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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

An Alliance for Global Development

Originally posted on the White House Blog

When Prime Minister Cameron meets President Obama in Washington today it will have been ten months since our two countries signed a new Partnership for Global Development. The partnership outlines specific areas where we are focusing our collective efforts, reaffirming our commitment to saving lives and improving human welfare around the world.

If you needed proof of how much more we can achieve by working together than acting alone, our response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa demonstrates the transformative impact of our partnership.

Over the last ten months, USAID and the UK’s Department for International Development’s (DFID) leadership and decisive action in the region has helped avert an even larger catastrophe. As heads of our nations’ respective development agencies, we have both visited the Horn of Africa and seen for ourselves the scale of the crisis, which placed more than 13.3 million people in need of emergency assistance. That is roughly the combined population of London and Washington. (Watch this video of Rajiv Shah and Dr. Jill Biden’s visit to the Horn of Africa last year)

While the drought was regional, the crisis only led to famine in southern Somalia, where a governance failure and lack of access obstructed international relief efforts. This underscores the importance of the recent London Conference on Somalia hosted by Prime Minister Cameron that brought together over 50 countries and international organizations to consider how best to support Somalia not only on development but on issues like piracy, the political process and security. DFID led a parallel set of discussions on preventing future humanitarian crises.

Thanks to the generosity of the British and American people, our nations led a significant humanitarian response that helped save hundreds of thousands of lives in Somalia alone, and reached millions of people across the region with food, health care, and water and sanitation services.

But we must do more than provide relief. We must help countries build resilience, so they are prepared for disasters before they hit. USAID’s Famine Early Warning System provided some of the first alerts of the impending crisis, giving us time to pre-position food and health supplies in advance. And many of our programs on the ground have allowed families and smallholder farmers to weather the crisis.

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Responding Early and Building Resilience in the Sahel

Originally posted at Huffington Post.

In the village of Tougouri, in Burkina Faso, I stood with the four women squinting in the sun. They each held a digging tool. Between them, they had 31 children and no husbands. Safieta, wearing a bright yellow scarf, noted the rains were bad last year. No, she said, none of them were able to harvest much of the maize they had planted during the rainy season. I had just driven from Niger, through hours of flat and dusty land, and was in Tougouri to visit communities that were once again experiencing drought.

In the arid regions of East and West Africa, we are seeing droughts that used to come every ten years, now coming nearly every other year. A year after the worst drought in 60 years sent 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa into crisis, we are now facing a rising threat of crisis in the Sahel — an arid belt that stretches from Senegal through Niger and Burkina Faso to Chad.

When families are living on the edge of survival, the slightest shock can send them into crisis. For many women throughout the Sahel, as in the Horn of Africa, who are eking out a living on small farms or raising livestock, a failed rain means no food for their children. Years of repeated drought means they can’t put away any reserves. Today, rising food prices, another failed rain, and conflict in Mali and Libya, means that between seven and ten million people are at risk of sliding into crisis as we enter the lean season of the months ahead.

I have spent the last year helping to lead the United States’ response to the Horn of Africa drought. We began prepositioning stocks of food in the region as early as Sept 2010 and through the crisis we focused on expanding resilience programs that help rebuild assets, improved water infrastructure and increased the ability of families to buy food in the markets through voucher programs.

Through our early actions, we were able to reach 4.6 million of the most vulnerable people, primarily women and children, with life-saving food. We know that it is critical to reach children in those first 1,000 days with the right nutritional food when their brains and bodies are developing. We also helped an estimated 3.9 million people stay healthy with improved access to water, sanitation and critical medical help, especially vaccinations so crucial for protecting children under five from infectious diseases that easily kill a child already weak from hunger.

As we focus on the rising crisis in the Sahel, we are committed to responding immediately and acting on the most important lessons learned from the Horn response. That is why last week I announced $33 million in humanitarian relief, bringing up the total U.S. Government commitment to $270 million in 2011 and 2012.

We know we can’t stop droughts from happening, but we can and do commit ourselves to early action when we have early warning signs, with a focus on highly targeted programs that build resilience even as we meet urgent needs.

Back in the fields of Burkina Faso, Safieta proudly took me along the edge of her three plots filled with bright green onion sprouts. Seven years ago, USAID began a program in partnership with CRS to increase the resilience of villagers dependent upon rain fed crops. Two years ago, the program ended. Yet, Safieta and her fellow farmers are continuing to thrive on the proceeds of their dry season market gardens. “We chose onions,” she noted, “because if the water pump fails for a few days, they are strong enough to survive.” Safieta is sending her children to school and still putting away a little for the unpredictable needs, she said. “I am resilient now,” she laughed, “just like the onions.”

Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Kenya

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

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

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

Connecting Early Warning to Early Action: Building Resilience in the Sahel

Due to erratic rainfall and failed harvests, high food prices, and rising conflict, more than seven million people across the Sahel region of western Africa are at risk of plunging into crisis when the lean season begins this spring.

We know this as a result of our investments into early warning systems that monitor rainfall, harvests, market prices, climatic conditions and nutritional status.

As a result, on February 15, 2012, I attended an unprecedented event in with Rome that brought together  assembled leaders from the United Nations agencies, European Union, and USAID, as well as representatives of affected governments and non-governmental organization.

It was a heartening and remarkable convergence on the need to mobilize for early integrated action in response to the early warnings in the Sahel, with an emphasis on a smart, targeted response that builds resilience and links to longer term development. We committed to working across the relief to development divide and across agencies.

Our commitment is already in action. U.S. assistance to the Sahel region supports national and regional structures that promote food security and nutrition, while also providing short-term assistance to vulnerable families. Our focus is on treatment for acute malnutrition and cash-based programs that help families, especially women,  restore livelihoods and enable them to purchase what they need — usually food or medical services.

We are especially concerned with reaching malnourished children under two, when it is vital for them to receive the nutrients needed for proper development.

While at the event, I announced that USAID is providing an additional $33 million in humanitarian funding in the coming weeks to help meet needs in the Sahel.  This contribution will bring the total USAID humanitarian assistance to the Sahel food insecurity crisis to more than $270 million in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.  And our emergency assistance is in addition to U.S. longer-term programs to alleviate poverty, improve health and economic opportunity, and mitigate and resolve conflict in the region.

I left the meeting to travel to Niger and Burkina Faso in order to talk directly with local communities, partners and government officials about their perspectives on the drought as we approach the lean season in the Sahel.

Responding to the Crisis in the Sahel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FY13 Budget: Making Smart Investments

The Fiscal Year 2013 International Affairs budget, which was released on February 13, showcases President Obama’s commitment to making smart, efficient investments to help those in the greatest need while helping to create economic opportunity and safeguarding American security.

It is important to remember that these numbers represent lives around the world that can be supported and saved through our smart investments in agriculture, health, and access to clean water, among other programs.  And these investments come at an incredibly small fraction of our national budget—in the case of development assistance, less than one percent.

Similar investments we made last year demonstrated a number of important results. Thanks to our investments in humanitarian assistance, we were able to save tens of thousands of lives in the Horn of Africa after a devastating drought led to famine and threw over 13 million people into crisis. U.S.  support helped provide lifesaving AIDS drugs to nearly 4 million people, protect 200,000 infants from HIV infection and keep millions of children throughout Africa safe from malaria. And our  agricultural investments are  supporting the goal of lifting 18 million people from a state of hunger and poverty.

Despite those results, we’ve had to make difficult choices this year, consolidating some programs and eliminating others. Our 2013 budget shows a willingness to focus on countries and programs where we believe we can make the greatest impact.

Global health is a key part of our investment in economic and human security.  Our request goes to cost-effective, proven global health interventions delivered through President Obama’s Global Health Initiative. These investments will help achieve a number of the President’s ambitious global health goals, including saving the lives of five million children by the year 2015, and expanding HIV/AIDS treatment. Thanks to the falling costs of health commodities, including contraceptives, malaria bednets and antiretroviral drugs, and increased investments by partner governments, we can now save more lives.

$1 billion of our FY 2013 request is devoted to Feed the Future, President Obama’s landmark food security initiative. These investments will help countries develop their own agricultural economies and  grow their way out of hunger and poverty, rather than relying on humanitarian food aid that costs us seven times as much to deliver. We’ve also designed a results framework so we can transparently measure and demonstrate the impact our investments have made in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Our budget request maintains robust funding for our humanitarian accounts. Efficiencies in our use of these resources will ensure we have the necessary means to continue U.S. leadership in responding to natural and man-made disasters, just as we did last year after a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. In addition, we continue to increase our focus on preventing future crises through disaster risk reduction activities and funding for greater resilience against food shocks through Feed the Future.

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Haitian Prime Minister Visits USAID

USAID Deputy Adminstrator Donald Steinberg (left) meets Haiti's Prime Minister Garry Conille on Feb. 7, 2012. Photo by Kendra Helmer/USAID

USAID officials met with a delegation from the government of Haiti on Tuesday to discuss international coordination and the pace of reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake. Haiti Prime Minister Garry Conille and other representatives met with USAID officials including Administrator Rajiv Shah, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg,  Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein and Haiti Task Team Director Elizabeth Hogan. Also participating was the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams.

The group also discussed USAID programs in Haiti (including support to the legislature), donor coordination, women’s affairs and facilitating private investment. During his five-day visit to Washington, D.C., Conille also plans to meet with congressional members and institutions including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Faith and Development

This year’s National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2012 capped off what was a very busy week of events for USAID and our faith-based friends and colleagues.  But above the events and meetings, what was most important was the chance to connect with old friends and build new friendships, to hear personal stories from people who are passionately committed to helping the most vulnerable.

Early in the week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kay Warren of Saddleback Church, who is an advocate for orphans and for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. She spoke to our senior staff about the work Saddleback and it’s congregants have been doing in Rwanda, including raising $12 million, sending 1,000 church workers to Rwanda, and training 3,500 community health workers with plans to double that number to 7,000 before the end of this year.

Mid-week, I headed over to the State Department where I was joined by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg.  Together USAID welcomed and talked to a group of pastors convened by Bread for the World.  The group had just returned from a multi-country trip to Africa and it was a great chance to talk about the Feed the Future Initiative and what they saw on their visit.

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More Good News but Crisis Continues

On Friday the United Nations declared that famine is no longer present in Somalia.  This is great and welcome news to the humanitarian aid community.  The newly released data shows the positive impact of the massive international effort to rush life-saving assistance to millions of people in Somalia.  What we are doing is working, and it is saving lives.

A young woman and her child wait to register after they arrive at the Dagahaley refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

The United States has provided over $210 million in aid for Somalia and played a key role in the international effort to save lives.  Since the crisis began, the international community has assisted 94 percent of the children estimated to be malnourished in southern Somalia, and we have vaccinated over 1.2 million children countrywide.  We have provided sustainable water access for more than 1.9 million people in Somalia, temporary access to safe drinking water for more than 2.9 million people, and sanitation facilities for approximately 1.1 million people.  We have also provided basic health care and hygiene materials and education to nearly 1.9 million people in Somalia.

For more than six months, since famine was first declared in July 2011, we have been focused on trying to save lives, particularly of the many children under five who are most vulnerable to famine.  With the support of many Americans, what we have been able to achieve is impressive, but we know this crisis is far from over.  Somalia is a country plagued by more than 20 years of conflict and insecurity, and it is precisely these conditions that allowed drought-affected areas in southern Somalia to spiral into famine in 2011.  Today nearly a third of the population in Somalia remain in crisis, unable to fully meet the most essential human needs.

This drought has focused all of us on the imperative of building resilience. We know we cannot prevent drought, but we can use improved and smarter programs to create greater resilience and improve food security.  We can make progress that ensures the next time a drought hits the Horn, communities will have the ability to withstand the worst affects without being pushed into crisis.

Can Mobile Money Transform a Country?

Two years after the earthquake, Haiti is rebuilding not just brick by brick, but click by click.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for Digicel’s Tcho Tcho mobile banking on March 3, 2011, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The earthquake left behind a government in rubble, an economy in shambles, and a people living in makeshift camps, coping with enormous loss.  Against this backdrop, the possibility of progress lives not just in the resilient spirit of the Haitian people, but also in the simple power of their mobile phones.

In June 2010, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI)(PDF, 163KB). This program leveraged the private sector and the ubiquity of mobile phones to bring financial services to Haitians, 90 percent of whom didn’t have access to a bank account before the earthquake destroyed nearly one-third of the country’s bank branches, ATMs, and money transfer stations.  Put simply, mobile money gives Haitians access to banking without building a single bank.

It worked.  In January 2011, one year after the earthquake, HMMI awarded Digicel and its partner bank, Scotiabank, a “First to Market” Award of $2.5 million for “Tcho Tcho Mobile.” Five months ago, HMMI awarded mobile operator Voila and their bank partner, Unibank, $1.5 million for “T-Cash.”  While verification is still underway, data reported by the industry indicate that there are nearly 800,000 registered users.  Moreover, there are over 800 agent locations now available to serve clients.  In a country where there are fewer than two bank branches per 100,000 people, this represents a near doubling of accessible financial services.

These numbers are significant, but what do they mean for the people of Haiti?  Why should we care about the growth of mobile money in Haiti and the rest of the developing world? 

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