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Building resilience in the Horn of Africa

December 3rd, 2012
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See below for a guest blog from Abomsa Kebede, Technical Advisor for Save the Children in Ethiopia. This post describes the benefits of USAID’s new resilience strategy, which was unveiled today. This is the seventh post in our field feedback series and the third in Save’s “Aid Reform Stories from the Field” series. Click the links to read posts from Save the Children in Guatemala and MalawiWomen Thrive in Ghana, Oxfam America in Uganda, Management Sciences for Health in Bolivia, and PATH in Kenya.


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Two-year-old Lokko Godana drinks cow’s milk every morning. The milk is rich in proteins and vitamins, providing Lokko the nutrition she needs to supplement a daily diet of maize porridge. Lack of access to animal milk was the primary cause of her malnutrition last year when the drought slowed cow milk production in the southern pastoral areas of Ethiopia. With supplementary feeding for the cattle, milk production increased and Lokko’s health improved.

Malnutrition accounts for 53 percent of infant and child deaths in Ethiopia and children in pastoralist communities are among the most nutritionally vulnerable in the country due to recurrent and prolonged periods of drought. The lack of rainfall devastates fodder and water sources for cattle and other animals, decreasing milk production and putting children under five at risk of severe malnutrition.

For decades, Save the Children Ethiopia has been working with pastoralist families in Ethiopia to help them plan for, manage, and recover from drought emergencies. While we cannot stop droughts, there are successful strategies to lessen their impact.

One significant challenge in responding early to a severe drought is getting needed resources to communities fast. Speed is critical to preventing malnutrition. In the past, to receive disaster-related funding, Save the Children and other groups had to make new applications for funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donors, which often takes weeks or even months to process. This has been necessary because USAID and other donors historically have run emergency and development programs on separate tracks with separate funding sources, application processes, and program objectives. This has meant that even when we see a drought coming, we don’t typically have the flexibility to reprogram resources or receive new resources quickly in order to avert severe hunger and lack of nourishment, despite having existing relationships and funding mechanisms in place.

USAID is changing this way of working. Today USAID will unveil a new resilience strategy to support chronically risk-prone communities in between, before and after the repeat cycles of disaster. Furthermore, the agency will begin to broadly apply instruments, such as the “crisis modifier”, to quicken the pace of disaster response in the Horn of Africa and in other regions. The crisis modifier is a program component written into a cooperative agreement targeting drought-prone areas. USAID has integrated this option into development programs to reduce the processing and approval for emergency funding, even before a disaster strikes.

USAID already has implemented the crisis modifier successfully in my country for years. For example, in a project that I help manage, called “Pastoral Livelihoods Initiative,” or PLI, funded by USAID, the crisis modifier can make the difference between life and death for livestock – and malnutrition for kids. When the drought hits, the crisis modifier allows emergency programs to begin immediately by adding funds provided by USAID’s “Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance” (OFDA), to our existing PLI grant enabling Save the Children and our project partners to address the crisis early and limit its effects. The emergency funds help to prevent livestock loss through activities such as supplementary livestock feeding and commercial destocking to help families sell livestock ahead of a drought and then replace them after the drought. In response to the emergency in 2011, USAID programmed approximately $1.6 million through the crisis modifier to the consortium led by Save the Children under the second phase of the PLI project. As a result, this project was able to lessen the impact of the drought for more than 180,000 people.

USAID is not planning to create a new bureau to implement their resilience agenda, but instead will bring all bureaus together—OFDA, Food for Peace, Global Health, Food Security, Climate Change and others—to do more joint problem solving and planning. Instead of sending multiple teams out to target countries to complete separate analyses and action plans, USAID has launched “joint planning cells” from these bureaus to connect staff in the field and in Washington. These joint planning cells set objectives, design projects, and develop procurements around the same problems of community vulnerability, looking at both immediate and long term needs. This joint approach appears to be paying dividends.

While recognizing that the resilience approach, crisis modifier, and joint planning cells are not yet standard practice across USAID programs, I believe they show good progress in the right direction. While developed initially for the case of Ethiopia, USAID is looking for ways to introduce the crisis modifier to other disaster-prone countries around the world. Just in the Horn of Africa, USAID is seeking to directly benefit 10 million people and reduce the numbers of people that need emergency assistance by one million over five years through resilience-focused programming.

We as Ethiopians feel that our government and local institutions should increasingly lead, manage, and apply these disaster risk management techniques in a way that is most appropriate for our communities. Moreover, we need to create early warning systems for livestock crises and community-based resilience funds that are coordinated with the Ethiopian government’s emergency response. Already the Ethiopian government has adopted some PLI best practices in its national emergency livestock guidelines.

USAID must play a strong leadership role with the Ethiopian government and other donors to ensure that resilience is not just another fad but a meaningful and sustainable step forward in changing how all national and global institutions address recurrent crises. Kids like Lokko are counting on it.



Mark Your Calendars — Week of December 3

November 29th, 2012
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Every Thursday, MFAN will post a list of upcoming events for the following week. For more information about each event and to RSVP, click on the links below. If your organization is hosting an event next week and you don’t see yourself on the list, please email

See below for a list of MFAN Partner events:



Secretary Clinton talks development at the MCC

November 29th, 2012
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Secretary Clinton addressed the MCC this week, commending the agency for their strong leadership in U.S. development efforts, saying the “MCC’s model showcases some of our best thinking about how to do development for the 21st century, and has helped to set the stage for the Administration’s approach for development, because at a time when we must look for the way to maximize the impact of every dollar that we spend on development, we often turn to MCC for information and inspiration”.

She also hinted as to what the development agenda under President Obama’s second term may hold, emphasizing that partnership and accountability will continue to be  priorities over the next four years.



Mark Your Calendars — Week of November 19

November 16th, 2012
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Every Thursday, MFAN will post a list of upcoming events for the following week. For more information about each event and to RSVP, click on the links below. If your organization is hosting an event next week and you don’t see yourself on the list, please email

See below for a list of MFAN Partner events:



MFAN Statement: President Obama Can Use Second Term to Solidify Gains, Drive Additional Progress on Foreign Assistance Reform

November 13th, 2012
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November 13, 2012 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

MFAN wishes to congratulate President Barack Obama, as well as returning and new Members of Congress, for their victories in the 2012 elections. With regard to U.S. development and foreign assistance efforts, this is an important moment to look back at the accomplishments of the last four years and ahead to the clear opportunities of the coming term.

During President Obama’s first term in office, we saw significant progress made in elevating, reforming, and reshaping U.S. development programs. The President built on efforts by the Bush Administration to create a new model for U.S. foreign assistance, taking them a step further by releasing the first-ever Presidential Policy Directive on Development (PPD). The PPD established a roadmap for transforming our development programs with a greater focus on country-led approaches, monitoring and evaluation, transparency and accountability, and more efficient partnerships and coordination between the public and private sectors. To execute this vision effectively, the President supported a landmark internal reform process to revitalize the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and launched innovative new programs like Feed the Future and the Partnership for Growth. We applaud the President, his staff, and other key players from the Administration and Congress for having the courage to push these reforms.

The next four years offer the opportunity to solidify gains and drive additional progress. MFAN will focus specifically on four key areas, which will be discussed in more detail in a forthcoming set of transition recommendations:

  • Institutionalizing reform by working with Congress to pass key legislation, like the Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act, which enjoys support from Democrats and Republicans in both chambers.
  • Strengthening U.S. leadership in global development by producing an overarching global development strategy.
  • Improving transparency and accountability by ensuring that relevant agencies follow OMB guidelines and submit information to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), and that such information is cross-posted to the dashboard.
  • Transitioning from aid to development cooperation by rethinking our relationship with middle-income and other countries where non-aid tools, such as trade and investment, can have a stronger impact.

These are big and ambitious undertakings but we believe they are realistic and achievable. We are particularly optimistic of success because of what we heard on the 2012 campaign trail. Both President Obama and Governor Romney spoke publicly about the importance of U.S. efforts to alleviate poverty, drive economic growth, and eradicate disease in developing countries. We hope that policymakers in both parties will agree that our ability to maintain our leadership and leverage on a changing world stage, and turn the unprecedented development gains of the past decade into lasting change, will rest heavily on how well we use non-military tools of foreign policy like development and diplomacy.

We look forward to working with our MFAN partners, the Obama Administration, and the next generation of development leadership in Congress to continue reforming U.S. foreign assistance to make it more effective and accountable.