Sunday, October 23, 2016

What you should know about US foreign assistance. October 22, 2016

What you should know about US foreign assistance

By Max Bearak and Lazaro Gamio | The Washington Post | Published: October 22, 2016

Last month, President Barack Obama's administration announced an eye-popping $38 billion security assistance deal with the Israelis, to be disbursed over 10 years starting in 2019. That caught many off-guard. It seemed like a lot of money. But looking into the deal, and others like it, we began to realize how little we knew about the U.S. government's assistance budget, which ranges from programs combating HIV/AIDS to those directly funding other nations' armed forces.

Using the State Department's request to Congress for a 2017 budget, we compiled what we thought was a comprehensive look at the U.S. foreign assistance budget. That budget request is a complex stew of programmatic acronyms, thickened by confounding numerical overlaps and an endless roster of government agencies.
In response, numerous representatives of those same agencies, as well as academics and analysts, got in touch. "You guys are on the right track," they said, "but there's much more to this than you've got here."

A tiny fraction of the entire federal budget is devoted to foreign assistance - just about 1 percent. Most Americans vastly overestimate this number in surveys. In a Kaiser Family Foundation study published in early 2015, the average respondent thought that 26 percent of the federal budget went to foreign aid. Unsurprisingly, more than half the respondents thought the United States was spending too much on foreign aid.

We have laid out where the $42.4 billion will go in 2017. The money comes from the State and Defense departments and a slew of other agencies. But it would be wrong to think that "security assistance" comes entirely from the DoD. Security assistance is a broader term than so-called military aid because this financial support is often extended to other types of security forces such as anti-narcotic or trafficking units.

Actually, only about half the security assistance budget is provided by the DoD. That mostly derives from programs directly tied to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as the Afghan Security Forces Fund and the Iraq Train and Equip Fund. Deals like last month's with Israel, on the other hand, come from the State Department. In that case, the U.S. government is essentially financing Israel's military purchases. Under the current agreement, Israel can spend 26 percent of that money on military equipment produced in Israel, but the new deal, which starts in 2019, gradually phases out that stipulation. Then, like every other country, Israel will have to spend all the assistance money on American defense contractors. In other words, U.S. foreign military financing is essentially a way of subsidizing its domestic defense industry while strengthening the military capabilities of its strategic allies.

Economic and development assistance is almost entirely provided through the State Department's budget. This includes the budgets for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Peace Corps, reserve funds for disaster relief, funds geared toward specific objectives, such as preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and bilateral economic assistance packages.

Foreign aid assistance from the United States.
Lazaro Gamio/ The Washington Post

This economic and development assistance cartogram, which is a fancy word for a map specifically geared toward a comparative display of statistics, shows American aid spread out among more than 100 countriesand therefore vaguely resembles a normal map.

Seven African countries feature among the top-10 recipients of economic assistance. Most of the money given to those countries is funneled toward health initiatives, particularly HIV/AIDS treatment and research. The biggest recipient, however, is Afghanistan, where the United States is hoping to win over hearts and minds with all kinds of development assistance after 15 years of military quagmire there.

As opposed to the broad dispersal of economic development funds, the security assistance cartogram demonstrates the targeted nature of the American national military strategy. A swath of countries from Egypt to Pakistan - excluding Iran, of course - receive the vast majority of U.S. security assistance.

The biggest individual, non-bilateral program in the security assistance budget is the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF). The DoD describes the program thusly: "For DoD to provide assistance to the security forces of Afghanistan to include the provision of equipment, supplies, services, training, facility and infrastructure repair, renovation and construction, and funding."

Security Assistance Monitor, the nonprofit organization that provided much of the data on which this article is based, says on its website that the ASFF's ultimate goal "is to produce an independent, self-sufficient armed forces for Afghanistan."
The security assistance budget also includes "train and equip funds" for allied forces in Iraq and Syria. Those funds go toward the Iraqi army, as well as Kurdish peshmerga troops and other militias the U.S. cooperates with in both countries in its push against the Islamic State.

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Israel and Egypt are the biggest recipients of U.S. military financing. Israel receives about $3.1 billion in annual financing currently, and that number will increase to $3.8 billion after 2017. Egypt has received major financing ever since it agreed to an American-brokered peace with Israel in the Camp David Accords of 1978.
But if the U.S. assistance budget demonstrates where the American government has strategic interest, then where are some of our biggest allies on the cartograms? Saudi Arabia, NATO members, Japan, South Korea and India are all conspicuously absent.

The answer is that those countries simply buy arms from the United States rather than receive large-scale assistance. Many have their own established defense programs. U.S. arms deliveries worldwide for 2015 amounted to $21.9 billion.
The United States sells arms to nations that surround its main adversaries, China and Russia, as well as to countries playing active roles in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, which includes most of the Gulf states.

The massive scale of assistance the United States provides to nations around the world is a reflection of its ubiquitous presence on the world stage, and the sheer size of its economy. The United States provides far more assistance than any other country in the world, and in terms of arms sales, it controls at least half the global market.

However, the United States gives less as a percentage of its gross national income than other countries. U.N. resolutions have set 0.7 percent of GNI as an unofficial benchmark that developed countries should contribute to foreign assistance. According to 2015 OECD statistics, the United States contributes about 0.17 percent of its GNI, below the 0.3 percent that is the average for developed nations. Only six countries, all in Europe, have reached the U.N. benchmark: the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden. Sweden stands out, contributing almost 1.4 percent of its GNI to foreign assistance.

Data-driven preparedness for disaster. October 20, 2016

Data-driven preparedness for disaster

By Thomas RocaBessie Schwarz 20 October 2016

Flood seen from satellite. Photo by: NASA Earth Observatory
In December 2015, Paris hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Governments, nongovernmental organizations and local communities gathered to take action against climate change and move forward after successive failures in reaching common ground for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The historic COP21 agreement that came out of the Paris meetings will be governing law in just a few weeks, after being ratified earlier this month.
However, the enactment of the first meaningful international climate regulation shouldn’t hide the alarming situation on the ground and the lack of preparedness among communities to face growing numbers of increasingly intense climate change-related disasters. Take the potentially catastrophic threats posed by increased flooding.
According to the United Nations, 250 million people are affected by flooding every year — many of these people lose their livelihoods and their lives. The number of people threatened by flooding and its impact on gross domestic product will double by 2030, creating disaster damage that the world is simply not prepared to handle. Many communities and governments living in the path of today’s and tomorrow’s floods do not even have insufficient information about the risks the disasters pose.
These unprecedented threats need to be matched by unprecedented tools. Operationalizing global climate agreements and preparing the world for unprecedented physical, social and economic challenges requires equally transformational, fast, efficient and scalable methods. Young innovators and “hacktivists” from unexpected sectors are unlocking a world of data — new and old — to invent new ways of empowering society from the community to the international scale.
This year, the Laboo Awards recognized three innovations with this potential. In September 2016 in Paris, the Convergences Forum gathered civil society, private sector and administration around the “three zeros:” zero carbon, zero poverty and zero exclusion. Since 2015, the French humanitarian NGO ACTED and Convergences have sponsored the Lab Laboo Challenge to reward digital innovation. This year, one prize and two special prizes were awarded to projects addressing climate change resilience and disaster preparedness using remote sensor data: Caribe Wave (tsunami detection), Cloud to Street (flood vulnerability assessment) and EverImpact (greenhouse gas emissions measurement at the local level).
Cloud to Street addresses the preparedness information gap for communities vulnerable to flooding. The young startup combines satellite imagery, crowdsourced information from those on the ground, machine learning and user-centered design to predict social and physical vulnerability to flooding that is faster and cheaper than ever possible before. The analysis can run in any browser anywhere in the world in seconds, unlike more costly traditional hydrologic models that run on supercomputers at a university. The goal is to create accessible “living vulnerability assessments” — for vulnerable communities — that update every time a satellite takes a picture of the earth, a river changes course, or someone on the street tweets about a flood.
First, they use their own remote sensing algorithm to mine historical images of the globe stored in massive Google Earth servers and figure out where floods have been in a country in the last few decades. These data then feed machine learning models that predict which parts of the country are likely to flood in the future. Finally, they engage communities at risk on and offline to get meaningful feedback about what’s happening on the ground and what makes their communities either strong or vulnerable in the face of a flood.
Fine-tuned vulnerability assessments, as well as tsunami and flood predictions, can provide additional information at the subnational scale in order to know where and how to best spend that money in vulnerable countries.
Leveraging big data for development
Agence Française de Développement and Cloud to Street are partnering to pilot this kind of work for Senegal, in order to test big data for climate change resilience and improve tools currently used within AFD to map vulnerability. This effort is part of a broader attempt by AFD to leverage big data for development and unleash the potential of private sector data, in particular through the Open Algorithms project or OPAL, that gathers together several partners including The Data-Pop Alliance, Orange, MIT, Imperial College London and the Overseas Development Institute.
Partnering and empowering local communities to produce local information is crucial to strengthening preparedness, in addition to raising awareness on climate change related disasters. Although technology will never provide all the answers to such a challenge, data science techniques and remote sensor-generated data can help saving lives when disasters such as tsunamis and floods hit the most vulnerable.
However, donors are not always familiar with these techniques and more critically, donors are not always structured — or incentivized — to identify and nurture innovations. In order to support ground-breaking solutions and scale up promising results emerging from research, donors may benefit from giving themselves a certain space and financial support for R&D, to experiment, learn from success and failure, as indeed, we tend to confuse accountability for obligation to succeed.
Donors could therefore play a bigger role in bridging innovation, implementation and empowerment of local communities which could in return provide feedback — or even data in the case of flood mapping — and build up their resilience.
#WaterWindow is an online conversation to amplify the discussion on flood resilience. Devex, together with its partners the Global Resilience Partnership and Zurich Insurance Group, aims to shine a light on innovative solutions to tackle the issues faced by communities worldwide. Join us.

About the authors

Thomas RocaThomas_Roca
Thomas Roca is a researcher and statistician at the French Development Agency. Thomas is developing AFD’s research program covering well-being, human development and alternative welfare indicators, including Big Data for Development. Thomas’s field of work covers also data visualization and programming and he is developing AFD’s data visualization Web portal called AFD Country Dashboard.

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Bessie Schwarz
Bessie Schwarz is the co-founder and president of Cloud To Street, a tech startup that provides inclusive climate risk information to vulnerable communities and their governments. Bessie also holds a position at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, a research center studying the psychology of climate change. With a background in community organizing, her work is centered at the nexus of big data spatial analysis and citizen empowerment.

The Black Emergency Managers Association International support(s) the Sustainable Development Goals

The Black Emergency Managers Association International support(s) the Sustainable Development Goals

Team Rubicon’s Clay Hunt Fellows Program (CHFP). February 2020

True or false? Military service fully prepares us to take on the civilian careers we desire after our time in uniform. If you said ‘...

..Haiti. We will not forget.


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