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- William H Goss
As the process of globalization inexorably ties nations, regions, and continents into a greater interconnected web of interaction, the recognition emerges that the condition of a particular geopolitical location is bound to the condition of the world as a whole. Conflict, poverty, and disease in one country may have negative consequences for another despite great spatial distance. Conversely, improvements in governance, economics, and public health in even a single city or town may have positive reverberating effects across distant continents. In regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) defines specific sectors such as Agriculture and Food Security, Education, Water and Sanitation, Crises and Conflict, and Global Health, and applies specific goals to each one. As a global actor, USAID approaches sub-Saharan African countries in west, east, and south sub-regions as individual cases in need of both immediate and long-term solutions for relief and development. USAID’s mission is shaped by the belief that improvements to a broad range of development sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa will enhance the national security of the United States. USAID operates through public-private collaborative efforts that provide financial and technical assistance in distinct but synergistic sectors.
USAID is a relatively young governmental agency that has periodically shifted its organization and strategies to achieve evolving goals worldwide. USAID was created by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which consolidated existing foreign aid organizations under one agency (Ballantyne & Dugan, 2012). From the onset, USAID leaders recognized the connection between international well-being and the well-being of the United States. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress, stating “Our efforts to help [other nations] help themselves, to demonstrate and strengthen the vitality of free institutions, are small in cost compared to our military outlays for the defense of freedom” (Ballantyne & Dugan, 2012). Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been a focus of USAID since its inception, and have become increasingly emphasized in recent times. In the 1960’s, USAID offered assistance in thirty-one sub-Saharan African countries in order to improve levels of education, agricultural productivity, and rural road development (Ballantyne & Dugan, 2012). Today, there is a multifaceted USAID plan for forty-two countries in the region (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2015).
The region of Sub-Saharan Africa, massive in terms of size and environmental, ethnic, and cultural diversity, possesses a complex series of human issues that are influenced by history, geography, and global interactions. Of all the countries in the world, the twenty-two lowest ranking on the Human Development Index – a measure of an average citizen’s health, knowledge, and standard of living – are all located in Africa (Marston et. al, 2014). European colonialism has left a legacy that continues to challenge African nations. During the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference, European powers created arbitrary boundaries on the African continent that grouped distinct and sometimes hostile ethnic, cultural, and religious populations together (Marston et. al, 2014). The transitions from colonial territories to independent nations were not uniform; instead, some countries developed stable, effective democracies while others are still marred with military dictatorships, corruption, and violence. Changes to infrastructure during Africa’s colonial period are still evidenced by the exportation of cash crops introduced by Europeans, such as tea plantations in Kenya and peanuts in Nigeria and Senegal (Marston et. al, 2014). Dependence upon a small group of agricultural exports, it can be argued, have made many African nations vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices and demand and have likely contributed to low levels economic development.
The essence of USAID’s motivation for its actions around the world and in sub-Saharan Africa rests on the premise that U.S. national security is bound to the stability of regions experiencing poverty, conflict, or other social issues. USAID defines itself as “[..] the lead government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential” (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2015). This mission statement is compatible with larger U.S. strategic imperatives in Africa. AFRICOM, a agency of the U.S. Defense department focused on military and strategic objectives in Africa, is one such partner. Sharon Cromer, the Senior Deputy Assistant Administer in USAID’s Bureau for Africa, stated to the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights that “[…] USAID and AFRICOM engagement is mutually supportive of U.S. foreign policy objectives. […] Instability, poverty, and disease travel with ease across oceans and borders” (U.S Congress, 2011). Despite the overarching goal of ensured U.S. security, however, USAID is unique from other U.S. governmental bodies in its focus on humanitarian aid in a wide range of categories.
The ability to provide reliable sustenance is one of the most primeval combinations of skills and knowledge that enable a population to thrive and develop. But when geographical, ecological and historical factors impede a population’s ability to feed itself, the overall productivity and well-being of society deteriorates. With less than 30% of sub-Saharan African soil able to be cultivated – in addition to the devastation that pests like locusts and the Quela bird can wreak on crops – African populations have necessarily developed adaptations appropriate for their respective ecological area (Marston .et all, 2014). However, the impacts of colonialism’s emphasis on export crops, as well as the effects of global climate change, have reduced the capacity of agriculture to provide food within the region. One approach USAID has taken in the pursuit of greater food security has been to provide education and technical assistance in the field of agriculture. For example, since the 1960’s USAID has supported institutions of higher learning such as Egerton College, a Kenyan university that leads the country’s study of agriculture and biotech (Toh, 2012). Another example of USAID’s effort to boost agricultural diversity can be found in developing dairy production in Kenya. Through the 1990’s and 2000’s, financial, technical, and training assistance were provided to the Siongiroi dairy plant, the success of which spurred economic growth in farming, transportation, and exchange (Toh, 2012).
Even more immediate in necessity than nutritious food is safe, reliable water for drinking and sanitation. In the midst of violent conflict, access to water can become tenuous at best. Sudan experienced civil war from 1955 to 1972 and 1983 to 1995, killing and displacing millions of people in and around the country (Marston et. al, 2014). Furthermore, the conflict destroyed physical infrastructure and social cohesiveness essential to maintaining utilities. In the recently-independent country of South Sudan, for example, USAID estimates that at least 30% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water and only 13% has the opportunity to use sanitation facilities (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2015). To increase the availability of clean water, USAID has made partnerships with private corporations. In Wau, South Sudan, USAID teams repaired the defunct water-treatment facility and expanded its operations under the Wau Urban Water Corp (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2015).
Public Health is a particularly salient developmental sector that has profound impacts on individuals, families, and communities in countries and around the world. The current Ebola epidemic in west sub-Saharan Africa has garnered widespread media attention and international responses. Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is caused by four of the five strains of the Ebola virus, which is transmitted through the contact of bodily fluids and is fatal in up to 50% of cases (CDC, 2015). USAID sent a Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART) to West Africa in August 2014 (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2015). In that month, the number of suspected, probable, and confirmed EVD cases was 1600, with 900 deaths. In April 2015, the total number of EVD cases was 26,277, with 10,884 deaths in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leon, Guinea, and Mali (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2015). This epidemic constitutes the largest Ebola outbreak in history (CDC, 2015). With such tragically high death rates, the fear that the Ebola virus will continue to spread has infected the minds of many citizens and leaders in far away nations, including the United States.
In order to combat the threat of a continuing Ebola virus epidemic and to provide relief and stabilization in affected countries, USAID has adopted a multifaceted approach that involves collaboration between other U.S. medical and military agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local people. USAID’s DART to West Africa “includes staff from […] USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services” (U.S. Agency for International Development, 2015). Possessing a large budget and hierarchical structure overseeing specialized task forces, USAID is able to organize the distribution of funding, logistical transport of goods and people, and communication with other groups to achieve a particular goal.
A major strength of USAID is its resource base and ability to deliver goods with flexibility, as well as communicate with other supportive organizations. Due to the highly contagious nature of EVD, health care practitioners in affected areas need specialized protective wear such as facemasks, gloves, and aprons to protect themselves from infection. In addition, sanitizing chemicals that can neutralize the virus from the equipment are of paramount necessity. One such chemical is High Test Hypochlorite (HTH), which due to its unstable chemical nature can cause explosions if handled incorrectly. To address this safety hazard, USAID organized the delivery via cargo ship of 53 metric tons of HTH to Guinea and 38 tons to Sierra Leone, which was then distributed by truck to necessary areas (Han, 2015). Logistical assistance such as this contributes to the overall goals of containment and treatment of EVD.
In the countries of Sierra Leon, Guinea, and Liberia –which have been the most heavily infected during the Ebola crisis – the dissemination of factual information to the public helps dispel myths that have inadvertently help the disease spread. Such myths held by some Liberians include the belief that the Ebola Virus is a hoax, or that patients who go to treatment clinics are experimented on (Mobula 2014). Such myths can dissuade people who are infected or at risk of infection from seeking treatment and spread the disease to others. In a country with fractured communication systems, it can be difficult to reach the ears of the larger community with clarifying information. USAID has partnered with a NGO called Internews that supports Guinean Journalists to cover stories about Ebola (Han, 2015). Some of the most effective reporting has come from within Ebola treatment centers, where interviews with health care providers, patients, and survivors transmitted via radio help to gain the trust and respect of listening native audiences.
One contributing factor to the proliferation of EVD in West African countries has been the overall lack or underdevelopment of health care facilities, trained practitioners, and infrastructure. In Liberia for example, one of USAID’s focuses is to continue to develop public health services even as the number of Ebola patients continues to fall. This action is taken in the belief that future outbreaks of infectious diseases will be better able to be contained. In Liberia, USAID funded a training program that worked with a Johns-Hopkins affiliated organization called Jhpiego to instruct health care workers on proper techniques for treating EVD infected patients while remaining safe themselves (Dale, 2015). The medical knowledge specific to the Ebola virus that has been acquired and spread will also be valuable in a broader public health context.
It is difficult to assess completely the complex interactions of agriculture and education, humanitarian conflicts and drinking water access, and public health in a global context. That being said, global actors such as USAID theorize that positive developments in distinct but synergistic sectors will amplify to reach the greater good of all. In sub-Saharan African countries facing social or environmental problems, USAID works to implement immediate and long-term solutions for relief and development. Through public-private collaborative efforts, USAID funds and supplies progressive actions in mutually-supportive sectors of development.
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