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USAID programs in GuineaAccording to the World Bank, 35% of people in Guinea lived below the international poverty line in 2012, meaning they subsisted on less than $1.90 a day. Around 55% of Guineans lived below the country’s national poverty line in the same year. The U.S. began providing aid to Guinea through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shortly after the agency’s creation in the early 1960s. The relationship between USAID and the Guinean government has remained strong and a number of aid programs continue today. USAID programs in Guinea provide a diverse set of services in various economic and social sectors.

Feed the Future Guinea Agricultural Services Project

Agriculture is the backbone of the Guinean economy. According to the World Bank, the agricultural sector employs 52% of workers in Guinea and farming is the main income of 57% of rural households. Hence, improving agricultural output and profits is key to reducing poverty and hunger in Guinea, particularly for the rural population.

USAID started the Feed the Future Guinea Agricultural Services project in 2016 and still runs it in 2021. Feed the Future is a U.S. government program dedicated to eliminating global hunger and food insecurity, with efforts in a number of countries around the globe. Guinea’s Feed the Future program partners with local farmers and organizations, such as the Federation of Fruit Planters of Lower Guinea, which has more than 1,000 members.

USAID also brings in students from the Apprenticeship in Extension, Entrepreneurship and Rural Innovation (AVENIR) program, an initiative created to provide 640 unemployed Guinean college graduates with skills to start up their own agricultural businesses. These AVENIR agents then pass on their knowledge on sustainable farming and good entrepreneurship to Guinean farmers.

The results of the Feed the Future program are impressive, increasing certain crop yields by five, 10 or even 500 tons a year. AVENIR agents bring in technology such as irrigation pumps and solar dryers to increase productivity and decrease harvest waste. Farmers trained by USAID’s AVENIR agents have negotiated for better prices, boosting their profits, and in turn, helping them to rise out of poverty.

Malaria Control and Other Health Programs

Many USAID programs in Guinea work in the health sector, especially in disease control. Malaria, in particular, poses a massive threat to public health, accounting for 14% of deaths among Guinean children younger than 5. Alongside the National Malaria Control Program, USAID works to strengthen the healthcare system and identify new methods of treating malaria. USAID also invests in malaria prevention methods such as insecticide-infused mosquito nets.

Data from the World Bank shows that the malaria-fighting efforts of USAID and others have made a difference in Guinea. The number of average cases of malaria per 1,000 people has decreased from nearly 430 in 2012 to around 280 in 2018. This essentially means that, on average, people in Guinea became 15% less likely to contract malaria.

USAID programs in Guinea also help the country fight the spread of other dangerous outbreaks such as Ebola and COVID-19. The Global Health Supply Chain — Procurement and Supply Management program (GHSC-PSM) helps manufacture and distribute valuable health supplies such as disease test kits, antimalarial drugs and more.

Health services are crucial for all people in Guinea, but especially those living in poverty, who would not have access to reliable, affordable healthcare without the intervention of USAID and other aid programs. By preventing the spread of diseases such as malaria, Ebola and COVID-19, USAID programs improve the quality of life of Guineans living below the poverty line.

The Cultural Cohesion for Peace and Prosperity Project

USAID programs in Guinea also focus on peace and community sustainability. For example, USAID’s Cultural Cohesion for Peace and Prosperity Project (C2P2) works to prevent conflict between competing communities in Guinea, whether the fighting results from religious, ethnic or other differences.

Social science research shows a strong link between poverty and conflict. High poverty rates increase the likelihood of conflict occurring, and when violence breaks out, the people with the least resources often suffer the most. Ending and preventing conflict between various community groups allows people to focus on generating income rather than simply surviving.

The Impact of USAID

Overall, USAID programs in Guinea have a significant impact on those living in poverty, whether the programs focus on agriculture, health services or peace. Continuing to prioritize, fund and expand aid programs is key to improving overall living conditions and reducing poverty levels in Guinea.

Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

USAID hurricane preparation effortsBefore hurricanes arrive, aid organizations such as USAID work to prepare for the natural disasters. USAID hurricane preparation efforts for the Atlantic hurricane season include ensuring that the organization itself and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean have the supplies and knowledge needed to minimize the impact of hurricanes. With the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season underway, USAID’s preparation efforts will help communities, especially those most impacted by poverty, recover from the aftermath of hurricanes.

The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast

June 1 marked the start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season with the arrival of the first Atlantic hurricane, Hurricane Elsa. According to AccuWeather meteorologists, Hurricane Elsa is one of seven to 10 hurricanes expected for the year 2021. Meteorologists believe three to five of these hurricanes will qualify as major hurricanes — hurricanes with wind speeds more than or equal to 111 miles per hour.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast predicts a season with above-average intensity, but meteorologists do not forecast a record-breaking season. As with the 2020 hurricane season, COVID-19 presents a challenge for evacuation and relief efforts.

The increased poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean also create a new challenge for the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Extreme poverty levels increased in the region during 2020 due to COVID-19, with approximately 12.5% of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population currently living in extreme poverty.

People living in poverty face more barriers in recovering from the impact of hurricanes because they lack access to financial resources that could help them rebuild and seek assistance after hurricanes land. Furthermore, impoverished countries usually lack resilient infrastructure and housing, making these countries more vulnerable to damage and destruction.

Off-site USAID Preparation

Effective USAID hurricane preparation efforts require the agency to accumulate the supplies needed to help people affected by hurricanes. USAID maintains supply stockpiles in the U.S. state of Miami, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Pisa in Italy. By maintaining these stockpiles, USAID can distribute supplies as needed.

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also include testing temporary shelter in simulated hurricane conditions offsite before taking it to disaster-prone areas. Testing housing helps ensure that people impacted by hurricanes receive shelter that is safe and resilient to natural disasters.

On-site USAID Preparation

USAID hurricane preparation efforts also involve working with people on-site in communities at risk of hurricanes. USAID trains meteorologists, educates people about individual safeguarding measures to take to stay safe during hurricanes, stations experts in the Caribbean and Latin America and sends teams to disaster sites before hurricanes make landfall. All these actions help minimize the impact of hurricanes. To create teams that are familiar with the region before disasters happen, USAID stations long-term consultants, advisers and program officers in Latin America and the Caribbean.

USAID’s onsite work in Latin America and the Caribbean creates a network of people prepared to respond to disasters. As of May 2019, USAID trained 70,000 people in the region on disaster response. USAID provides disaster management teams with the necessary information to evacuate regions before flash floods begin, the most life-threatening aspect of hurricanes, by training meteorologists to evaluate the risk of flash floods.

Hurricane preparation saves lives by ensuring that physical and human capital is in place to respond to hurricanes and their after-effects. The Atlantic hurricane season continues until November 30, 2021. With the dedication of organizations such as USAID, disaster response in developing countries is strengthened and the impacts of natural disasters are mitigated.

– Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

USAID Programs in PakistanFor more than 60 years, the U.S. and Pakistan have shared a mutually beneficial relationship. Pakistan is the world’s fifth-most populous nation and one of the fastest-growing economies. Recent U.S. funding through USAID has targeted economic growth as well as peace and health in Pakistan. Two current areas of emphasis, education and gender empowerment, have seen recent success through USAID programs in Pakistan, serving as a powerful example of the potential impact of aid and investment in developing nations.

The Sindh Basic Education Program

USAID has worked closely with the Government of Pakistan to improve the nation’s overall access to schools and quality of education. The Sindh Basic Education Program (SBEP) targets the Sindh region of Pakistan. The region was affected by devastating floods in 2010 and is home to 47.9 million people.

Through USAID, the U.S. has invested $159.2 million in building schools to increase primary, middle and secondary school enrollment. The program will ultimately see the construction of 106 new schools in flood-affected areas as well as the consolidation of up to 280 existing schools. These newly merged schools will help streamline and revolutionize Pakistan’s education system.

The program aims to reduce the number of small, underfunded and understaffed schools in favor of more reliable teaching and an easier flow of resources. SBEP has the potential to increase enrollment while improving the reading skills of more than 400,000 Pakistani children. The program also looks to enhance overall child nutrition.

Reducing the Gender Gap and Increasing Budget

One of SBEP’s objectives is to shrink the gender gap in Pakistan’s education system. The program will designate 18 schools constructed under SBEP specifically for adolescent girls. These spaces will include computer and science lab resources. USAID partnered with Intel to train learners and educators in information and communications technology, specifically in these girls’ education facilities.

Another goal of SBEP is to, “provide technical assistance to the Education and Literacy Department of the Government of Sindh,” a process that has already started to positively influence Pakistan’s government. Sindh Provincial Education Minister Saeed Ghani announced a 13.5% budget increase for the Schools Education and Literacy Department for the fiscal year 2021-22. This denotes the nation’s heightened emphasis on providing access to high-quality education.

Prioritizing Gender Empowerment in Pakistan

USAID programs in Pakistan prioritize addressing gender inequality in the country. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, Pakistan ranks third-last in the world in terms of gender equality due to high rates of gender-based violence and a general lack of both economic opportunity and sexual and reproductive health rights for women. The U.S. and Pakistan have identified gender empowerment as a necessary vehicle for national growth and development.

Aside from boosting girls’ access to education, USAID gender empowerment initiatives cover several areas of need, aiming to create a more inclusive and equitable society. Beginning in 2012, “USAID-supported interventions have helped nearly 11 million women and children receive quality maternal, child and reproductive healthcare services.” The organization also trained Pakistani women to administer quality “health services to women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province through a mobile health unit program.”

Female Economic Empowerment

Programs also promote entrepreneurship and job creation, specifically for Pakistani women. USAID has impacted at least 50,000 female entrepreneurs with business development services, training and grants. By funding training and new technologies in agriculture, USAID helped create job opportunities for women.

USAID also assisted with placing female graduates in the male-dominated yet burgeoning Pakistani energy sector. Furthermore, USAID contributed to training close to “16,000 female political party representatives” to improve female representation in politics. USAID’s efforts focus on the development of women — a key step in diminishing the nation’s gender gap and lifting women out of poverty.

The Power of Partnership

Between reforming education by building and consolidating schools and empowering women through improved healthcare and career opportunities, USAID programs in Pakistan are fundamentally changing the lives of those most in need. The successes of USAID programs highlight the benefits of partnerships as the U.S. and Pakistan collaborate to reduce poverty and inequality.

Sam Dils
Photo: Flickr

USAID is Gendering Belarus PoliticsUSAID is an independent agency of the United States federal government that takes care of administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. It is one the largest official aid agencies in the world, controlling a large share of U.S. foreign assistance programs. USAID operates in more than 100 countries all around the world. One of them is Belarus, where USAID — which represents the second-largest actor after the E.U. — is effectively gendering its politics. USAID has indeed been able to transform the current business and social landscapes for Belarusian women.

Gender Politics in Belarus

In 2017, Belarus ranked 26 out of 144 in the Global Gender Gap Index. However, differences start to show when looking at detail. Women outnumber men at tertiary education enrollment. But despite being more likely to achieve white-collar positions, women are not as likely as men to receive managerial power. Only 17% of female white-collar employees rise through the ranks against a stark 41% for men. Women also lack executive power in politics. Although they hold around 30% of parliament seats, their presence in the executive branch is scarce. In addition, gender wage gaps have been increasing in recent years. This is due to the country’s employment residing namely in public sectors such as education, where pay is lower.

Belarus is a country where STEM start-ups and corporations are usually presented as a field for men to develop their careers. Belarus has profited from USAID support to Belarusian women. By sponsoring teams that consist of at least 30% women, the U.S. support program is bringing forth a cultural shift in the entrepreneurial mentality of Belarusians.

USAID is Gendering Belarus Politics

USAID is gendering Belarus politics by increasing the relative bargaining power of women in society. A clear example of this promotion commitment is USAID’s Community Connections Exchange Program, through which Belarusians have the opportunity to travel to the U.S. to undergo short-term exchanges. During this stage, they learn about innovative practices, youth business promotion and female empowerment. Women made up more than half of 2017’s edition of the program, enlarging the ranks of the more than 400 women that had already enjoyed these lessons and leadership skill-building tools. Not only that, but another instance of leading by example would be the U.S.’s personal compromise to constitute offices in Belarus. At least one staff member n the office must be female. This is regardless of whether their tasks involve directing diplomatic meetings, developing the private sector or dealing with administrative matters.

USAID’s Action

The U.S. commitment to improving the living conditions in Belarus extends well beyond jobs. It is also focusing on the way that politics are carried out in the country. The U.S. Department of State’s Human Rights Report has criticized the increasing neglect by Belarusian authorities to protect human rights as fundamental as the freedom of speech or press. However, to encourage positive promotion and not negative condemnation, the Embassy also assists the growing independent media and NGO community. It is offering public exchanges and bringing American experts to the country to offer insight into democratic initiatives and reforms.

Along those lines, American and Belarusian counterparts in law enforcement and international development agreed to collaborate; this is particularly through American support schemes for the education of Belarusian officials to enable the law to be upheld and create strong legal infrastructures. The advancement of human rights entails a clear compromise toward the inclusion of women in society, especially in a country where legislation is “gender blind.” While discrimination is formally prohibited, this does not stop employers to view women as undesirable based on their maternity benefits and earlier retirement age (55 for women and 60 for men).

USAID gendering Belarusian politics also means USAID is pushing for human rights to become a fundamental principle guiding legislative activity. Independent media, expert advice and reforms help create a more inclusive society. In addition, it is important to implement legislation that is gender aware, rather than gender blind.

Moving Forward

Women’s participation in politics has been one of the main issues at stake in Belarus. USAID has helped promote civilian expansion and participation in political and economic decision-making. It has helped encourage opening up society and allowing for reform.

With markets opening, women have taken it as a sign that it is time for politics to follow the economic trail. The continued support offered by U.S. institutions to promote the role of women in the labor market may also enable them to increase their bargaining power in politics. Alongside the U.S. focus on protecting and projecting democratic reform and the rule of law in the country, there comes peaceful reform in a country that is making strides toward gender equality.

– Álvaro Salgado
Photo:Flickr

USAID in Ethiopia
USAID is concerned about Ethiopia’s civil war as the severity of humanitarian assistance needed continues to rise in Tigray, Ethiopia. Millions of civilians are displaced, and health access is critically disrupted across the region. In response to these conditions, USAID in Ethiopia officially launched the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). This team intends to mediate assistance and data analysis to provide much-needed humanitarian aid. Tigrayans continue to endure a civil war that has left millions shackled to poverty, terror and a lack of proper assistance.

Tensions Create a Civil War

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) governs Tigray, the populous region in Northern Ethiopia. TPLF is a large political party that has militarily enforced the autonomy of Tigray for 46 years, as it seeks to make Tigray a separate kingdom. In 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overtook the election and proceeded to minimize the TPLF’s influence in ruling coalitions. However, federal troops met him with opposition in Tigray. In response, the prime minister launched a domestic law and order operation on TPLF on November 4, 2020. The operation was only set to last for five days. Yet, as tension grew, Ahmed joined military forces with Eritrea to disarm the TPLF troops. Eritrean forces committed the majority of the human rights violations that followed during the five-day operation that turned into a five-month war.

Disaster Assistance Response Team in Ethiopia

USAID in Ethiopia launched DART to assess conditions within the country. The organization reported, “[DART is] identifying priority needs for the scale-up of relief efforts and working with partners to provide urgently-needed assistance to conflict-affected populations across the region.” The population in Tigray is roughly six million. Approximately one million civilians require assistance amid the civil conflict, and four million require urgent food aid. As conditions and access allow, DART conducts humanitarian health programs around the regions. Red Cross assists by distributing medical supplies and essential medicines.

The Stance of Ethiopia’s Government

Some Ethiopians feel deceived by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Since the declaration of war on Tigrayans on November 4, 2020, Ahmed has used Twitter to state his stance against any mediation offers from neutral parties and the international pressure for an inclusive dialogue with all parties involved.

On November 28, 2020, Ahmed tweeted the victory of Ethiopia against the TPLF forces. He stated, “I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region.” The Ahmed administration is reportedly rebuilding the region. However, the war has yet to cease. The following are current predicaments since November 4, 2020:

  • Reports of ethnic cleansing and sexual crimes have killed more than 52,000 Tigrayans.
  • Eritrean troops raped and killed in extrajudicial massacres. They also failed to exit Ethiopia following Ahmed’s victory announcement on November 28, 2019.
  • More than 61,300 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan as refugees. Of these refugees, 28% are children, and 4% are elderly.
  • As a result, women and girls reported rape cases and gang rape by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
  • More than two million children remain cut off from emergency federal humanitarian assistance due to families suspected of TPLF ties.
  • The government concentrates resources on warfare; thus, food, water, electricity and other health benefits are extremely limited.
  • Civilians have limited media access. Reporters and journalists are killed or arrested if they do not abide by laws set by the nation.

Progress of USAID

DART has monitored the conditions in Tigray with uplifting progress. The U.N. reports that 16% of Tigray’s hospitals are functioning. Of those functioning, 22% offer vaccination services. Thus, by increasing analysis and focus on critical areas, DART has successfully secured numerous smaller regions in Tigray. Prime Minister Ahmed requested that the Eritrean troops evacuate Tigray due to increased rates of gender-based violence which generated concern for USAID relief workers. Food also remains a critical issue. Other relief organizations, such as the Catholic Relief Services, contribute food and other commodities, in addition to assistance from USAID in Ethiopia.

Ayesha Swaray
Photo: Flickr

USAID’s PATTA ProgramFarming plays a dominant role in the national economy of Pakistan. With a population of more than 200 million, Pakistan is heavily reliant on agriculture to provide food for people. Agriculture contributes almost 20% to Pakistan’s GDP, and as of 2019, employs more than 40% of the workforce. Smallholder farms are often at a disadvantage as they have limited access to improved technology, which prevents them from producing high yields of crops. To combat this issue, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded the Pakistan Agricultural Technology Transfer Activity (PATTA), an initiative designed to increase Pakistani farmers’ access to improved agricultural technology. USAID’s PATTA program is also designed to encourage private sector investment in agriculture to increase incomes and efficiency.

Agriculture in Pakistan

Despite the overwhelming need to preserve the agricultural sector, the industry has seen a decline in productivity over the years. Pakistan is especially vulnerable to environmental degradation and instances of water shortages and extreme temperature fluctuations have severely damaged the country’s ability to produce enough crops to feed its populace. As a result, Pakistan stands to benefit from the advancements in agricultural technology. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), these improved technologies can aid in improving agricultural productivity by 70% by the year 2050.

The PATTA Program

To assist Pakistani farmers with obtaining improved agricultural technologies, USAID funds the four-year PATTA program which began in 2017. This program “enables the private sector to give Pakistani farmers access to innovative agricultural products and management practices, which improve productivity and enhance competitiveness.” To facilitate this, USAID introduced the “Agri-Tech Hub” in 2020, a comprehensive suite of agricultural technologies with the potential to change the lives of farmers. The PATTA program encourages  private sector investment in Pakistani agriculture “to commercialize the types of agricultural technologies that enable smallholders to increase their incomes, create jobs and enhance economic growth and stability.”

Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) is an agricultural organization that is also involved with the PATTA program. This organization assists agricultural technology businesses in expanding their markets by doing cost-benefit analyses as well as creating strategies on how these businesses can provide technical support and build capacity for small farmers. Additionally, the CNFA sets up demonstration events in which businesses can display the effectiveness of their products. These events often use different mediums such as radio and the internet in order to reach many different groups of people. Overall, the CNFA is involved in every step of the PATTA program. The CNFA helps agribusinesses market their technologies effectively while making sure farmers can get their specific needs met.

PATTA’s Impact During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had dramatic impacts on agricultural production around the world. In Pakistan, PATTA has been assisting local governments in raising awareness of safety protocols through digital communication. For example, during the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, PATTA partnered with the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s agriculture department in developing “tele-farming advisory services on agricultural technologies” through SMS and robocalls to deliver pertinent information to farmers.

PATTA has also utilized the radio in order to spread its messages. From May to July 2020, PATTA encouraged the use of agricultural technologies via radio broadcast to 23 selected districts across Pakistan, reaching approximately three million people. The use of digital communications allowed for social distancing as the pandemic prevented conventional meetings from taking place.

USAID’s PATTA program helps farmers acquire improved technologies in order to increase their crop yields. By engaging with the private sector, PATTA assists both agribusinesses and farmers in expanding. The concrete outcomes of the program are yet to be released, but nonetheless, it is clear that agricultural technologies have the potential to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers and reduce poverty in Pakistan.

– Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Pakistani Flood ReliefWhen the Indus River flooded Pakistan in 2010, the effects were widespread and devastating. Among those that were hit hard were Pakistani children whose schools were severely affected by the flooding. It is estimated that the floods destroyed or damaged more than 10,000 schools. Fast forward 11 years later, however, USAID has announced a major milestone in the now eight-year-long Pakistani flood relief project called the USAID-Sindh Basic Education Programme. USAID reports the completion of 106 schools in Sindh, a province stricken by flood damages.

The 2010 Indus River Floods

The Indus River floods in July and August 2010 were a result of massive monsoon rains causing severe flash flooding in Pakistan. The floods were estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than one million homes and affected more than 20 million people in the region. The impact was felt in just about every area of life in Pakistan.

Industries like farming and healthcare were severely hurt by the floods. Farmers were estimated to have lost millions of acres of usable land and more than a million livestock. Additionally, more than 500 hospitals or clinics in the region were reportedly damaged or destroyed.

On top of this, data from UNICEF in 2010 indicated that more than 1.6 million children either saw their schools damaged by floodwaters or converted into shelters. The massive displacement of children even resulted in fears of a rise in militia kidnappings at the time.

In total, the economic impact of all of that damage done by the floods was estimated as a loss of $43 billion.

USAID’s Pakistani Flood Relief

USAID has given more than $159 million toward education relief following the flood, with $81 million of the funding put directly toward the construction of new schools in northern Sindh. The money helped facilitate the completion of 106 schools, with 14 additional schools targeted to be finished by 2023. The schools will help serve more than 50,000 students in Sindh whose schools were affected by the flood.

These new schools have been built with the inclusion of elements like laboratories and computers in order to turn them into templates for the kind of high-quality educational standard that can hopefully be provided to other areas in the country in the future.

The State of Pakistan’s Education System

Despite efforts, Pakistan’s education system still faces challenges. According to UNICEF, just 56% of Pakistani children between the ages of 5 and 16 are currently in school. This means the country has more than 22 million children in this age range out of school, making Pakistan the country with the second-most out-of-school children in the world.

Additionally, significantly fewer children are enrolled in secondary school compared to primary school and significant gaps exist in overall schooling services. Socioeconomic gaps, for example, are prevalent in areas like Sindh where only 48% of the most impoverished children in the region are in school.

In other regions like Balochistan, significant gender gaps have emerged. Only 22% of girls are in school in the region. This reflects an overarching gender problem which can be seen in the disproportionate number of boys compared to girls in the education system as a whole.

Nevertheless, USAID’s newly completed schools as part of the Pakistani flood relief efforts represent the start of positive progress being made in the country’s education system. With each and every effort, Pakistani children are given an opportunity to rise out of poverty.

Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

Victims of Agent Orange
Countless Vietnamese people fell victim to the Vietnam War, which devastated Vietnam for two decades. Millions not only fell victim to conventional weapons of war, but millions have also suffered from the unconventional methods of that war, namely herbicidal warfare. Decades later, the United States government is working toward rectifying that wrong by assisting those who have suffered from the gas. Primarily, the U.S. is working through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by providing restitution for victims of Agent Orange.

Herbicidal Warfare

The Vietnam War has its roots in post-World War II when Vietnam temporarily split into two separate entities. Communist guerillas controlled the North, while the French Backed Emperor Bao Dai controlled the South. As the conflict between the two grew, the French became further entwined in the conflict, eventually leading the fight. Although a small, largely untrained force, the communist group, led by the charismatic leader Ho Chin Minh, successfully fought the French, winning the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Both sides signed the treaty at the Geneva Conference in 1954 and created an officially split Vietnam with promises of a nationwide election and reunification in 1956.

Although U.S. involvement in Vietnam was initially marginal, the CIA provided training and equipment to the South government, then controlled by Ngo Dinh Diem. Afterward, the U.S.’s involvement quickly escalated. After the torpedoing of two U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin, the United States began bombing campaigns and eventually deployed over 2.7 million soldiers throughout the war.

Agent Orange in the Vietnam War

The war officially lasted from 1955 to 1975, and over the two decades, nearly 3 million Vietnamese died, 2 million of whom were civilians. Although conventional warfare was primarily responsible for these deaths, herbicidal warfare provided its contributions. The United States dropped 20 million gallons of herbicides across the country, subjecting over 4 million Vietnamese to the toxic compounds. Primarily, the U.S. government used Agent Orange, an orange herbicide comprising two different types of herbicides, 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T, containing the poisonous chemical compound dioxin.

Although the U.S. stopped using dioxin in 1971, Agent Orange has had disastrous effects on the Vietnamese population. Everything from multiple forms of cancers, congenital disabilities, soft tissue sarcomas and peripheral neuropathy links to Agent Orange. The effects are widespread. Of the 4.8 million people across Vietnam that have had exposure to the herbicide, 3 million are suffering deadly diseases as a result. Tragically, the herbicide spans generations as many born two generations removed from the conflict suffer from congenital disabilities and health problems directly from Agent Orange. The lifespan of dioxin is complicated, but in human bodies, it can last up to 20 years, while it can last more than 100 years in sediments of bodies of water. It has contaminated soil, water supplies and food.

United States Liability

Although the U.S. government has provided over $197 million in payments to Vietnam veterans, providing restitution to Vietnamese citizens has been more complicated. The U.S. government has yet to apologize or accept responsibility for the after-effects of the herbicide. Even so, for the sake of strong bilateral ties with the U.S., much of the blame has gone to the chemical companies involved in the production of Agent Orange. However, companies insist that the responsibility falls on the U.S. government.

Vietnamese organizations have made multiple attempts to receive financial reparations for the Agent Orange that the U.S. used during the war. In 2004, a Vietnamese group sued over 30 companies involved in the production and manufacturing of Agent Orange; they alleged that the chemical agent’s use constituted a war crime. A Brooklyn district court dismissed the case in 2005.

Restitution in Vietnam

Nevertheless, as Vietnam and the U.S. improve their bilateral relations through USAID, the U.S. has taken on the initiative to help clean up the residual dioxin. In 2019, national security advisor Robert O’Brien announced that over $110 million of the USAID budget would go toward cleaning up the primary site for the storage of Agent Orange during the war, Bien Hoa Airbase Area. The joint project between USAID and Vietnam’s Air Force Air Defense Command will take up to 10 years. USAID is building upon the successful 2018 project with the Vietnamese government to clean up the area around the Da Nang Airport.

More so, it is providing relief for the victims of Agent Orange. The Obama Administration started this with the Trump Administration continuing the program. Afterward, the Biden Administration renewed the program. The U.S. Agent Orange/Dioxin Assistance to Vietnam report from the Congressional Research Service claims that aid for health-related services and assistance began being appropriated to USAID to use in Vietnam in 2009 but has continued with the dedication of a total of $94 million for just health-related services since 2011. Each year, the total has increased, apart from 2011 and 2013 when it dropped by $200,000. The most recent appropriations came in December 2020, dedicating $14.5 million to health-related activities. However, the majority of the appropriations went toward funding medical infrastructure and capacity building.

Looking Forward

More recently, USAID has moved to direct assistance. In April 2019, USAID announced a memorandum of intent to support people with disabilities. Shortly after, USAID set up staff in the country to collect information to understand the problem better. With this knowledge, the organization announced a grant to fund initiatives to improve the quality of life for those dealing with dioxin’s adverse effects. As Xuan Dung Phan describes it, “USAID will work with local NGOs to provide hospital-based/home-based rehabilitation, palliative care, home modifications, training, personal assistance services and assistive products.”

Although the U.S. government has refused to accept responsibility, through USAID, it has provided life-changing service for the millions of Vietnamese dealing with the residual consequences of its Agent Orange spraying during the Vietnam War. Thus, USAID is providing restitution for victims of Agent Orange.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Surjer Hashi NetworkBangladesh is a country in South Asia with a population of 163 million people. As a developing country, Bangladesh struggles to provide adequate healthcare for such a large number of people. The problem particularly brings challenges for people from rural and marginalized communities, who often cannot access quality health services. To combat this issue, the Surjer Hashi Network has been established. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), it is a network of hundreds of health facilities throughout the country. The facilities bring free or reduced-cost healthcare to low-income populations in Bangladesh while simultaneously bringing the country closer to achieving universal healthcare.

Healthcare in Bangladesh

Despite Bangladesh’s current struggles to provide a reasonable level of healthcare for its citizens, the country has made significant progress over the past few decades. Certain indicators have seen improvements such as maternal and infant mortality. Furthermore, the rate of vaccinations for children has increased dramatically, with the percentage of tuberculosis vaccinations for children under 1 increasing from 2% in 1985 to 99% in 2009. While the developments are a good sign, Bangladesh still faces many challenges in maintaining its healthcare system. For instance, the country suffers from a severe shortage of healthcare workers. As of 2009, only about one-third of the country’s facilities have at least 75% of qualified staff working in healthcare and 36% of health worker positions are vacant.

The ineptitude of Bangladesh’s governmental structure and the inability of its institutions to carry out its policies cause problems. The healthcare system is concentrated in urban areas even though 70% of the population lives in rural areas. Meanwhile, careless management obstructs the allocation of resources. Healthcare workers suffer from high turnover and absenteeism while maintenance of facilities is poor. Meanwhile, rural Bangladeshis often forego formal healthcare due to a lack of access in the communities. As a result, only a quarter of the population uses public healthcare.

The Surjer Hashi Network

USAID backs the Surjer Hashi Network of health clinics aiming at serving low-income and other underserved communities in Bangladesh. With 399 facilities nationwide, the network serves at least 16% of the population. In just a five-year period, USAID helped the Surjer Hashi Network prevent 2,000 maternal deaths and 10,000 child deaths. The facilities provide communities with proper healthcare in remote and underserved areas. Rural women, in particular, have benefited as the Surjer Hashi Network of clinics provides for reproductive health and child care.

Universal Healthcare in Bangladesh

In 2018, USAID started the Advancing Universal Health Coverage (AUHC) program, which has allowed the Surjer Hashi Network to remain operable in the long term. The program has consolidated the hundreds of clinics in the network into a centrally managed organization and it has introduced new business models aimed at keeping costs down and expanding health services. The efforts will ensure that clinics in the Surjer Hashi Network will be financially independent while providing high-quality and affordable healthcare for the disadvantaged.

As its name suggests, the AUHC’s goal is to achieve universal healthcare in Bangladesh. Through the Surjer Hashi Network, USAID is ensuring that Bangladesh can provide healthcare coverage for as many people as possible with healthcare facilities that are accessible in rural areas as well.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Reconstruction in HaitiHaiti is a country in the Caribbean with a population of 11.2 million. In 2010, more than 200,000 Haitians died in a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that also destroyed much of the country’s properties and infrastructure. Destruction from the earthquake has since been compounded by other natural disasters, unrest and disease outbreaks. The United States allocated USAID funding for reconstruction in Haiti back when the crisis first developed. In April 2021, a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examines how effective this aid was in helping Haiti recover. The report analyzes $2.3 billion of aid over the course of 10 years. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks, believes that this report will help identify which U.S. development projects best help Haitian people. In turn, this report has the potential to shape how U.S. aid in Haiti changes going forward.

Overview of Past Aid

The GAO found that USAID dispersed 89% of the total allocated aid to Haiti, with a canceled project to build a new port accounting for much of the remaining portion. In addition to operating expenses, the funding spent on Haiti fell into several categories. Health and disabilities as well as economic and food security made up the majority of spending at a combined 60%. Cholera outbreaks and droughts made these two sectors a high priority for funding. However, the aid that helped Haiti recover from cholera and food insecurity means a smaller portion of USAID funding focused on the physical infrastructure needed for reconstruction in Haiti.

Future USAID Projects

The U.S. Government continues to allocate aid in support of Haiti. Three months before the GAO  published the April 2021 report, the  United States announced additional developmental assistance aid to Haiti worth almost $76 million. U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Michele Sison, commended the work USAID has done so far in advancing health, education, food security and Haiti’s economy. Future projects through the most recently allocated aid will attempt to further progress.

In April 2020, the U.S. committed $16.1 million to exclusively address the COVID-19 outbreak in Haiti. Due to the urgent nature of crisis outbreaks in Haiti, the U.S. Government developed a rapid aid response for the country’s most pressing needs.

The World Bank

Other development agencies also responded directly to the relief required as a result of the earthquake. The World Bank responded to Haiti’s crisis by forming the Infrastructure and Institutions Emergency Recovery Project. This gave special attention to rebuilding vital institutions and infrastructure as part of reconstruction in Haiti. The overall aim was to benefit long-term recovery. These reconstruction activities helped more than 1.1 million Haitians as of May 2019. While the $11.3 billion required to reconstruct the damage from the earthquake far eclipses USAID funding for Haitian aid, the United States can more effectively impact this process by shifting the focus of aid.

The Road Ahead

More than 10 years ago, the country of Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake and USAID formed an aid relationship to assist in the country’s recovery. Since then, the U.S. Government involved itself heavily in improving Haiti’s dire needs when new crises emerge. Through the efforts of the United States and other fundamental organizations, significant progress has been made with regard to reconstruction in Haiti. Further efforts will build the foundation for more long-term recovery.

Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr