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Archives for Disaster Relief

Hosting Support as Humanitarian Shelter Approach

(Excerpted from article in InterAction Monthly Developments, Jan/Feb 2012, pp. 17-18.)

When disasters or crises strike and homes are lost, people don’t always wait for governments and international humanitarian agencies to lend a hand, but instead often rely on those close to them: family and friends. Hosting by family and friends is socially defined, self-selected, culturally appropriate and typically provided before humanitarian actors arrive and – importantly – long after they leave.

In recent years, there has been increasing recognition of the utility and acceptance of hosting as a form of spontaneous sheltering among affected populations. As a result, humanitarian organizations have come to provide various types of basic support to ensure that hosting does not strain relations or host families’ pocketbooks, while also facilitating the role of hosting as a durable shelter solution. Such assistance can entail fuel, education or livelihood assistance, as well as provision of bedding, cooking and eating utensils, water/sanitation and shelter upgrades to support people living with host families.

Hosting was vital in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2009 conflict in Pakistan.

The devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti killed an estimated 316,000 people and affected approximately 3 million others, according to the government of Haiti, while damaging and destroying over 180,000 housing structures. The earthquake also generated a mass exodus of over 600,000 people from Port-au-Prince and other disaster-affected areas to seek shelter with family and friends in home towns in outlying areas that were not damaged by the earthquake. Without some form of support, however, these relationships would have strained the patience and resources of all concerned, possibly resulting in movement of people to the then-burgeoning spontaneous camps.

Support for hosting arrangements was an important complement to other emergency shelter efforts. Even more notable is the apparent evolution of nearly 18,500 hosting arrangements, or 70 percent of the hosting total supported by three USAID-funded NGOs into permanent housing solutions for those families, as they have decided to stay in hosting arrangements and host communities for the foreseeable future. Moreover, many families have stated in post-project interviews that they never want to return to the disaster-affected area. Hosting is thus not only an important humanitarian shelter solution, but also appears in Haiti to be helping address longer-term housing needs.

Hosting in conflict-affected Pakistan

During 2009, a complex emergency due to fighting between the Pakistani government and militants in the northwest caused more than 3 million people to flee the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPk) province for safer areas. Later that year, additional military operations in South Waziristan displaced another 380,000 people.

Between January 2009 and January 2011, more than 3.4 million people had been displaced from their homes, and nearly 90 percent of this total was hosted. Thousands of host families readily provided shelter, food and water to displaced families for months. Due to the overwhelming number of individuals living with host families for extended periods, the international community focused not only on providing displaced people with assistance, but also on providing support to the families hosting them. Direct support to host families often included programs to alleviate crowded conditions by expanding living spaces, often through construction of an additional room or stand-alone shelter. Some relief agencies also established mobile medical clinics for host communities and voucher programs to purchase additional food and household items, reducing the strain on host families.

A willingness to help

Haiti and Pakistan present diverse settings, events and circumstances, but what is common in both countries is the willingness of people, whether compelled by family, friendship or community ties, or simply compassion for others, to help those in need by creating hosting arrangements. This activity occurred in both post-disaster and post-conflict settings, be they in urban or rural areas. It did, however, impose social, economic and other strains on the arrangements, making it important for humanitarian actors to support them where possible and feasible using a range of measures.

Hosting is not a universal panacea. It will always be context-driven, and is best implemented when family and friends are involved. However, supporting this form of sheltering can sustain it to the point that it becomes an important element of humanitarian shelter assistance, and can even lead to the evolution of hosting arrangements into permanent housing solutions. Finally, hosting support can be provided expeditiously and on a cost-effective basis compared to other approaches, particularly the creation of camps.

Responding to Acute Malnutrition in the Sahel

I recently returned from Niger and Mauritania, in Africa’s Sahel region, assessing nutrition-focused humanitarian assistance.  This was not my first trip to the region, as I was also there with USAID in 2010 when a failed harvest and poor pasture conditions led to food insecurity conditions nationwide and a significant rise in acute malnutrition among young children.  This year, without much time for families and communities to recover and restore livelihoods, we are again facing a humanitarian crisis.  Another drought, coupled with high food prices, and conflict in northern Mali displacing some 250,000 people, often to areas with limited resources and capacity, means that millions of people may need emergency assistance in the coming weeks and months, and acute malnutrition rates are again climbing.

The causes of hunger and malnutrition in the Sahel are complex and deeply rooted.  Even with a good harvest, particularly vulnerable communities cannot afford to buy available food in the market.  Poor health care, sanitation, and feeding practices are also major contributors to malnutrition. However, a drought and failed harvest makes it that much worse.  The hardship, food insecurity and acute malnutrition vary by district, village and community, and public health and nutrition monitoring must be very specific and localized to identify existing pockets of need.

USAID Public Health advisor Mark Phelan in Niger. Photo Credit: USAID

We are indeed facing a crisis, but I am encouraged by what is being done differently, by ways we have applied lessons learned in the Sahel during food crises in 2010 and 2005, though we still have a long way to go.  Improved forecasting of malnutrition cases, earlier initiation of programs, better relief agency coordination, all add up to keeping more children alive and well.  Especially for children under 5, whose growth and development is most at risk from acute malnutrition, we are seeing the impact of more effective health monitoring, recognition of need, and response.

In the Sahel, USAID’s approach supports national and regional structures that promote food security and nutrition, while providing short-term assistance to vulnerable populations – such as food assistance and treatment for acute malnutrition.  We are supporting nutrition pipelines to ensure adequate stockpiles of ready-to-use therapeutic foods are in place while training health staff and volunteers, and increasing nutrition screening and nutrition education.

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Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Locusts

Locusts like the ones pictured above can destroy crops and pasture land once they form a swarm. Photo Credit: Sonya Green/ USAID.

Imagine discovering that within a few hours your entire crop for the season had been consumed by unwelcome visitors. In this edition of “Pounds of Prevention,” USAID examines the desert locust, a pest that affects the lives of millions of people in more than 65 countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, an area that represents about 20 percent of the earth’s surface. The idea for this post came from CNN’s recent coverage of the Desert Locust Control Center in Mauritania that USAID supports through its agreement with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Mauritania is just one of several countries in West Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East to benefit from the FAO’s locust prevention system known as the EMPRES Program, to which USAID and other donors contribute.


Pre-positioned Plastic Sheeting Hastens Recovery in Madagascar

When Tropical Cyclone Giovanna slammed into the eastern coast of Madagascar on Valentine’s Day, relief agencies recognized the storm as a potentially catastrophic event — but not an unpredictable one. Dangerous cyclones are not unusual for the Indian Ocean island: cyclones and tropical storms affect Madagascar almost every year. Giovanna’s strong winds destroyed more than 44,000 houses and left thousands homeless. Because some vulnerable populations, including the elderly, female-headed households, and fishing villages in coastal areas, lack the resources necessary to prepare for extreme weather, USAID took steps to ensure they receive the relief they need quickly.

Understanding the recurring nature of cyclones in Madagascar, USAID and its partner CARE annually pre-position plastic sheeting in areas susceptible to cyclones. Reinforced plastic sheeting — an inexpensive, versatile, and high-quality temporary building material — can be used in combination with traditional building techniques and locally available materials to repair damaged homes or construct temporary emergency shelter for affected families.

Even before Cyclone Giovanna struck, USAID had pre-positioned nearly 400 rolls of plastic sheeting in a CARE warehouse in Vatomandry—one of the two districts most affected by the cyclone—ready for immediate distribution.

Within days of the cyclone, with USAID support, CARE was distributing plastic sheeting to the most affected and vulnerable families. It was able to move quickly due to its established connections with local communities, as well as the proximity of pre-positioned supplies to cyclone-affected populations. CARE dispatched 285 rolls of USAID plastic sheeting in under a week to the most affected villages, allowing 2,850 vulnerable families to mend damaged roofs or make other repairs, and helping more than 14,000 people recover from the effects of Cyclone Giovanna.

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Mozambique

An emergency responder flashes the red cyclone flag to warn people in his community. Photo by USAID/FEWSNET

In this next edition of “Pounds of Prevention,” we travel to the country of Mozambique. Over the past decade, Mozambique has set up a cyclone early warning system that combines technology with community organization and mobilization.

Every year when the cyclone season arrives, and flooding threatens the countryside, the people in Mozambique are better prepared to take the right action at the right time. Countless lives have been saved. Moreover, the resources spent mounting a humanitarian response have decreased.

USAID is proud to be a partner in this endeavor and commends the people of Mozambique on their accomplishments in disaster risk reduction.

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Kenya

Storage tanks for rainwater collected from terraced slopes in Makueni District, Kenya. Photo credit : Rebecca Semmes/USAID

I am really happy to share with you the second installment in USAID’s Pounds of Prevention series where we take a closer look at how disaster risk reduction work helps keep people safe from harm. This particular example from Kenya is near and dear to my heart. Since I first started work at USAID twelve years ago, I worked on many drought responses, traveling to villages throughout the Horn of Africa and particularly in Kenya and witnessed the devastating impact that a lack of clean water can have on children, families, and communities.

With very modest investments, USAID is helping communities in Kenya not only improve their quality of life today, but also bolster their ability to withstand severe drought conditions. Through water collection, conservation, and storage, people can feel more secure that even though the rains may fail, their families will have enough water to see them through. In the last few years, I have had the opportunity to visit some of these same villages again, many of which have benefited from these programs. Many of these communities are now not only meeting their water needs, but those of neighboring communities. Parents comment that their children are sick less often. In the past, drought often meant disaster. With the introduction of these rain harvesting schemes, it no longer does.

Emergency Preparations and Response in Southern Africa

A team unloads plastic sheeting for temporary shelters in Mozambique. (USAID/Bita Rodrigues)

This week USAID is assisting communities and individuals impacted by the cyclones in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi. We are providing shelter, clean water, and health protection to those affected by the cyclones.

Fewer than 24 hours after Cyclone Giovanna made landfall on Madagascar’s exposed east coast, Thomas Gibb, USAID Madagascar’s Mission Disaster Relief Officer, was in a helicopter flying over the affected zones and surveying the damage.

There is major damage, reported Gibb from the field:

From the air, you can clearly see roofs blown off and shattered homes. These homes were built with traditional materials that were not meant to withstand winds that reached 150 miles/hour. Some houses built on wooden stilts just crumbled… We could see clothes, bags of rice, and personal items from the sky. People have spread their meager belongings outside to dry. It looked like peoples’ lives were laid out in front of us.

USAID’s prepositioned relief supplies are already being distributed, and our disaster response experts are on the ground working alongside local officials to identify needs and learn what additional U.S. assistance is needed.


Responding to the Crisis in the Sahel

Even in the best years, it is difficult to eke a living out of the harsh sands of the western Sahara. But this year, a series of events has unfolded that has made it even harder for the people of the Sahel to survive. Sahelians live in one of the toughest environments on earth, in deserts spanning from Mauritania on Africa’s west coast, eastward across Mali, Burkina Faso, Northern Nigeria, Niger, and Chad.

This season, a drought, pockets of emerging tribal and ethnic violence, and an influx of migrants from Libya—95,000 have recently arrived in Niger alone—have converged to create a crisis that has left more than 7 million people in need of emergency assistance. In addition, food prices are high, and unrest in north Africa has cut off the flow of remittances, which have traditionally helped families cope with tough times.

With the support of the American people, USAID is providing emergency aid—including food, water, health and nutritional services, and other supplies—that is now helping more than 2.5 million people affected by the growing crisis.

USAID is providing an additional $33 million in humanitarian funding in the coming weeks to meet food needs across the region, support programs that protect vulnerable populations’ assets and livelihoods, and provide critical support to those facing malnutrition. When award of the 33 million is completed, USAID’s total assistance provided to the Sahel food insecurity crisis in FY 11 and FY 12 will be more than $270 million. This is in addition to USAID’s longer-term programs to alleviate poverty, improve health and economic opportunity, and mitigate and resolve conflict.

As we learned through the ongoing response in the Horn of Africa and other food security emergencies in the past, a rapid response is important. But it is also important to push our responses to be smarter, more effective, and linked to programming that promotes resiliency and addresses root causes so that we move people out of chronic crisis and towards prosperity.

On Wednesday, in Rome, USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg met with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, the United Nations agencies, and representatives of affected governments, and they stood together to call for an urgent scale-up of humanitarian, rehabilitation and development assistance to respond to rising levels of hunger in the Sahel region. Working together, we will help save lives now, build resilience in these countries, and help prevent the cycle of crisis in the future.

Video from the Sahel, provided by the World Food Programme, can be viewed on YouTube.

Disaster Risk Reduction – Key Investments for the Future

Kasey Channell is Acting Director of the Disaster Response and Mitigation Division of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)

Benjamin Franklin is famous for the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Today, we are faced with great challenges brought about by increasing population and urbanization, a changing climate, and a demonstrated increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters.

The number of disasters worldwide has increased dramatically in the past 35 years. The International Monetary Fund estimates that damages from disasters are 15 times higher now than they were in the 1950s. Natural hazards—earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and droughts for example—may be inescapable, part of our geology and weather. However, the degree of suffering, lives lost, and economic damage is also directly linked to human interventions, and can be reduced through effective planning and preparedness.

In 2011, the trend of mega-disasters continued, from the triple threat of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident in Japan to the triple threat of famine, war, and drought in the Horn of Africa. We know that prudent measures to improve response, to increase disaster management capacity, and to plan and prepare can have dramatic dividends.

Disaster risk reduction has been a part of USAID’s work for decades. We provide life-saving humanitarian assistance in response to disasters and emergencies, and we strive to do so in ways that better assess the threat of hazards, reduce losses, and ultimately protect and save more people during the next disaster. We have seen, and contributed to, improved disaster response capacity in many places around the world.

However, to continue to tackle these challenges in the face of increasing disaster risks, what has become clear is this: We need more than an ounce of prevention, we need pounds of prevention!

Today, we are launching a new series of short articles that illustrate how disaster risk reduction works and why it is important. I invite you to read the first “Pounds of Prevention” (PDF, 282KB)  with a focus on the Philippines. Please visit this site periodically for updates and for key messages about saving lives and livelihoods and the cost-effectiveness of these investments.


Haiti “A Country Undeniably on the Move”

Originally posted in The Miami Herald

It’s been two years since one of the most deadly natural disasters of the modern era devastated one of the poorest countries in the world. Even with an unprecedented international response in partnership with the Haitian government, the sheer scale of the 7.0 earthquake—which killed 230,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million—meant the country’s recovery would be a massive undertaking.

As President Obama directed, the US Government joined with the Haitian government to conduct search and rescue operations, clear streets of rubble and provide emergency supplies to survivors of the earthquake. Individual Americans have been a vital part of the effort — in 2010, more Americans donated money to Haiti relief efforts than watched the Super Bowl.

Despite daunting challenges over the last two years, today we can point to several specific results on the ground. Over half of the 10 million tons of rubble has been cleared from Port-au-Prince’s streets, more people have access to clean water today than before the earthquake, and collective efforts have mitigated the outbreak of cholera that killed thousands in the country.

In former President Bill Clinton’s words, our focus must now be on working with the Haitian government to “build back better.”

With the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we are trying to harness the transformative power of science, technology and innovation to accelerate economic progress and improve lives throughout Haiti.

For instance, instead of investing in rebuilding banks that fell during the earthquake, we worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a mobile banking revolution in the country. Nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s population has access to mobile phones but only 10 percent have bank accounts. By introducing technology that allows Haitians to save money and make transactions on their phones, we’re encouraging local wealth creation. To date, nearly 800,000 Haitians have registered for mobile banking, helping Haiti likely become one of the first mobile money economies in the world.

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