In parts of Zimbabwe where market conditions allow, the World Food Programme is arranging for cash to be given to those in need. In this way, people make their own decisions about buying their food – and the local economy benefits too.
Archives for Sub-Saharan Africa
This originally appeared on the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition blog.
As policymakers discuss how to avoid the fiscal cliff, including sequestration, U.S. development agencies are continuing to take steps to make development and humanitarian assistance more effective. In the wake of the famine in the Horn of Africa, a typhoon in the Philippines, and even Hurricane Sandy at home, USAID’s new policy (PDF) – one that actually isn’t an acronym – “Resilience” is about using existing development dollars more effectively in disaster prone regions, so that less humanitarian assistance is needed in the future.
Almost half our funding consistently goes to countries classified as “long term recipients” of U.S. humanitarian aid, with 75% of USAID’s humanitarian aid going to 10 countries over the last decade. Making it easy to predict “where and who” is likely to be affected: Sub-Saharan Africa. Tragically, this region has experienced more than “1,000 disasters” over the past four decades. These fairly cyclical humanitarian crises disproportionately impact areas defined by chronic poverty and conflict. Such despair can strip humans of their dignity and create conditions that extremists exploit – something that rings all too true in the Horn of Africa.
The cycle, however, also includes America’s response – the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor – complete with public awareness campaigns (e.g., “FWD Campaign”, USAID’s multimedia response to the 2011 drought). The American public’s generosity is extraordinary, as is the dedication of those working on the frontlines of humanitarian disasters. But this new policy is about getting at the root causes of the circumstances that can lead to the need for humanitarian interventions and then, deploying new technologies and forging new partnerships to break this cycle.
And as we saw in Ethiopia, it is possible. In 2005, Ethiopia began a resilience program, Productive Safety Nets Programme. As a result, when the worst drought in 60 years hit Ethiopia and its neighbors and plunged over 13 million people in East Africa into crisis, the resilience program paid off. This collaborative initiative between the Ethiopian government and international donors – including USAID – resulted in noticeable improvements to the program’s targeted areas during the 2011 drought and a more cost-effective response of $53 per person. This compares with $169 per person during the United Nations and NGO-managed response to the crisis – in spite of earlier warnings (PDF) of the impending disaster.
But what’s the ultimate goal? USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah says success will be measured by whether USAID is able “to put ourselves out of business” by reducing the number, volume, and length of time of the “infusions of humanitarian assistance needed in the future.” Translating it down to the local level, as His Excellency Elkanah Odembo, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States, told the audience at the policy’s launch event, a key indicator will be whether the next drought to strike the Horn of Africa – and you can count on one – leads to smaller numbers of displaced persons crossing the border into his country.
As America strives to get our own fiscal house in order, the fact of the matter is that we’re also nearing a critical mass for relief and development funding. Meaning, “doing more of the same,” to quote Administrator Shah, is no longer an option. Nor should it be.
Over the last month, we have watched communities along the New York and New Jersey coastline begin to rebuild from the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy. It is a reminder that we are all vulnerable to natural disasters that can happen at any time. How communities survive and recover from these shocks depends very much on their resilience – their ability to cope and their systems for preparing, responding and rebuilding. In the United States, these systems are already in place and, for the most part, function well. This is not the case in many low-income countries.
Year after year, we see poor communities in developing countries deal with the effects of floods and droughts. Many of these weather-related problems are predictable, and so is the recurring “hunger season”—the period before the main harvest is ready—in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. All of these cause a great deal of suffering, including severe malnutrition which threatens the lives of the most vulnerable. In fragile states, vulnerability to shocks is even higher. Each year, humanitarian agencies mobilize relief efforts to save lives. Once the crisis is over, we go back to business as usual.
It shouldn’t be this way. People in the affected communities know all too well that every year the rainy season or monsoon cuts off their contact with nearby towns, or that every year the dry season leaves many families without access to enough food. With the right support, countries and local communities can build systems and develop responses that help people get through these difficult seasons. This way, they are not stuck in the powerless position of hoping, year after year, that emergency assistance will arrive in time.
In 2007 and 2008, many millions of poor people suffered because of a dramatic rise in global food prices, particularly for basic grains such as rice and wheat. They had no control over the causes of the price hikes, and they had very few coping mechanisms. Poor families spend a large percentage of their income on food, so when prices soared, they had to cut back on more nutritious foods, eat fewer meals, and go without other basic needs such as health care. The World Bank estimated that the food price crisis pushed more than 100 million people deeper into poverty.
The crisis served as a wake-up call — it risked reversing the tremendous progress the world had made in reducing extreme poverty and hunger. In fact, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), progress against hunger stalled due to high and volatile food prices.
As a result, there has been a greater focus on the concept of resilience since 2008. It is very important that USAID now has its first policy and program guidance (PDF) on building resilience. Through Feed the Future and Food for Peace, USAID has already acted on important components of such an undertaking, with the focus on reducing malnutrition in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2 and helping smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods and diversify diets in their families and communities. Social safety nets are also essential. With dramatic weather events and food price volatility only likely to continue and intensify due to climate change, the need to build resilience has never been greater.
Regina Anek, a deputy director for gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria, just saved a 14-year old girl from an early, forced marriage. She says she was empowered to intervene as the result of her participation in a USAID-supported mentor-training program for teachers and education officials aimed at encouraging girls not just to enroll, but also to complete, secondary school.
School completion rates for girls in South Sudan are extremely low. Survey data indicates that the rate of completing the eight-year primary cycle is currently 30 percent for boys, while the girls’ completion rate lags far behind at 17 percent. Secondary school completion rates are even worse. This cannot only be attributed to the long conflict in this country, which prevented many girls from attending school, but also to other unique cultural and financial barriers.
One rampant cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty has been cited as a major reason for parents marrying off their daughters in exchange for money. Moreover, cultural norms in some places dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. Communities often stigmatize older girls in schools, causing them to give up their education.
With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls now stay in school, and some who were married at an early age are now able to return and complete their secondary schooling.
The GEE program’s three components include:
- a scholarship program;
- an advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring program;
- and an institutional support program.
Regina Anek was trained as a mentor, enhancing her skills to intervene in communities where girls face social pressure to leave school to get married.
“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community. Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me [to] accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case,” Anek said.
After weeks of negotiating and educating the community leaders and the girl’s parents on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.
As part of the USAID Education Strategy (PDF), we are focused on improving reading for 100 million primary school students. We are supporting a movement to get All Children Reading. Our core approach is focused on improving teaching, making sure children have enough time to learn to read, using a language they understand, making sure they have access to reading materials, and testing to ensure they are meeting goals. These five “Ts” are key to reading success.
Reading is the most important skill that children learn as they start school. Reading success in elementary school leads to success in other subjects, higher education and life. And yet, in some sub-Saharan African countries, children who have attended school for five years have a 40 percent chance of being illiterate.
Reading saves lives. A child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school and better able to protect their children from malnutrition, HIV infection, trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Reading impacts financial stability. As many as 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills. That is equivalent to a 12 percent drop in the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. Research has found that countries that have experienced surges in literacy rates by 20 percent to 30 percent have seen simultaneous increases in GDP of 8 percent to 16 percent.
USAID’s approach to improving reading and literacy revolves around five goals, also known as the five “Ts”:
- More time devoted to teaching reading
- Better techniques for teaching reading
- More texts in the hands of children
- Teaching children in the mother tongue (a language they speak and understand)
- Testing childrens’ reading progress
Time. Reading has to be taught every day. Teachers and administrators need to maximize the amount of time spent on reading. Children also need additional practice time. Increased time spent learning and practicing reading results in success.
Teaching. To be effective, teachers need to teach the five components of beginning reading: phonemic awareness (knowing the sounds of their language), phonics (matching
the sounds to print), vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
Text. In order to learn to read, children require ample reading materials. Materials don’t have to be expensive, but they must match children’s reading levels, and every classroom needs multiple titles so children may strengthen their reading skills.
Mother Tongue. Beginning reading instruction must be conducted in a language that children speak and understand. Acquiring solid reading skills in their first language allows children to learn content and to become successful learners of other languages.
Testing. Assessment should be conducted in classrooms to ensure that teachers are aware of children’s progress and instructional needs. Assessment must also be conducted at the national level to support data-driven policy making.
USAID and our partners are dedicated to pursuing reading improvements because they change lives.
In the spirit of International Education Week, we decided to share our favorite picture of children learning in South Sudan.
Many of us youth development practitioners have been eagerly anticipating the release of USAID’s youth policy with the hope that it will increase awareness of the importance of youth issues to development. I know from EDC’s work around the world how integral youth are to economic, social and political development.
One of the main principles in the youth policy is youth participation and youth leadership. In my work with youth in Garissa, Kenya, I see how young people have jumped at the chance to get involved in their communities, when given channels to apply their ideas and energy. Young women and men producing and broadcasting their own radio stories throughout North Eastern Province about news that matters to them is a great example. Youth led programming‐with youth in real decision‐making roles is essential, but it is far from easy and quick; it takes time and involves lots of trial and error. So it’s important for us to understand this when designing programs—we need to be ambitious but also patient and target a range of outcomes, that include building the capacity of young people not just as leaders, but as team members that are able to work together to problem solve and make decisions. I’m hopeful that we, as practitioners, and our colleagues at USAID can design programs that reflect this complex process.
The Youth Policy’s emphasis on families and communities is another principle that the Garissa experience has demonstrated. As important as ‘youth‐led’ programming is, youth still need support and encouragement to take on new roles and responsibilities. In fact, I think parents are often the best partners we have in communities because they know first‐hand how much their children are frustrated or depressed when they do not have opportunities. We hear directly from parents in Garissa how much they want to help their children do something that stimulates them or gives them inspiration, such as access to training or scholarships. Programs need to include parents consistently therefore, and not just at the launch of the project or when problems arise.
I’m also hopeful that the Youth Policy will reinforce USAID’s gender policy to continue to highlight the importance of gender within youth programs and development programs more broadly. All too often, the different needs and considerations for reaching young women and young men are not part of youth program design. We see this particularly in workforce programs in which it is rare to see specific workforce strategies for young women vs. men. As youth employment receives more attention, we can’t forget that meaningful solutions for addressing youth employment must consider the unique constraints affecting young women’s and men’s employment and livelihoods opportunities.
About the Education Development Center, Inc.: EDC designs, delivers and evaluates innovative programs to address some of the world’s urgent challenges in education, health and economic opportunity. EDC has designed and managed youth and workforce development programs in over 25 developing countries. Our programs focus on changing the life trajectory of youth who have been left out and left behind. EDC offers an integrated package of education, supports and experiences to ensure young people transition to successful, productive adulthood. Our focus on earning, education, and engagement and three primary cross‐cutting strategies make EDC’s work unique.
Regina Anek, a Deputy Director for Gender at South Sudan’s Ministry of Education in Eastern Equatoria state, just saved a 14-year-old girl from an early, forced marriage. She was empowered to intervene as a result of a series of trainings she received from a USAID-supported girls education program that provides mentoring training to teachers and education officials to encourage girls not only to enroll in but also to complete secondary school.
USAID’s Gender Equity through Education Program has strengthened the education system by addressing financial and infrastructure barriers, social and cultural barriers, and institutional barriers to gender parity in education, through scholarships; advocacy, community mobilization, and mentoring; and institutional support. The mentoring training gave Regina skills to intervene in situations where girls face communal pressure to drop out of school to get married.
“I was informed that a student from one of the schools in my state was about to be married off, and I hurried to convene a meeting with the family and community to stop the matter,” Regina explained. “Meanwhile, I asked the parents to allow me to accommodate the girl at my house so that she could continue attending school as we resolved her marriage case.” Regina added that after weeks of negotiating and educating the girl’s parents and community leaders on the importance of an educated girl to the family and society as a whole, the girl was allowed to return home and continue with school.
These USAID-supported mentoring activities are meant to support girls within and outside of the educational structure to address broader social and cultural issues that keep girls from completing their education.
Survey data indicate that while 30 percent of boys in South Sudan complete the eight-year primary cycle, only 17 percent of girls do. The legacy of war in South Sudan is one factor, but girls’ education is also hampered by other social, cultural and financial barriers that hinder them from either enrolling in or staying in school.
One cultural barrier is early marriage. Persistent poverty in communities has been cited as a major reason that parents give their daughters in marriage in exchange for some financial security for the family, but some cultural norms also dictate marriage readiness for girls as young as 13. The community at school and outside of school stigmatizes older girls in school, which adversely affects their school attendance. With USAID’s mentoring support and some tuition stipend, many girls who were married at an early age are able to return and complete secondary school.
USAID’s efforts in supporting girls’ education in South Sudan date back to 2002, when scholarship support was provided to girls to complete secondary school and join teacher training institutes. This was aimed at encouraging more women to join the teaching profession, because research indicates that targeted recruitment of women has a correlation with girls completing school. USAID provided more than 9,000 scholarships through this program to girls and disadvantaged boys in secondary school and more than 4,400 scholarships to students in teacher training institutes in South Sudan and the “Three Areas” on the Sudan-South Sudan border (Abyei, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan).