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5 Things USAID’s Land Office Has Learned about Impact Evaluations

Laida Phiri proudly displays her customary land certificate on her parcel of land in eastern Zambia. USAID is conducting a randomized control trial impact evaluation to measure the effect of securing property rights on the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices. / Jeremy Green, The Cloudburst Group

Laida Phiri proudly displays her customary land certificate on her parcel of land in eastern Zambia. USAID is conducting a randomized control trial impact evaluation to measure the effect of securing property rights on the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices. / Jeremy Green, The Cloudburst Group

At an event marking five years since the release of USAID’s Evaluation Policy, USAID Administrator Gayle Smith noted, “Development is aspirational, but it’s also a discipline.” I couldn’t agree more.

As a researcher and practitioner, I approach development with a scientist’s eye: I draw on the best available evidence and carefully measure the impact of our programs to better serve our beneficiaries and maximize our limited funds. Together, let’s examine how USAID’s Land Office is learning from our experience and investing in rigorous impact evaluations in partnership with local stakeholders.

But aren’t impact evaluations difficult and expensive? Don’t they take years to show results? Is it ethical to “withhold” benefits from people in order to run a scientific experiment? I hear these questions often. For the past three years, I have managed a portfolio of eight land and resource governance impact evaluations across sub-Saharan Africa. Here are some common misconceptions and lessons I have learned from one impact evaluation in Zambia:

In eastern Zambia, community members water plants at a nursery that is part of a USAID-supported agroforestry program. USAID is conducting a rigorous impact evaluation to determine whether clarifying and certifying customary land rights in this community will lead to farmers planting more fertilizer trees. / Jeremy Green, The Cloudburst Group

In eastern Zambia, community members water plants at a nursery that is part of a USAID-supported agroforestry program. USAID is conducting a rigorous impact evaluation to determine whether clarifying and certifying customary land rights in this community will lead to farmers planting more fertilizer trees. / Jeremy Green, The Cloudburst Group

Myth #1: Impact evaluations are too expensive.

Although impact evaluations do cost more than the typical performance evaluation, when you consider that a rigorous impact evaluation could significantly improve the results of a $15 million project and also inform USAID’s global portfolio and the sector at large, then investing $500,000 to $1 million on a land sector impact evaluation becomes more cost-effective in the long run.

There are also cost savings that start at the baseline — even before the program starts. In Zambia, our program implementer used the baseline evaluation data to develop village summaries with statistics on landholdings, population, livelihoods and land conflicts. These village summaries helped staff better understand the local context and how to target their assistance — essentially, the evaluation baseline provided a detailed needs assessment.

Myth #2: Impact evaluations take too long.

It is true that from baseline to endline, traditional impact evaluations often take years to complete. In my sector, changes in governance happen slowly, but we can actually already learn a lot from the baseline, even before the program starts.

We are using our baseline data in Zambia to test our underlying program assumptions in real time. For example, we found that despite not having documentation of their land rights, farmers feel their rights are fairly secure from expropriation. We also find farmers tend to invest less in labor-intensive practices, like live fencing, on fields where they feel their rights are less secure. We are sharing these findings with our colleagues and partners and using them to adapt our theories of change.

Myth #3: Randomization isn’t realistic.

Impact evaluations compare two groups over time: one that gets the intervention (treatment) and another that does not (control). USAID uses a number of impact evaluation designs to identify these groups; while randomized control trials are the most rigorous, there are other options as well. In 2013, I stood before four chiefs in eastern Zambia to explain impact evaluations and why USAID wanted their permission to use a “lottery” to decide which villages we would support.

I knew this was going to be a tough sell, but the chiefs agreed that randomized selection was the fairest way to select who receives benefits from our limited resources. Randomization doesn’t work for everything, but it can work, even with complex governance programs.

Myth #4: Impact evaluations aren’t fair.

Last month, I met with those same four chiefs in Zambia to review our progress. They are eager to register land rights in the control villages because they think this helps reduce land conflicts. While this is an outcome we hope to achieve, we do not yet have conclusive evidence that conflicts have been reduced, or that it was our program that led to this effect. To truly help, we must first understand that our approach works before we scale up, and the chiefs agreed to wait until 2018, after the endline, to work in the control villages.

Myth #5: USAID can’t be involved in evaluating our own programs.

Independent evaluations increase accountability and avoid bias. But USAID staff (and our implementing partners) can (and should!) be involved to leverage the diverse expertise necessary for a good impact evaluation design.

At USAID, we also need to facilitate coordination across programming and evaluation. When implementation and evaluation objectives do not align, we (USAID) need to help find the best solution. When our impact evaluation in Zambia reached an impasse on the right level (chiefdom/ village/ household) for randomizing land registration, I helped reach consensus that it should be at the village level, since village headmen traditionally allocate land rights.

This kind of coordination and technical guidance requires more work than “outsourcing” the evaluation, but it also helps ensure we find the right balance between learning and implementation and that we maximize the effectiveness of our programs over time.

I hope this post has sparked some ideas and encourage you to consider how you can help build a more rigorous evidence base on what works in your discipline.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

M. Mercedes Stickler is the senior land governance and evaluation advisor in USAID’s Office of Land and helps USAID design more effective land programs and evaluations. Follow her @mmstickler.

Facing Climate Change, Leaders Take A Step Toward A Healthier World

“Today, thanks to strong, principled, American leadership, that’s the world that we’ll leave to our children — a world that is safer and more secure, more prosperous, and more free.  And that is our most important mission in our short time here on this Earth.”

-President Barack Obama, Statement on the Paris Climate Agreement, December 12, 2015

In Senegal’s Tambacounda region, farmers face a growing risk of droughts and floods as familiar rain patterns change. Building stone bunds protects rice fields from silting and improves production. / Carla De Gregorio

In Senegal’s Tambacounda region, farmers face a growing risk of droughts and floods as familiar rain patterns change. Building stone bunds protects rice fields from silting and improves production. / Carla De Gregorio

On Friday, leaders from around the globe took an important step to ensure a safer, more secure and more prosperous world for our children.

Representatives of about 170 countries came to New York to sign the Paris Climate Agreement, marking a shared commitment to curb climate pollution and build resilience to climate change.

Rice farmers in one of Vietnam’s poorest districts are using new climate-resilient rice strains and growing practices that are dramatically increasing yields while curbing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resilience to climate impacts. Here, farmers learn to spot pests and diseases in their plants. / Phuong Nguyen

Rice farmers in one of Vietnam’s poorest districts are using new climate-resilient rice strains and growing practices that are dramatically increasing yields while curbing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resilience to climate impacts. Here, farmers learn to spot pests and diseases in their plants. / Phuong Nguyen

This historic agreement, reached in December 2015, is the culmination of years of hard work, tireless persistence and bold foresight on the part of world leaders. They should be commended for looking beyond immediate concerns to invest in our future.

But now the real work starts.

Vulnerable communities face a host of risks with changing weather patterns that can lead to more frequent and severe storms, as well as longer droughts.

The U.S. Government will be there to help when disaster strikes, just as we were in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and in Nepal after the devastating earthquake last year – and today the U.S. is leading the response to severe drought in Ethiopia. Reaching out to people in times of urgent need is one of the greatest expressions of American values.

Preparing for Extreme Weather

Whether slow-creeping droughts or sudden floods and storms, we need to get better at anticipating and preparing for risks. The international development community can help by working with countries to build the core capabilities needed to withstand some of these shocks.

At USAID, we use important new tools to help communities plan for a future of heightened risk, taking early action when we can to keep events from becoming catastrophic in the first place.

Technical experts from Indonesia’s power utility, PLN, and government officials from Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources visit a Maui wind farm to learn how Hawaii is using smart policies and regulations to attract private investment and spur clean energy development. / Sarah Fretwell

Technical experts from Indonesia’s power utility, PLN, and government officials from Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources visit a Maui wind farm to learn how Hawaii is using smart policies and regulations to attract private investment and spur clean energy development. / Sarah Fretwell

For instance, we help more than 30 countries tap NASA satellite data to better predict and prepare for extreme events.  In many communities, we are looking at how essential crops would perform under warmer conditions while simultaneously exploring varieties of crops that are more resilient.

In Jamaica, which is facing record drought, we developed a seasonal drought forecast tailored to farmers. And it is paying off: Jamaican farmers who acted on what they learned through the forecast have lost only half of what other farmers lost.

Similar forecasts – and other climate tools – are now being replicated around the world. In fact, right now, there are at least 5.3 million people who are using climate data and technologies to make better decisions.

Another way to curb the risks posed by climate change is to invest in healthy forests and clean energy.

Healthy landscapes enhance livelihoods and provide billions of people with food. They also increase resilience to dangerous weather. And investing in clean energy is a smart move for countries looking for a flexible and increasingly affordable way to diversify their energy resources, while extending energy to people who need it.

That’s why USAID works to support countries that want to make these smart investments in the health of their economies – and the health of our planet.

We have helped entrepreneurs in Asia attract millions of dollars of investment in clean energy projects. And through Power Africa, we help countries expand renewable energy production, on and off the power grid, to ensure clean electricity reaches those who most need it.

In total, USAID’s clean energy support has helped more than a dozen countries add 50,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity since 2010 – enough to electrify 13 million American homes.

With the signed Paris Agreement in place, USAID is renewing its commitment to empower people and communities to take bold action to invest in the future. We all share a responsibility to help build a safer, healthier world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gayle Smith is USAID’s Administrator. Follow her @GayleSmith.

Adapting to Climate Change: How USAID is connecting cities to find solutions

Sitting around a conference table in Somerville, Massachusetts, many heads nodded. “Yes,” these bobbing heads seemed to say, “We have that problem, too. Yes — we, too, are being affected.”

As Oscar Montes, director of the Municipal Office of Environment, discussed the increasing storms, worsening floods and shrinking coastline that his city La Ceiba, Honduras was experiencing due to climate change, he clicked through a number of photos.

Mothers carrying children on their shoulders through flooded streets. Shopkeepers using buckets to empty their markets of water in vain. Satellite images of an eroded coastline. Photos of houses crumbling into the sea.

Coastal cities like La Ceiba, which is home to a quarter of a million people, have always been vulnerable, but the effects of a changing climate are accelerating these threats.

You might not think that Somerville and La Ceiba have much in common, but after sitting in on a few hours of conversation between these two cities’ officials, it was abundantly evident they face similar problems, and they can help each other find solutions.

This is the key theory behind USAID’s support to the CityLinks program, implemented by the International City/County Management Association, which partners cities to share best practices for adapting to climate change.

Oliver Sellers-Garcia, director of Somerville’s Sustainability and Environment Office, points out aspects of Somerville to Oscar Montes, director of La Ceiba’s Environment Office. / Nancy Leahy Martin, USAID

Oliver Sellers-Garcia, director of Somerville’s Sustainability and Environment Office, points out aspects of Somerville to Oscar Montes, director of La Ceiba’s Environment Office. / Nancy Leahy Martin, USAID

Across the conference table, Oliver Sellers-Garcia, director of Somerville’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, translated Oscar’s presentation for his colleagues, adding his own commentary throughout.

“Oscar says that the hardest hit parts of La Ceiba are those in the urban center, where most of the population lives in the flood zone. When there are flash floods from the nearby rivers and streams, the neighborhood groups notify the city. Guys, this is something we can actually learn from La Ceiba and start doing here.”

Later in the day, Somerville’s director of Capital Projects and Planning, Rob King, showed Oscar how the city is adapting to increased rainfall.

As in many cities in the United States, storms overwhelm Somerville’s sewer system, which collects both sewage and stormwater runoff. When there is too much water for the city’s treatment plant to handle, both runoff and raw sewage get dumped into local bodies of water.

“We can put holding tanks underground to temporarily capture the stormwater that would otherwise flood our city’s sewage system, but that’s expensive,” Rob said. “We can create plant- and grass-filled medians in the roadways and direct runoff there, but that means less room for pedestrians, cars, bicyclists…”

There are no easy answers, and Oscar knows this all too well. In La Ceiba, the wastewater treatment facility’s pumps fail every time there’s a storm, spewing raw sewage into the ocean. With more storms expected in La Ceiba due to climate change, the city is trying to find affordable solutions to prevent this from happening.

Rob King, Somerville’s director of Capital Projects and Planning, discusses Somerville’s waste water treatment program with La Ceiba’s Oscar Montes. / Nancy Leahy Martin, USAID

Rob King, Somerville’s director of Capital Projects and Planning, discusses Somerville’s waste water treatment program with La Ceiba’s Oscar Montes. / Nancy Leahy Martin, USAID

More than half the world’s population lives in cities, and that number is growing at unprecedented rates. The urban poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, living in unsafe housing and in areas most prone to flooding.

By partnering cities facing similar challenges, USAID helps them to increase their resilience, protect their citizens and prepare for a changing climate.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Leahy Martin is an Urban Advisor in USAID’s Engineering and Urban Division. Follow her at @LeahyNancy.

Living on the Edge in a World of Changing Climate

To help vulnerable populations prepare for climate change, USAID is working in places like Indonesia to build infiltration ponds that collect and trap rain to recharge groundwater aquifers. / IUWASH

To help vulnerable populations prepare for climate change, USAID is working in places like Indonesia to build infiltration ponds that collect and trap rain to recharge groundwater aquifers. /
IUWASH


World leaders recently convened in Paris to forge an historic agreement to take shared global action on climate change. While the Paris agreement is just a first step, it does encourage hope, and could fundamentally change the way global development unfolds.

Over the course of the conference, I found myself reflecting upon a trip I took to Nepal a few months after a massive landslide.

In August of 2014, a landslide occurred at the Sunkoshi River in the Sindhupalchok District of Nepal, killing 156 people and displacing hundreds of families. The following November I travelled to the region to observe the effects of landslides on local communities, hydropower plants, transit routes and the condition of the surrounding slopes. This trip highlighted the devastating effects landslides can have on local communities, particularly those that are most vulnerable.

With the onset of climate change, Nepal is likely to experience more frequent landslides and floods, higher temperatures and more variable rainfall patterns.

Nepal is the fifth-poorest country outside of Africa with 23 percent of the population living in extreme poverty, but there is hope for progress. Since my college days studying abroad in Nepal nearly 20 years ago, the country has made remarkable strides in poverty reduction. But climate-related disasters disproportionately affect the poor and can quickly undo this progress.

In Pakistan, Nepal and other countries, climate-change linked natural disasters, including flooding, are becoming more common. Asif Hassan / AFP

In Pakistan, Nepal and other countries, climate-change linked natural disasters, including flooding, are becoming more common. Asif Hassan / AFP

We are seeing these changing conditions in many countries around the world. Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought in decades and also has a large population living in extreme poverty, with many dependent on agriculture. In much of Indonesia, the dry season is getting longer, making it harder for people to access clean water.

Climate change is rightly a high-priority issue in international discussions because it poses existential threats, and for people living in extreme poverty, the impacts of climate change are already a matter of survival. Climate change can jeopardize their food security, access to clean water and stability of livelihoods.

Many of the extreme poor live in the countries with high climate risk, including countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Nigeria and Uganda.

Often, the extreme poor are forced to settle in at-risk areas because they are searching for economic opportunities and it’s less expensive to live there. For example, coasts provide access to transportation and trade, and floodplains may also offer high agricultural productivity.

Many people living in extreme poverty are dependent on livelihoods that are sensitive to the changing climate, like subsistence farming and fishing. Climate shocks not only destroy homes and lives, but often cause food insecurity and erase prospects for a quick recovery. The poor tend to have fewer marketable skills and personal savings, and less access to loans, or other vital community support or resources to help them rebound from an extreme weather event.

Even those who seem to escape poverty may remain perilously close to falling backwards. A new World Bank report warns that without serious action, climate change could push more than 100 million people back into poverty over the next 15 years.  

For these reasons, we will not succeed in ending extreme poverty without also taking steps to address climate change.

Achieving our mission to partner to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies depends in part on our collective ability to help the extreme poor navigate the challenges of climate change. Our recently released Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty highlights these efforts.

USAID is working with partners around the globe to help the poor better anticipate and prepare for climate risks.

  • In Ethiopia, we are bringing scientific and local knowledge together to produce forecasts tailored to local needs, so rainfall-dependent farmers can make better planting decisions and improve their food security.
  • In Indonesia, we are promoting the building of infiltration ponds that collect and trap rain to recharge groundwater aquifers and ensure a consistent supply of running water.
  • In Nepal, USAID is partnering with NASA to use satellite imagery to help the Government of Nepal, partners and stakeholders better prepare for and respond to landslides, floods and degradation of biodiversity, saving lives and livelihoods.

These programs use access to information, appropriate technology and an understanding of local context to bolster the resilience of the poor to climate change impacts and other unanticipated environmental stressors.

While the Paris Agreement represents a tremendous victory, there is much work that remains. USAID and global development partners must continue to share knowledge, mitigate climate change by lowering emissions and help people manage the impacts of climate change by promoting resilient growth. Only by empowering communities around the world through sustainable and inclusive development will we meet the ambitious emissions reductions goals.

Because extreme poverty and the effects of climate change are so inextricably connected, we have a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. And as Ban Ki Moon asserted about the Paris Agreement, we too believe that “It sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Noam Unger is the Acting Deputy Assistant to the Administrator and the Director of the Policy Office in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning.

How Partnership is Combating Deforestation in the Amazon

An aerial photograph shows a tract of the Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers in Pará State. Imazon is primarily based out of Para and has worked to reduce illegal deforestation by 80 percent. / Stian Bergeland/Rainforest Foundation Norway/Reuters

An aerial photograph shows a tract of the Amazon jungle recently cleared by loggers and farmers in Pará State. Imazon is primarily based out of Para and has worked to reduce illegal deforestation by 80 percent. / Stian Bergeland/Rainforest Foundation Norway/Reuters

As a nation that claims more than two thirds of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil will be a key player in the negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this week. In fact, representatives from Brazil are expected to present a national proposal for fighting climate change—with a goal of reducing deforestation further from the 80 percent drop seen between 2004 and 2014.

About 17 percent of the Amazon has already been lost to deforestation. The loss of forest cover causes dramatic changes in rainfall distribution, disrupts the global carbon cycle and intensifies global warming effects, with grave consequences for both people and biodiversity.

For the team at Imazon, an 80 percent drop is not enough.

The map shows deforestation and degradation in the Amazon rainforest. The State of Paráa has experienced some of the heaviest rates of deforestation in Brazil. / Imazon

The map shows deforestation and degradation in the Amazon rainforest. The State of Paráa has experienced some of the heaviest rates of deforestation in Brazil. / Imazon

Imazon, a nonprofit research institute funded by the Innovation Investment Alliance—a partnership between USAID and the Skoll Foundation, in collaboration with Mercy Corps, that helps promising social enterprises reach scale—is taking the challenge a step further, with a goal to end deforestation entirely within the next decade.

Given that Brazil is still losing around 5,000 square kilometers of forest  a year, anything less is a failure to do what is necessary, feasible and advantageous.

Based in Belém, Brazil, Imazon is at the forefront of a campaign to raise awareness about the loss of the Amazon. It uses satellite mapping technology to provide a true picture of deforestation on the ground and to monitor the situation with real-time data. The information is provided to the Brazilian government and local landowners. Imazon’s growing body of data and research is playing an ever-larger role in influencing political and land ownership decisions in favor of sustainability.

For example, Imazon’s Rural Landowner Registry, or CAR (Cadastro Ambiental Rural), is a system that requires all rural properties to be mapped and registered through the Brazilian government. In addition to providing important data regarding land use and deforestation rates, CAR allows landowners and municipalities to formalize which parcels of land are actually theirs, thus keeping in check those who may be clearing forest illegally.

The program has been a huge success. In the Paragominas municipality of Pará, a state infamous for rapid forest loss and corruption, Imazon was able to help reduce illegal deforestation by more than 80 percent.

Today, with support from the Innovation Investment Alliance, Imazon is expanding its programs to 50 municipalities throughout Pará, with a goal to reduce the rate of deforestation while supporting economic growth based on a foundation of legally held land use.

Imazon is also working to take its approach beyond Brazil’s borders, to share its pioneering maps with the global community. The launch of Google Earth Engine—an online global environmental monitoring platform with more than 40 years of historic measurements—has allowed Imazon to connect with leading organizations throughout the world that want to build on the organization’s model.

Brazil’s new environmental plan is promising, but Imazon’s team sees that more can be done. While hopeful that Brazil is moving in the right direction, the ultimate goal of ending deforestation will require solid planning from Brazil’s leaders alongside the technical know-how of organizations like Imazon. Together, they can build the connections that create positive change for people and the planet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathleen Hunt is a Senior Partnership Advisor in Center for Transformational Partnerships in the Global Development Lab. She works on issues related to social entrepreneurship and women’s economic empowerment.

From the Household Hearth to Global Health: Creating a Healthier Planet Starts with a Cookstove

Each year, in the days leading up to holiday gatherings across the United States, stoves and ovens put in a lot of hours.

Many are used to cook turkeys; some roast more than one. Stovetops steam green beans, simmer gravies, and cook cranberries down to a sauce.

Now, imagine a different scene. Instead of a kitchen filled with the aromas of a holiday meal, imagine a kitchen filled with black smoke that stings the eyes and itches the back of the throat. An open fire of kindling and cow dung burns in the center of the room, and clouds of smoke billow steadily forth to hang thick, heavy and hazy in the air.

For nearly 3 billion people around the world, this is not a sign that the casserole has caught fire in the oven. Rather, it’s a daily part of life.

More than 40 percent of the world’s population relies on solid fuels such as wood, coal, dung, charcoal and crop residues for everyday cooking. And in the clouds of thick smoke that such fuels produce, threats to environmental and human health converge.

Cleaner Technologies for Safer Homes

In Uganda, biomass fuel sources are used for nearly all household cooking needs. Open biomass fires release harmful particles into the air, and household air pollution is estimated to cause 20,000 premature deaths in Uganda each year.

A community organizer in Uganda demonstrates the use of the TLUD stove to a local group. / Kendra Williams, URC

A community organizer in Uganda demonstrates the use of the TLUD stove to a local group. / Kendra Williams, URC

To address this, USAID’s Translating Research into Action (TRAction) Project is researching the drivers and barriers for the household adoption and sustained use of cleaner cooking technologies.

A Top-Lit UpDraft (TLUD) stove was selected for the TRAction behavior change initiative in Uganda. The new stove burns wood more efficiently, emitting less ash and particulate residue than open fires. Local artisans produce and repair the stoves and leaders encourage adoption of the stove, promoting community ownership of the intervention.

A Global Concern

USAID is a founding member of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. The Alliance and its partners hope to disseminate 100 million cookstoves by 2020.

An investment in clean cookstoves is an investment in human health. Exposure to household air pollution accounts for 4.3 million deaths worldwide each year. Exposure to household air pollution is the leading risk factor for pneumonia, the second-leading cause of child mortality.

The linkages to the environment are also well-established. Solid fuel dependency for household fires contributes to climate change through the emission of gases and particles such as carbon dioxide, methane, and black and brown carbon. Unsustainable wood harvesting can lead to deforestation, reducing the uptake of carbon by plant matter and exacerbating soil erosion, waterway pollution, and altered vector-borne disease patterns.

Teresia Oloitai of Tanzania installs a chimney stove in her home to reduce the intake of smoke and carbon dioxide during household cooking. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Teresia Oloitai of Tanzania installs a chimney stove in her home to reduce the intake of smoke and carbon dioxide during household cooking. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Clean cookstoves are also an investment in women’s empowerment, as the burden of collecting biomass fuel often falls on women and girls — at the expense of other productive opportunities. New cookstoves also improve the health of women and children, who spend much of their time at home near the hearth.

Improving the health of communities through the expansion of sustainable fuel sources is one of the many ways in which climate change considerations both affect and are affected by efforts to improve global health. And as our understanding of the full impacts of climate change on the planet come to light, the connections to global health continue to grow.

The Talks in Paris: Envisioning a Healthy World

Recently, the WHO concluded that climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. Its effects on human health are myriad. Air pollution accounts for 7 million deaths each year, and outbreaks of infectious diseases are expected to increase as weather patterns shift. Natural disasters and political instability — both linked to climate change — disrupt primary health services, and displaced populations are put at a heightened risk of illness and infection due to poor nutrition and a lack of vaccinations, medications, clean water and sanitation.

When each of these effects of climate change on human health, both direct and indirect, are taken into account, the number of people affected reaches into the billions.

Through a variety of efforts, USAID and others have contributed to the significant global progress over the past half century in reducing mortality rates and improving health and quality of life. There is undoubtedly much work left to be done — yet neglecting the issue of climate change could undermine the past 50 years of progress in global health.

The conversations at this week and next’s COP21 conference in Paris must take into account the full implications of our changing climate — not only for the health of our planet, but for the health of our fellow human beings. And as world leaders gather round the conference tables in Paris, our team will continue to help families gather round cleaner, safer cookstoves. Global health depends on both.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Benjamin Rost works on communications within the Global Health Bureau.

When Cities Help Each Other to Address Climate Change

Representatives of Durban, South Africa, and Broward County, Florida, gather to celebrate “Durban Appreciation Days” in March 2014. / CityLinks

Representatives of Durban, South Africa, and Broward County, Florida, gather to celebrate “Durban Appreciation Days” in March 2014. / CityLinks

As more and more people move from rural to urban areas, cities are now on the front lines in the battle against climate change. Today, just over half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, this figure is expected to jump to 70 percent.

Cities in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change as they are often unprepared for climate-induced events like flooding, strong storms, and periods of extreme heat and cold.

These cities are starting to join forces across the globe to cope with climate change, share strategies and multiply results.

In 2013, local leaders of Durban, South Africa, visited Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to learn how Florida was using regional collaboration to address climate change. They never expected that the impact of their partnership would be felt as far away as Tanzania or Paris.

But that’s exactly what is happening. Representatives from Durban and Southeast Florida are now preparing to share their experiences during the historic 2015 Paris Climate Conference, or COP 21 (check the links below the story to find out more). Two years of collaboration have resulted in transformational changes in Durban and beyond, including the launch of Durban’s own regional compact on climate change, as well as the development of a hub and compact model that may be replicated by other local governments committed to the Durban Adaptation Charter.

Debra Roberts and Sean O'Donoghue of Durban, South Africa, examine South Broward's water pumping station as part of a knowledge-sharing trip to Florida. / CityLinks

Debra Roberts and Sean O’Donoghue of Durban, South Africa, examine South Broward’s water pumping station as part of a knowledge-sharing trip to Florida. / CityLinks

This unlikely pairing was made possible through CityLinks, a USAID-sponsored program implemented by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) that helps cities in developing countries prepare for climate change by connecting them with cities in the United States and other countries in the global north.

“Honestly, our expectations weren’t that high,” said Sean O’Donoghue, a climate protection expert in the Durban Government. “Fort Lauderdale is a highly developed city, operating very
differently from cities in developing countries. We didn’t know what to expect, but we went in with an open mind.”

Just a few years ago, Durban was grappling with how to collaborate with neighboring regions on climate change. Although the city can be considered relatively progressive on climate protection, other municipalities in the surrounding area often lacked the financial resources or the capacity to do the same.

While Durban’s population is just under 600,000, its larger metropolitan area is more than four times that, with over 3.4 million people. Without full cooperation of the entire municipality,
millions of people could remain vulnerable to the effects of climate change like rising sea levels.

Representatives of Durban, South Africa, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, consult on flooding issues as part of a CityLinks knowledge-sharing partnership. / CityLinks

Representatives of Durban, South Africa, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, consult on flooding issues as part of a CityLinks knowledge-sharing partnership. / CityLinks

Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, Florida, on the other hand, have been innovators in forming regional compacts on climate change. As part of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact formed in 2009, Broward County collaborates with three other counties on a common
strategy on climate change, and the four counties share knowledge and resources to meet targets.

Through CityLinks, Durban has worked with local officials from Florida and representatives from neighboring municipalities to develop its own regional compact, the Central KwaZulu-Natal Climate Change Compact. Just last month, the compact was officially launched, and the partners are working together to plan the next steps of their collaboration.

The idea has taken off outside of Durban as well, attracting the attention of the federal government. Eight other municipalities in South Africa have signed on to launch similar programs in the near future. Cities in Tanzania, Mozambique and Ghana are also learning from Durban’s example. Last year, Durban formed its own knowledge-sharing partnership with Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and today Durban is compiling a practical toolkit for other cities aspiring to benefit from the same model.

“One thing I’ve taken away from this experience is the realization of how well peer-to-peer learning works,” said O’Donoghue. “In city-to-city communication, there is an open sense of trust, and learning outcomes are so much better. Seeing is believing. This was a really powerful realization that we used with the rest of our exchanges.”

CityLinks has also recently helped developing cities in Indonesia, Philippines, Jamaica, Georgia, India and Honduras to connect and share knowledge on the topic of climate change. Partnerships have focused on various areas, including disaster preparedness, water management, and sustainable waste management.

Such partnerships are needed now more than ever. As the leaders of hundreds of cities gather in Paris this week for the COP 21, the message is clear: Cities face the greatest risks as the planet’s climate changes, but they are also in a position to make the greatest impact when they work together.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liza Lenz is an intern in USAID’s Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs and a master’s student at the University of Denver.

How and Why USAID is Ensuring Our Development Efforts are Climate Resilient

Agriculture projects such as this rice cultivation project in Vietnam can benefit from analysis early in planning to determine how climate change could affect outcomes. / Phuong Nguyen

Agriculture projects such as this rice cultivation project in Vietnam can benefit from analysis early in planning to determine how climate change could affect outcomes. / Phuong Nguyen

In a semi-arid region of East Africa, an unforeseen lack of rain is leading to a dismal farming season, undermining development progress. In Central America, agroforestry projects are slowed by a severe drought that is making it difficult to plant and grow new crops. In South Asia, culverts constructed under rural roads are unable to handle unusually heavy rainfall, resulting in widespread damage to property and livelihoods.

With hundreds of projects and thousands of staff across the globe, USAID witnesses the effects of climate change every day. Climate change undermines development gains and future development progress. It’s not just an environmental problem, but a human problem with direct implications for hunger, poverty, conflict, water scarcity, infrastructure integrity, sanitation, disease and survival.

Though USAID has been helping our country partners become more resilient to climate change for the better part of a decade, the need for full integration of climate risk management in our development efforts has never been clearer.

I recently returned to Washington, D.C. to join USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment as Deputy Assistant Administrator. For the past four years, I was Deputy Mission Director of USAID’s Bangkok-based Regional Development Mission for Asia. In that role, I saw firsthand how the effects of climate change were going to necessitate a change in the way we do development.

A washed out road in Mozambique shows how infrastructure can benefit from awareness of future climate impacts, increasing local resilience to climate change. / Carlos Quintela

A washed out road in Mozambique shows how infrastructure can benefit from awareness of future climate impacts, increasing local resilience to climate change. / Carlos Quintela

In the Lower Mekong Delta in particular, changing precipitation patterns and rising temperatures are expected to shift the habitable zone for important crops like maize, coffee and rubber trees. And as this heavily populated region sits in the middle of two cyclone systems, the combined effects of increased precipitation, sea level rise and increased intensity of storms promise devastating consequences for coastal infrastructure, livelihoods and sensitive coastal ecosystems.

What can USAID do in the face of a changing climate? We can, and we must, incorporate climate risk management into all of our development efforts. USAID has already been doing great work to help developing countries adapt to climate change, better manage their natural resources, and develop their economies while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. USAID has also taken steps in recent years to integrate climate change considerations into much of our programming.

But prompted by the 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and an executive order from President Obama, USAID is now embarking on a plan to make all of our development assistance more climate resilient – whether it’s a health program in Zambia, an agriculture project in Ethiopia, or an infrastructure investment in the Philippines.

This October, we started with integrating climate risk into all new regional and country-level strategies. And starting next October, USAID will include climate risk management at all levels, including all new projects and activities. The only exception will be emergency funding, such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

We recognize that USAID is not the first development agency or multilateral development bank to begin screening its investments for climate risk, and we have learned a great deal from the World Bank, our German counterpart GIZ and others as we design our own methods of climate risk management. As the largest bilateral donor and development agency in the world, USAID has an opportunity, and a responsibility, to make sure hard-won development gains are not undermined by a changing climate.

It is clear that the populations hit hardest by climate change have been and will continue to be the poorest communities in the least developed countries. It is also clear that in order to reach our Agency’s goal – ending extreme poverty – we will need to make climate risk management a requirement in all of our development assistance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie Thompson is Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, heading up USAID’s environment work. Follow @USAIDenviro

Charting a Course Toward Pacific Climate Resiliency

This post has been republished from DipNote.


Resistant to punctures and ultraviolet rays, these sturdy, multiple-ply sand bags discreetly work double time as they protect the coastline while preserving the shore’s natural look. / C-CAP

Resistant to punctures and ultraviolet rays, these sturdy, multiple-ply sand bags discreetly work double time as they protect the coastline while preserving the shore’s natural look. / C-CAP

Climate change is already impacting the people of the Pacific. In Papua New Guinea, families are struggling to access water and put food on the table because of a severe drought. In Samoa, the owner of a modest beachfront resort has watched for years as her property erodes, with storm surges and flooding battering the shore, pulling her property toward the sea.

These are just a few of the courageous people I have met in the few months since I became USAID’s Regional Coordinator for the Pacific.

Last year at the United Nations Climate Conference in Peru, Secretary Kerry said, “Climate change is an issue that should be personal for absolutely everybody– man, woman, child, businessperson, student, grandparent…Wherever we live, whatever our calling, whatever our personal background might be, this issue affects every human on the planet.”

People living in the Pacific Islands rely on their surrounding environment for food, water, energy, and shelter. Although collectively these nations contribute less than half a percent of global greenhouse emissions, they are on the frontlines of the struggle against a changing climate.

Support for climate change adaptation is a key priority for U.S. Government assistance overseas.

In 2013, USAID launched the Coastal Community Adaptation Project (C‑CAP) which has helped more than 70 communities in nine Pacific Island countries adapt to climate change and contribute in practical ways to the region’s resilience. As Regional Coordinator, I have witnessed inspiring hope and optimism when communities pull together to save their homes and preserve their livelihoods.

C-CAP develops small-scale infrastructure projects — like building rainwater harvesting systems, which allow the families of Papua New Guinea I mentioned to access clean drinking water, and using geo-textile bags to protect the coastline, which help coastal dwellers like the resort owner in Samoa preserve their property and livelihoods.

Communities in Samoa help plant vegetation to form a natural barrier from the sea. / C-CAP

Communities in Samoa help plant vegetation to form a natural barrier from the sea. / C-CAP

Under C-CAP, local leaders, village elders, women’s groups, and other community members prioritize where our assistance goes based on an innovative process of mapping their community’s assets and deciding collectively what infrastructure projects they need most. Tamuera Loane, an Evena village elder from a Kiribati C-CAP site, spoke to the importance of the community setting its own priorities when he said, “Now that we have clean water, it is our duty to work together as a village to make sure the infrastructure is well cared for.”

This model works. But we also know that we can do more. That is why U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu Judith Cefkin just announced the creation of the Institutional Strengthening in Pacific Island Countries to Adapt to Climate Change (ISACC) initiative at the 9th Conference of the Pacific Community in Niue on November 5. A new five year partnership between USAID, the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Programme, the initiative will strengthen the national capacity of up to 12 Pacific Island countries to effectively plan, coordinate and respond to the adverse impacts of climate change.

This new approach is a big step toward creating lasting, widespread change across the Pacific. It builds on existing multi-sector, whole-of-island national adaptation models that have been successful in places like Kiribati and the Solomon Islands by pooling the resources and expertise of partners, including U.S. Embassies and the Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific (CROP) agencies.

This initiative is creating buzz in the region because it recognizes that cooperation among regional partners can accelerate progress in our common fight against climate change.

By working together, we can build a climate-secure future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Edwards is USAID’s regional coordinator for the Pacific.

Bracing for El Niño: How USAID is Helping Countries Prepare and Respond

Our oceans, atmosphere and land are intricately connected. When the balance of one changes, it affects the others.

El Niño is a naturally occurring global phenomenon in which the tropical Pacific Ocean warms up more than usual. When this happens, precipitation, temperature and wind patterns can change. This year’s El Niño is predicted to be a strong event, triggering floods, drought, and fires in some countries while also affecting the path and number of tropical cyclones. It also has the potential to drive people from their homes, hurt their ability to earn an income, trigger food shortages, and increase or exacerbate vulnerability to other disasters.

This map illustrates an average range of meteorological impacts caused by El Niño based on historical data. It also shows damages caused by the two most recent El Niño events. / USAID/OFDA

This map illustrates an average range of meteorological impacts caused by El Niño based on historical data. It also shows damages caused by the two most recent El Niño events. / USAID/OFDA

Even without El Niño, disasters take a heavy toll. In 2014 alone, natural disasters took the lives of more than 18,000 people, affected nearly 107 million others, and caused $97 billion in economic damages. But we are not resigned to let Mother Nature take its course.  Today, on the International Day for Disaster Reduction, we focus on how USAID is working with partners and communities to prepare for the shocks of extreme weather and other natural hazards.

El Niño is expected to deliver a wet wallop to some parts of the world, triggering more tropical storms, monsoon rains, flooding and landslides. / Ye Aung Thu, AFP

El Niño is expected to deliver a wet wallop to some parts of the world, triggering more tropical storms, monsoon rains, flooding and landslides. / Ye Aung Thu, AFP

Disaster Risk Reduction

Disaster risk reduction is everything that we do to prevent or reduce the loss of life and damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts and storms. Recognizing the need to increase these efforts, nearly 170 countries adopted the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2005, a 10-year framework to make the world safer from natural hazards.

With the framework set to expire this year, the international community—including a delegation from USAID—gathered in March for the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to reflect on the progress made over the last decade and, more importantly, to focus on what remains to be done to address shifting needs. At this conference, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted, showing the world’s continued dedication to reducing the impacts of natural disasters.

Building Resilience

Through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), USAID responds to an average of 65 disasters in 50 countries each year. In just the past 10 years, we’ve responded to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, super typhoons in the Philippines, avalanches and hurricanes across Latin America, large-scale flooding in Asia, and the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

In Ethiopia, where drought and famine affect more people than any other type of disaster, USAID works to build the resilience of pastoral communities by providing emergency feed to sustain livestock, animal vaccinations to avert disease, and opportunities for farmers to diversify their income. / Kelly Lynch, Mercy Corps

In Ethiopia, where drought and famine affect more people than any other type of disaster, USAID works to build the resilience of pastoral communities by providing emergency feed to sustain livestock, animal vaccinations to avert disease, and opportunities for farmers to diversify their income. / Kelly Lynch, Mercy Corps

But we don’t just respond to disasters. Since 1989, OFDA has worked with 130 countries to strengthen their ability to deal with weather-related hazards, including those caused by El Niño.

We do this by strengthening early warning systems and preparedness, like in Latin America; integrating disaster risk reduction with disaster response, as we did in Bangladesh; providing training such as improved farming methods in Afghanistan to help people withstand future disasters; and helping build resilience to the effects of climate change, as in Vietnam and Mozambique.

This year, we are also helping countries before, and during, El Niño to better prepare for the shocks of adverse weather and respond to people in need.

Responding to El Niño in Papua New Guinea

El Niño has already caused Papua New Guinea to be hit with both drought and frost, which damaged the country’s main sweet potato crop. USAID worked to get farmers back on their feet and help communities cope with drought. / Ben Hemingway, USAID/OFDA

El Niño has already caused Papua New Guinea to be hit with both drought and frost, which damaged the country’s main sweet potato crop. USAID worked to get farmers back on their feet and help communities cope with drought. / Ben Hemingway, USAID/OFDA

In Papua New Guinea, El Niño has already begun to wreak havoc, bringing widespread drought that is causing a shortage in safe drinking water and plaguing crops—affecting an estimated 1.8 million people. To make matters worse, in August 2015, frosts descended upon Papua New Guinea, quickly killing much of the country’s staple sweet potato crop and leaving many rural villages to face food and income shortages. In response, USAID is working with the International Organization for Migration to provide agricultural training to farmers, as well as technical support to communities to help them cope with drought.

With each disaster, development gains are threatened as infrastructure is destroyed, poverty increases, and economic opportunities are interrupted or lost. Given this year’s El Niño predictions, focusing on reducing the impacts of natural disasters has never been more important.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sezin Tokar is a Hydrometeorological Hazards Adviser with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
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