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Q&A: How Power Africa is Investing in a Brighter Planet

The energy sector is the world’s largest source of carbon pollution – yet two out of three people in sub Saharan Africa lack access to electricity.  Power Africa – a partnership among African governments, the U.S. Government, the private sector, and the donor community – aims to double access to electricity in sub Saharan Africa.  Building cleaner, more climate-resilient power sectors that serve all people will require the inclusion and participation of all stakeholders – including those that have traditionally been sidelined from the energy industry.

In Africa alone, about 60 million homes and businesses are poised to access power for the first time in the coming years. President Obama launched Power Africa in 2013 to meet this need. On World Energy Day and every day, Power Africa is working to bring more affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern forms of energy to users once reliant on kerosene, diesel and disposable batteries.

In working toward the newly established Sustainable Development Goal on energy, Power Africa and USAID are ahead of the curve by pushing forward new models of development for clean energy. Our teams of experts on the ground are working to establish a better “enabling environment” where the legal, regulatory and financial frameworks clear the path for the energy sector to meet the demands of all customers.

In an interview, Power Africa Coordinator Andrew M. Herscowitz shares some insight into how we’re empowering the next generation of energy consumers.

 

Herscowitz_IMG_3295C_PAdams EWhat have been Power Africa’s greatest accomplishments since President Obama established the initiative two years ago?
Power Africa has become a global effort and has helped over 4,100 megawatts (MWs) of transactions reach financial close since 2013.

In a two-year period that’s an important accomplishment. Around the world, and even in the United States, it can take up to a decade for an energy project to be completed. With our African partners leading the way, we’re helping to reduce the legal, financial, and regulatory barriers that for too long have stood in the way of projects moving forward.

In August of 2014 President Obama tripled Power Africa’s goals 10,000 MW and 20 million connections to 30,000 MW and 60 million connections. More importantly though, the collaboration now includes more than 100 private sector partners.

How does Power Africa promote our mission of ending extreme poverty? How does this way of doing business reflect USAID’s new model of development?
Access to electricity is a critical part of ending extreme poverty around the world. The 600 million people in Africa who are “off-grid” spend a significant portion of their household income on kerosene for lighting, batteries for radios and paying someone to charge their mobile phone. This expenditure traps them in poverty by limiting their ability to invest in education and economic opportunities.

Power Africa is working with the private sector to deploy large scale electricity projects that will help expand grid connections, as well as with our Beyond the Grid partners, who are using innovative technologies and business models to provide electricity services in areas that are far from the grid. Instead of directly financing these projects and businesses, Power Africa encourages investment by offering loans, insurance and technical support.

Can you talk about a community that you visited that has been impacted by Power Africa?
A few months ago I visited East Africa’s largest grid-connected solar project east of Kigali, Rwanda. Built by Gigawatt Global, the 8.5 MW solar project was built on the same land as the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, a home for orphans of Rwanda’s genocide. In addition to producing clean energy, the project also provides employment opportunities. Not only is this new model adding vibrancy to the local community, but also increasing Rwanda’s power generation capacity by 6 percent.

Partnerships play an important role in the success of Power Africa. Can you speak to the role of partnerships in development more generally?
To tackle the world’s biggest challenges, the world’s leading problem solvers need to work together. As the world addresses global challenges, partnerships across all sectors will be required to pull together in new ways. Our partners bring their expertise, capital, and the commitment to solving Africa’s energy crisis.

In addition to carrying the collective resources of the U.S. Government, Power Africa is achieving success by partnering public partners including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Government of Sweden, the European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy. These public sector partners bring an additional $11.8 billion in resources to support Power Africa’s goals; this includes the African Development Bank ($3B), the World Bank Group ($5B), the Swedish Government ($1B) and the European Union ($2.8B).

With nearly $31 billion in private-sector commitments from more than 100 Power Africa private sector stakeholders, the program is making a visible difference in the lives of people who are on and off the grid.

Looking towards 2030, the target date for achieving the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, how do you think financing for development will evolve?
Over the next 15 years we hope that the private sector’s investment in emerging and developing markets will become even more commonplace.”Development financing” may not even be required. With that hope in mind, Power Africa is focused on not only supporting private companies, but also working with governments to create an enabling environment that will encourage sustained investment and growth.

Pooja Singhi, an intern with USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs, contributed to this blog.

Andrew M. Herscowitz is the Coordinator of President Obama’s Power Africa initiative.  Follow him @aherscowitz and use #PowerAfrica to join the conversation.

Saving Mothers, Giving Life

The Chikomeni Rural Health Centre in eastern Zambia offers Basic Emergency Obstetrics and Newborn Care services to its clients. / Anne Jennings, Rabin Martin.

The Chikomeni Rural Health Centre in eastern Zambia offers Basic Emergency Obstetrics and Newborn Care services to its clients. / Anne Jennings, Rabin Martin.

For the staff at the Matanda Rural Health Center in northern Zambia, help during emergencies was hard to find. The nearest hospital is 60 kilometers away—40 of them over a rough gravel road. Lacking a cell tower, health center staff would walk or ride 27 kilometers in order to call for an ambulance. Until recently, nurse Esther Kabaye was the center’s only clinician; she treated women in the region when complications arose during pregnancy.

Through Saving Mothers, Giving Life, a public-private partnership launched in 2012, Kabaye began a mentorship program in which she met once a month with a district mentor, developing the necessary skills and knowledge for emergency obstetric and neonatal care.

These efforts were rewarded after only a few months, when Helen, a 35-year-old woman from a nearby village, was brought to the health center in labor. She successfully delivered a healthy baby, but afterwards began bleeding heavily. Kabaye identified the emergency as a postpartum hemorrhage, and promptly performed a bimanual compression of the uterus, saving Helen’s life.

“I am so happy that I am able to effectively handle emergencies and save lives that would have been lost,” Kabaye said. She now teaches other nurses, amplifying the lifesaving impact that she has had on her own community and others nearby.

Stories like Kabaye’s are not uncommon within Saving Mothers, Giving Life districts. USAID is a founding member of the partnership, launched in 2012 by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as an innovative, integrated approach to health systems. Saving Mothers, Giving Life seeks to reduce maternal and newborn mortality by increasing the demand for services, facilitating access to lifesaving care, and strengthening health systems at the district level.

The initiative is supported by a range of partners, including the governments of Uganda, Zambia, the United States and Norway; Merck for Mothers; Every Mother Counts; Project C.U.R.E.; and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Target districts in Uganda (left) and Zambia. High levels of success during Phase 1 (June 2012-June 2013) led to the expansion of the program during Phase 2. Mid-Initiative results show even greater improvements in maternal mortality during Phase 2. / Saving Mothers, Giving Life

Target districts in Uganda (left) and Zambia. High levels of success during Phase 1 (June 2012-June 2013) led to the expansion of the program during Phase 2. Mid-Initiative results show even greater improvements in maternal mortality during Phase 2. / Saving Mothers, Giving Life

Initially implemented in four districts each in Uganda and Zambia, Saving Mothers, Giving Life emphasizes adequate and timely care for pregnant women and new mothers. The initiative focuses on three primary delays to lifesaving maternal care: the delay in seeking services, reaching services, and receiving high-quality care. The initiative generated astounding results: The target facilities in both Uganda and Zambia saw a 35 percent drop in maternal mortality in a single year.

Based on such astonishing success, the program was expanded in 2014 to an additional 12 districts in Zambia, and another 6 districts in Uganda. This week, I am excited to share the continued success of the initiative with our 2015 Mid-Initiative Report.

In Uganda, the institutional maternal mortality rate has fallen by 45 percent since the beginning of the initiative. This reflects a 30 percent increase in the rate of delivery in facilities that provide emergency obstetric and newborn care. Such inspiring results are not limited to health facilities, however: Across the target districts as a whole, maternal deaths have decreased by 41 percent—not just among women who delivered in a facility, but among the districts’ entire population

Women queue up for health services at the Chikomeni Rural Health Centre in eastern Zambia. / Anne Jennings, Rabin Martin.

Women queue up for health services at the Chikomeni Rural Health Centre in eastern Zambia. / Anne Jennings, Rabin Martin.

In Uganda’s Kabarole District, District Health Officer Dr. Richard Mugahi faced a challenge. “We had enough midwives and equipment, but mothers were not delivering in facilities,” he says. “They preferred delivering with the support of traditional birth attendants.”

With the support of Saving Mothers, Giving Life, the Kabarole District established a Demand Creation Committee to encourage women to take advantage of family planning services, prenatal care visits, and health facility deliveries. The Kabarole District has also used radio broadcasts to educate communities about the risks of giving birth at home and encourage them to give birth in a facility. The initiative is community-owned, sustainable in the long term, and—most importantly—effective.

The results from Zambia are equally as encouraging. Since the launch of Saving Mothers, Giving Life, institutional maternal mortality has fallen by 53 percent in the target districts. Nearly 90 percent of women are now giving birth in a facility, compared to 63 percent at the outset of the initiative. And the number of women who have received treatment to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS to their infants has increased by 81 percent.

Mwasemphangwe Zonal Rural Health Centre in Zambia offers Basic Emergency Obstetrics and Newborn Care services to its clients. / Anne Jennings, Rabin Martin.

Mwasemphangwe Zonal Rural Health Centre in Zambia offers Basic Emergency Obstetrics and Newborn Care services to its clients. / Anne Jennings, Rabin Martin.

These results are heartening. They speak to the success of the approach employed through Saving Mothers, Giving Life that revolves around localized, evidence-based interventions. Efforts at the district level strengthen districts’ health systems as a whole, while community-level interventions generate demand for services among women and their families by changing social norms. The initiative is active in two dozen districts across Uganda and Zambia, with expansions underway in additional districts, as well as in Nigeria.

Yet perhaps even more encouraging is the potential that Saving Mothers, Giving Life has to extend far beyond the borders of Uganda, Zambia and Nigeria. The approach has proven to be successful, and is continuously fine-tuned and developed through extensive monitoring and feedback. The organizing principles employed by Saving Mothers, Giving Life can serve as an example to countries across the globe, who can adapt the model for use in their own communities.

The partnership has brought together the diverse strengths of a variety of organizations, contributing substantially to the mission to end preventable child and maternal deaths within a generation. Saving Mothers, Giving Life has amazed and inspired me over the past two and a half years that I have directed the Secretariat, and I am excited to see what we are able to accomplish in two and a half more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Claudia Morrissey Conlon is USAID’s Senior Maternal and Newborn Health Advisor and the U.S. Government lead for Saving Mothers, Giving Life.

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.

USAID Salutes Nobel Laureates Whose Discoveries Help Fight Malaria, River Blindness, Elephantiasis

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This year’s Nobel laureates in medicine developed therapies that revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating diseases caused by parasites.

On Monday, William Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura were cited for their discovery of the drug Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of river blindness and elephantiasis. And Youyou Tu was rewarded for her research on malaria therapy. USAID relies on these medicines to protect millions of people at risk.

Parasitic worms afflict one-third of the world’s population, causing diseases like river blindness and elephantiasis. Before the development and widespread use of the avermectin-derivative ivermectin, river blindness left whole communities in Africa blind from the disease. Adults would be led around by children holding a stick. Agricultural productivity and development were at a standstill. Decades later, these communities are thriving agricultural centers, and children are in school instead of caring for the blind.

A child leads two individuals blinded by the parasite that causes river blindness through a village. / Bill VanderDecker

A child leads two individuals blinded by the parasite that causes river blindness through a village. / Bill VanderDecker

USAID’s neglected tropical diseases (NTD) program targets both river blindness and elephantiasis, as well as other diseases. Each year we distribute ivermectin, the drug used to treat river blindness, to more than 25 million people.

Since 2006, USAID has supported the delivery of more than 1 billion preventive drug treatments for NTDs – to almost a half a billion people. The neglected diseases team also manages the largest public-private partnership in USAID’s history, having secured more than $8 billion in drug donations to date. We estimate that for every tax dollar spent by USAID, more than $26 in drugs is donated in-country.

Inspired by a description in a 1,700-year-old Chinese text of the use of sweet wormwood to combat fever, it was Tu who discovered artemisinin. ​This medicine remains the most effective treatment for malaria today, saving millions of lives.

The parasite responsible for the most lethal human malaria started to resist the drug chloroquine in South America and Southeast Asia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By the late 1960s, efforts to eradicate malaria had failed and the disease was on the rise.

At that time, Tu turned to traditional herbal medicine to find novel malaria therapies. In China, the qinghaosu plant was used in fever remedies for thousands of years. Tu examined 2,000 recipes for traditional Chinese remedies and discovered one derived from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) reduced malaria parasites in the blood.

USAID has been fighting malaria since the 1950s, helping develop the tools relied on today. For example, USAID funded trials showing that mosquito nets, treated with safe insecticide, were effective in significantly reducing child deaths and preventing malaria in pregnancy.

Habiba Suleiman, 29, a district malaria surveillance officer in Zanzibar, naps with her little girl Rahma under a mosquito net. She lives in Tanzania, where up to 80,000 people die from malaria each year. Hariba is working to change that. Read her story on USAID’s storytelling hub. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

Habiba Suleiman, 29, a district malaria surveillance officer in Zanzibar, naps with her little girl Rahma under a mosquito net. She lives in Tanzania, where up to 80,000 people die from malaria each year. Hariba is working to change that. Read her story on USAID’s storytelling hub. / Morgana Wingard, USAID

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), launched in 2005, represents the U.S. Government’s bilateral commitment to massively scaling up proven malaria prevention and control efforts. Led by USAID, PMI has advanced game-changing innovations, like insecticide-treated mosquito nets and more effective drugs.

Through PMI, USAID funds operational research to improve uptake and scale of interventions, to preserve intervention effectiveness in the face of both drug and insecticide resistance, and to respond to changes in malaria epidemiology.

More than 6 million deaths have been averted, primarily among children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa through the expansion of malaria control efforts by affected countries — with the support of PMI and other key partners.

This success would not have been achieved without access to high quality malaria treatments, diagnostics, and tools like bed nets and indoor spraying to kill or repel malaria carrying mosquitoes. Since the initiative began, PMI has purchased more than 318 million quality-assured artemisinin combination therapies, as well as more than 174 million rapid diagnostic tests to support appropriate malaria case management.

The financial and technical contributions of the U.S. Government are a major catalyst in the remarkable progress that has been achieved in many countries to reduce the devastating burden of parasitic worms and malaria. But the work is far from complete.

More than 1 billion people suffer from one or more NTDs. Almost all are poor who live in rural areas and urban slums of low-income countries. Nearly half a million people still die each year from malaria. When children fall ill, students miss school, and adults stop working and are unable to provide for their families.

We admire Campbell, Ōmura and Tu for their inspiration and celebrate their discoveries that helped mankind.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Thomas is a communications advisor in the Bureau for Global Health.

Countering Violent Extremism Through Development

Richard Bernardo, 18, from conflict-affected Mindanao, Philippines, now works at an automotive shop in Zamboanga City after completing a two-month course offered by USAID for out-of-school youth in the region. USAID/Philippines provides skills trainings for out-of-school youth in Mindanao to help them gain access to income opportunities. / Rojessa Tiamson-Saceda, EQuALLS2 Project

Richard Bernardo, 18, from conflict-affected Mindanao, Philippines, now works at an automotive shop in Zamboanga City after completing a two-month course offered by USAID for out-of-school youth in the region. USAID/Philippines provides skills trainings for out-of-school youth in Mindanao to help them gain access to income opportunities. / Rojessa Tiamson-Saceda, EQuALLS2 Project

Where does the fight against violent extremism fit within the broad spectrum of development?

USAID’s mission – to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies while advancing our security and prosperity – outlines the answer.

It is through USAID’s approach to development that we can prevent the underlying causes of discontent from turning into radicalization. It is this inclusive approach that also drives our commitment to advancing the Global Goals.

Over half of U.S. foreign assistance goes to countries in the midst of conflict, or trying to prevent conflict or state failure. While we have made remarkable gains, the scourge of violent extremism undermines the work we and our partners are doing.

Violent extremism impedes growth by discouraging long-term investment – not only by international corporations, but by local entrepreneurs who hesitate before setting up shop in a market or fear investing in inventory.

Violent extremists’ actions tax health systems, overcrowd hospitals, create refugees and displace people from their homes. Responding to attacks consumes government services and resources, stymieing development.

This is why we must focus more effort on preventing the growth of violent extremism before it starts.

Addressing the root causes of violent extremism successfully starts by resolving issues at the community level. While each case is different, our experience indicates it is often a combination of social and economic marginalization, unaccountable governance, and inadequate institutions, among other push factors, that are at the root of extremism.

A generation in northern Uganda lost touch with the environment during years of conflict. Children grew up in crowded IDP camps knowing little about the lands around them. USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society are advising officials on how to bring back the wild. Koch Lii School, once used by rebels as a base, now has a Wildlife Club where students learn to perform drama on subjects related to biodiversity. / Julie Larsen Maher, Wildlife Conservation Society

A generation in northern Uganda lost touch with the environment during years of conflict. Children grew up in crowded IDP camps knowing little about the lands around them. USAID and the Wildlife Conservation Society are advising officials on how to bring back the wild. Koch Lii School, once used by rebels as a base, now has a Wildlife Club where students learn to perform drama on subjects related to biodiversity. / Julie Larsen Maher, Wildlife Conservation Society

These issues are also at the heart of what impedes economic growth. These grievances create opportunities for pulling forces that draw vulnerable people into the compelling, but ultimately empty, narratives of violent extremism.

Recognizing this, USAID developed its 2011 policy The Development Response to Violent Extremism and Insurgency to help guide the use of our tools effectively, and balance our broader development objectives with these security priorities. It affirms the necessity of identifying and addressing drivers of extremism, while remaining flexible and locally focused.

USAID manages programs that specifically address drivers of violent extremism in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. These programs are working in coordination and often through local and national governments, the private sector and NGOs to address issues of exclusion and injustice. These partnerships enhance USAID’s traditional development tools to address the drivers of extremism before they metastasize into a much larger problem.

Tomorrow’s event at the United Nations on balancing security and development will explore how USAID and like-minded partners can partner to prevent violent extremism. Development professionals care about violent extremism, and those on the security side recognize that development tools and expertise are needed to succeed against violent extremists.

We are confident that we can work together and make progress in key areas.  Already, we are making progress on a foundational step: understanding the local drivers of violent extremism and what works to address them.

A new network to support research focused on these issues, RESOLVE, was launched just last week and is supported through a partnership between USAID, the State Department and the U.S. Institute of Peace. Other efforts, like guidelines for good practices on gender and countering violent extremism by the Global Counterterrorism Forum, create operational approaches for local partnership.

As Secretary Kerry called for in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, we have to get ahead of the next ISIL. Development that reduces the allure of violent extremist groups has immeasurable payoffs, both in terms of making us more secure and by ensuring we reach our ambitious Global Goals targets by 2030.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Russell Porter is Executive Director for the Secretariat for Countering Violent Extremism at USAID.

Change and Transformation @USAID: Modernizing Development Assistance

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Larwanou Mahamane, a vegetation ecologist, presents aerial imagery of the Ader-Doutchi region of Niger to community members of Laba under a USAID–U.S. Geological Survey partnership. Sustainable land management practices help mitigate the impacts of climate change. / Gray Tappan, USGS, Earth Resources Observation and Science Center

This is the perfect year to solidify a transformation in foreign aid. As world leaders nail down the Sustainable Development Goals, it is a key moment to underline the global consensus around strategies for progress. It will help ensure the international community permanently modernizes its approach to development.

Fall 2015 presents myriad opportunities to spotlight encouraging efforts. The June Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa created a foundation that will be reinforced this month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where world leaders will adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that outlines a vision for ending extreme poverty and promoting sustainable development.

Declarations from those summits will be complemented by outcomes from climate change negotiations to be held in Paris in December, as well as other important deliberations focused on key topics such as countering violent extremism and promoting gender equality.

So what promising changes should be spotlighted?

Data

Increasingly, data is driving planning and decision-making. The growth in results-based management helps ensure we invest wisely, discuss accomplishments concretely and constantly learn and refine our efforts. USAID is benefitting enormously from its enhanced ability to quantify and discuss, for example, the number of farmers whose incomes have increased as a result of Feed the Future.

We are striving to collect better data across a range of sectors, including health and agriculture, and to make that data more widely available. We also increasingly use data to better oversee operations. (And we are part of a wave of donors employing data to close gaps in information.)

USAID and NASA are working together to use satellite data in forecasting severe weather and natural disasters; lives are being saved because we can now chart floods and wildfires, and better predict drought and landslides.

Our Development Credit Authority, which has unlocked over $3 billion of private capital in over 70 countries, has improved how it tracks over 140,000 borrowers to better target and enhance USAID investments improving health care, food security and infrastructure, among various sectors. And internally, the USAID leadership team now uses a management system to ensure and track progress against specific management priorities and targets.

The push for evidence must continue and it must be complemented by a drive to ensure data is fully analyzed, used and disseminated. That’s the only way development agencies will truly become learning institutions where decisions are consistently well-informed and where gaps in knowledge are ever-smaller barriers to progress.

New Partners

Today, an exciting range of new partners and funders drive development efforts around the world. This comes at a time when funding from foreign direct investment outpaces traditional bilateral donor assistance to developing countries and domestic revenues in developing economies are increasing by an average of 14 percent per year.

The potential is huge. Last year alone, USAID started working with 450 new government agencies, private firms, foundations and other NGOs. Those partnerships leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in resources each year.

The relationships bring tremendous new energy, ideas and funding. They help the global community align work and target investments. And they close gaps in financing to meet priority needs. Three new broad partnerships announced during Financing for Development — the Addis Tax Initiative, Global Financing Facility and the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership — are emblematic of the potential for collaboration and alignment. They may prove models for the future.

Innovation

Jharana Kumari Tharu, a female community health volunteer in Nepal, demonstrates how a simple tube of chlorhexidine antiseptic gel could help prevent infection and even death when applied to a baby’s cut umbilical cord stump. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

Jharana Kumari Tharu, a female community health volunteer in Nepal, demonstrates how a simple tube of chlorhexidine antiseptic gel could help prevent infection and even death when applied to a baby’s cut umbilical cord stump. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

There is also enormous potential to harness innovation, science and technological advances for development. USAID christened its Global Development Lab last year. The Agency is having noteworthy success reducing neonatal mortality in Nepal using chlorhexidine, an umbilical cord antiseptic. Crop yields in Africa are increasing substantially as a result of the development and distribution of drought-tolerant maize. And efforts to promote mobile banking are improving transparency and governance, and increasing the accessibility of financial services globally.

Continuing to encourage and invest in innovation offers enormous potential for reducing poverty, but science and technologies will only deliver fully on their promise if they are rolled out in locally appropriate ways and they reach millions, especially the marginalized and vulnerable groups who are often left behind.

Game-changing technologies will also have to be developed and deployed with just-as-smart strategies that minimize risk—and sharpen recognition that all investments will not bear fruit. The possibility of under-performance should not stifle innovation.

Taken together, these trends embody a promising foundation. But a cautionary note is warranted. None of the strategies emerging from the conversations this year will enable us to end extreme poverty, unless they consider our ever-changing world. Quite simply, the targets we all hope to achieve won’t stand still while we come up with solutions.

Today, many of the world’s extreme poor are living in unstable nations often dealing with prolonged, profound crises. Development efforts are increasingly concentrated in these environments made fragile from conflict, extremist threats, recurrent natural disasters or climatic shifts. Unless we factor in these threats, reductions in poverty will be fleeting.

William Gibson is credited with saying, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” Nowhere is this truer that in the field of development aid. Promising changes in the approach to assistance offer enormous potential for widespread success.

As heads of state convene, donors must ensure we carry forward the transformation of foreign aid so that it delivers broadly, enabling us to meet the goals we are setting for 2030.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carla Koppell is USAID’s Chief Strategy Officer. You can follow her @CarlaKoppell.

Advocating for Sign Language Education as a Human Right

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Georgine Auma in Washington, D.C. for the Young African Leaders Initiative. / Georgine Auma

As children growing up in Kenya, Georgine Auma and Natha Yare were excluded from their right to education.

Why? Because they are deaf. Access to education in sign language is still denied to millions of deaf and hard of hearing children, and even those who are lucky to receive an education — like Georgine and Natha — often lack teachers or specialists adequately trained in sign language, causing children to miss early language acquisition milestones that assistive devices like cochlear implants or hearing aids cannot provide.

For Natha, being deaf meant she couldn’t go to a local school, and instead attended a school for the deaf 15 hours away by bus. Even there, though, Natha was denied her right to a quality education.

“The government decided to introduce new teachers that knew no Kenyan Sign Language; these teachers filled blackboards with words and gestured for us to copy,” Natha said. “When we finished, we felt like we accomplished something. Afterwards, we went outside to run and play, not understanding what was copied.”

In many countries like Kenya, social stigma causes parents and community members alike to perceive deaf and hard of hearing children as impaired or altogether unable to learn.

NathaYare

Natha Yare (far right) with the deaf football team she helped organize at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. / UNHCR

When Georgine became deaf at the age of 9, her parents didn’t know what to do with her. Although she already had a strong language foundation, her parents kept her from school for a full year before deciding to re-enroll her equipped with what they believed was a solution: hearing aids.

“I returned to the same school I was in before — needless to say, I never understood a thing taught in class,” Georgine said. “As a coping mechanism, I developed a love for books and literally read everything I could. Reading helped me stay within the top three of my class.”

Georgine recounted struggling with isolation and an identity crisis while growing up. “I thought I was the only deaf person in the world until I discovered Kenyan Sign Language at Maseno School for the Deaf,” she said. “There, I finally found my identity and felt a sense of belonging.”

USAID’s Commitment to Access and Inclusion

When I hear stories like Georgine and Natha’s, it takes me back to Kenya, where I worked at two schools for the deaf as a Peace Corps volunteer. The challenges faced by deaf and hard of hearing people are still prevalent, though; I recently attended the quadrennial World Federation of the Deaf conference, where over 100 deaf youth representatives echoed the same themes of barriers to sign language and education.

USAID is working to change this, providing access to education and sign language around the world. Education projects promoting sign language have been implemented in countries including Ecuador, Georgia and Morocco.

USAID partnered to produce Ecuador’s first-ever sign language dictionary, and with the current All Children Reading Grand Challenge initiative, the Agency is developing revolutionary software to support bilingual education in Morocco and Georgia. In Morocco, with early grade reading software using both Moroccan Sign Language and Arabic, deaf students have been shown to develop better literacy skills, learn better, and thinking more outside of the box than they did before.

Inclusive education is becoming an important theme on the global stage. It is important to ensure that students like Georgine or Natha aren’t left behind. Quality education for deaf and hard of hearing students means equipping teachers with fluency in sign language, thus creating truly inclusive spaces for all learners — because every child has a right to be educated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Josa is a Program Analyst working in USAID’s Office of Education. Follow him @JoshJosa.

Talking About Parrots on Talk Like a Pirate Day

The imperiled hyacinth macaw, pictured here in Pantanal, Brazil, is threatened by habitat loss and trapping for the pet trade. USAID works with partners around the world to protect habitata important to parrots and other wildlife while helping communities participate in and benefit from conservation. / Conservation International

The imperiled hyacinth macaw, pictured here in Pantanal, Brazil, is threatened by habitat loss and trapping for the pet trade. USAID works with partners around the world to protect habitats important to parrots and other wildlife while helping communities participate in and benefit from conservation. / Conservation International

What is the first thing you picture when you hear someone talk about parrots? A bird on a pirate’s shoulder? “Polly want a cracker?” Or maybe an image of beautiful, colorful feathers? But parrots are more than just eye candy and pirate paraphernalia. Parrots ensure forests grow, help communities develop eco-tourism, and serve as symbols of national pride.

Flourishing Forests

Parrots are critical to the health of the forest ecosystems where they live. As fruit and seed eaters and dispersers, parrots scatter seeds and help forests continue to flourish. In Guatemala, the Maya Biosphere Reserve, part of the largest tropical forest north of the Amazon, is home to the majority of Guatemala’s endangered scarlet macaw population and an amazing array of plant and animal life.

To help protect these beautiful birds, USAID partners with local communities and non-governmental organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society to conserve these important forests. Because of these efforts, we now see scarlet macaws multiplying throughout this unique reserve.

A pair of scarlet macaws flies over the forest canopy in their Andean Amazon home. Macaws are prolific seed dispersers, important to maintaining and recovering the highest biodiversity areas on the planet. / USAID

A pair of scarlet macaws flies over the forest canopy in their Andean Amazon home. Macaws are prolific seed dispersers, important to maintaining and recovering the highest biodiversity areas on the planet. / USAID

Talking Ecotourism

Parrots are a main draw for eco-tourism. The revenues, in turn, support local livelihoods and provide funds to manage protected areas and wildlife conservation. In Colombia, USAID partners with the Audubon Society to develop a parrot tourism program in the Caribbean. By training community members on how to work as birding tour guides and develop birding trails, the project provides an income to local individuals while protecting parrot habitat.

Their enthusiasm and tenaciousness helps “birders” pave the way for ecotourism in remote areas lacking infrastructure and amenities. USAID support this group of birding journalists and tour operators get familiar with Guyana’s Iwokrama forest. / Martina Miller

Their enthusiasm and tenaciousness helps “birders” pave the way for ecotourism in remote areas lacking infrastructure and amenities. USAID support this group of birding journalists and tour operators get familiar with Guyana’s Iwokrama forest. / Martina Miller

Community Conservation

In Nicaragua, coastal development, expanding agriculture, and poaching has reduced the habitat of the yellow-naped parrot. With the support of USAID and other conservation partners, Paso Pacífico works to conserve this endangered species through tourism and environmental education. Through work with communities and environmental education for children, these efforts led to greater understanding of parrot populations, including threats from wildlife trafficking and the pet trade.

Women in an indigenous community in the Mosquitia region of Honduras make handicrafts depicting macaws and other forest creatures using wood chips left over from processing certified sustainable mahogany. Income from handicrafts and timber help people value and conserve forest habitat to rather than clearing it for agriculture. / Charlie Watson, Rainforest Alliance

Women in an indigenous community in the Mosquitia region of Honduras make handicrafts depicting macaws and other forest creatures using wood chips left over from processing certified sustainable mahogany. Income from handicrafts and timber help people value and conserve forest habitat to rather than clearing it for agriculture. / Charlie Watson, Rainforest Alliance

Illegal Pet trade of Parrots

A prominent member of the Huambracocha community in Peru’s Pastaza river basin wears a traditional macaw feather cap. USAID engages with indigenous communities like his to ensure wildlife populations -- including macaws and river turtles -- are managed well and available for local use. / Michael Tweddle

A prominent member of the Huambracocha community in Peru’s Pastaza river basin wears a traditional macaw feather cap. USAID engages with indigenous communities like his to ensure wildlife populations — including macaws and river turtles — are managed well and available for local use. / Michael Tweddle

Unfortunately, parrots are often part of wildlife trafficking, which is frequently connected to the illegal trade of drugs, arms and humans. People enjoy them as pets but often are unaware that they may be illegally obtained and traded, contributing to the smuggling business. Protecting wildlife helps keep the peace in communities and reduce profits from illegal activity.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 259 out of 355 species of parrots are in international trade and nearly 30 percent are almost extinct due to wildlife trade. The scarlet macaw population in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize have been reduced to small, isolated populations. African gray parrots in Central and West Africa are going extinct, with about a fifth of the global population captured for trade each year.

USAID’s work to conserve parrots in Guatemala, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia and elsewhere help to protect the birds, support local livelihoods, and conserve important forest ecosystems.

Next time you think about pirates or parrots, remember that these beautiful birds do a lot more than mimic our words!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalie Bailey is a Biodiversity and Natural Resources Specialist in USAID’s Forestry and Biodiversity Office. She is on Twitter @nataliedell.

How Guatemala’s Justice System Became Strong Enough to Prosecute Corruption

People hold national flags and a sign reading "I love CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala)" as they take part in a Aug. 22 demonstration in Guatemala City demanding President Otto Perez's resignation. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

People hold national flags and a sign reading “I love CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala)” as they take part in a Aug. 22 demonstration in Guatemala City demanding President Otto Perez’s resignation. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

About six months ago, the UN-mandated International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, together with Guatemala’s Public Ministry, swept through the country, exposing high-level corruption and scandals that ultimately landed President Otto Perez Molina behind bars.

The investigations resulted in the resignation of over four dozen high-level public officials, including the president, the vice president, and several ministers. The ring of corruption supported six major scandals that cost Guatemalan taxpayers more than $200 million and resulted in 10 deaths due to medical malpractice.

The role of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala has been particularly significant in uprooting deep-seated corruption in Guatemala. However, it arguably would not have been as successful without over a decade of strategic reform in Guatemala’s judiciary.

Over the past 15 years, USAID’s justice reform efforts played an integral role in spurring Guatemala’s judicial metamorphosis. USAID supported the Government of Guatemala in establishing a criminal justice system that now has the capacity and fortitude to prosecute high-level corruption.

The implementation of oral proceedings required new court structures and procedures that have transformed Guatemala’s court system. With a new criminal procedure code and a restructure of the roles and responsibilities of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, the country has improved the efficiency, transparency and effectiveness of the court system.

USAID’s provision of training to the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Corruption led to a new investigation model and an inter-institutional cooperation agreement for the investigation and prosecution of corruption and crimes within the public administration.

Since the implementation of the model, trainings that focus on criminal investigation, case theory, forensic audits, prosecution strategy and presentation of corruption cases have been ongoing and attended by justice sector officials.

An image showing Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina shaking hands with the Chief of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, is posted on a market wall in Guatemala City on Aug. 28. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

An image showing Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina shaking hands with the Chief of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, is posted on a market wall in Guatemala City on Aug. 28. / Johan Ordonez, AFP

USAID also worked with the Government of Guatemala to establish a “high impact court” to focus on ensuring the most sensitive and complex cases can be processed. These cases include corruption, organized crime, kidnappings, narco-trafficking, gangs and trafficking in persons — cases that need to be tried in a secure area with protection measures.

USAID worked with the country’s Supreme Court to ensure these courts would have the necessary security for Guatemala’s justice sector personnel. Previously, their work on these dangerous cases would have had little chance of proceeding through the justice system.

Around-the-Clock Justice

Nearly a decade ago, USAID worked with the judiciary, the Attorney General’s office and the police to pilot a new 24-hour court model in Guatemala City. Judges are now available 24 hours a day so that a detainee can be seen by a judge within six hours of arrest. Before, detainees were often held in prisons for more than three days — a violation of due process.

These courts are effective and financially sustainable. Under the old system, over 77 percent of cases in Guatemala City were dismissed for lack of merit, often because the arresting officer was not present at the long-overdue hearing. Under the new model, the number of cases dismissed for lack of merit is less than 15 percent.  Now fully funded by the Government of Guatemala, the 24-hour court also benefits investigative processes by allowing prosecutors to seek court orders for wiretapping or search warrants around the clock.

On Sept. 11, the model was replicated in Guatemala’s second largest city, Quezteltenango (also known as Xela), after a decade operating with a traditional court structure.

The new 24-hour court is the latest evidence of the country’s institutional determination and ongoing commitment to effectively deliver justice — a cornerstone of Guatemala’s continuum to democracy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alana Marsili is a strategic communications advisor in USAID’s Democracy, Rights, and Governance Office working on citizen security, youth political leadership and urban municipal governance. Follow her @AlanaMarsili.

A Partnership Connecting Space to Village

SERVIR in the field

NASA and USAID use imagery and data collected by satellite to help stakeholders address issues like climate change through SERVIR program. / SERVIR

NASA is deeply committed to Earth science and the value it provides people around the globe.  We have been since our founding. It was my pleasure to attend the launch of the newest SERVIR hub — SERVIR-Mekong — in Thailand just a couple of weeks ago. Today, I joined hundreds of colleagues from our partner, USAID, and from around the world for a Town Hall about SERVIR and the impact of our global collaborations in Earth observation.

NASA and USAID have accomplished a lot together. Launch of this important new hub in the SERVIR network, which includes SERVIR-Himalaya, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa and the Applied Sciences Team projects in Mesoamerica, is certainly tangible proof that what we’re doing is working.

We get a lot of questions about our Earth observation work at NASA.  In fact, a lot of people aren’t even aware that it’s such a core function of the agency.  But make no mistake, NASA is deeply committed to Earth science and the value it provides people around the globe.  We have been since our founding.

The more the SERVIR network and other partnerships expand, the more opportunities we have to test and showcase our newest Earth observation satellites. Missions like Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM), Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) and others are now returning massive amounts of data and more Earth science missions are on the way.

Satellite imagery used for disaster response work.

Satellite images created by SERVIR, like the one above, were helpful tools in the disaster response effort in Nepal this year. / SERVIR/ICIMOD

I am also pleased that we are finding new ways to bring NASA’s science to meet USAID’s development objectives. We are excited that our scientists are being connected with international scientists to combine those people’s local knowledge with NASA’s Earth system science studies through USAID’s Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research, or PEER program. Twelve of our scientists now work with USAID-funded international collaborators to harness their collective knowledge for the benefit of development.

Our partnership between NASA and USAID allows us to work together to bring space to village. Moreover, it also is bringing “village to space” as NASA has learned new USAID terminology such as “results framework”, “indicators”, and “theory of change” – terms that are more than just words, but help benchmark impacts and ensure the successful outcome of our activities. Together, our agencies have worked in 4 regions and 37 countries, developed 62 tailored decision support tools using Earth observations, increased the capacity of over 300 institutions, enabled 120 university fellows from 24 countries, and trained over 2000 people.

The International Space Station also is becoming a platform for Earth observation. There’s the ISERV test bed camera used by SERVIR end users, for instance which has acquired more than 140,000 images of across 6 continents to support response to floods, wildfires, tropical storms, and other extreme events around the world. Other instruments aboard the Station, including RapidScat to monitor ocean winds and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) to measure clouds and pollution, also are contributing to the wealth of Earth science data available to the public and to decision-makers like those SERVIR serves.

Satellite images created by SERVIR, like the one above, were helpful tools in the disaster response effort in Nepal this year. / SERVIR/ICIMOD

Together with our partners at USAID, we are all contributing to the effort to help bring our space-based science down to Earth for real time, real world applications that are changing the lives of people where they live.

The demand-driven approach of SERVIR is unique in the space world. The network is responsive and engaged and developing the demand-driven tools that are going to have the most impact for a specific region. I never doubted that there was a hunger for more information and ways for people everywhere to make a difference in their home regions, but the tools that SERVIR has provided have really started something special.

Just as the Space Station has become a model of international cooperation among nations who have many differences, so has SERVIR become a network not just of hubs, but also of regions and people.

I can’t think of anything more gratifying to demonstrate why our space program is vital to everyone on this planet.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden is the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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