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Behind the Scenes: Interview with Andrew Hoell on Dryness Conditions in East Africa

This blog is part of an interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

When did you first become interested in climate research?

New England snow storms sparked my interest in weather at a young age. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of Massachusetts to study Meteorology. During my second year as an undergraduate, I became interested in how weather patterns behaved over the entire globe on longer timescales, climate time scales. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts and worked on projects that linked Central Asia climate to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. The regional atmospheric circulations of Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa are intertwined, so those are now my regions of focus.

Can you talk a little bit about how UC Santa Barbara and FEWS NET work together to explain the broader concept of food security?

I can only speak to the climate side at UC Santa Barbara. At UC Santa Barbara, we’re interested in how rainfall has recently changed over East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and what climate features have forced those changes. We take the lessons that we’ve learned from the recent changes and we draw conclusions about how the climate will change in the future.

When you first began researching climatic weather patterns in the Western Pacific Ocean, did you have any idea that your work would help guide future international development decision making?

I’ve been researching the links between the tropical western Pacific Ocean and the global climate since about 2006, my first year of graduate school. Initially, graduate students, including me, are usually focused on learning or pleasing their advisor. In 2008, I met Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group at UCSB, and we collaborated on a paper that investigated the links between the Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures and East African climate and how those links influence food security. This was the first time I considered that my work might guide international development and decision making.

What was the motivation for writing about drying conditions in the East Africa Horn? What did you and your team seek to explain?

Our overarching goal is to understand how climate variability influences East Africa. This paper is a very brief review that links recent changes in East African climate (since the late 1990s) to an abrupt warming in west Pacific sea surface temperatures. The video below explains more.

What sorts of technology and techniques did you use in this study?

In the beginning of our study, we show how the climate from 1999 until recently has behaved in terms of East African rainfall and tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures. From this, we were able to show that (at least) superficially that East Africa rainfall and tropical Indo-west Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures could be related.

In the second part of our study, we use an atmospheric model forced by observed sea surface temperatures to confirm that west Pacific sea surface temperature changes were influencing East African rainfall. The study can be found here (Article 15).

What’s next for you and your team? How will you continue to work with FEWS NET to explain climate patterns and its effects on food security?

Our team will continue to investigate what factors influence climate variability over East Africa, the Middle East (specifically Yemen) and Central Asia. We focus on a wide variety of time scales, from individual seasons to multiple decades. We are most concerned with changes on decadal time scales because they are most important to long-term food and water security. However, our understanding of climate variability for individual seasons is also very important because it is this climate variability that primarily forces short-term droughts and famines (e.g. 2010/2011 over East Africa).

Interested in learning more about one of USAID’s programs or want to hear from one of USAID’s leaders? We want to know! Please provide your suggestions below.

Photos of the Week: AID in Action: Delivering on Results

Driving human progress is at the core of USAID’s mission, but what do development results look like?

USAID is measuring our leadership in results — not dollars spent — implementing innovative, cost-effective strategies to save lives. Through investments in science, technology and innovation, USAID is harnessing new partners and young minds to transform more lives than ever before. Our new model for development embraces game-changing partnerships that leverage resources, expertise, and science and technology to maximize our impact and deliver real results.

Take a look at the Agency’s top recent and historical achievements in promoting better health; food security; democracy and good governance; education; economic growth, and in providing a helping hand to communities in need around the globe.

Read the stories behind the results in the special edition of FrontLines: Aid in Action: Delivering on Results.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDpubs for ongoing updates on the best of our results!

USAID in the News

The Huffington Post reports that The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) initiative just announced its investment in mWater. A non-profit tech startup, mWater has created an app for mobile phone users to instantly test and analyze water quality from local sources and share this information on their global, open-source water monitoring database.

The Nation reported that The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will help expand the U.S.-Asean Business Council’s training programs for small and medium-sized enterprises. The council’s and USAID’s new ASEAN connectivity through trade and investment programs will partner to expand the resources, scope and diversity of SME training in the run-up to the creation of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

AP reported that Nancy Lindborg, a USAID assistant administrator for democracy, conflict, and humanitarian assistance, said Washington had allocated $45 million out of $1 billion in aid for Syrian refugees in Iraq and “we’re looking at how we can contribute more.”

Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported that Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (USAID) announced on Tuesday it was to provide USD 2.4 million worth of food aid to societies in Jordan, which are suffering from food insecurity.

From the Field in Lebanon: Learning that Water Is Everyone’s Responsibility

I found myself transported back to childhood as I cheered with a group of boys and girls in a school auditorium. We were watching a USAID-sponsored puppet show, “Chasing after Water,” which ran in schools and public libraries in nine cities and villages across the Bekaa region of Lebanon.

Located 30 km east of the capital, Beirut, and part of the Litani River Basin, the Bekaa is the Lebanon’s central agricultural valley. The entire area has suffered from depletion of the water table due to unsustainable agricultural practices and individual water-use habits. Efficient management of the region’s water resources is paramount. It is also a region that has hosted large numbers of those that have sought refuge from the crisis in Syria.

The king of the puppets considers solutions for water shortage, during a USAID-sponsored performance in the Bekaa, Lebanon. The shows were part of USAID’s partnership with the Lebanese government to increase awareness about water conservation. Photo credit: USAID

The king of the puppets considers solutions for water shortage, during a USAID-sponsored performance in the Bekaa, Lebanon. The shows were part of USAID’s partnership with the Lebanese government to increase awareness about water conservation. Photo credit: USAID

To help raise awareness about this need, USAID’s Litani River Basin Management Support program collaborated with the Litani River Authority to put on a series of activities, including the puppet show I attended. Around 5,000 children between the ages of 6 and 11 attended the shows, in addition to 100 children with special needs.

The show starts by telling the story of a king who is concerned about a water shortage in his kingdom. He embarks on a mission to find the root of the problem and — eventually — a proper solution. With the help of a loyal citizen, he traces the causes of the shortage: water pollution and absence of water conservation practices. The children in the audience watched with great enthusiasm and were eager to hear about the solution. As it turns out, that solution lies in the hands of consumers, young and old.

As part of each performance, children were called on-stage to participate in a role-playing activity that emphasized the show’s theme: that it is everyone’s responsibility to conserve water. At the end, students heartily sang a jingle and took home a booklet with water-related games they could play with their families.

كلنا مسؤولين؟ ايه! مسؤولين كلنا!

كلنا بالهوا سوا وأكيد بمايتنا!

Are we all responsible? Yes, we are all responsible!

We are all in this together … when it comes to our water too!

— Refrain from the “Chasing after Water” jingle

Children got to be on-stage during the shows, playing games that helped reinforce the messages about their role in responsible water use. Photo credit: USAID

Children got to be on-stage during the shows, playing games that helped reinforce the messages about their role in responsible water use. Photo credit: USAID

The students’ enthusiasm as they learned about managing their water consumption habits and protecting water resources confirms the importance of initiating awareness in early life. Such initiatives complement USAID’s other efforts to develop infrastructure that will improve water service delivery for all Lebanese citizens.

My journey back to innocence continued as I sang the jingle myself as we drove back from the school. I was even prompted to share the water conservation tips with my 9-year-old daughter and start practicing them in our home. So, we are also reinforcing the program’s message that “water is everyone’s responsibility.”

The USAID Litani River Basin Management Support is four-year program that supports more efficient and sustainable water resource management in Lebanon’s Litani River Basin. Learn more about USAID’s work in Lebanon

Video of the Week: Youth Initiatives in West Bank/Gaza

Yesterday was International Youth Day and this year focused on Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward. Created in 2000, the day brings attention to the challenges facing young people as well as their contributions to their communities, nations and the world. USAID is celebrating International Youth Day by reflecting on the linkages between youth migration and development, exploring the positive aspects of youth migration, and accounting for the risks and challenges young people frequently face when they migrate.

This week’s “Video of the Week” was produced by youth as part of the Ruwwad Youth Empowerment Project about USAID’s youth programming in the West Bank and Gaza. Ruwwad is implemented by the Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and funded by USAID.

Learn more about youth programming at USAID. Join the conversation on Twitter using #IYD2013. 

Quiet Heroes Save Lives Daily in Syria

An Arabic translation is available.

The U.S. government is providing nearly $815 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria. This aid is not a pledge; our aid is at work on the ground every day in some of the most affected areas, including Aleppo, Dar’a and Al Qusayr. As part of this assistance, USAID is supporting more than 144 field hospitals, medical clinics, and medical points across Syria. The doctors, nurses, and other medical staff working in these facilities are on the front lines of the brutal conflict in Syria, and every day they are risking their lives to save lives.

Last week alone, a doctor and 2 medical staff were killed and a nurse and 3 medical staff were injured when mortars were dropped near their clinics in Homs and Rif Damascus. The week before, the medical staff who survived the clashes in Al Qusayr – which killed one nurse, injured 2 staff, and left several others unaccounted for – had divided up supplies from their destroyed clinics and were already treating patients in nearby towns.

Doctors remove a bullet from the leg of an injured man. The injury required major surgery, which the makeshift field clinic was not equipped to handle. With ongoing fighting nearby and limited options, the surgeon proceeded with a minor surgery and was able to save the patient’s leg. Today, he can walk freely on it. Photo credit: USAID Partner

Along with widespread destruction and violence in Syria, health facilities are being destroyed, and medical staff are being targeted. And yet doctors, nurses, and medical staff—tireless heroes in this conflict—have been quietly working at USAID-funded health facilities across Syria since February 2012. To date, USAID-supported medical teams have performed over 85,000 surgeries, treated hundreds of thousands of patients, and saved countless lives.

The teams who help provide medical supplies to health facilities continue their heroic efforts as well. In the midst of some of the heaviest fighting in Al Qusayr, an international NGO working with USAID had to wait nearby for a week before they were able to deliver of life-saving medical supplies to a clinic on the
front lines of the battle. USAID medical programs in Syria provide medical supplies and equipment, pay doctors’ salaries, and train additional first responders and medical staff. Every day, U.S. humanitarian aid saves lives in Syria.

Learn more about USAID’s commitment to help the innocent children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

USAID Boosts Agricultural Production in Yemen

During my recent visit to Yemen, I had the opportunity to see the many ways that USAID is supporting development in the country at this crucial time. I was particularly impressed by USAID’s successful effort to demonstrate to Yemeni farmers how they can boost agricultural production and conserve water use at the same time by introducing new technologies in the fields.

Yemen faces many challenges, and one of the greatest is critical water shortages. Water is a precious commodity, and nowhere is it more so than in Yemen today. Recently, a school rehabilitation that USAID is supporting in the central highlands of Taizz has been stalled by a local conflict over scarce water resources.

Acting AA Romanowski meets with a Yemeni farmer to discuss how USAID’s Community Livelihoods Project is helping Yemen’s agricultural sector. Photo credit: Dorelyn Jose, USAID/Yemen CLP

This scarcity of water is also having a serious impact on agricultural productivity. Yemen’s agricultural sector needs to adapt green technologies to improve efficiency and raise productivity. USAID’s agricultural demonstration site in eastern Sana’a is showing the way.

In early 2012, as the country was embarking on a post-Arab Spring transition, USAID’s Community Livelihoods Project supported the construction of a solar-powered greenhouse with a highly efficient drip irrigation system at the farm owned by the Sawan Agricultural Cooperative Union in Sana’a. USAID’s support did not end there. USAID also recently completed the construction of a rainwater harvesting system on the site, which will give it a fully sustainable water supply going forward. This is another step further in demonstrating sustainable water solutions where they are most needed.

The greenhouse has since successfully demonstrated that it is possible to grow ten times more vegetables compared to traditional methods while saving water irrigation use by as much as 70 percent. Not only that, the produce from the Sawan greenhouse is of a superior quality, with farmers using just a fraction of pesticides – less than ten percent – normally used in other greenhouses. This is really impressive, I know, because my husband is a “city farmer” and perhaps he should take a look at the Sawan Demonstration Site to boost his crop yields.

When I visited the cooperative, it was expecting to harvest 12 times more than they could reasonably expect from a traditional field of a similar size. The farmers I met filled me with hope for the future of Yemen. I met the sharecropper at the farm, who is now making exponentially more money than he did before the greenhouse was built. I also met some of the farmers who have been inspired by what they saw to replicate these technologies on their own farms. Not far from the demonstration site, six new greenhouses are now up and running. There are now at least 25 new greenhouses farther south of Sana’a, in Damar governorate, initiated by intrepid Yemeni farmers who have been trained at the Sawan Demonstration Site.

I am encouraged to hear that the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the nationwide Agricultural Cooperative Union are now looking at ways of joining forces to support more Yemeni farmers in adapting these green technologies.

In Washington, we talk about our vision of economic resiliency for vulnerable countries and of “feeding the future,” or helping countries transform their own agriculture sectors to forge long-term solutions to chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. Our vision involves increasing the agricultural production and the incomes of both men and women in rural areas. My visit to Yemen confirmed to me how these concepts are translated into reality in places where they can promote much-needed stability. The happy and hopeful faces of Yemeni farmers and their children that I have seen must be a sign that we are doing something right.

Supporting Syrian Refugees in Turkey

This originally appeared on Dipnote

I am in Nizip 2, a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey. Rows of pre-fabricated containers house 4,000 Syrian refugees who fled the destruction of civil war. Nearby is Nizip 1, where 10,000 refugees live in tents. Both are tucked into a small piece of land on the banks of the Euphrates River.

It smells like fresh rain; I can hear a muezzin’s calls to prayer. Groups of children look at me curiously, shuffling by and as I reach out my hand, the little fingers of a smiling, dusty girl find mine. Her hand is replaced by another little hand, then another. For the next ten minutes, dozens of little boys and girls, unkempt and smiling, come to me. “Marhaba (welcome),” they say.

Syrian Refugees at a Camp in Kilis, Turkey. Photo credit: AP

This was my first week as Humanitarian Advisor to the U.S. Mission to Turkey, and I am struck all at once by the depth of the humanitarian crisis and honored to be welcomed so warmly by Turks and Syrians alike. There are 17 refugee camps in Turkey, soon to grow to 24. If I were to map the refugees’ paths with pushpins and strings, all of Syria and half of Turkey would be an intricate web.  Turkey has already welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees, who have settled from Hatay province, just across Syria’s northern border, to Istanbul in the far northeast, the bridge to Europe.

Many of the most vulnerable have been sent to container camps like Nizip 2, as these dwellings provide solid protection from the elements. Some of the women’s husbands are fighting in the Free Syrian Army. They return from war to visit their spouses and children; sometimes they have been injured in battle. The container homes were built by the Government of Turkey, setting a high standard as an exemplary humanitarian actor. Camps like Nizip provide schools, playgrounds, fields and recreational facilities for kids; vocational training rooms, computer and television rooms for youths. The Turkish Red Crescent (TRC) fabricates and distributes fire-resistant tents; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provides kitchen burners and sets containing utensils. The World Food Program, through the TRC, provides electronic cards with money that refugees can use to purchase essential food at the camp market. UNICEF provides educational support. The United States is the largest funder of many of these international efforts.

My task is to monitor the humanitarian situation, identify protection needs, and coordinate international assistance programs. I visit refugees in camps and urban areas, and liaise with the U.S. government, international and non-governmental organizations, and Government of Turkey officials to coordinate assistance. Here on temporary assignment from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration in the Department of State, I am one piece of a vast international effort that brings together the hospitality of the Turks, the generosity of UN member states, and the refugees themselves, who courageously face an uncertain future.

The children whose hands squeeze mine have no way of understanding the complex effort that supports them here, but I think they appreciate our presence. It is a sign that, despite what they have been through, they are not forgotten. I hope they are able to leave the camp, return to their homes, and become normal kids again. In the meantime, they will be taken care of here, thanks to unwavering support by the Government of Turkey and the international community.

About the Author: Heather Fabrikant serves as a Humanitarian Advisor at the U.S. Mission in Turkey.

Having the Right Tools at the Right Time to Meet Food Assistance Needs

Imagine there is a major crisis unfolding. While one region in the affected country is in crisis, there are available food supplies and resources in another. In situations like this, USAID disaster response professionals have several key decisions to make — all with the goal of helping as many people as possible in the most rapid, efficient and effective way possible. Does it make sense to bring in food from the United States? Should we purchase food locally to distribute to those in need? Should we provide people the means to buy the food themselves? Using all the resources available under its Emergency Food Security Program, USAID strives to respond to crises with the most appropriate tools to best meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Here are some recent highlights:

Flour made from Turkish wheat purchased for the Syria response. Photo credit: State Department

In Syria, humanitarian needs grow more pressing every day, but the conflict means importing large quantities of food aid can be impractical and downright dangerous in certain areas. Without the flexible resources provided through the International Disaster Assistance account, USAID would not have been able to respond initially to the Syria conflict. The flexibility to use emergency food assistance tools like vouchers and local and regional purchase has provided much needed help to those fleeing the conflict. In Kilis refugee camp on the Turkey-Syria border, we’re supporting a program that gives debit cards to families so they can shop for their own meals at local stores. And wheat purchased regionally in Turkey is now being milled to stock bakeries in Aleppo with much needed bread.

Last year in Rwanda, USAID and the UN World Food Program fed more than 72,000 people, including 61,000 refugees fleeing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while supporting smallholder farmers within the country. By purchasing the food locally, USAID and WFP were able to save considerable time and money: saving $243 per metric ton on corn and $899 per metric ton on beans and getting food to refugees in just two months versus three to six months for U.S. food aid.

At the height of the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa, in the hardest hit areas of southern Somalia where militants ruled and blocked traditional in-kind food distribution, food aid couldn’t reach everyone in need. But through cash transfers and vouchers, we were able to help more than 90,000 families (PDF) in inaccessible and insecure areas buy readily available food from markets in their communities.

In Haiti, a pioneering food assistance program provided 20,000 earthquake-affected households with electronic vouchers to buy rice, corn flour, cooking oil and beans from participating local vendors. This not only helped Haitians in need, but also developed local private enterprise, by bolstering functioning markets and partnering with three Haitian companies – two banks and a cell phone company.

USAID was able to help those in need when providing U.S.-grown food assistance was either not possible or less appropriate due to market conditions or timeliness issues. We did so by drawing from the International Disaster Assistance account, which provides the Food for Peace program with resources to buy food locally or regionally, or provide support directly to beneficiaries to buy food in their local markets.  In FY 2013, much of these flexible funds will go towards the large-scale response for the Syria crisis, leaving too little in flexible resources left for emergencies in the rest of the world.

Through the President’s Food Aid Reform Proposal, USAID is seeking to expand the flexibility of these resources so we can meet the needs of hungry people around the world in as efficient and effective a way as possible. Recently, the Senate passed the Coons-Johanns Amendment to expand USDA’s flexibility for local and regional purchase in a non-Food for Peace food assistance program.

Senate approval of the amendment is a recognition of the program’s demonstrated success (PDF) and the value of LRP in providing food assistance around the world — and is consistent with the flexibilities sought in the President’s reform proposal for USAID to administer the Food for Peace program.

USDA and USAID’s proven track record with local and regional procurement food assistance programs demonstrate the efficiencies to be gained by using the most appropriate tools at our disposal.

SMART Training Enables Egyptian Woman to Educate Community on Nutrition, Healthy Behaviors

Gaz Mohamed Mohamed Hussein Al Masarah comes from Masrah, a small village on the Nile about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the governorate capital of Asyut, Upper Egypt. She is 25-years-old and delighted to be included in a group of 20 young women selected by the SMART Project (Community-based Initiatives for a Better Life, funded by USAID) to work as Community Health Workers (CHWs) in their own communities. This class of 20 future CHWs is part of a total cadre of 1,200 women who have been trained.

The SMART project—a USAID-funded MCHIP project that focuses on improving maternal and neonatal health and nutrition—works through community development associations in Upper and Lower Egypt to train physicians and CHWs to improve newborn care, nutrition, and the use of modern family planning methods. Providers and CHWs are trained to focus on the nutritional habits of pregnant and lactating women, implement perinatal practices (such as intensive care for preterm or low birth weight babies), and encourage exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

Gaz Mohamed, third from the left (in red scarf), attending the CHW training. Photo credit: MCHIP.

During a break in the training on infant nutrition, Gaz recounts how, as one of six children, her family was never able to afford to send her to school. Her older sister married young and her brothers attended primary school, but Gaz was kept at home to help her mother. However, when she was 10-years-old, a relative started a literacy class in the village, and persuaded Gaz’s father to allow her to attend.

Gaz laughs when she tells how happy she was to carry her books around like the other students she had seen. She worked hard at the literacy classes and was soon able to join Year 5 in Primary School. She finished with good results and, with the support of her father, went on to secondary school, where at graduation her marks were good enough for her to have entered the faculty of agriculture, education, or commerce. However, her father did not want her to move into Asyut to continue her studies.

Not wanting to stay in the house all day, Gaz began to look for something she could do in her village. At the beginning of 2012, she was nominated by a local community development association to participate in the SMART training course for CHWs. The Smart Project selects CHWs in every community in the targeted governorates to visit pregnant and breastfeeding women in order to disseminate messages about healthy nutritional habits and infant care. Gaz’s best friend from school, Manal, was also nominated, and they were very excited to join the training together.

Gaz excitedly shares her knowledge from the training. She says she has learned about the benefits of breastfeeding and is convinced it will help mothers who traditionally start feeding their children different drinks and soup after only 40 days. She speaks confidently and enthusiastically about her new role in the community, saying how happy she is to be able to help her neighbors and friends in the village. Thankfully, her father has also accepted the idea that his daughter is working.

Gaz’s mother is proud of her daughter, too, especially for choosing to help other women. As the first woman in the family to have received an education and worked outside the home, Gaz contributes some of her monthly salary toward the family food bill. The rest she is saving for her marriage expenses. Although she is engaged, she is in no hurry to marry and insists she will continue working after she marries. She recognizes that the knowledge she has gained during the CHW training will be very useful for her when she has children of her own.

And reflecting back on her childhood desire to go to school, Gaz says she never would have imagined that she would one day have the information and confidence to go into women’s homes to discuss health and nutrition issues. “I just wanted to be educated like my brothers,” she says. “And that gave me the chance to be working and helping people. I wish that all the girls in Masrah could have an education. With education we could chase the ghost of malnutrition from Asyut!”

Learn more about USAID’s work on improving nutrition

Follow @USAID@USAIDGH and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter and use #GHMatters to join in the conversation about global health issues including #nutrition.

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