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Could Sri Lanka’s 2015 Elections Signal a New Era of Democracy?

Sri Lankans line up to cast their vote during the country’s presidential election in January 2015. / USAID

Sri Lankans line up to cast their vote during the country’s presidential election in January 2015. / USAID

Sri Lanka held two elections this year that were markedly different from those in the past. Why? Nobody could predict the outcome. It was a true victory for democracy.

In the election for president in January, Sri Lankan citizens succeeded in making their voices heard, voting for an unconventional choice—a candidate who did not belong to any established political party. In August, parliamentary elections led to a coalition government instead of a majority party holding power.

The news media framed the outcomes as a signal that citizens were voting against a history of nepotism, corruption and abuse of power. Turnout was high—at about 82 percent and 78 percent, respectively. International and domestic election monitors praised the elections as some of the most transparent and credible in the Asian region.

A changing political landscape

But it hasn’t always been like this. In past elections here, we’ve seen violence, vote rigging and mudslinging. This year, we were impressed with how well organized the Sri Lankan election officials were and the level of planning and professionalism that made these elections a success.

Sri Lanka has come a long way. USAID has supported this small island nation off the southern tip of India by investing in its economy, society and institutions since 1956. The cornerstone of our work this year has been supporting free and fair elections and a democratic transition.

Domestic election monitors at a polling booth during 2009 elections in Sri Lanka / USAID

Domestic election monitors at a polling booth during 2009 elections in Sri Lanka / USAID

Our work has included training and deploying 15,000 election observers to oversee polls, providing mail-in ballots, establishing counting centers, and conducting workshops on electoral laws, financial management, and how to take security precautions and report elections violence at polls.

During the parliamentary elections, we noticed how USAID-trained election monitors worked with polling officials and the police to immediately stop a political candidate from campaigning at a polling station on Election Day—a violation of electoral law. They took him away from the crowd of voters and brought the situation under control so well and amicably that no one seemed to notice.

The election monitors also paid close attention to the dynamics in each of the voting districts. For example, in a district close to Colombo, they noticed a tense atmosphere—small groups of people were whispering to each other as they watched vehicles and passersby suspiciously. Keeping close watch, the election monitors asked police to be on hand in case of trouble.

USAID has also supported the design and printing of an election observation handbook, a trilingual guidebook on the electoral process, and a braille pamphlet on the electoral process for the visually impaired. We’ve supported voter education, helping vulnerable families register to vote and obtain necessary identification documents.

New direction for elections

During the August elections, the law appeared to be enforced equitably, irrespective of the wealth and status of candidates and voters, and election violations were addressed quickly. Invalid votes were low compared to previous years.

Thanks to newly enforced election regulations, government institutions and the state media took a more neutral stance, showing less bias to the ruling party, a common practice in the past. Government institutions were mandated to remove political billboards and posters and reduce the number of rallies and people who canvassed homes.

And in the weeks leading up to the elections, more Sri Lankans stayed informed by hearing from political candidates directly on social media platforms instead of depending only on the traditional news media.

The nation and the region can learn from the practices of the 2015 elections. We fervently hope to see these practices in future elections.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Anil Liyanage and Angelina Hermon are Foreign Service Nationals working with USAID in Sri Lanka.

Passanna Gunasekera, a Program and Outreach Specialist working with USAID in Sri Lanka, contributed to this blog.

All in Good Faith: Partnering with Malawian Ministries for Maternal Health

In USAID’s—and the world’s—goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, the faith sector is a powerful partner.

Close to 90 percent of the world’s people adhere to some religious belief, and in rural areas in many of the developing countries in which we work, health care is provided by religious organizations. Faith-based organizations like the Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) reach deep into the community, and bring a unique set of skills, experience and contributions to the development arena.

They play a pivotal role in improving the quality, accessibility and respectfulness of maternal and child health services—and in promoting the demand for these services. Many faith-inspired groups are enthusiastic supporters and invaluable allies in our efforts to save the lives of mothers and children.

Memory Mponda (right), Priscilla Ziyaye and Pacharo Kumwenda, USAID-supported students training to become nurse-midwives, stand outside the Kangaroo Mother Care ward at the Chonde Health Center. / Grace Soko, Christian Health Association of Malawi

Memory Mponda (right), Priscilla Ziyaye and Pacharo Kumwenda, USAID-supported students training to become nurse-midwives, stand outside the Kangaroo Mother Care ward at the Chonde Health Center. / Grace Soko, Christian Health Association of Malawi

Take the Ndirande Health Center in the city of Blantyre, Malawi, where 15 students from St. Joseph’s College of Nursing and Midwifery work alongside clinical staff to check the vital signs and collect the histories of women who have come to give birth. They assist during the deliveries, and administer necessary care when emergency situations arise.

Recent visitors to the hospital have been pleased that their waiting time has been reduced, as the students, organized into teams, quickly and efficiently check people in and get them the care that they need. As the only public health facility in a district of more than 300,000 people, there is never a dull moment at Ndirande.

On the other side of Blantyre, at the Chilomoni Health Center, 19 of their classmates perform similar duties. Both facilities see upwards of 300 deliveries a month; at Ndirande, that number sometimes approaches 450. On average, 10 or more women come to each facility to give birth each and every day.

For the nursing students at St. Joseph’s, the challenges and experiences that they face at the health facilities are an invaluable learning tool. And for the clinical staff, the extra hands on deck provide much-needed assistance throughout the busy days. At Chilomoni, the hospital’s staff is more than doubled by the addition of the students.

St. Joseph’s is one of 12 constituent training colleges funded in part by USAID and operated by CHAM. Established in 1966, CHAM is an ecumenical organization overseen by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi and the Malawi Council of Churches, and provides administrative and technical support to the health care services of member units across the country.

With 175 member health facilities, CHAM reaches more than 4 million Malawians with health services—37 percent of all care provided in Malawi, and second only to the Ministry of Health. Through training programs like those at St. Joseph’s, students are able to become nurse midwife technicians, medical clinicians, laboratory technicians and psychiatric nurses.

This training helps students bring knowledge and experience to Malawian communities—and is an important step towards ending preventable newborn, child and maternal deaths.

Chimwemwe (“Joy” in the local Chichewa language), a community health worker in Malawi, meets with an HIV-positive pregnant woman at her home in Lilongwe through the USAID-funded Tingathe program, which works closely with the Ministry of Health. / Chris Cox, Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation.

Chimwemwe (“Joy” in the local Chichewa language), a community health worker in Malawi, meets with an HIV-positive pregnant woman at her home in Lilongwe through the USAID-funded Tingathe program, which works closely with the Ministry of Health. / Chris Cox, Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation.

In the 2014 Acting on the Call report, USAID laid out a framework for using proven, high-impact interventions and data-driven investments to improve health outcomes in 24 priority countries for maternal and child health, saving the lives of 15 million children and 600,000 thousand mothers through 2020.

In Malawi, a scale-up of key interventions could save more than 25,000 newborns and 5,000 mothers—lives that we know how to save, but that will likely be lost if we do not act.

Already, our efforts are yielding results and translating into lives saved. The 2015 report shows that Malawi is on track or has exceeded the year’s target for improving key interventions, such as the percentage of live births occurring in a health facility or being overseen by a skilled birth attendant, or the percentage of households with at least two insecticide-treated bed nets. But more rapid progress is needed in pregnant women receiving antenatal care and in women and children having access to clean water.

Our collaboration in Malawi with CHAM is one of many ways we are leveraging strategic partnerships, promoting country ownership and building the capacity of local communities. The holiday season reminds us how vital these partnerships are—now, and all throughout the year.

As the students at St. Joseph’s graduate next year, we will be there applauding them for their hard work, wishing them future success, and welcoming in the next class of students to begin their training.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Taylor is the deputy Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator and a deputy assistant administrator for the Bureau for Global Health at USAID.

South African Firefighters Save Lives Halfway Around the World

South Africa deployed a firefighting team for an international wildfire response for the first time this summer. Their presence was proof that USAID’s investments in building local disaster response capacity are paying off. / U.S. Forest Service

South Africa deployed a firefighting team for an international wildfire response for the first time this summer. Their presence was proof that USAID’s investments in building local disaster response capacity are paying off. / U.S. Forest Service

As enormous wildfires raged through Canada’s boreal forests this summer, hundreds of firefighters from Canada, the United States, Australia, Mexico and New Zealand came together in an extraordinary international effort to battle the flames. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with these teams was a group of firefighters from South Africa.

The South Africans made headlines because of their habit of singing and dancing together before heading to the fireline. They told reporters this was a way to alleviate tensions and solidify team bonding. While this unusual firefighting behavior got attention, it also made a difference.

“Maybe it took us a day to learn how they [the Canadians] worked. Then the following day, we were like, ‘It’s our country.’ We owned the fireline,” one South African firefighter told News24, a South African news outlet.

It’s encouraging when many countries come together to save lives. In this case, South Africa’s participation was inspiring both for the firefighters and for me, a regional adviser with USAID. It was the first time South Africa deployed a firefighting team for an international wildfire response, and their presence half a world away in Canada was proof that USAID’s investments in building local disaster response capacity were paying off.

Since 2009, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the U.S. Forest Service have worked with South African firefighters to strengthen their ability to respond to emergencies.  South African firefighters received training and technical guidance on the incident command system—the U.S. Government’s own framework for disaster response—that helps promote better coordination and collaboration during emergencies. USAID also launched an international wildfire management exchange program where fire teams shadow their counterparts to improve leadership, fire crew operations and fire prevention skills.

In six years, more than 3,600 South African fire personnel have received USAID-funded training. / U.S. Forest Service

In six years, more than 3,600 South African fire personnel have received USAID-funded training. / U.S. Forest Service

In six years, more than 3,600 South African fire personnel have received USAID-funded training, including 53 who have traveled to the United States for more intensive training. This training has helped transform South African firefighters into an elite team of disaster responders who can deploy worldwide to help others in need. In January 2015, a team deployed to Malawi to help the country respond to deadly flooding.

Then the fires in western Canada broke out.

In July 2015, 48 firefighters flew from South Africa to Alberta to join the international firefighting effort. The firefighters were able to deploy thanks to a program called Working on Fire, which was created in September 2003 as part of the South African Government’s initiative to create jobs and to alleviate poverty. Firefighters are drawn from poor communities, and part of their job is to train their neighbors on better fire safety.

Training firefighters is one way USAID and the U.S. Forest Service help countries like South Africa prepare for disasters. After undergoing drills, these firefighters deployed to Canada to help battle wildfires. / U.S. Forest Service

Training firefighters is one way USAID and the U.S. Forest Service help countries like South Africa prepare for disasters. After undergoing drills, these firefighters deployed to Canada to help battle wildfires. / U.S. Forest Service

“It’s about changing lives,” said Trevor Wilson of Kishugu, the company that owns Working on Fire. “Yes, these are the guys we call on when we’re fighting a large wildfire, but these are also the guys who are helping tell their friends and family and neighbors about creating a defensible space to limit the spread of a fire. Through this, we’re helping change the community.”

For most members of the crew deployed to Canada, it was the first time they or anyone in their family has traveled by airplane. They needed a crash course on exchange rates, jetlag and clearing customs, as well as tips on how to handle immigration at the airport.

One thing that wasn’t different? Their approach to fighting wildfires.

“If we hadn’t been coached by the Americans, we wouldn’t have gotten it right,” Wilson said. “When we landed, though, there was nothing alien in the system or the language. It was comfortable. We could make a difference right away.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Weimer is an OFDA Regional Advisor based in South Africa.

‘We Are Grateful’: How One Liberian School Has Battled Ebola

Children at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

Children at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

Last month I, along with a multidisciplinary team from USAID and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, traveled to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Our objectives were to observe Ebola recovery efforts in each country, assess the progress of USAID’s transition from response to recovery activities on the ground, and get a better understanding of the impact of the disease on the survivors. We met with government officials, international NGOs, civil society organizations, other donors, and a host of ordinary citizens from each country, and visited many project sites.

One of the highlights of our time in Liberia was the visit to Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Margibi County, a 50-year-old school with nearly 2,200 students.

In July 2014, as the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak was gaining international attention, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in an unprecedented move, closed the nation’s 4,500 schools in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. More than 1 million children were forced to stay home for over six months as the country battled the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

Over one year later, and after 4,200 deaths, Liberia has made significant strides in defeating the disease and is focused on recovering the development gains achieved prior to the outbreak.

The schools reopened in February as part of the recovery efforts. USAID and our partners at UNICEF worked with the Government of Liberia to ensure that children were able to safely return to school by providing more than 7,000 infection prevention and control kits to schools throughout the country, and training teachers and administrators on how to prevent infection.

The safety kits included buckets, soap, chlorine and cleaning items to help schools reduce the risk of Ebola transmission. USAID also partnered with UNICEF to provide schools with 700,000 learning kits that included chalk, pencils, books, erasers and folders. In addition, we trained teachers and PTA members on how to provide psychosocial support to the students and their families.

The students, teachers and administrators of Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School welcomed us warmly during our visit. As we alighted from our vehicles, many beaming, cheering students greeted us; virtually all of them showed off their USAID-funded learning kits, holding up blue school bags with the familiar handclasp logo.

Children at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

Children at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

At the official welcoming ceremony, a student choir filed in singing joyously and full of energy about being grateful for the United States and its citizens for helping Liberia overcome Ebola. What an uplifting moment!

Reflecting on what life was like during the height of the crisis, one high school student told us, “It was very difficult during that period. We did not leave our home. I felt alone. People were afraid to go out.”

Another student added, “I tried to keep up with my courses while the school was closed but it was difficult. I missed my friends.”

The students said they were excited that they were now able to attend school and could pursue their career dreams once again. For some this meant aspiring to be doctors so they could contribute to addressing public health emergencies like Ebola. Being back in school also gave them renewed hope about the future.

Children at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

Children at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

Rosetta Fardolo, the student representative, asserted that USAID is “helping this school develop into a stronger, safer, and more productive environment to teach the next generation of Liberian leaders. We look forward to a long partnership with you as we work to rebuild our school and community post-Ebola.”

Students at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia sing to welcome the visitors. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

Students at the Lango Lippaye Elementary, Junior and Senior High School in Kakata, Liberia sing to welcome the visitors. / Courtney Babcock, USAID

Principal Robert Zaza expressed deep appreciation for the United States, telling us, “We are grateful and blessed even though we lost teachers and parents. Your donations helped our students come back to school and teachers to teach. You gave us those things that make us to be alive today, so we say, thank you.”

He noted that the school had established peer educators and a social club in an effort to fight stigma and discrimination against survivors of Ebola. Addressing survivor care and support are high priorities for USAID and we are developing new approaches to focus on this issue.

We know that there is more to do. Life is still scary and difficult for many Liberians—including schoolchildren and their families. As we support future education programs, we must remain dedicated to easing their concerns about Ebola and reintegrating students who have not yet returned to school. We cannot afford to fail these students now. Their futures depend on it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Denise Rollins is the senior coordinator of the Africa Ebola Unit at USAID.

Living on the Edge in a World of Changing Climate

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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.

New Partnerships Build Roots that Help All Children Thrive

A female community health volunteer counsels a mother from Nepal about caring for her baby after birth. Setting children on a path to healthy physical growth and cognitive development is a priority of the All Children Thriving partnership. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

A female community health volunteer counsels a mother from Nepal about caring for her baby after birth. Setting children on a path to healthy physical growth and cognitive development is a priority of the All Children Thriving partnership. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

Rapid advances in neuroscience and genomics have led scientists to reach the unmistakable conclusion that the experiences and relationships we have as children exert a lasting biological influence on our learning, behavior, and health across the life course. Despite this growth in knowledge, an untold number of children are growing up in environments devoid of the experiences and relationships they need to thrive.

Equally disturbing is the fact that every year, millions of children die because they don’t get optimal nutrition during the critical period from their mother’s pregnancy through their second birthday. Children who miss out on good nutrition during this time never fully grow physically or mentally, limiting their ability to learn in school and reducing their productivity as adults.

Global challenges, as complex as those mentioned above cannot be solved by any one solution, individual, or organization.  Among many other reasons, important variables that influence the intended outcomes are not and often cannot be known or predicted in advance. Recognizing these realities, a growing number of thought leaders are setting out in search of new, innovative ways to achieve broad-scale impact.  

Family Care First Cambodia co-creation workshop / Family Care First

Family Care First Cambodia co-creation workshop / Family Care First

Take for example, the All Children Thriving partnership. Focused on developing new tools and holistic approaches to help mothers and children thrive in the developing world by ensuring a healthy birth for both mother and child and setting children on a path to healthy physical growth and cognitive development, All Children Thriving includes recent initiatives and commitments from Grand Challenges Canada (Saving Brains); the Saving Lives at Birth partnership (including the US Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the UK Department for International Development, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency); and a set of four new and interlinked initiatives, three through Grand Challenges partnerships in Brazil, India, and South Africa, and one from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Particularly exciting is how each of these initiatives not only builds on the work and learnings from past initiatives, but also frequently represents a new experiment or approach to advancing our shared work.  Another promising new initiative in this vein, Family Care First (FCF) launched last fall with leadership from USAID. Initial programming focused on Cambodia has been collaboratively co-created with the Global Alliance for Children, Save the Children, and over 20 other local and international NGOs. Because a stable, protective, and nurturing family is central to securing many of children’s developmental needs, FCF is designed to promote comprehensive and effective care systems that prioritize family care and to support scalable pathways out of adversity for children. Its primary objectives are to prevent avoidable child-family separations and to improve the lives of children who are already living outside family care.

amily Care First in Cambodia / Family Care First

amily Care First in Cambodia / Family Care First

What makes FCF so unique is that it is designed to harness the power of collective impact.  More specifically, it has set out to bring together donors, implementers, researchers and policymakers around achieving a common agenda; challenged all sectors to work together in both identifying and engaging necessary resources; and embraced shared measurement as a means to ensure the type of rapid learning that has been shown to lead to systemic change.

Central to FCF is also a strong emphasis on gathering data. Many of the challenges associated with children living outside family care have not been effectively tackled because they have not been reliably measured. Many countries, including Cambodia, do not yet know how many of their children live outside families or are at risk for separation, much less which interventions are most needed or effective to help them. Collecting and using data smartly will also help solutions adjust quickly to changing contexts and become more efficient in delivering the desired outcomes.

Innovative efforts like these represent the next generation of global development—efforts that harness the power of partnerships, collaboration, and data to drive transformational change. We are confident that taking such bold steps to help children and their families live full and productive lives will pay dividends for generations to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Ferguson, Director of the Center for Development Innovation in the U.S. Global Development Lab
Steven Buchsbaum, Deputy Director of Discovery & Translational Sciences at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

What We See in Lebanon and Jordan

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander visits Syrian and Jordanian students in a USAID-supported elementary school science class in Jordan. / Mohammed Maghayda, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander visits Syrian and Jordanian students in a USAID-supported elementary school science class in Jordan. / Mohammed Maghayda, USAID

On a recent trip to Lebanon, we visited with a mother who fled Syria with her husband and school-aged children. Like most Syrian refugees, they are living in a local community—not the international camps you might picture when you hear the word “refugee.”

They left behind their home in Aleppo with just the clothes on their backs, and now rent a small two-room apartment with sparse furnishings and no heat. They are happy to be safe from the barrel bombs and fighting at home, but worry about the future—the children have been unable to attend school, and the husband’s intermittent work as an informal garbage collector does not make ends meet. As time goes on, they have had to cut back on even the most basic needs like food

These hardships and worries are inseparably shared by the generous people in Lebanon’s host communities, where water was already scarce and schools were already overcrowded. The juxtaposition of these communities’ warm reception to their limited resources is staggering.

Lebanon is currently hosting over 1.1 million refugees from Syria, and hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. Syrians represent about 40 percent of Lebanon’s public school students, yet there are still more than 300,000 Syrian refugee children out of school in the country.

However, amid the struggles and ever-increasing needs faced by refugees and host communities alike, examples of hope and unity are emerging.

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander and former USAID/Jordan Mission Director Beth Paige visit a school in Tafileh, Jordan. / Mohammed Maghayda, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander and former USAID/Jordan Mission Director Beth Paige visit a school in Tafileh, Jordan. / Mohammed Maghayda, USAID

The American people, through USAID, have been helping Syrians since the beginning of the conflict more than four years ago. But we have been working with Syria’s neighbors—Jordan and Lebanon—for decades. Our short-term and long-term assistance has the same goal: to make sure people in Jordan and Lebanon have access to health care, education, clean water and a decent livelihood—so the people of the region can continue to lead productive and safe lives, even in the face of crisis.

One of my first priorities when I was sworn in as USAID assistant administrator for the Middle East was to make sure we did whatever we could to support those communities in Jordan and Lebanon, which were welcoming but challenged by the influx of Syrian refugees.

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander meets a Syrian family living in Tafileh, Jordan. / Mohammed Maghayda, USAID

USAID Assistant Administrator Paige Alexander meets a Syrian family living in Tafileh, Jordan. / Mohammed Maghayda, USAID

We are building new schools and rehabilitating and equipping existing classrooms in Jordan and Lebanon. We are also training teachers to deal with traumatized students, and those who have been out of school for months or years. But even with more classrooms, schools in both countries have so many students they are teaching in two shifts—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. One school we recently visited is asking parents to provide their own chair rather than turn away new students.

However, the problem is not just overcrowding. Money also keeps children out of school. Some families cannot afford transportation to school or the $60 school registration fee, which does not cover textbooks and supplies. Others are sending their children to work in fields or shops—or to marry at a young age—because money is running out and Syrian refugees cannot get the work permits necessary for formal jobs.

With these issues in mind, we try to make sure our humanitarian aid isn’t just a handout but actually an investment in society.

We saw this investment firsthand during a visit to a grocery store in a crowded suburb of Beirut. Our food assistance through the U.N. World Food Program comes in the form of an electronic payment card, which was accepted at this store and more than 400 others across Lebanon. With the card, refugees are able to shop at community grocery stores, select their own food and participate in the local community and local economy. This program has empowered refugees to become contributing community members in their own right. At the same time, the owner of this market proudly told us that he had hired additional stockers and cashiers to accommodate the uptick in business. These electronic vouchers have injected $1.2 billion into the economies of Syria’s neighbors and created 1,300 jobs.

We do this work on behalf of the American people because it’s the right thing to do—but it’s also in our national interest. To see what you can do, please visit www.usaid.gov/humanity-acts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paige Alexander is the assistant administrator in USAID’s Bureau for the Middle East. Follow that office at @USAIDMiddleEast.

How Partnership is Combating Deforestation in the Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleaner Technologies for Safer Homes

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

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

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

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

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

A Global Concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Talks in Paris: Envisioning a Healthy World

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Benjamin Rost works on communications within the Global Health Bureau.
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