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Archives for Environment

Championing Rights of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

K´iche´maya women in Guatemala show their inked fingers after voting. / Maureen Taft-Morales, USAID

K´iche´maya women in Guatemala show their inked fingers after voting. / Maureen Taft-Morales, USAID

In the early 1980s, I began traveling to remote areas of the world, where I was able to visit indigenous communities that were living in peace as well as communities under threat from logging, mining and oil extraction. What I saw and experienced taught me about the threats facing indigenous peoples and about the incredible resilience that they continue to demonstrate against overwhelming odds.

My real education began when I was asked by a group of indigenous leaders to help them get a voice in the 1992 Earth Summit. As we spent months going over the drafts of international agreements, word by word, I learned how indigenous peoples view these issues.

Organizational strengthening initiatives with the Misak people of Cauca, Colombia help recover traditional health practices and systemize an indigenous healthcare system that benefits a population of 21,000 people. / Katalina Morales, ACDI

Organizational strengthening initiatives with the Misak people of Cauca, Colombia help recover traditional health practices and systemize an indigenous healthcare system that benefits a population of 21,000 people. / Katalina Morales, ACDI

They value traditional knowledge in protecting biodiversity and responding to climate change, and argue that you can’t separate the question of territorial rights for indigenous peoples from environmental protection and sustainable development.

Sunday was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. As USAID’s Advisor on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, I join with others around the world in celebrating the achievements and commemorating the struggles of the world’s indigenous peoples. They are the guardians of the Earth’s biological diversity, stewards of the world’s remaining intact ecosystems and have a crucial role to play in finding our way forward to a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

Briane Keane in the indigenous Sapara community of Llanchamacocha, Ecuador. / Jose Proano, Land is Life

Briane Keane in the indigenous Sapara community of Llanchamacocha, Ecuador. / Jose Proano, Land is Life

Yet, globally, indigenous peoples face many development challenges as their culture and livelihoods come under increasing threat. They suffer from poorer health, are more likely to experience disability, and ultimately die younger than the rest of the population, according to the World Health Organization. Seen as obstacles to development and progress, some indigenous peoples have been forced off of their traditional territories, robbing them of their way of life and traditional livelihoods, such as farming or fishing.

Indigenous women and children are particularly hard hit by the structural inequalities that indigenous communities face around the world. Indigenous women are often denied access to education, basic health services, and economic opportunities, leaving them disproportionately vulnerable in the face of natural disasters and armed conflict. Many of the most widespread causes of death among indigenous children — such as malnutrition, diarrhea, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis — are preventable.

In Cabrália, Brazil, a member of the Pataxó indigenous group learns to use a mobile device through the Fishing with 3G Nets program. The cell phones enable fisherman to find and share information useful to their trade – even while out on the water. / IABS

In Cabrália, Brazil, a member of the Pataxó indigenous group learns to use a mobile device through the Fishing with 3G Nets program. The cell phones enable fisherman to find and share information useful to their trade – even while out on the water. / IABS

If we are to ensure that the health and well-being of indigenous peoples is part of an inclusive development agenda, we must promote their right to self-determination, as well as their rights to collective ownership of lands, resources, and knowledge. Violations of these fundamental rights are directly related to lack of food security, lack of access to sustainable livelihoods, and the disruption of community cohesion, which all lead to poor health and development outcomes.

Last September, the world’s governments and indigenous peoples gathered for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. In the outcome document of this historic event, governments made commitments to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples, outlining a path to build peace and promote human development.

A woman participating in an Ethiopian land revitalization project. / Brian Keane, USAID

A woman participating in an Ethiopian land revitalization project. / Brian Keane, USAID

The U.S. Government has elaborated on our commitment in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, recognizing that indigenous peoples play a pivotal role in promoting sustainable development and conservation, and fighting climate change. The concerns of indigenous peoples will be integrated in USAID and State Department policies and programs, and the U.S. Government will help them strengthen resource management strategies, legalize their territories and improve their livelihoods.  

As the world’s governments prepare to gather at United Nations headquarters in New York next month to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, it is critical that they remember the role of indigenous peoples as critical stakeholders in achieving these goals. Only with their participation and by recognizing and protecting their individual and collective rights, can we have development that is inclusive and sustainable.

The director of the Peruvian Forest Service listens to the leader of the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous, Native and Salaried Women-Arequipa. / Francisco Cruz, Chemonics International

The director of the Peruvian Forest Service listens to the leader of the National Federation of Peasant, Artisan, Indigenous, Native and Salaried Women-Arequipa. / Francisco Cruz, Chemonics International

Today, USAID joins indigenous peoples around the world in calling for the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Keane is the USAID Advisor on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues.

5 Memorable Moments from Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day

Fans wave their hands as singer Mary J. Blige spreads a positive message about empowerment during her performance Saturday at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Fans wave their hands as singer Mary J. Blige spreads a positive message about empowerment during her performance Saturday at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

In the days leading up to Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day, there was a magnetic buzz in the air. From strangers on the bus to friends on social media, it seemed like almost every other person I talked to in Washington, D.C. wanted to spend their Saturday afternoon with thousands of friends on the National Mall.

Sure, the event was free and there was the undeniable celebrity appeal of musicians including Usher, No Doubt, Train, Mary J. Blige and Fall Out Boy, but I believe that the event’s underlying goals – ending extreme poverty and fighting climate change – only sweetened the appeal for anyone who believes that collective action can influence social consciousness.

When I arrived on the Mall with my camera in hand, many eager guests had already spread their blankets on the grassy hills surrounding the National Monument. Colorful T-shirts bearing environmental messages and handwritten posters with birthday greetings for “mother earth” made it clear that people were not just there to enjoy live musical performances and short films, but to also express their solidarity as the 45th anniversary of Earth Day approached.

As global leaders, including members of Congress and diplomats from Liberia, Australia and beyond, took to the stage to share their pledges to increase food security, improve access to clean water and sanitation, grow opportunities for young people, and use technology and innovation to spur creative ways to reduce poverty, the crowd responded with enthusiasm.

Phone networks were tied up during most of the day as people sent tweets and signed online petitions in response to on-stage prompts. It was just as much a day about activism as it was a day about entertainment.

USAID Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein was there, too, with a special announcement: As part of the the ongoing effort to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Agency will invest $126 million in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to re-establish and strengthen health systems. To date, the U.S. Government has provided $1.4 billion in the fight against Ebola.

Witnessing Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day gives me faith in my generation’s will to shape a more equitable world and reinforces why the United States’ continued commitment to supporting global development and ending poverty is so important.

Enjoy a few of my favorite photos and quotes from last weekend’s celebration below and consider making your own personal commitment to making the world healthier and happier this Earth Day.

4.18.2015_GlobalCitizenEarthDayConcert_USAID_WashingtonMonument_EllieVanHoutte.USAID-1850

1. “Will you support women’s empowerment? Will you speak up to bring all the children to school? Will you raise your voice for people and our planet? … You have the power. Your generation can make it happen. Be a global citizen. Take your passion and compassion to make this world sustainable, prosperous.”U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

More than 250,000 guests joined in solidarity to end extreme poverty and climate change at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

More than 250,000 guests joined in solidarity to end extreme poverty and climate change at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

2. “It’s about all of us being aware but getting our hands dirty because it’s not going to be an easy thing.”Train frontman Pat Monahan

Celebrity musical guests at last weekend’s Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day included Train frontman Pat Monahan. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Celebrity musical guests at last weekend’s Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day included Train frontman Pat Monahan. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

3. “Together we will pledge to mobilize additional budget resources to do our part – to improve our healthcare systems, education systems and create jobs for our young people, and grow our economies so that everyone can benefit.” Sierra Leone Minister of Energy Ambassador Henry Olufemi Macauley

Sierra Leone Minister of Energy Ambassador Henry Olufemi Macauley energized the crowd at the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day event with a pledge to improve economic opportunity for young people in his country. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Sierra Leone Minister of Energy Ambassador Henry Olufemi Macauley energized the crowd at the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day event with a pledge to improve economic opportunity for young people in his country. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

4. “Together with New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, I introduced a bill to assist farmers in growing more food and defeat hunger in the world’s poorest countries. The Global Food Security Act will help women secure the tools, education and training needed to produce the food their families and communities need.”U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum

Members of the United States Congress, including Rep. Betty McCollum, shared their support for the Global Food Security Act, a bill that would invest in programs to reduce chronic hunger. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

Members of the United States Congress, including Rep. Betty McCollum, shared their support for the Global Food Security Act, a bill that would invest in programs to reduce chronic hunger. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

5. “Ten years ago, we set ourselves a target, and we gave 30 million poor people safe water and 50 million people clean toilets. Today, I am doing it again; I am setting another target. Let’s do another 30 and another 50.” Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen

Improving access to clean water and sanitation were issues championed by Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen, left, during Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID
Improving access to clean water and sanitation were issues championed by Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen, left, during Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID
More than 250,000 people attended Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day last Saturday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. World leaders and musicians encouraged solidarity in the fight to resolve global issues like poverty and climate change. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

More than 250,000 people attended Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day last Saturday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. World leaders and musicians encouraged solidarity in the fight to resolve global issues like poverty and climate change. / Ellie Van Houtte, USAID

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellie Van Houtte produces and edits written and visual content for USAID as a multimedia storyteller. Follow her @ellievanhoutte.

3 U.S. Events to Watch at U.N. Climate Talks in Lima

The 2014 U.N. climate conference has kicked off in Lima, Peru, and negotiators are working hard to reach agreement on global climate targets. But this world gathering is also a chance for governments, non-government organizations and companies to showcase innovative work they are doing to address climate change.

Here are three key events to watch at the U.S. Center, run by the State Department, to show off some of the ground-breaking work U.S. government agencies are doing on climate change. All three will be streamed live at: YouTube.com/TheUSCenter

Thursday, December 4, 5:30p.m. EST:  Private financing for REDD+ projects: New approaches in 2014

Crops like cacao can help forest-dependent people earn more using less land, improving livelihoods and conserving forests. / Hanz Rippe

Crops like cacao can help forest-dependent people earn more using less land, improving livelihoods and conserving forests. / Hanz Rippe

REDD+ is a policy approach to compensate forest countries and communities for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The idea is, governments and communities should be rewarded for preserving forests. Cutting down forests currently causes more than 10 percent of all heat-trapping emissions.

The question is, how do we come up with the money or incentives to reward forest communities for conservation, so that the whole world can reap the health and ecosystem benefits they provide?

The best source of financing is the private sector – and quite a few REDD+ projects today are showing how it can work.

Anyone who loves forests – and especially the Amazon – should tune in Thursday at 5:30 to hear Peru’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal and Indonesia’s REDD+ lead Heru Prasetyo, talk with three large Amazon REDD+ programs – and one very innovative investment fund  – about how they are changing the economics of forest conservation. The fund, Althelia, has more than $130 million to invest in the carbon benefits and other benefits of forest conservation and sustainable land use projects all over the world.

Friday, Dec 5, 1:30 EST: Game-Time: Using Climate Information to Make Critical Decisions

Climate science and decision making tools such as SERVIR provide data on climate indicators such as storms, precipitation, floods, and temperatures. / SERVIR.net

Climate science and decision making tools such as SERVIR provide data on climate indicators such as storms, precipitation, floods, and temperatures. / SERVIR.net

Imagine it’s your job to sift through reams of data about how climate change is affecting your country or city. What information is essential, and how do you apply it to protect your coastlines, infrastructure and, above all, your people? Or, imagine you are a poor farmer deciding whether to spend last year’s small profit to plant 10 percent more this year – or use it to buy insurance so your family won’t go hungry if this year brings drought. Where do you go to find a science-based forecast for your area with clear guidance specific to the current season?

On Friday, Red Cross/Red Crescent hosts an interactive game at the U.S. Center, where  audience members take the role of poor farmers and harried government officials trying to make critical decisions with limited information. All sorts of weather and climate information is out there, but how do you get hold of the specific data you need in a useable format, whether you are planting rice or building seawalls?

For game participants, it can be shocking how quickly these become life-or-death decisions. Fortunately, speakers from Red Cross and USAID are there to provide comfort after the game by discussing new climate-smart tools and approaches that can help farmers, governments and development practitioners make climate-savvy smarter decisions.

Thursday, Dec. 11, 1:30 p.m. EST:  U.S. Commitments on International Resilience

Climate change induced degradation of land could be the inheritance of inaction regarding climate change.  / George Safonov

Climate change induced degradation of land could be the inheritance of inaction regarding climate change. / George Safonov

President Obama announced a set of new initiatives in September to strengthen global resilience to climate change – including a new Public-Private Partnership on Climate Data for Resilient Development. The idea is that USAID, with NOAA, NASA, USGS and other agencies, will harness, create and share climate data, information, tools, which developing countries need to build climate resilience and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The partnership will make existing climate data, science, outlooks, tools, and services easier to access and better tailored for making decisions. It will also link climate data with development efforts, identify gaps and develop new products to support decision-making in climate-vulnerable areas. Just two weeks ago, USAID sent out a public request for information seeking input.

For anyone working with USAID, this emerging initiative could have implications. Thursday’s event will shed light, as White House science lead John Holdren beams in via Skype to chat about what’s coming with Kelly Gallagher, White House Office of Science and Technology, and Kit Batten, USAID’s global climate change lead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrea Welsh is USAID’s communications lead at the U.S. Center for U.N. climate talks . Follow @USAIDenviro and @US_Center

New Promise for a Greener, More Productive Future in Indonesia

The destruction of tropical forests is a major challenge for global development, threatening precious livelihoods, biodiversity and the earth’s atmosphere. In all, tropical deforestation contributes about 12 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions causing climate change.

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon emissions, owing mainly to companies clearing large tracts of forest and peatland to cultivate oil palm and grow pulpwood for paper.

That’s why a major announcement from the recent U.N. Climate Summit has attracted so much global attention. Four of the world’s largest palm oil companies agreed to stop clearing and burning high carbon stock forest and peatland in Indonesia. Clearing peatlands in particular releases dangerous amounts of carbon. According to one recent study, from 2000 to 2012, Indonesia lost about 6 million hectares of primary forest, an area half the size of England.

Deforestation for agriculture is threatening the rainforests of northern Sumatra. USAID is working with villages to help keep remaining tracts of forest intact.

Deforestation for agriculture is threatening the rainforests of northern Sumatra. USAID is working with villages to help keep remaining tracts of forest intact. / Anne Usher


Indonesia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, KADIN, was the leader in forging this landmark “zero deforestation” commitment. The four companies that signed on – Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources, Asian Agri and Cargill – together account for about 60 percent of globally traded palm oil, the world’s most widely used edible oil.

Globally, the world consumes more than 50 million metric tons of palm oil per year – about the weight of 500 cruise ships stretching 100 miles out to sea. We use palm oil for cooking and in products ranging from cookies to cosmetics.

And while oil palm produces more oil per acre than other crops, clearing native forest to plant it not only releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it destroys a precious resource for millions of Indonesians, who depend on forests to supplement nutrition and livelihoods. This makes conserving forests a win-win proposition at a time when the world is increasingly feeling the effects of climate change.

The commitment by palm oil companies is in the spirit of Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020, a public-private partnership kicked off by the U.S. Government and the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of companies including Unilever, Nestle, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble and others, whose sales add up to more than $3 trillion per year.

Workers load palm oil fruit onto a truck in northern Sumatra.

Workers load palm oil fruit onto a truck in northern Sumatra. / Anne Usher


TFA 2020 is working to curb forest loss caused by major commodities, starting with palm oil, paper, soy and beef, which account for about 40 percent of tropical deforestation. Partners include governments, businesses and civil society organizations from around the world.

As the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia has been a focus of U.S. Government and TFA 2020 support. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono pledged to cut carbon pollution between 26 and 41 percent by 2020, and we and other U.S. officials have been working closely to support Indonesian officials in meeting that pledge.Vice-chairwoman Shinta Kamdani said KADIN became involved because individual Indonesian companies would not reach national emissions targets acting on their own. “When we set a vision, we can’t do it halfway,” she said.

With U.S. Government assistance, KADIN and the other signatories are now working to identify policy and regulatory reforms that will create incentives to encourage the conservation of high carbon stock forest instead of clearing and burning. At the local level, companies still have strong incentives to clear forests. They can sell the timber, legally or illegally harvested, and unused land can be confiscated by the government after a certain period of time. Laws also require companies to process whatever palm fruit arrives at their mill, making it difficult to discriminate between sustainable palm oil and palm oil originating from deforested land.

Last week’s announcement is an encouraging milestone on Indonesia’s path to cleaner, more sustainable growth. The United States stands with Indonesia on this important journey.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Blake is U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia & Eric G. Postel is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Economy and Environment. Follow him @EricPostel

Obama Administration Launches Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture

This post originally appeared on The USDA Blog.


From record droughts in Kansas to deadly wildfires in California, the United States is feeling the effects of climate change. These same conditions have a dire impact across the developing world, especially for poor, rural smallholder farmers whose very lives are threatened every time the rains arrive late, the floods rush in, or the temperature soars.

Climate change induced degradation of land could be the inheritance of inaction regarding climate change.

Climate change induced degradation of land could be the inheritance of inaction regarding climate change. / George Safonov

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach nine billion people. Feeding them will require at least a 60 percent increase in agricultural production. There is no greater challenge to meeting this need than climate change. It poses a range of unprecedented threats to the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people and to the very planet that sustains us. In order to ensure that hundreds of millions of people are not born into a debilitating cycle of under-nutrition and hunger, we must address the urgent threat that climate change poses.

That’s why today we’re announcing the launch of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. The idea was born eight months ago, when an international delegation of leaders—including many from the USDA, the State Department, and USAID—met in South Africa for the Global Conference on Climate Change, Food Security, and Agriculture. There, we charted a more sustainable path to food security—one that preserves the environment while driving broad-based economic growth.

The Alliance’s solutions will encompass every type of climate and agricultural system, including better crop, livestock, and aquaculture varieties that can tolerate extreme heat, drought, and floods. We are also testing and deploying innovative tools for farmers, like weather-indexed crop and livestock insurance to help communities build resilience to severe weather.

A boy and a woman struggle with the dusty wind looking for water in Wajir, Kenya

A boy and a woman struggle with the dusty wind looking for water in Wajir, Kenya. / Jervis Sundays, Kenya Red Cross Society

The Alliance will advance a more inclusive, innovative, and evidence-based approach to food security. It will provide platforms for partners to collaborate on agricultural practices, make key investments, develop policies that empower producers to mitigate the impact of climate change and, through sustainable agriculture practices, contribute to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It will also provide farmers—particularly women—with greater economic opportunities.

Joining the Alliance represents an ambitious step in the United States’ efforts to integrate climate change policies into every area of our work. The Alliance will work in concert with the U.S. Global Climate Change Initiative, drawing on its expertise and experience grappling with climate change challenges in more than 50 developing countries around the world. This climate-specific knowledge and practice being pioneered today will be critical to protect lives and livelihoods, and promote low-carbon growth and development around the world.

As one of his Administration’s first foreign policy acts, President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Led by USAID—in partnership with USDA, the State Department, and eight other federal agencies—Feed the Future empowers vulnerable communities to move from dependency to self-sufficiency.

In the last year alone, Feed the Future has improved the nutrition for 12.5 million children across 19 countries. At the same time, it has helped 7 million farmers grow their yields, raise their income, and begin the journey out of the devastating cycle of extreme poverty.

In 2012, President Obama rallied a group of global leaders at the G8 Summit at Camp David to launch the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, aimed to increase public-private partnerships and increase investment in agriculture. Today, we’ve leveraged $10 billion in investment from more than 200 companies—the majority from local African firms, including farmer-owned businesses.

Here in the United States, we’ve taken steps to address climate change and its impact on agriculture, setting up seven climate hubs and three sub-hubs; launching the Soil Health Initiative (healthier soil captures more carbon and helps farmers succeed), engaging more farmers than any time in American history in land and water conservation efforts, and we’re contributing to the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gasses. Our experiences at home can provide lessons that are valuable for farmers around the world.

We don’t have time to wait. From India to the United States, climate change poses drastic risks to every facet of our lives. Ground water supplies are vanishing faster than they can be replenished. Typhoons, wildfires, and floods are showing signs of becoming more frequent and more deadly. And with each day, families are pushed to the brink of survival—threatening our own prosperity and security in an increasingly connected world.

Addressing climate change will not be an easy fix, and it won’t be simple. Long term global food security depends on us acting together now.  That’s why the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture is so critical. By joining together, we can design new technologies and create new alliances to effectively protect and manage the environment that supports us—and the thriving ecosystems that will sustain our world for generations to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

John Kerry is the U.S. Secretary of State and tweets from @JohnKerry
Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Agriculture Secretary and tweets from @USDA
Dr. Rajiv Shah is the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development and tweets from @RajShah

Will Our Generation be Responsible for Killing Off the Tiger?

Will our generation be responsible for killing off the tiger?

As the world marks International Tiger Day, the tigers’ fate seems grim. From a high of 100,000 in 1900, as few as 3,500 tigers are thought to survive in the wild today. Tiger numbers and habitat have declined by 40 percent in the last decade alone, lost largely to habitat loss, poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, and human-tiger conflict.

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma,  PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

This tiger in the Kanha Tiger Reserve in India is one of only an estimated 3,000 left in the world. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

The illegal and unsustainable exploitation of wildlife in Asia has pushed tigers and other Asian big cats to the brink of extinction. Today, the greatest threat to Asian big cat survival are organized criminal groups who control the burgeoning and highly lucrative illicit trade. Their operations crisscross international boundaries, making it impossible for any one country to tackle the crime alone.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia's majestic tigers.

As part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. / Sandeep Sharma, PhD, Clemson Institute for Parks, USA

With partners ranging from non-governmental organizations to policy makers in the United States and abroad, USAID is uniquely positioned to combat wildlife trafficking along an entire spectrum of efforts. Whether it’s decreasing demand for wildlife products on the ground, supporting research or ensuring coordinated training for customs officials on wildlife trafficking, USAID enables a holistic response to this complicated challenge at various levels.

In fact, in honor of International Tiger Day, and as part of its continuing efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, USAID is committing nearly $900,000 to the conservation of Asia’s majestic tigers. A $393,000 grant to INTERPOL’s Project Predator will focus on finding high-profile wildlife offenders running criminal networks; and $500,000 to the World Bank’s Global Tiger Recovery Program Multi-Donor Trust Fund will go towards the fund’s goal to double the number of tigers in the wild by the year 2022 through habitat protection, scientific studies and a reduction in the illegal trade of wild tigers and their parts.

These efforts are already having an impact. During one Project Predator operation in Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, officials arrested over 50 individuals and confiscated big cat skins, body parts and other wildlife products. Nepal in particular has excelled at curbing the illegal poaching of wild tigers. There were no recorded deaths in 2013, and between 2009 and 2013, the number of wild cats grew by over 60 percent.

Biodiversity is the fabric of our lives and planet, and the iconic tiger is one of its golden threads. Promoting stewardship of nature is a critical and effective strategy for fighting extreme poverty and fostering resilient societies. By supporting tiger conservation, we cut off funding streams to criminal networks intent on destroying our world and profiting from the illegal wildlife trade. We give communities alternatives to develop their economies sustainably. And, most importantly, we give the tigers a fighting chance to survive into the next generation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mary Melnyk, USAID Asia Bureau’s Environment Team Leader.

Mobilizing ‘Makers’ for a Better World

Making, with a capital “M,” is a new term used to describe an ancient act: creating physical things. Far from old-fashioned, a perfect storm of cultural and technological advances is fueling a revolution in Making.

3D printers, modular electronics, and online libraries of open-source designs empower tinkerers and inventors to bring their ideas to life with groundbreaking speed and creativity. Thousands of community hackerspaces (and Fab Labs and maker spaces) are opening their doors to Makers all over the world. Crowdfunding and low-barrier manufacturing turbocharge the innovation pipeline from invention to market.

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / Marco Zennaro

Developing air quality sensors for monitoring urban pollution in Africa. / © Marco Zennaro

Today, the President celebrates a “Nation of Makers” as a powerful force of innovation and entrepreneurship across the country. And beyond the impressive promise of revitalizing American hardware manufacturing, the Maker movement offers a truly unprecedented resource: global creation.

Great ideas can come from anywhere. How many times in human history must inspiration have struck those who lacked the means to create a prototype? How many of our great ideas have gone unrealized? By democratizing the means to create, the Maker movement is poised to unlock humanity’s power of invention.

Recognizing this potential, USAID is challenging Makers around the world to create sensor technologies that can improve the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. Our U.S. Global Development Lab has launched a “Sensors for Global Development” Fab Award in partnership with the World Bank, Intel Corporation, and the Fab Foundation.

Sensors for Development

Sensor technology is an integral part of the Maker movement. Sensors allow homemade robots to navigate through physical space. Wearable sensors like Shine give you feedback on your personal health habits. Birdi monitors the quality of the air in your home – it’ll send an alert to your phone when you should open the window. Information about our physical world is increasingly detected, analyzed, and returned to us as useful insights that can improve our lives. The development of this so-called “Internet of Things” is owed in large part to hackers and makers.

There is a vast hole, however, in the Internet of Things. Much of the developing world, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, is a sensors desert. Here, ironically, the world’s most vulnerable people stand to gain the most from improved access to critical information on essential issues like agricultural productivity and the availability of clean drinking water.

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world.  Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

The Internet of Things: a map of connected devices around the world. Notice the scarcity of sensors in Sub-Saharan Africa. / thingful.net

Useful information streaming in from sensors in near real-time also may permit adaptive decision-making to maximize the effectiveness of USAID programs around the world.  Much in the way that the ubiquity of cell-phones has already transformed the global development enterprise, the promise of sensor networks presents a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog traditional methods of gathering important information and empowering individuals.

The Sensors for Global Development Fab Award challenges the Maker movement to get involved. We’ve called for Makers to focus their efforts on creating robust, low-cost sensor technologies that promise to help improve the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable. By tapping into this pervasive cadre of solvers to take on society’s most fundamental challenges, we stand ready to bend the curve toward a more prosperous, resilient, and democratic global community.

Today, at the White House Maker Faire, we announced the six Fab Award finalists:

  • MoMo (mobile monitor) – a mobile device with a sensor that collects data to track infrastructure and improve accountability in the developing world. WellDone’s water MoMo identifies where village wells are broken and alerts repair teams to fix them.
  • Fresh Air in Benin – a network of air quality sensors being developed to monitor urban air pollution in Africa
  • GrowerBot – a smart sensor system for small-scale agriculture that monitors and tracks environmental conditions, providing customized guidance to help growers optimize their productivity.
  • Nano Plasmonics Biosensor – a nano-scale optical sensor for identifying organic molecules with a wide range of applications from medical diagnostics to detecting water contamination.
  • KdUINO – a low cost DIY sensor buoy system that empowers students and citizen scientists to monitor the environmental conditions of seas and rivers
  • Safecast – an open source vehicle-mounted sensor network system to empower citizens to collect and publish data, with a focus on mapping radiation levels

The finalists will compete for a $10,000 prize at the Fab10 Conference in July.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric King is an Innovation Specialist with the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Data & Analytics Team. Follow him @eric_m_king

Mapping Change in the Amazon: How Satellite Images are Halting Deforestation

This blog post originally appeared on the Global Envision blog published by Mercy Corps.

In the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, a group of scientists have become unconventional crusaders in the battle to halt deforestation. They are the engine behind Imazon, one of the most prolific research groups based in the Amazon. Imazon is now collaborating with the government of the Brazilian state of Pará to combine real time satellite imagery and advanced mapping techniques with a system of incentives and penalties to embolden indigenous communities, local governments, and farmers to protect the rainforest.

Amazon rain forest. Credit: The Skoll Foundation

The Skoll Foundation


Until recently, Pará was the epicenter of unchecked rainforest devastation. Known locally for its rural corruption and banditry, the region had been losing 6,255 square kilometers of rich biodiversity annually – an area roughly the size of Delaware. The assault threatened the territory of some of the last untouched tribes in the world, and chipped away at the Amazon’s ability to absorb 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, a critical factor in regulating the earth’s climate cycle.

But the Brazilian Amazon is vast. Patrol vehicles can’t monitor the entire region from the ground. This is particularly true for indigenous communities trying to oversee their protected lands with limited resources.

Imazon

Imazon


And without accurate and timely information about illegal logging and sawmills, authorities and community members are helpless to stop the destruction before it it’s too late.

That’s why Carlos Souza Jr., a native of Pará’s capital of Belem, got involved. Souza earned a doctoral degree in advanced image processing techniques from the University of California-Santa Barbara and recognized that this technology could be the crucial missing link to address deforestation in his home country. Souza and a small team of researchers at Imazon developed detailed maps using free satellite imagery from the NASA sensor MODIS.

The Skoll Foundation

The Skoll Foundation


But the end goal was not just to produce beautiful maps.

Souza and his team began tracking changes in deforestation. They used the information to spark frank discussions about the future of the Amazon and to push for informed action on the issue. In some cases this meant cracking down on illegal operations, and in others it meant training farmers in improved farming techniques to enable higher incomes.

Imazon

Imazon


“Using scientific methods to approach sustainable development puts Imazon in a very good position to host dialogues with different stakeholders because the information we produce is neutral,” Souza explains. “They may not agree with the results, but they know there is no bias.”

For Souza and the Imazon team, this is the real value of their program: putting detailed scientific data in the hands of the people who can create positive change.

Photo: Skoll / Map: Imazon

Photo: Skoll / Map: Imazon


And it’s started to work.

In early 2013, the Brazilian police and army from the community of Nova Esperança do Piria used Imazon’s satellite images to conduct large scale raids on unlicensed sawmills that were infringing on the Alto Guáma Indigenous Reserve, situated within the Amazon.

Imazon

Imazon


Last year, Imazon expanded its work with support from the Investment Innovations Alliance, a joint venture fund between USAID and the Skoll Foundation, in collaboration with Mercy Corps. The Alliance invested $6 million, which allowed Imazon to grow and institutionalize its cartographic monitoring system and support the expansion of the Green Municipalities Program.

Map: Imazon, ISA, and IPAM  Photo: The Skoll Foundation

Map: Imazon, ISA, and IPAM Photo: The Skoll Foundation


Deforestation is already on the decline: after rising in the first half of 2013, the deforestation rate between August and December decreased by 70% compared to the same period the year before.

Now Imazon wants to take this movement beyond Brazil’s borders.

M24instudio

M24instudio


The launch of Google Earth Engine has allowed Imazon to share their pioneering maps with the global community and they are connecting with leading organizations throughout the region that want to integrate Imazon’s approach.

Souza is optimistic about the organization’s ability to adapt their strategies and burgeon their impact as they continue in the battle to preserve the world’s most pristine rainforests.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Huguet is the Assistant Program Officer of the Investment Innovations Alliance

Battling Climate Change’s Most Powerful Punches

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Indonesia recently, he warned that climate change ranks among the world’s most serious problems, calling upon nations to respond to what he considers “the greatest challenge of our generation.”

As Mission Director of USAID Philippines and the Pacific Islands, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of climate change. From super typhoons, extended droughts, flash floods and other extreme weather events, these countries are often at the receiving end of climate change’s most powerful punches.

A common sight in Vunisinu and Nalase villages in Fiji—worn out concrete stilts as a result of flooding in the villages

A common sight in Vunisinu and Nalase villages in Fiji—worn out concrete stilts as a result of flooding in the villages. / USAID Pacific Islands

In late March, I visited Suva, Fiji to express the U.S. Government’s continuing commitment in the Pacific Islands region and more importantly, to help communities strengthen their resilience to disasters and climate change impacts.

We at USAID know that the most effective solutions to climate change—or any development change for that matter—are those designed by those who are affected. Hence, our new project, the Pacific-American Climate Fund [PDF], will involve partnerships with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the 12 Pacific countries.

This $24-million grant facility will support NGO projects on climate change adaptation in the areas of natural resource and water management, livelihood development, and income diversification.

Examining the proposed plan of the USAID C-CAP team to rehabilitate the drainage system that will help prevent flooding in the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji.

Examining the proposed plan of the USAID C-CAP team to rehabilitate the drainage system that will help prevent flooding in the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji. / USAID Pacific Islands

I believe that a “one size fits all” approach will not effectively support communities in their efforts to address climate change. Through this project, we expect to receive many innovative ideas—each providing a unique solution to a climate change problem experienced by each community.

Another example of the importance of engaging local communities is our Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C-CAP). USAID/C-CAP will help coastal communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change by supporting small-scale infrastructure, increasing awareness of how it affects the community, and using this knowledge in participatory mapping and land-use planning.

Drainage system in in Rewa Province, Fiji.

Drainage system in in Rewa Province, Fiji. / USAID Pacific Islands

During my visit to the villages of Vunisinu and Nalase in Rewa Province, Fiji, I had the opportunity to interact with members of the community. They shared with me the personal struggles they’ve encountered due to climate change. I will never forget the story of one manioc (taro) farmer. He has been a farmer all of his life. It’s his only livelihood and he supports his wife and three children. “One day there was heavy rain. It overflowed from the drains into my farm and I lost most of my harvest in that crop,” he lamented. “Now how am I to feed my family?”

We are working vigorously to address the challenges that families of this “Pacific Century”—aptly named by President Obama—face every day. As such, we will improve the drainage management system in Fiji, which will reduce the potential for floods to damage the community’s manioc, vegetable and coconut crops.

But our work doesn’t stop there. USAID also assists the government and civil society of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in expanding HIV prevention, care and treatment models; strengthening women, peace and security in PNG; supporting elections in Fiji; and providing disaster mitigation, relief and reconstruction in Federal States of Micronesia and Republic of Marshall Islands.

By building resilience to climate change, we aim to preserve lives—and livelihoods, which ultimately enables families to live happier, healthier lives and have the freedom to explore opportunities for a brighter future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gloria D. Steele is the Mission Director for USAID/Philippines and Pacific Islands.

Transforming Cities Today for Equitable Societies Tomorrow

The Medellin metrocable, Colombia

The Medellin metrocable, Colombia / Patrick Benning, Deutsche Welle

I recently spent 50 agonizing minutes gently swaying several hundred feet over a forested mountain in the northeast of Medellín, Colombia. I was sharing a six-person gondola on the city’s famed Telemetro, a lift system constructed to enable poor slum dwellers on the outskirts of the city to more easily access the city center. In Spanish it’s called a teleférico; for me, it was terrifying. The nonchalance with which the other passengers in the car continued their conversation about sustainable approaches to public landscape architecture only made things worse.

We were all in town for the World Urban Forum (WUF), and had signed up for a tour of the city’s Metro system, rightly touted as a model of urban transit which, along with participatory budgeting and social programs that have brought parks, schools and libraries into the poorest neighborhoods, has helped to decrease violence and increase social equity in Medellín.

Despite my rare (as our guide was at pains to make clear) and unnerving experience, WUF’s host city serves as an example of an unlikely urban transformation—proof that committed reform, community participation, and wise investments in urban infrastructure and service delivery can mean drastically better city life for the 3.5 billion people living in cities today.

With an additional 2 billion more people projected to be developing world urbanites by 2050, this is of no small importance.

Kenya's notoriously dangerous city buses, or matatus.

Kenya’s notoriously dangerous city buses, or matatus / Elinrei

This was the seventh session of WUF, an event hosted by U.N. Habitat every two years to discuss the impact of rapid urbanization on communities, economies, climate change, and governments.

For USAID, WUF was an opportunity to showcase our new policy on Sustainable Urban Service Delivery, [pdf] to advance our thinking on how to put the policy into practice, and to hear from experts and officials around the world about their approaches to urban development challenges.

At the heart of USAID’s new policy lies this fundamental principle: Growing cities can help to drive inclusive development; but local governments, organizations and communities must work together to ensure that urban growth does not overwhelm local capacity to deliver basic services, and that the benefits of urbanization are felt by society’s most vulnerable.

The policy ensures that we are able to support cities to deliver transparent, accountable and inclusive services to the urban poor in ways that are politically and financially sustainable, promote resilience and support multi-stakeholder partnerships.

For example, our Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services [pdf] program is working to build the sustainability of five coastal and low-lying cities—Nacala, Mozambique; Piura and Trujillo, Peru; Hue, Vietnam; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic—by helping them understand their climate vulnerabilities; develop and test techniques that can rapidly increase the climate resilience of water, transportation and other services; and better protect residents while preventing future development in high-risk areas. Together, the urban areas targeted by the program are home to more than 2.6 million people.

Paving an erosion-prone road in Nacala.

Paving an erosion-prone road in Nacala / Nora Ferm, USAID

In Nacala, Mozambique, which is prone to heavy rains and landslides, we are helping the city create a database that maps vulnerable areas and provide technicians with a better understanding of how weather and climate impact infrastructure services. This work will help to ensure that Nacala and other cities in Mozambique — projected to be the fourth most urbanized country in southern Africa by 2025 — can continue to serve as the country’s economic hubs and drivers of development.

Southern downtown section of Hue. Photo: Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

Southern downtown section of Hue / Spencer Reeder, Cascadia Consulting

In Hue, Vietnam we are helping urban planners customize and apply a tailored software tool that anticipates the effects of climate change on newly urbanizing areas and critical infrastructure. This work will help lessen the impact of events like the 2006 flood that submerged the city of 340,000 under 6 feet of flood water, paralyzing it for days. Planners have already used the tool to adjust master plans for three zones outside of the city of Hue that are expected to urbanize quickly in the coming years.

And in Afghanistan, through the Regional Afghan Municipalities Program for Urban Populations (RAMP-UP), we are working to strengthen municipalities that have long suffered from underinvestment, limited support, low revenues, and weak institutional capacity. Some of the many successes of the four regionally based projects include implementation of solid waste collection and management programs; the establishment of public-private partnerships to generate revenue and to promote economic growth; support for female entrepreneurs through business training and local craft exhibitions; and increased revenue in some municipalities by as much as 26 percent.

The many debates and conversations at WUF made clear that the work we are doing in cities like Nacala, Hue, and throughout Afghanistan and elsewhere contributes to a mounting global urban agenda that promotes equity, inclusiveness, and the participation of communities, local and national governments, and the private sector.

Cities are growing by 70 million people each year, adding urgency to our efforts. Because cities are engines of growth, if we are successful in helping to build stronger and more resilient cities, we will also be helping to bring about a world without extreme poverty.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Szuchman is a USAID AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow working on USAID’s policy on Sustainable Urban Service Delivery and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

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