children extremely susceptible to deadly diseases, we are also aggressively pursuing public health interventions, including therapeutic feeding and immunizations.
The Government of Kenya is working closely with the GAVI Alliance to administer pneumococcal vaccines to protect every child from pneumonia at the point of registration.
I met one Somali woman who traveled by donkey cart with her two children for 12 days looking for food. It is hard to believe that she counted among the lucky, as many families have lost children along the way.
It does not have to be this way. With Feed the Future, President Obama’s initiative on food security, we are working with the Kenyan government and smallholder farmers to achieve sustainable, long-term and life-saving agriculture development.
Tomorrow, I will share with you some exciting innovations in agriculture that we saw on our visit to the Kenya Institute for Agriculture—innovations that could help ensure we never face another famine again.
Weekly Briefing (8/1/2011 – 8/5/2011)
August 2 In an interview with PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah stated that the U.S. is easing restrictions to speed the aid to Somalia. “We are working hard to make sure that authorities in Somalia allow access for humanitarian organizations and NGOs and the United States has been supporting those organizations and will continue to support those organizations going forward,” Shah said.
August 4 Appearing on NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah discussed the latest developments in Somalia and what can be done to help the region. “The United States…has been aggressive about providing as much support as we possibly can,” Shah said. “We have been about 50 percent of the total global response.” The Administrator also discussed the Famine Early Warning System.
Nancy Lindborg is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.
The face of famine is painfully personal for members of the Somali American communities in Columbus, OH and Minneapolis, MN. Yesterday, I led a community roundtable in each city, home to the two largest Somali diaspora communities in the United States. I was able to express deepest concern, on behalf of the US government, for the people of Somalia and update them on urgent relief efforts underway by the US government throughout the Horn of Africa, where a serious drought is affecting more than 11 million people.
The USG is currently reaching more than 4.6 million people in the region who need emergency help, including $80 million of life-saving assistance to help 1.5 million people in accessible areas of Somalia. The UN has declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia where humanitarian access has been limited by Al Shabaab. USG is urgently supporting partners to provide food, health, water and sanitation assistance wherever they can access communities desperate for help.
I was also able to listen and learn from this dynamic community. Somali Americans are a vital lifeline of support for their communities and families throughout Somalia. I heard from dozens of community leaders who have mobilized their friends and neighbors to raise money for the drought through car washes, bake sales and fund drives. They are supporting feeding centers and health clinics. They have established NGOs dedicated to helping the growing number of orphaned children. A young woman in Minneapolis, choking back tears, described her Facebook page where she is raising money for drought relief and posting stories of families struggling to survive. As I heard from Jibril Mohamed in Columbus, “In 1992 I was a boy who fled the conflict and drought of southern Somalia and did the same long walk to the border that families are doing now.” Jibril is now determined to reach back with the same kind of helping hand he received.
In Minneapolis, a number of Somali NGOs have joined forces with the American Refugee Committee (ARC) in an initiative called Neighbors for Nations which unites and mobilizes diaspora community efforts to provide relief and development services in Somalia.
We have a short window of opportunity to reach the 2.85 million Somalis living in famine and conflict. The Somali American community is a critical partner in identifying ways to help save lives. We need urgently to ensure life-saving assistance reaches people now and are committed to doing so. I look forward to working with this dedicated group of citizens to save lives.
Learn more about the U.S. Government response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa.
Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, USAID
Here at the port of Djibouti, thousands of metric tons of food assistance are ready to be shipped as part of the U.S. response to the massive drought currently ravaging the Horn of Africa. USAID is mobilizing nutritious split peas, along with vitamin-fortified corn-soya blend and other commodities, from warehouses around the world to assist the more than 10 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia most affected by the drought.
The USAID-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) began warning of the possibility of this crisis as early as summer 2010. Today, it has developed into the region’s worst drought since the 1950s. Consecutive seasons of poor rainfall have resulted in failed crops, dying livestock, and sky-high market prices—the cost of staple cereals are 40 to 240 percent higher in some areas. Malnutrition has reached emergency levels: one out of every two Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia and one out of every three arriving in Kenya is acutely malnourished.
This week, USAID activated a disaster assistance response team (DART) operating out of Ethiopia and Kenya to work with the World Food Program, UNICEF, and over a dozen other organizations to coordinate emergency efforts to relieve the crisis. So far this year, the United States has provided more than $366 million to respond to the drought in the Horn of Africa, and continues to explore additional ways to assist those in need.
Learn more about USAID’s response to the drought in the Horn of Africa.
When an international disaster strikes, we soon begin to hear stories of the devastation and the suffering of those affected. They have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes. The pictures we see are gut-wrenching, and we can’t help but think about how we can help. We have so much, and they have so little. The least we can do is help, right?
The next thing you know, schools are collecting shoes for children, houses of worship are collecting clothes for families, and neighborhoods are collecting teddy bears for those who have nothing. The local radio station is announcing locations to drop off donations of items that might be needed, and everyone pitches in to make a difference by bringing supplies from the pantry, the closet, the garage, and wherever else to help the cause.
What most people never see is what happens to that goodwill on the other end in the disaster-affected area. I work for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and it is our job on behalf of all Americans to manage the U.S. Government’s response to an international crisis. I am usually deployed to major international disasters, and I do get to see what happens to the spontaneous donations.
First, you should know that most spontaneous in-kind donations never even make it to the disaster zone. This is usually because of the sky high cost of moving the goods from the states coupled with the lack of a group to accept and distribute the donations to those in need. And if the supplies do make it to the disaster-affected country, the supplies are often an inappropriate match for what is needed. I cannot forget the winter coats and prom dresses we saw piled on the airport tarmac after the 2004 Pacific tsunami. I can’t help but think how generous the donors were, but their passion was uninformed. As we saw in Indonesia and every international disaster before and since, these spontaneous donations often clog the pipelines that are providing life-saving medical supplies, food, shelter and hygiene materials, and other assistance to the very people everyone is trying to help.
Everything we have learned over the years has taught us that if you really want to help those in need, you should make a cash donation to a reputable humanitarian organization working in the disaster-affected area. Nothing will get there faster or help more. And the cash donations will allow experts to buy — often in the struggling local markets — exactly what is needed.
To better inform those who want to help, USAID works with the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI). CIDI holds an annual competition for college students to create public service announcements (PSA) that help spread the message that cash donations are best.
To enter the competition, students submitted print and radio PSAs that explained the importance of appropriate international disaster response and build support for international disaster relief work done by well-established, U.S.-based organizations. Now in its 6th year, PSAid is highly regarded among the nation’s leading university communications programs. Approximately 60 entries were received from students this year. The 2011 winners were announced on April 21 at www.psaid.org.
Please take a moment to visit the PSAid site and help spread the message that cash is the best way to help. On behalf of all of us who see so many donations with the best of intentions languish in ports, on runways, and in warehouses in countries affected by disaster, thank you for helping us better inform your family, friends and communities.
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.
“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.
For the latest information on United States Government’s response to the disasters, visit http://www.usaid.gov/japanquake.
Ras Jdir, Tunisia: I heard boisterous singing as I walked through the transit camp on the border between Tunes and Libya. There, forming a human chain to pass boxes of supplies into a tent, was a group of Tunisian youth, volunteering to assist the tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya. They provided a welcome counterpoint to the blowing sand and steady flow of Bangladesh, Somalia, Malian and other migrants struggling across the border and into the transit camp.
Only weeks after the Tunisians sparked a regional revolution on January 14th, toppling the corrupt regime of Ben Ali and inspiring the world with their aspirations for freedom and democracy, Tunisians have once again mobilized. The newly installed government of Tunisia quickly provided security and support for transit camps. Citizens across the country have spontaneously provided food, water and blankets, and driven to the border to volunteer. The energetic singers I encountered were part of a group of 40 Boy Scouts who came eager to help. There was a palpable sense of pride in their ability to organize and act in this new era of freedom.
Some 80,000 Tunisians worked inside Libya, alongside the more than a million guest workers from around the world — 200,000 have fled thus far. Already 30,000 Tunisians have returned, often to the poorer communities in the south, which means an influx of unemployed workers and loss of remittances. At the same time, the economy is reeling from loss of tourism in the wake of recent events and loss of important commerce with Libya. And yet, Tunisians, including those in these hardest hit communities, have generously reached out, determined to help.
I traveled with Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugee and Migration at the U.S. Department of State to understand better the needs arising from the conflict now engulfing Libya. While there, we announced $17 million of urgent assistance, bringing the total U.S. Government aid to $47 million. Our assistance to-date has gone to UN organizations on the frontlines of managing the camps and transport, to international NGOs able to provide critical help to those still inside Libya, as well as to the Tunisian Red Crescent Society, now an important conduit for volunteers.
Our new funding will target urgent assistance to the Libyans who are still trapped inside a bloody conflict as well as enabling support for those communities in southern Tunisian hardest hit by this crisis. We are inspired by them and as Americans, we are proud to mobilize alongside them in this time of crisis.
I also stopped to talk with two migrants from Bangladesh. They had worked in Libya for a year, but had not received wages for several months. Their employer abruptly shut down the construction project where they had worked. Fearful of the rising violence they headed to the border and along the way were robbed of their remaining money and cellphones. When we met, they had joined the 40 Boy Scouts, inspired as well.
Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID.