Five Foreign Assistance Moments You May Have Missed in 2016

Over the past year, U.S. foreign assistance has played an integral role in moving our development, diplomacy, and national security goals forward. You have probably heard about some of the many foreign assistance-supported programs that have helped our partner countries the world over invest in our global community, like our “Peace Colombia” strategy which plays a critical supporting role as the country prepares to implement their newly minted peace agreement. You may have also seen news about our holistic foreign assistance support for refugee and host communities. And in terms of foreign assistance coordination, perhaps you’ve read about the decade of impact the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources has had in the foreign assistance arena.  

As we take stock of the achievements, opportunities, and lessons learned over the past year, I want to share five foreign assistance moments you may have missed in 2016:

1. Helping Heal Wounds of Conflict in Guatemala

Forensic anthropologists exhume part of a mass grave in one of Guatemala City's largest cemeteries, La Verbena. [AP Photo]

The State Department’s office of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s (DRL) foreign assistance-supported Transitional Justice/Conflict Response portfolio helped Guatemala’s efforts to heal wounds from the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict. Anthropologists unearthed a mass grave of victims of the conflict, helping bring closure to families who had been left wondering what happened to their loved ones since the 1980s. DRL’s support aided the entire forensic process, from excavation to DNA identification of victims. DRL continues to support activities that strengthen Guatemalan national capacity in the use of forensic evidence in cases of forced disappearances through its local grantee.

2. Securing Cyberspace and Protecting Critical Information Infrastructure


A photo shows network cables connected to a server in Hanover, Germany, on March 5, 2008. [AP File Photo]

In partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute (SEI), the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues (S/CCI) launched its first-ever foreign assistance-supported cybersecurity program. The program focused on developing national organizations that serve as focal points for securing cyberspace and protecting critical information infrastructure -- skills traditionally housed in Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs). This program builds national CSIRT capacity that can develop and share best practices and foster relationships, enabling and enhancing global cybersecurity. In 2016, through SEI’s sponsorship and guidance, Cote d’Ivoire’s national CSIRT received approval for membership to Forum of Incident Response Security Teams (FIRST) -- the premier organization and recognized global leader in incident response. FIRST welcomed Cote d’Ivoire as the fourth Sub-Saharan African national CSIRT to join its esteemed global community, and provided them with access to best practices, tools, and trusted communication with other CSIRTs.

3. Addressing A Painful Shared History in Laos

Bouakham Phimmavong, an unexploded ordnance survivor, enjoys learning new skills at a USAID-sponsored course at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center in Vientiane. 

Our American values and ethics dictate our moral obligation to address our painful shared history with Laos. In 2016, President Obama announced a $90 million U.S. foreign assistance package supporting the first-ever comprehensive national survey of unexploded ordinance (UXO) removal in Laos, while continuing to fund ongoing clearance and victim assistance operations.  This survey is a critical component of U.S. efforts as it helps focus resources on areas offering the greatest impact, and with the most potential for economic development. Through assistance from the United States and the hard work of UXO clearance operators, casualties from UXO accidents in Laos have significantly decreased in recent years from an average of about 300 per year to fewer than 50 over the past three years.

4. Uniting to Recover From the Chernobyl Disaster

A gigantic steel arch under construction to cover the remnants of the exploded reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on August 25, 2013. [AP Photo]

On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear power plant accident in history unfolded, forcing more than 50,000 people to evacuate the surrounding area, killing over two dozen workers, and injuring countless first responders. This year, with the cooperation and assistance of the United States and other governments, Ukraine installed a giant arch to cover the power plant, safely securing the explosion site. This new structure is designed to last for 100 years, and will allow workers to remotely dismantle and remove radioactive components for safe disposal elsewhere. The United States has pledged more than $400 million to Chernobyl assistance projects since the Chernobyl Shelter Fund was created in 1997.‎

5. Enhancing U.S. Foreign Aid Transparency

Farmer in South Sudan receives sorghum, oil, and lentils from the Catholic Relief Services led Jonglei Food Security Program, funded by USAID [Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services]

Transparency and open government have the potential to promote aid effectiveness by empowering accountability, enabling data-driven decision-making, and helping donor and recipient governments better manage their aid flows. In 2016, Congress passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (FATAA), which reinforces and codifies many of the gains in aid transparency and monitoring and evaluation that the State Department and USAID have worked hard to achieve. FATAA requires the President to establish guidelines for annual monitoring and evaluation plans, program/project design development, posting strategies, budget documents, and descriptive information in the public domain, briefing Congress on justifications for redaction of information, and more. The State Department is the lead agency coordinating the U.S. government’s aid transparency efforts through

It’s clear the United States’ foreign assistance has directly supported U.S. national security and development goals in ways both highly publicized and less widely acknowledged throughout this year. As we look to the past to inform our shared future and think of ways in which we will tackle the opportunities and challenges that we may face in 2017, our foreign assistance will remain a critical pillar of American leadership in the global community.

About the Author: Hari Sastry serves as Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources at the U.S. Department of State.

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Jayne C.
Oregon, USA
December 28, 2016
Wonderful moments! Thank you, USAID staff, for all you have done. Your work is essential and vital to the people of the USA and people all over the globe. I wish more people understood this.
Ronald B.
December 29, 2016
Great stuff!!!
Typhoon Haiyan Survivors Help Carry USAID-Donated Food
Posted by Hari Sastry
December 28, 2016


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