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Archives for Disaster Relief

USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team in Israel

USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) arrived in Haifa, Israel on December 5.  The DART, which includes a National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team with fire management experts from the U.S. Forest Service, is currently working alongside their Israeli counterparts at the command center at Haifa University.

The USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) discusses aerial firefighting support with local responders. The DART, which includes a National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) team with fire management experts from the U.S. Forest Service, is currently working alongside their Israeli counterparts at the command center at Haifa University. Photo Credit: USAID

We wanted to be get necessary fire suppression supplies to Israel as soon as possible so our logisticians immediately adjusted our purchase order based on market availability.  The USAID cargo flight, carrying approximately 27 metric tons (MT) of Fire-Trol retardant and 22 MT of Fire-Trol fire foam, landed in Israel at approximately 9:45 pm local time on December 5.  The USAID-charted aircraft, which originated in Italy, also transported 20 MT of Italian-donated fire foam.

In addition, a U.S. C-130 aircraft from U.S. European Command (EUCOM) delivered 3,800 gallons of fire retardant concentrate to Israel on December 5.  On December 4, two U.S. C-130s from EUCOM delivered a total of 20 short tons of fire retardant to Israel.

The latest information indicates that the fires will soon be under control, and we commend the Government of Israel for leading and coordinating an extraordinary international effort to suppress the deadly wildfires.  The USAID DART continues to work alongside their Israeli counterparts, and we stand prepared to provide additional assistance to support the Government of Israel if needed.

U.S. Dispatches Airborne Assistance and Materials for Israel’s Wildfires

The U.S. Government, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is immediately dispatching U.S. Department of Defense aircraft to aid in the suppression of the raging wildfires in Israel.

Three U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard C-130 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) aircraft will depart the United States for Israel this weekend to conduct fire suppression operations in support of the Government of Israel. In addition, two U.S. European Command C-130 aircraft carrying 20 tons of fire retardant will depart Ramstein Air Base in Germany to arrive over the weekend to further aid in fighting the wildfires.

These aircraft are in addition to the commercial aircraft chartered by USAID to deliver 45 tons of Fire-Troll fire retardant and 12,000 liters of WD881 Class A foam. Through its partnership with the U.S. Forest Service’s Disaster Assistance Support Program, USAID is also deploying a team of experts join with their Israeli counterparts to help combat the fires.

The United States stands prepared to provide additional assistance should it be necessary.

For more information about US assistance in the wake of the wildfires in Israel, please visit www.usaid.gov.

USAID Deploys Experts to Help Suppress Fires in Israel

Helping Israel Battle the Wildfires

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

We offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the fires. USAID, through its partnership with the U.S. Forest Service’s Disaster Assistance Support Program, is deploying a team of experts to join their Israeli counterparts to help combat the fires.  We are also sending 45 metric tons of Fire-Trol fire retardant and 12,000 liters of WD881 Class A foam, both of which are valuable tools in the suppression of wildland fires.  The United States stands prepared to provide additional assistance should it be necessary.

For individuals and organizations who would like to provide assistance, we encourage you to make a cash donation to a reputable humanitarian organization working in the affected area.  Cash donations are best.  Nothing will get there faster or help more at this time.

From the Field

In Pakistan, we will hand over medical equipment to 1500 female health workers.  These practitioners will receive a set of equipment to create makeshift health units and provide health services in flood-affected areas of Pakistan.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we will launch The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).  Under the 2008 Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde Global Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act (Lantos/Hyde Act) funding for PMI was expanded to two additional countries – DRC and Nigeria becoming the 16th and 17th focus-countries.

In the Philippines, we will hold a Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.  USAID will partner with the Private Financing Advisory Network (PFAN); a global public-private partnership that matches innovative clean energy projects with sources of financing.

Finding Hope Amid Flood Devastation

At the USAID distribution site at a flood relief camp in Sindh province, a young woman queuing up with her teenaged son to receive her food donation somehow stood out in the crowd and caught my attention.

It could have been the slippers on her feet, while most others were barefoot, or perhaps the dignified way she waited in line.  I approached her, and she told me her name was Murada and that Larkana, her village, had been totally wiped out by the flood. As she chattered about all the land she used to own and crops she had cultivated, much like we were two neighbors having afternoon tea, an expected rush of emotions came over me.

“I miss my rifle the most, you know,” she said matter-of-factly, my eyes widening as she explained that she was a widow, and her late husband had taught her to use the firearm.

“A Russian single barrel,” she added proudly, “to protect myself of course.” I shook my head as I contemplated that though Murda had lost her home, fifteen acres of land including ten under cultivation, and six bovines, she preferred to discuss her missing rifle.

Amazing indeed, that this woman, until recently comparatively wealthy, was now collecting a food sack marked “USAID,” and recounting a heartbreaking story in such a sprightly manner. It was only when I asked “so what about the future?” did the façade crumble, and a look of abject grief came over her face. My heart sank as I realized that despite her sunny demeanor, she was just one more victim of this terrible tragedy.

From rugged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the fields of Punjab, down to the coastal plains of Sindh, I witnessed the same horror and devastation of total loss in three weeks of monitoring visits.   Beyond their possessions, some have literally lost their land – washed away by the mighty Indus River after it broached its embankments for hundreds of miles.

Over and over I heard tales of hopelessness – no agency, representative, not even a landlord who was willing to take responsibility for their welfare and survival. In such a state, they were more than eager to voice their frustration to a representative of a donor agency in the hope of finding someone who might actually help them.

Through my work with USAID, I could offer some degree of help in the form of the thousands of donated relief kits that included two weeks worth of food, cooking utensils, buckets for collecting water and soap to wash.  They were eager to narrate their harrowing experience to someone working for the American government, which many called their savior.

As I opened each parcel to verify its contents before distributing the kits, I could see the appreciation in their eyes, gratitude that someone was concerned enough to ensure that they receive each and every item that was sent for them – and just lend them a sympathetic ear.

Aside from different regional languages and attire, my experience in three provinces was pretty much the same everywhere I went.  Much as I tried not to cry, recurring scenes of poverty and helplessness invariably brought tears to my eyes.

Yet at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling another emotion welling up inside:  hope.  Women like Murada, who spoke bravely about her loss and even tried to stay well-dressed amid the squalor, seemed to me to represent the glimmer, however small, of a better future.

I was able to play a small part by promising those with whom I spoke that the American people would not abandon them in their hour of need.  I was grateful the people of America provided a platform to help make a difference in the lives of so many in need.  The difference hope brings.

Naazlee Sardar serves as USAID Pakistan Senior Education Advisor, and spent three weeks in October monitoring USAID-supported relief activities in flood-affected areas across Pakistan.

USAID Responds to Massive Flooding in Benin

More than 100,000 Beninese have been made homeless due to massive flooding caused by the country’s worst rains in a half century. According to the United Nations, 360,000 people have been affected, while 50,000 homes and 276 schools have been flooded or destroyed. In this Pennsylvania-sized west African country of 9 million people, the effects have been devastating.

On October 26, flood victims from Vekky village in Sô Ava county are transported to a safe site on the premises of the county council, where they can receive USAID-funded relief. Photo Credit: Simplice Takoubo/USAID

After the U.S. Embassy declared a disaster, USAID responded immediately, granting Catholic Relief Services $50,000 to purchase and distribute water storage units and water purification kits to flood victims in Sô Ava county—one of the worst affected areas that has been under water since the beginning of September. This assistance will provide 3,000 people with clean drinking water for three months, a crucial step in preventing the emergence and spread of disease.

USAID also donated plastic sheeting that will be used to construct 1,700 emergency family shelters and will soon provide an additional grant of $1.5 million to assist families in resuming their livelihoods and to help communities rehabilitate their infrastructure.

Throughout the disaster, USAID has been closely coordinating with the United Nations and the Government of Benin to ensure that aid is coordinated and reaches those most in need.

USAID Provides Training to Masons in Haiti

A reception in a downtown hotel in Port-au-Prince is buzzing with excitement. Fellow classmates are chatting about their plans after graduation. Many are dressed in their Sunday best to mark the proud day.

One hundred and fifty newly trained masons successfully graduated a joint program sponsored by USAID/KATA and CEMEX, a building materials company.  The program trained young people living in poor neighborhoods on how to create quality masonry blocks.  Of 150 graduates, 75 of them are people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

“The program helps them learn valuable skills and empowers them to improve their lives and the lives of their families,” said CHF International’s Haiti Director Alberto Wilde.

The graduates underwent a three month training that exposed them to masonry best practices and techniques. They also learned entrepreneurial skills to help them start micro enterprises. All students received molding, cement, sand, and a masonry guide at the end of the program.

“When I was working under somebody else I was making 2,500 gourdes ($62.50). But with my own business I make about 5,000 gourdes ($125). Of these 5,000 gourdes I have reinvested half in order that my business grows further. Now, I am planning to have a laborer in order to have even bigger productivity,” said Alcide Delcy, age 23.

The small business created by the USAID/KATA and CEMEX graduates can help support Haiti’s economic recovery. Their training also helps support the country’s efforts to build back better as homes and other buildings are constructed using higher quality blocks.

At the ceremony, CEMEX Representative Linda Gaillard said to the graduates, “You have the training in your heads and the tools in your hands. Now go out and do your best work.”

These words were met with loud cheers and big smiles.

Haitian Farmers Seeing Sprouts of Success

Cherilien raised a potato into the sunlight for a gathering crowd of Haitian farmers and visitors to see. Cherilien explained that he normally produces 110 pounds of potatoes each year, but this year he produced 440 pounds.

Cherilien disappeared into the group of farmers as another Haitian farmer, Marisette, chimed in, “We used to not have good yields, but now we have good yields.”

Cherilien, Marisette, and other farmers joined representatives from USAID and the government of Haiti at the Wynne Farm, a mountaintop training facility for farmers in Haiti, to discuss their successful Spring 2010 crop season. USAID announced that crops averaged an increase of 75 percent over the previous year for sorghum, corn, beans and potatoes.

The good news is giving farmers hope despite the recent decline in Haiti’s agricultural sector. Sixty percent of Haitians are employed in agriculture, and still, a whopping 23 percent of Haitian imports are food. Experts cite many reasons for the struggling sector from erosion and deforestation to Haiti’s mountainous geography.

A photo taken at Wynne farm by my colleague, Kendra Helmer, shows rows of vegetables wrapped around a mountain ridge. The landscape looks like something out of a Salvador Dali painting, and one can imagine that farming these steep slopes challenges even the most sure-footed agrarians.

So, how did the farmers who gathered at Wynne Farm defy the odds? Because they are hard working, of course, but also because they are participating in the Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources program. WINNER, for short, is a five-year, $126 million program funded by USAID to increase productivity in the country’s ailing agricultural sector.

WINNER advisers at Wynne Farm work with Haitians to teach them innovative farming techniques, strengthen farmer associations, and provide access to expertise and vital supplies (seeds, fertilizers, credit and tools). Among the more impressive features of Wynne Farm is the greenhouse, the training ground for farmers to learn innovative techniques like vertical agriculture.

WINNER works in other parts of the country, too, with more than 250 community-based organizations that represent 50,000 small farmers. The program is increasing food productivity, dredging and widening rivers, constructing small dams and water catchments, treating ravines, and reforesting the land.

Mark Feierstein, USAID’s new Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, was present at Wynne Farm to announce the exciting news about WINNER’s increased productivity, but truth be told, he seemed more interested in hearing from farmers like Cherilien and Marisette than talking himself. One thing he made clear was that agriculture will remain a priority for USAID’s work in Haiti – a sentiment that seemed to conjure a sense of relief and hope among the farmers.

Cultural Festival in Haiti Kicks Off USAID’s New Development Projects and Promotes Civic Pride

Funky beats and roaring laughter echoed through Cap Haitien’s town square as local dancers, poets, comedians, and musicians performed at the city’s cultural festival over the weekend. Thousands of Haitians attending the festival danced, sang and laughed as performances stretched into the wee hours of the morning.

USAID cohosted the two-day festival with local authorities to boost civic pride and mark a renewed focus on economic growth in Cap Haitien.  The festival fell on a holiday dedicated to King Henri Christophe, Cap Haitien’s most well-known historical figure, and featured some of Haiti’s most popular performers.  Kompa band Tropicana, comedian Jesifra and dance troop Dahomey were among the audience favorites.

Despite a heavy storm that flooded the streets, Haitians rushed into the town square as the rain let up and the water receded.  Locals called the festival Cap Haitien’s biggest event in recent memory and estimated that three to four thousand residents attended.

Some Haitians set up shop on the square’s perimeter to sell steaming food, frosty drinks and hand-made crafts.  Others climbed trees or sat atop cars to get a better view of the stage.

The hopeful tenor of the audience showed Haitians’ resilience in spite of their hardships. Extreme poverty was commonplace for Cap Haitien residents even before the earthquake nine months ago.  The northern port city lies far outside the range of the earthquake, but many Haitians sought refuge in Cap Haitien after their homes were destroyed in and around Port-au-Prince.  As a result, Cap Haitien’s population swelled in the disaster’s aftermath, straining the city’s already sparse resources.

The Government of Haiti and international community see an opportunity to reinvest in Cap Haitien. A number of USAID projects are already in the works.  USAID partner, Development Alternatives Inc., is implementing many of those projects including cash-for-work programs that provide short-term employment for women, agriculture projects that boost incomes from farming, and infrastructure projects that increase the number of students attending school.

I arrived in Haiti just two days before the cultural festival, and the weekend-long celebration shaped my first impression of the country.  I witnessed many struggles in Haiti, but I also witnessed proud, hopeful Haitians working hard to overcome these challenges.

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