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A Salute to Aid Workers Opinion Editorial by Ambassador Eric P. Whitaker
August 24, 2020


Each August 19 on World Humanitarian Day, the international community pays tribute to humanitarian assistance and development workers who have committed their lives to working with local communities to make the world a better place.  We also honor those who act as first responders in often dangerous and always stressful times to bring emergency relief to salve human suffering.  These courageous people deserve our recognition in extending our humanitarian response to people and communities in need.

Vital development assistance is often led by people hailing from the very communities they serve.  While their actions are heroic, their motivations aren’t driven by ego or self-aggrandizement, but by a simple but unrelenting desire to help others.  These heroes are worthy of our admiration and celebration because they’re real:  they choose to help even in the most difficult, dangerous and, sometimes, dire circumstances.  Real humanitarian development workers’ lives are not often glamorous; but they frequently find what they do deeply satisfying and spiritually fulfilling.  These real-life heroes are rarely the stuff of movies.  Yet make no mistake, they do fight enemies.  They help people overcome hunger, floods, displacement, disease, war, and injustice.

The United States is the largest donor in the world responding to humanitarian and development needs.  The American people, through their generosity and direct involvement in humanitarian activities have saved lives, protected the most vulnerable among us, and promoted the health and stability of communities and nations.  Since 2009, American taxpayers have generously funded nearly $70 billion in humanitarian assistance globally.

In Niger, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) invests close to $200 million annually to promote good governance, improve agriculture and food security, health, and education, and respond to humanitarian emergencies.  One real-life heroine working with USAID is Ms. Nana Hadiza Issa; a tradeswoman practicing in N’Gourti (North East of the Diffa region) for 28 years.  Her business enables her to meet the food and non-food needs of the eight children in her care.  A dynamic woman holding a shop in the central N’Gourti market competing with several men, Ms. Hadiza seized the opportunity to work with an international humanitarian organization, staffed by heroes in their own right, in order to modernize her business.  Her flair for business is proven as she realized a turnover of 10 million FCFA in a year.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact, a $437 million, five-year partnership with Niger, has been working since 2018 on improving irrigation practices and expanding market access for isolated farmers.  Ms. Aminata Samaké Boubacar, Director of Programs at the Millennium Challenge Account Niger (MCA Niger), is a Nigerien heroine working to improve lives across the country.  Ms. Samaké oversees a team of 10 managers and is directly responsible for providing the leadership, vision, and motivation necessary to implement MCC programs across the country.  Her work directly supports grass-roots development as well as contributing to national economic growth.  Her team recently provided literacy training to over 4,000 farmers in Tahoua and oversaw the award of $5.3 million in grants to more than 50 agricultural businesses, most of which are owned by women and youth, in Dosso, Tillaberi, and Tahoua. Her work has also advanced significant nation-wide reforms such as a move to privatize the fertilizer sector and bold planning to the ensure the Road Maintenance Fund is fully operational to finance repairs to the nation’s roadways.  She is a gifted leader and communicator using her exceptional abilities to improve Niger.

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), with an $18 million annual budget, invests in preventing malaria in Niger through system strengthening, bed net distribution, preventive treatment during pregnancy, training of community health workers to treat fever, and seasonal malaria prophylaxis provision.  Mr, Kadri Attawel, Chief of Dogarawa county, is a real-life hero in the fight against malaria in Niger.  He is the president of a vigilance committee on disability and maternal death and is committed to helping his community overcome diseases that are killing children and women.  As part of the fight against malaria, he appealed to community leaders for the community-wide dissemination of messages on environmental hygiene and the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets.  To get ready for the seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) campaign, and given the rumors circulating in his canton  about a linkage to a COVID-19 vaccination, Mr. Attawel took the initiative and assembled  the population and the leaders, gained their endorsement  of the SMC. No other chief had done this before.  He also undertook a 7-day tour throughout the department exhorting the population to use health services, especially the SMC for children.  As a result of his actions, no village in his canton refused the treatment.

The United States has provided more than $12.1 million to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Niger; including $4 million to help Niger in risk communication, infection prevention and control, coordination, and other support to help fight COVID-19.  The Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees has also awarded over $2.6 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the response to COVID-19, including assistance to help vulnerable populations and refugees.

The Embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation also runs humanitarian assistance programs focused on education and health, with many of these activities conducted by U.S. military personnel stationed in Niamey and at Nigerien Air Base 201 in Agadez.  These programs include school refurbishment projects, providing first-aid/basic medical training to Nigerien soldiers and civilian medical providers, and donating essential supplies and COVID-19 prevention materials to orphanages, hospitals, primary schools, and other civilian organizations in need.

Our current support for humanitarian development and emergency assistance is part of the more than $2 billion in total U.S. assistance for Niger over the past 20 years.  The United States will continue to lead the charge to help make the world more healthy, peaceful, and prosperous for generations to come.  Let us salute the indominable spirit of all of the aid workers who make this progress possible.