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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

Record Population Displacement Shows Needs are Rising

One in three Syrian children, born after the conflict began, have never known a life without war, insecurity or displacement. A new report reveals Syria has the second-largest number of internally displaced people in the world, due to conflict and violence. / Louai Beshara, AFP

One in three Syrian children, born after the conflict began, have never known a life without war, insecurity or displacement. A new report reveals Syria has the second-largest number of internally displaced people in the world, due to conflict and violence. / Louai Beshara, AFP

While the Syria crisis has been going on for more than five years, it wasn’t until the lifeless body of a 3-year-old toddler washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach last September that the plight of the Syrian people made headlines again and struck a nerve with the general public.

His story — and that of the 12 other refugees who drowned with him — is part of a greater humanitarian tragedy unfolding worldwide.

Syria’s crisis has become the most pressing humanitarian emergency of our time. Since the conflict began, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have crossed international borders, risking their lives to reach the safety of Europe.

But this doesn’t represent even half of the people fleeing the violence. Inside the war-torn country, 6.5 million people are internally displaced, meaning they were forced to flee their homes but stayed within their country’s borders.

Worldwide the picture is clear: Conflicts like the Syria crisis have changed the pattern of humanitarian needs, which are growing at an astronomical rate.

According to a new report released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 40 million people globally were internally displaced due to conflict and violence by the end of 2015 — the highest figure ever recorded. More than 21 percent, or 8.6 million people, were newly displaced in the last year alone.

In 2015, 8.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict and violence, and 19.2 million more people were displaced due to disasters. / Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

In 2015, 8.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict and violence, and 19.2 million more people were displaced due to disasters. / Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

Most of these displacements occurred in the Middle East and North Africa, where fighting in Yemen, Syria and Iraq contributed to more people being displaced in this region than in all other regions in the world combined.

In addition to conflict, natural disasters contributed to record-breaking global population displacement, with storms, flooding and last year’s Nepal earthquake accounting for millions more people being uprooted from their homes and communities.

USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds to an average of 65 disasters in 50 countries every year, working to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches internally displaced people (IDPs) around the world.

Globally, there are twice as many IDPs as there are refugees. But since IDPs remain in their country and don’t cross international borders, they do not receive the same protection provided to refugees by international law.

To make matters worse, in some of the world’s most dangerous and insecure regions, humanitarian organizations are not given access to deliver critical aid to the people most in need.

Despite these obstacles, USAID disaster experts are working with dedicated humanitarian partners to deliver much needed food, safe drinking water, emergency health care and shelter to IDPs.

We also support activities that protect the most vulnerable — like women, children and elderly people — as well as programs that help address the physical and emotional trauma endured before, during or after a crisis.

In 2015, 8.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict and violence, and 19.2 million more people were displaced due to disasters. / Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

In 2015, 8.6 million people were newly displaced due to conflict and violence, and 19.2 million more people were displaced due to disasters. / Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

But the reality is that the humanitarian system is straining under the weight of today’s multiple and complex global challenges — from conflicts that won’t end to the widespread displacement they fuel.

That’s why the U.S. is seizing the unique opportunity that the World Humanitarian Summit presents to re-affirm our commitment to international humanitarian law, strengthen the international humanitarian system, and improve coherence between humanitarian and development assistance.

It’s an opportunity for us to work collectively with our partners and other countries, bringing all of our expertise to bear, to ensure that we can meet 21st century challenges. This is a significant and long-term task, but one which many agree is long overdue.

Today’s unparalleled challenges require new and innovative solutions. The United States is prepared to roll up its sleeves to figure out ways to better support our partners while continuing to serve the growing number of people who are in need of humanitarian assistance worldwide.

This month’s World Humanitarian Summit presents an opportunity for the international community to come together to form innovative solutions to help those most in need. / Michael Gebremedhin, USAID

This month’s World Humanitarian Summit presents an opportunity for the international community to come together to form innovative solutions to help those most in need. / Michael Gebremedhin, USAID

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Building Back Together: Nepal, One Year Later

USAID recovery and reconstruction projects, like Baliyo Ghar, train construction professionals and homeowners on how to build back safer using local materials and earthquake-resistant best practices. / Laxman Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

USAID recovery and reconstruction projects, like Baliyo Ghar, train construction professionals and homeowners on how to build back safer using local materials and earthquake-resistant best practices. / Laxman Shrestha for USAID/Nepal

Today marks a most solemn occasion — it has been a year since the devastating 7.8 earthquake in Nepal took 9,000 lives and injured 25,000 people. Nepalis lost their homes, their treasured monuments and, in some cases, their livelihoods. The past 12 months have been some of the most difficult Nepal has ever faced.

Since April 25, 2015, Nepal has suffered 445 aftershocks greater than 4.0, and a prolonged border and fuel crisis. There is no doubt Nepal has weathered a very turbulent series of storms.

But the clouds are beginning to clear.

This optimism is born of my firsthand experience working in Rwanda for the last four years. Like Nepal, Rwanda is a landlocked country reliant on its neighbors for access to waterways, fuel and other important imports. Rwanda also suffered a very dark hour in 1994 when it turned on itself.

But through significant reforms, Rwanda has seen sustained economic growth over the last decade, transforming into a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy — making it an increasingly valuable neighbor. The last parliamentary elections saw a majority of the seats taken by female candidates; other development successes, such as rapid poverty reduction and reduced inequality, have set the stage for even more success.

Rwanda’s story offers hope, assuring people that even in the darkest of times, a nation can emerge stronger and more focused on creating the future it wants — vibrant and reflective of people’s hopes and dreams.

To jumpstart recovery in the agriculture sector, USAID is delivering much-needed agricultural tools and supplies to farmers. / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

To jumpstart recovery in the agriculture sector, USAID is delivering much-needed agricultural tools and supplies to farmers. / Derek Brown for USAID/Nepal

Immediately after the earthquake, USAID mobilized its partners to provide recovery support. Our health programs are preventing the spread of diseases by ensuring access to clean water and proper hygiene, delivering family planning services and counseling to women, and distributing Vitamin A supplements to 3.2 million under-5 children.

Our education programs helped get children back to school quickly and created safe spaces for them. Our agricultural programs have distributed supplies and other farming tools so that fields and gardens could get replanted. And with the spike in human trafficking, our counter trafficking in persons programs are working to reintegrate women and girls back into their communities.

USAID’s reconstruction investments include our contribution to the World Bank’s Multi-donor Trust Fund, which is supporting an earthquake beneficiary survey and providing cash subsidies for housing. The survey, deployed in all of the 14 most-affected districts, assesses earthquake damage, house by house, informing the Government of Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority who is in most need of the cash grants.

Another way USAID is supporting Nepal is through training and technical assistance. USAID is funding two housing reconstruction projects, Baliyo Ghar and Sabal, to train more than 13,500 local construction professionals and educate 285,000 affected homeowners on building earthquake-resistant homes over the next five years. These projects will also establish local-level reconstruction technology centers and demonstration homes, and offer vocational trainings.

Finally, USAID is supporting communication and outreach in partnership with the Government of Nepal so that affected households know where to access resources and services and are armed with simple, actionable steps to build back safer.

As we put the past year behind us, it is important to take a step back and acknowledge

everything we accomplished together with the people of Nepal. When disaster struck and before aid arrived, Nepalis picked each other up and supported their families and neighbors with shelter and food.

They define resilience and defy despair. I have only been here two weeks, and yet it is clear these qualities are inherent in the Nepali people. They are the heroes of the past year.

Over the next two weeks, USAID’s mission in Nepal will remember the 9,000 people who perished a year ago today and honor the local heroes who represent the best of Nepal. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter (#RebuildingLives) as we pay tribute to Nepal.

On behalf of the mission, I extend my deepest condolences to those who have experienced loss over the past year, and assure the people of Nepal that we remain a committed partner as we build back together. I’m hopeful for Nepal’s future, and I look forward to serving as USAID Nepal’s new Mission Director.

We stand with you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Malnak is the new Mission Director for USAID/Nepal.

The Real Heroes Behind USAID’s Nepal Earthquake Response

Nepal_Rubble

Last year’s earthquake in Nepal claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 people, injured more than 22,000 others, and damaged or destroyed more than 890,000 homes. / Kadish Das Shrestha, USAID

On April 25, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck central Nepal—the worst to hit the country in over 80 years. It caused widespread damage across the country, nearly destroyed entire villages, and triggered landslides and avalanches. The earthquake was followed by more than 100 aftershocks, including a magnitude 7.3 trembler on May 12.

I had lived and worked in Nepal for 18 years, establishing very close personal and professional ties during my time there. When I got first word of the earthquake, I immediately felt terror for the people and places I had come to love. Then, I went into response mode.

A medium sized urban search and rescue team made up of 57 members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and 60,000 pounds of equipment, activated by USAID, board a C-17 Globemaster III at March Air Reserve Base, April 27, 2015. The team is in response to the magnitude 7.8 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks which struck near the city of Kathmandu, Nepal on April 25. The C-17 is assigned to the 337th Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. (US Air Force Photos by Master Sgt. Roy A. Santana/Released)

Within hours, USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team deployed to Nepal. / U.S. Air Force photos by Master Sgt. Roy A. Santana

Within hours, I was in a U.S. Air Force C-17 on the way to Kathmandu, leading a 136-person Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) deployed by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to coordinate the U.S. government’s response efforts.

Some of our work made front-page news, especially when our urban search-and-rescue teams assisted in two miraculous rescues: the first, a 15-year-old boy who was pulled from the rubble five days after the quake hit. The other involved a 41-year-old woman who was saved from a collapsed building 50 miles east of Kathmandu.

Nepal Rescue

The DART’s urban search-and-rescue teams helped rescue 15-year-old Pemba, five days after the earthquake hit. / Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

But in my opinion, the unsung heroes of this disaster were the Nepalese people, themselves, many of whom were able to play critical roles in their country’s response—all while dealing with a tremendous sense of loss.

More than a thousand people had the ability to save lives in their neighborhoods, communities and villages thanks to training and tools USAID has been providing for more than two decades.

Nepal sits on the boundary of two massive tectonic plates. Previous large-scale earthquakes occurred in 1833 and 1934, and we knew it would only be a matter of time before another catastrophic quake struck.  While we can’t stop earthquakes from happening, we knew we could help people better prepare and respond to disasters.

Bal Krishna 1

USAID’s DART meets with Dr. Vaidya, who implemented a disaster plan in his hospital with the skills he learned from a USAID program. This planning allowed Nepal’s largest medical facility to remain open after the earthquake, helping to save many lives. / USAID

Since 1998, USAID has supported the Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response. This program helps Nepal’s disaster management agencies organize and conduct trainings on medical first response, collapsed structure search-and-rescue, and hospital preparedness for mass casualties following a disaster.

After taking one of these trainings, Dr. Pradeep Vaidya helped his hospital develop a disaster plan. As a result, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Teaching Hospital fastened furniture to the walls, laminated windows, prepositioned supplies, and installed a seismic-resistant blood bank.

These efforts allowed the hospital to stay open right after the earthquake; its doctors treated 700 patients and performed more than 300 surgeries.

CADRE

More than 600 people like Sanam and Kritica put their USAID training into action after the earthquake hit, helping their fellow Nepalese by providing first aid and distributing relief items./ Kadish Das Shrestha, USAID

We’ve also been training communities on basic life support, light search and rescue, dead body management, and best practices on how to respond to multiple casualties through a program called Community Action for Disaster Response, which we support in partnership with the American Red Cross and the Nepal Red Cross Society.

Because of this training, 600 team members deployed to hard-hit areas after the April 25 earthquake to participate in search-and-rescue operations, provide first aid to the injured, and assist with damage assessments and distributions.

Imagery captured during an aerial survey flight flown by members of Joint Task Force 505, May 7, shows areas affected by an earthquake in outlying villages near Kathmandu, Nepal. The Nepalese government requested the U.S. government’s assistance after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country April 25. U.S. military services came together to form JTF 505, which works in conjunction with U.S. Agency for International Development and the international community, to provide unique capabilities to assist Nepal. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Anderson)

Experts trained by USAID assessed more than 126,000 structures to ensure they were safe after the earthquake. / U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Anderson

Finally, for more than 15 years, we’ve been building a qualified pool of engineers and technical experts through our partnership with the Kathmandu-based National Society for Earthquake Technology.

We trained people on how to conduct seismic risk assessments and develop earthquake preparedness plans. After the earthquake struck, our partner mobilized 400 earthquake damage inspectors and 450 volunteers who surveyed more than 126,000 structures to ensure they were safe.

At the same time, we also trained homeowners and masons on how to make buildings more earthquake resistant—work that still continues to this day.

Nepal_Construction

Homeowners and masons rebuild using seismic-resistant building techniques. / NSET

While the April 25 earthquake caused significant damage, I’m proud that the preparedness investments we put in place prior to the disaster helped save lives. We now have a cadre of earthquake experts in the region with a depth of knowledge to make a difference in their communities. And these experts are grateful.

USAID Bill Berger head shot

After living in Nepal for 18 years, and working to help the country prepare for disasters, USAID’s Bill Berger led the Disaster Assistance Response Team that responded to last year’s earthquake. / Kadish Das Shrestha, USAID

All during my time in Nepal, I had people come up to me and tell me amazing stories of how their training helped them save others. By my calculation, we trained about a thousand Nepalese who then went out as first responders after the earthquake.

These investments must continue. History has shown that another big earthquake will be coming, perhaps even worse than the April 25 disaster. Hopefully, these stories prove that if you equip people with the right tools and training, they can make a real difference.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Berger is the Senior Regional Advisor for South Asia for USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. During the Nepal earthquake response, Berger served as USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team Leader.

Online to On the Ground: How Students in Virginia Supported Nepal Earthquake Recovery

Students and staff from AidData and the College of William & Mary participating in a Crisis Mapping event in April, 2015. / Hannah Dempsey, AidData

A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal just as I was finalizing plans to spend the summer working there.

At the time, I was a student at the College of William & Mary and a Summer Fellow with the AidData Center for Development Policy, a research and innovation lab that helps the development community improve transparency by mapping where funds and efforts flow. The geospatial data tools we create help universities, think tanks and civil society organizations make better decisions about aid allocation, coordination and evaluation.

In the midst of planning for my trip to Nepal, the earthquake struck, leaving 9,000 people dead, entire villages flattened and hundreds of thousands homeless. After receiving news that our friends and colleagues were safe, my classmates and I looked for a way to help Nepal from our campus in Virginia.

Our solution? Crisis mapping from our laptops.

As student researchers at AidData, our day-to-day focus is tracking, analyzing and mapping development finance data. With specialized data skills, we were ready and equipped to rapidly collect, process and send spacial data to the people in Nepal who needed it. We partnered with USAID and other organizations to identify areas of Nepal in need of assistance, and mapped this information so that responders, community members and others could take action.

Within 48 hours of the earthquake, my student team started Tweeting to recruit other students to data mapping trainings on our campus.

Disaster mappers needed

More than 50 students responded to our call to action. We mobilized volunteers quickly, teaching them how to use the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) platform to create and edit online maps of humanitarian and natural disasters — Nepal’s earthquake, in this case.

Volunteers meticulously combed through aerial images of the Nepali landscape for buildings, roads and residential areas damaged by the earthquake. Along with thousands of other mappers around the globe, we also examined satellite images to pinpoint areas of destruction outside of Kathmandu and provide data on where shelters were. Over the next five months, volunteers at William & Mary provided more than 111,000 updates to the map.

Satellite maps created through the AidData Nepal Info Portal played an important role in recovery efforts in Nepal. / AidData’s Nepal Info Portal

One challenge we faced was how to make all of our data, along with geo-referenced news reports and YouTube videos of the damage, accessible to policymakers and first responders. Save the Children and USAID helped us get our data where it was needed, informing the efforts of and keeping them out of harm during search and rescue operations.

Even though the immediate needs of the earthquake have subsided, our work continues. Inspired by the mapping fervor following the Nepal disaster, students began organizing open-source ”mapathons” and even created an OpenStreetMap club to further develop their skills so that they will be ready to mobilize the next time the call for disaster assistance goes out.

I was amazed by how quickly and easily students could plug into global efforts, make tangible differences and help the lives of strangers halfway across the globe.

This experience spurred my passion for using data to positively impact global development and I look forward to doing even more to uplift humanity through this type of work in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Dempsey is a Research Assistant with AidData and a Senior at the College of William & Mary, one of eight university-based Development Labs that is a part of the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN).

The AidData Center for Development Policy is one of eight USAID Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) university-based Development Labs. As part of the U.S. Global Development Lab, HESN is the Lab’s flagship program to engage universities in global development using science, technology and innovation-focused approaches. AidData, based at the College of William & Mary, is made up of full-time staff as well as a cohort of student research assistants that collectively work to improve development outcomes by making development finance data more accessible and actionable.

Unprecedented Coordination Helped Turn the Tide of an Unprecedented Outbreak

The response to the Ebola outbreak required coordination among a wide, varied array of groups -- and ultimately helped bring the disease under control. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

The response to the Ebola outbreak required coordination among a wide, varied array of groups — and ultimately helped bring the disease under control. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

The international response to the Ebola outbreak was truly unprecedented, combining humanitarian and public health interventions in ways and at a scale that had never been done before. Ultimately, controlling the outbreak required the combined efforts of not only disease experts and national governments, but ordinary citizens, political and religious leaders, community workers, NGOs, U.N. agencies and even militaries.

Writing in the latest edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases , officials from the Liberian Ministry of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization credit the control of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia to six factors: government leadership and sense of urgency, coordinated international assistance, sound technical work, flexibility guided by epidemiologic data, transparency and effective communication, and efforts by communities themselves.

At a glance, it is easy to see how all of these factors  are interconnected; the ability to act with urgency, guided by technical experts, and the full participation of communities guided by strong coordination. But, the authors are quick to point out that no single factor explains how the disease was brought under control in Liberia. There is still much to learn about the virus. But here is one thing we do know: the effectiveness of the response depended not on limiting action to what was known at the time, but taking action in spite of the unknown.

The United States played a critical role in the response, ultimately sending more than 3,000 people to West Africa and supporting more than 10,000 civilian responders in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. / Carol Han/USAID

The United States played a critical role in the response, ultimately sending more than 3,000 people to West Africa and supporting more than 10,000 civilian responders in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. / Carol Han/USAID

The United States was actively involved in fighting  Ebola from the beginning, sending more than 3,000 people—including aid professionals, public-health specialists, soldiers and logisticians—to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at the height of the response to support more than 10,000 civilian responders.

The CDC sent teams in March 2014, shortly after the outbreak began. To assist overwhelmed health agencies and local resources, USAID deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)—a highly-skilled humanitarian crises response group that August.

Soon after, the U.S. military arrived, bringing speed and scale to the immense logistical effort of training health workers and operating laboratories. The U.S. Public Health Service contributed medical expertise, deploying hundreds of staff to the region to fight the deadly disease.

Author Justin Pendarvis first traveled to the region in July 2014 and helped stand up USAID's Disaster Assistance Response Team to coordinate the response. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Author Justin Pendarvis first traveled to the region in July 2014 and helped stand up USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team to coordinate the response. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

I first arrived in Guinea in early July 2014, visiting each of the affected countries to observe and gauge the growing outbreak, understand the coordination at play for the response and identify key challenges. I helped stand up our DART , with staff deployed in each the three affected countries and eventually to Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana.

Coordinating efforts among various U.S. Government agencies—as well as host governments, NGOs, other responding governments, local communities and the United Nations—was a heavy lift. Even as support rapidly scaled up, there was still no playbook on how to respond .

USAID coordinated with many partners that were doing jobs that they had never done before. For example, we worked with Global Communitie s (known best for its emergency shelter work) to support safe burials across all of Liberia, and UNICEF to develop tools for community-led social mobilization. We worked with the International Medical Corps and the International Organization for Migration on running Ebola treatment units.

Through Mercy Corps, we partnered with more than 70 local organizations to reach 2 million Liberians with life-saving information to protect themselves and their communities from infection. Through the International Rescue Committee and Action Contre la Faim, we ensured that the Liberian Ministry of Health had the necessary support to link together investigation teams, ambulances and burial teams, treatment facilities and community-led actions—linkages that were critical to stopping the explosive outbreak in densely populated urban Monrovia.

Because of our work in Liberia and other affected countries, local health systems are increasingly poised to maintain control and prevent future large-scale outbreaks themselves. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Because of our work in Liberia and other affected countries, local health systems are increasingly poised to maintain control and prevent future large-scale outbreaks themselves. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

All in all, USAID worked with dozens of partners, the majority of whom remain in the region, committed to working alongside their national counterparts to safeguard against new outbreaks and restore routine health and social services. And throughout the response, the DART worked closely with national and international agencies to ensure that all the resources brought to bear by the United States were aligned with a common strategic plan, minimizing the burdens on national counterparts so they could be more responsive to their own leadership and ultimately to those affected.

Safe burial teams were a critical component to controlling the outbreak in Liberia. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Safe burial teams were a critical component to controlling the outbreak in Liberia. / Morgana Wingard/USAID

Our work has made a difference. While there have been a handful of cases reported in the region, national systems and local health actors are now increasingly poised and ready to take the immediate steps necessary to maintain control and prevent future large-scale outbreaks. And new treatments and vaccines are being tested that may dramatically reduce mortality and prevent new infections.

With so few cases in the region now, it can be easy to forget that a much larger humanitarian catastrophe was averted. By some estimates, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved. And despite the fact there were no days off on the DART, I am proud of the assistance we supported and grateful for the opportunity to have served alongside so many brave men and women on the epidemiological frontlines of an extraordinary response.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Pendarvis is a public health advisor with USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

A Time of Unparalleled Need

A young boy smiles as he walks out of his local bakery, arms full of freshly baked bread. Families such as this boy’s family rely on local bakeries to get their daily bread.

A young boy smiles as he walks out of his local bakery, arms full of freshly baked bread. Families such as this boy’s family rely on local bakeries to get their daily bread.

It’s hard to believe that what began as a simple cry for opportunity and human rights has become the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Five years ago, at the height of the Arab Spring, the Syrian people took to the streets to peacefully protest for fundamental freedoms from an increasingly authoritarian leader. The response from the Syrian regime was unequivocal force and brutality that has left half of all Syrians dead or displaced, and spawned a breeding ground for extremists like the so-called Islamic State or Daesh.

If you want to know how this crisis feels, talk to some of the more than 17 million Syrians directly impacted by the violence—their homes bombed, their schools destroyed, their relatives and friends killed. That’s like upending the lives of everyone living in the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. And lives have certainly been shattered.

Ayyush is 80 years old. She recently lost her son in the conflict in Syria. She now only wishes for more years ahead to raise her grandchildren. Ayyush and her family live in the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey where they receive monthly food assistance through an e-food card program.

Ayyush is 80 years old. She recently lost her son in the conflict in Syria. She now only wishes for more years ahead to raise her grandchildren. Ayyush and her family live in the Islahiye refugee camp in Turkey where they receive monthly food assistance through an e-food card program.

Today, 4 million Syrian refugees are living in neighboring countries—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt—in donated apartments, relatives’ spare rooms and tents. Another 6.5 million are displaced internally, trapped in a living hell that includes daily indiscriminate barrel bombing by the Assad regime on the one hand and Daesh’s murderous reign of terror on the other.

Behind the figures are children and the parents who would do anything and risk everything to keep them safe. For families inside Syria, the choice is agonizing: Stay and risk your child being killed on the way to school, or risk their safety on a treacherous journey across borders.

What are these Syrians facing every day?

Hunger for one. Since this crisis began nearly five years ago, USAID has provided $1.55 billion in food assistance, more than all other donors combined. Since 2013, we have given bakeries still operating inside the country 122,000 metric tons of flour and yeast, which comes out to more than 300 million daily bread rations. USAID has also helped distribute food vouchers—essentially preloaded debit cards—so refugees can shop for the familiar foods they yearn for and, at the same time, boost the local economies of Syria’s neighbors.

These two Syrian sisters now live as refugees in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian for USAID

These two Syrian sisters now live as refugees in Mafraq, Jordan. / Peter Bussian for USAID

Nearly 2 million children in Syria and another 700,000 Syrian refugees are out of school because of the conflict. As Secretary of State John Kerry said recently: “The burden of the conflict falls most heavily on the smallest shoulders.” Without that daily stability in their lives, children are at risk of being exploited as laborers and young girls in particular may face the pressures of early marriage.

Our teams on the ground are helping refurbish and modernize public school buildings in Lebanon and Jordan so they can accommodate the extra load of new learners. Some of the schools have doubled or tripled shifts to ensure everyone gets a chance to learn and thrive.

USAID is also providing health care to people in need across 14 governorates in Syria—2.4 million this year alone—as well as clean water to 1.3 million.

We are also supporting women to be change agents for peace inside Syria, and assisting moderate civilian actors inside Syria to keep schools open, repair public services and literally keep the lights on for communities under siege.

We are proud to say that we reach 5 million people every month in spite of the often dangerous conditions to make those connections happen.

Our assistance inside Syria and the region is not only keeping people alive, but keeping their aspirations alive, too. A future Middle East needs peace and opportunity, not spirals of retribution.

“Our dreams are very simple,” said Mohamad, a former bus driver in Syria who is now a refugee living in a cramped apartment in Jordan with what is left of his family. He lost three sons in the conflict.

Bags of wheat flour inside a storage room at a Syrian bakery wait to be turned into bread. Bakeries such as this one are vital to providing food to Syrians in need.

Bags of wheat flour inside a storage room at a Syrian bakery wait to be turned into bread. Bakeries such as this one are vital to providing food to Syrians in need.

What he wants now is what any person would want: “To have a decent living so that we can be self-sufficient and not put out a hand to beg. We want people to look at us as humans because we are just like them.”

Though the United States has been generous—$4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance over nearly five years in addition to other aid—our funding that supports the heroic organizations working with Syrians on the ground throughout the region is simply not enough. Additional support is sorely needed.

The United Nations’ appeals for humanitarian aid to address the crisis in Syria are still only 48 percent funded for this year. This is a shortfall of over $4.4 billion in life-saving services.

We must support those suffering inside Syria as well as those fleeing across the border.

As President Barack Obama reminded the world at the G20 Summit in Turkey, Syrian refugees are leaving their country to escape violence and terrorism. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

This conflict has spiraled out of control for too long. And while we are undertaking herculean efforts to help the Syrian people and Syria’s neighbors, we cannot alleviate this crisis without more help. If we do not continue to work with our partners to address the Syrian crisis and its impacts now, the problem will only get worse.

That is why we are asking you to stand in solidarity with USAID, our partners and, most critically, the people of Syria. Visit Humanity Acts to learn more about the humanitarian crisis that directly impacts the majority of Syrian people and how you can join us in supporting them.

We’re on social media using the hashtag #HumanityActs and we invite you to use it as well. Together we can help put an end to the biggest humanitarian emergency of our time. It starts here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Staal is the senior deputy assistant administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Follow that office at @USAID_DCHA

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.

Setting an Example, Emblematic of Recovery Possible in Nepal

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family's tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID

A young girl plays with her doll outside her family’s tent at Camp Hope. More than 330 families from the Sindhupalchowk district are taking temporary shelter at the camp. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

The summer sun is scorching the ground beneath our feet, and it is barely past 7:30 in the morning.

We move to a perch on an elevated platform, shaded by a large old tree. From here, we see a sweeping, yet jarring view. A horizon line of neat concrete houses, dotted with seasonal potted plants on their roofs, stands in stark contrast to fabric roofs covered in plastic tarp that dot the landscape in the foreground.

This is Camp Hope—a one square kilometer tent city in Jorpati, Kathmandu that serves as a temporary home to 330 households from five villages in the Sindhupalchowk district, just north of Kathmandu. The earthquake damaged or destroyed approximately 88 percent of houses in the district.

“We had to move,” said Sukra Tamang, an 18-year-old who now lives at Camp Hope with his family. “With all the debris and the ground shaking constantly, there was no space to even rest our feet.”

The April 25 earthquake and aftershocks displaced more than 500,000 families, uprooting the foundations of their homes and turning the hill terrain that supported their villages into rubble.

Camp Hope demonstrates the positive outcomes that are possible when private and public sector partners work together.

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / [PHOTO CREDIT: Kashish Das Shrestha/USAID]

Tents made of materials strong enough to withstand monsoon season are built at Camp Hope for families displaced from their homes by the April 25 earthquake. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Welcome to Camp Hope

At the camp’s main gate, young volunteers check and register all visitors before they are allowed to enter. Inside, a group of senior citizens, already freshened up and dressed for the day, bask in the morning sun as chickens cluck as they scurry past them.

Camp Hope is alive and teeming with activities. It looks, feels, and even sounds like a village. Murmurs of conversation fill the air, people line up at the hand water pump, and children fill open spaces with laughter and play. A group of women wash clothes as the din of construction echoes in the background.

Built on a community football ground, Camp Hope is an exemplary model of private-sector led humanitarian assistance – a clear demonstration of the impact that is possible when the private sector engages with other partners.

“When we wanted to start a camp for these communities, we couldn’t get any government land,” says Sangeeta Shrestha, camp founder and operator of Dwarika, a boutique heritage hotel, owned by her family. “A local youth club came offering their football ground, so here we are.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) soon stepped in with additional support. Heavy-duty plastic sheeting provided by USAID was utilized to create shelters that are strong enough to endure the monsoon season. In addition to building temporary homes for displaced families at Camp Hope, USAID provided shelter and protection for approximately 310,000 Nepalis across earthquake affected districts.

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A full-stocked kitchen offers three meals a day for residents of Camp Hope. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

A partnership of hospitality

There are many advantages when a world-class hotel owner steps in to lead and manage a shelter like Camp Hope.

“We always have a lot of resources at our disposal, and I am lucky to have my hotel team of engineers and technicians whom I could call on to help set up the camp,” said Sangeeta, who now manages the camp full-time.

Adding a bit of comfort to the lives of displaced villagers, the camp offers a fully stocked kitchen and store room tent that is maintained by Sangeeta’s hotel. Camp residents are offered chicken once a week and eggs twice a week during their meals.

While shelter, food, and basic medical services address the physical needs of residents, their social and emotional needs are also important. Camp Hope offers a variety of programs and spaces to help residents as they heal. A prayer tent allows the community to continue their spiritual rituals in a minimalist manner. In the afternoon, women in the camp engage in sewing, knitting and other crafts in a facility has been set up for training. The camp also enrolled 83 children in a local school and regularly schedules field trips for youth.

“The plan, we hope, is to build back their villages so they can return to their communities,” said Sangeeta as she discusses what the future might hold for Camp Hope.

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Camp Hope is designed to be a safe and comfortable space for residents. / Kashish Das Shrestha, USAID

Looking Ahead: Charting a roadmap to rebuild a better Nepal

But, returning home for many of the residents of Camp Hope will be a challenge. Questions remain, about when, if, and how rebuilding of some villages may happen. Massive landslides during the April 25 earthquake completely destroyed many communities.

A discussion about the road forward—for vulnerable villages in the most affected regions and across the country—is at the forefront as the Government of Nepal convenes key donors and development stakeholders together at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction.

As Nepal’s longest standing development partner, U.S government’s commitment to Nepal has stood the test of time. Our pledge at this week’s International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction increases the total amount of U.S. emergency relief and early recovery assistance to $130 million, and is only the beginning of our contribution to Nepal’s earthquake recovery, which will span multiple years.

As recovery efforts continue, aid and investments from the U.S. Government will support efforts to get the most impacted people back on their feet and to create a Nepal that is more resilient in the future.

  • We will train Nepalis to rebuild seismically-stable houses in affected areas.
  • We will help build temporary learning centers for children who are learning outside in makeshift tents. Efforts are underway to establish approximately 1,000 Temporary Learning Centers in earthquake affected districts.
  • We are helping people rebuild livelihoods by injecting cash and strengthening agricultural systems, the economic lifeblood for nearly 75 percent of the population of Nepal. USAID has already jump started early recovery— our resilience and livelihood program is distributing cash for work to the hardest-hit families, so they can begin the enormous task of rebuilding damaged homes and much-needed infrastructure.
  • We will continue to protect Nepal’s most vulnerable, including those susceptible to human trafficking.
  • We will lay the foundations for a more resilient Nepal by building institutions that can respond effectively to future disasters.

All of these efforts, along with support leveraged from the private sector, can and will help build back a better Nepal.

Those in Camp Hope know that this dream is possible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Dunford is USAID/Nepal’s Mission Director. Follow her at @beth_dunford, usaid.gov/nepal  and nepal.usembassy.gov.

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Why You Should Still Care About Syria

Amina is an 8-year-old girl living in Syria. Like many kids, she helps her family with chores. One day, Amina was picking olives with her grandmother in the family garden when a bomb hit, killing her grandmother and sending shrapnel flying into Amina’s body. She survived, but is now paralyzed.

Amina now bears the scars of a war that has marred her childhood. But she is just one of the estimated 5.6 million children in Syria who are in need of humanitarian assistance. While the conflict has gotten increasingly worse, the American people’s interest has begun to wane. Here’s why you should still care about Syria.

In Syria, an estimated 5.6 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. / Louai Beshara, AFP

In Syria, an estimated 5.6 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance. / Louai Beshara, AFP

The Worst Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time

This month, the Syrian conflict entered its fifth year. The relentless fighting has taken a catastrophic toll, making Syria the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. More than 220,000 people have lost their lives and more than 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria–3 million more than a year ago. More than half of the entire Syrian population has fled their homes due to the violence, and an entire generation of Syrians–like Amina–are losing their childhood.

Torn apart by the loss of his wife, two sons and two daughters, Yousef Abo stands on the very spot where his home once stood. / Pablo Tosco, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

Torn apart by the loss of his wife, two sons and two daughters, Yousef Abo stands on the very spot where his home once stood. / Pablo Tosco, AFP

Faces Behind the Numbers

The overall numbers are important and show us the scale of humanitarian needs, but behind each number is a person, and we should never forget that. With disasters and crises, it’s easy to get caught up in statistics. This is especially true for Syria where the numbers are astronomical and continue to grow. But when you really take the time to learn the stories behind the numbers — like of Yousef Abo losing his wife, two sons and two daughters when a missile hit his home — you realize just how much people have lost. It’s this that drives humanitarians to keep striving to save lives.

No One is Immune

The violence, death, loss and everyday hardship have seeped through all parts of Syrian society and affect everyone. Mothers struggle to care for their young ones; fathers grieve the loss of children; sisters and brothers help each other learn to play again after losing limbs; and the elderly watch an entire life’s worth of memories get lost under piles of rubble. Children are out of school, adults struggle to find work, and people wonder where they will get their next meal.

More than 2 million people have received medical treatment in U.S.-supported hospitals and health centers. / Edouard Elias, AFP

More than 2 million people have received medical treatment in U.S.-supported hospitals and health centers. / Edouard Elias, AFP

Beyond Borders

A crisis of this magnitude is not contained by borders. Nearly 4 million people have fled to other countries to escape the violence in Syria. This influx of people has had massive regional impacts. In Lebanon, one in four people is a Syrian refugee. In Jordan-already one of the world’s driest countries-the addition of more than 600,000 refugees has further strained the water supply. Now some areas have less than 8 gallons of water per person per day – a tenth of what the average American uses. In Turkey, which currently hosts over 1.7 million Syrians, some communities in the southeast have seen their population double in size – creating a need for more schools and hospitals, along with upgrades to sewage systems and electric grids.

Standing with the Syrian People

These are some of the reasons why we should still care about Syria, whose people have endured unspeakable tragedy during the last four years of a brutal war that has torn their country apart. Today, in Kuwait at the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, the United States announced nearly $508 million in additional humanitarian assistance – bringing our total aid to almost $3.7 billion since the crisis began.

While humanitarian aid won’t solve this conflict, it is saving lives. From the beginning of the crisis, we’ve provided water, shelter, critical relief supplies, food, and absolutely vital medical and psychosocial care to people like Amina, and we will continue to do so.

During her recovery, Amina told the people helping her, “I refuse to surround myself with sadness.” If Amina can remain so determined and resilient, the least we can do is refuse to let her stand alone.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Myer is the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) Leader for the Syria humanitarian crisis response.

Guinean Doctor Survives Ebola, Pays ​I​t Forward

Participants in an infection prevention and control training in Guinea learn key skills. / Jhpiego

Participants in an infection prevention and control training in Guinea learn key skills. / Jhpiego

Conakry, Guinea—Dr. Thierno Souleymane Diallo is a formidable ally in Guinea’s race to prevent and contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. As a survivor of the disease, he is championing with colleagues the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) skills that can save lives.

Last August, Dr. Thierno contracted Ebola during his rotation in the maternity ward at the Ignace Deen National Hospital. The 35-year-old father of three was infected while treating a pregnant patient who showed no Ebola-related symptoms, but who later tested positive for the disease. The doctor candidly admits that he could have avoided infection if he had known “to take every precaution.”

However, because the hospital failed to follow recommended IPC practices while caring for the patient, Dr. Thiero and five team members had to be isolated after contact. “I was the only one of the team to develop the disease,” he said.

Thierno spent 21 days in an Ebola treatment center run by Doctors Without Borders, suffering from bloody diarrhea, nausea, body aches and constant 104-degree fevers. “Sometimes I prayed to God to let me sleep, to forget my state…and when I woke up,I felt like my entire body was full of lead,” he said.

When he received a visit from his wife during this period, he was so disoriented that he at first didn’t recognize her. From the designated visitors’ area of the center, Dr. Thierno and his wife had to call out to each other from a distance of about three meters—over a wire fence and across an empty lane. Dr. Thierno remembers little or nothing of this visit.

After his release, Dr. Thierno spent another two and a half months at home recovering from severe joint pain. Upon returning to work he participated in an update and refresher training for health workers during which he learned the importance of following proper IPC practices, especially during the Ebola outbreak.

The five-day training was organized by the USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) in conjunction with the Ministry of Health in Guinea. The training used lectures along with simulated practical sessions and health facility site visits to allow for hands-on demonstrations of proper IPC.

Dr. Thierno is now among 27 providers with updated skills who are managing a large-scale training—under the guidance of the USAID team—for 2,200 Guinean health care workers in IPC practices adapted for Ebola-impacted countries. They are also providing follow-up supportive supervision to these workers every two weeks as part of Ministry of Health efforts to keep front-line health workers safe and prepared to serve Guineans who may become ill.

“This training has closed the door on ignorance related to infection prevention and opened a door on behavior change,” he said.

Rachel Waxman contributed to this article.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jacqueline Aribot and Alisha Horowitz are the Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor and Associate Editor for USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program, implemented by Jhpiego 
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