The USAID has evolved in parallel to India’s growth with our programs shifting over time

The USAID has evolved in parallel to India’s growth with our programs shifting over time
Ramona El Hamzaoui says USAID/India will continue to work with the Government of India to develop innovative solutions and intensify its collaboration with public and private partners.Courtesy: USAID

Ramona El Hamzaoui, Acting Director USAID, India, throws light on the multiple and successful projects that have come about through India-US strategic partnership and collaboration.

Ramona El Hamzaoui is the Acting Director of USAID’s India office.

A career member of the US Senior Foreign Service, Ms. El Hamzaoui has been with USAID for 20 years.

Her USAID assignments include tours in Africa, Asia and Latin America. She served as Acting Mission Director and Program Office Director in Rabat, Morocco, and Agriculture Officer and Democracy Officer in Bogota, Colombia, focused on alternative development, human rights, local governance and access to justice programs.

In an exclusive interview with India Global Business (IGB), she throws light upon USAID’s functions in India at a time when India-US collaboration and strategic cooperation is at its peak.

IGB: Can you tell us more about USAID's Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) for India?

Ramona El Hamzaoui: The US-India development relationship spans more than 70 years. Over this period, USAID has evolved in parallel to India’s growth with our programs shifting over time to reflect the country’s development progress and trajectory.

USAID/India’s five-year (2020-2024) Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) recognizes India as a partner in advancing the clean energy and environmental reforms, combating climate challenges, improving health, encouraging open and inclusive digital ecosystems and inclusive economic growth, and bolstering the COVID-19 response in India and across the world.

To achieve these objectives, USAID/India will continue to work with the Government of India to develop innovative solutions and intensify its collaboration with public and private partners. USAID/India’s new country strategy embodies the best of Indian and American technology and expertise, making sure they work together to achieve our shared goals.

How do you see the Biden presidency impacting the work USAID does in India?

In February 2021, when President Biden and Prime Minister Modi had their first phone call, they agreed to work together on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, renew our partnership on climate change, rebuild the global economy in a way that benefits the people of both countries, and strengthen close cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific. USAID is proud to play a central role in delivering on these top priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration.

A medic injects the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to an elderly woman, in Bikaner. USAID in partnership with Indian authorities is helping India to provide care for those affected by COVID-19; disseminate essential public health messages to communities; address stigma; strengthen case-finding and surveillance.
A medic injects the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to an elderly woman, in Bikaner. USAID in partnership with Indian authorities is helping India to provide care for those affected by COVID-19; disseminate essential public health messages to communities; address stigma; strengthen case-finding and surveillance.Courtesy: ANI

What are some of the key projects undertaken by USAID happening on the ground in India as part of the pandemic response?

USAID was one of the first donors to provide COVID-19 related assistance to India, and has provided $18.1 million in support since the outbreak of the pandemic. USAID support is helping India to provide care for those affected by COVID-19; disseminate essential public health messages to communities; address stigma; strengthen case-finding and surveillance; mobilize innovative financing mechanisms for emergency preparedness; and help migrant workers and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises to sustain their work during the pandemic. This support builds on the long history of the US-India collaboration in the health sector and highlights USAID's efforts to partner with the Government of India and key stakeholders to strengthen the health system and response capacity.

What are some of the key initiatives the US and India can work on towards addressing climate change? Given that most corporates in both countries still shy away from rolling out sustainable practices at a wider scale.

India is a partner in advancing USAID’s objectives to support clean energy and environmental reform, combat climate challenges, improve health, encourage open and inclusive digital ecosystems and inclusive economic growth, and bolstering the COVID-19 response in India and across the world.

USAID supports the Government of India’s development and climate priorities through a series of programs and partnerships across climate adaptation, clean energy, sustainable landscapes, and disaster risk reduction. In partnership with the Government of India, the private sector, and national and international research organizations, USAID is implementing resilience-building activities with vulnerable communities in ecologically-sensitive regions across India.

USAID partners with India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, and civil society organizations to support the goal of increasing carbon sequestration through improved forest management, forest restoration and afforestation.
- Ramona El Hamzaoui

USAID is working with the Government of India to help achieve its goal of shifting the power sector to 40 percent non-fossil sources by 2030 and the national target of achieving 175 gigawatt renewable energy deployment by 2022. In partnership with the national government, USAID is accelerating large-scale and distributed renewable energy deployment, grid flexibility for large-scale renewable energy integration, the transition away from coal, off-grid energy access through renewables, and energy efficiency in buildings, industries, and appliances.

A solar energy plant set up by USAID in India. Recognizing the heightened effects of climate change on health, particularly in the space of air pollution, USAID is also working with municipal, state and the national governments to facilitate market-driven solutions.
A solar energy plant set up by USAID in India. Recognizing the heightened effects of climate change on health, particularly in the space of air pollution, USAID is also working with municipal, state and the national governments to facilitate market-driven solutions.Courtesy: Reuters

Additionally, USAID partners with India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, and civil society organizations to support the goal of increasing carbon sequestration through improved forest management, forest restoration and afforestation. Programs strengthen forest and natural resource management for increased carbon sequestration, long-term water security, improved livelihoods, and ecosystem protection.

Recognizing the heightened effects of climate change on health, particularly in the space of air pollution, USAID is also working with municipal, state and the national governments to facilitate market-driven solutions, build partnerships with the private sector to leverage finance, expertise and other resources; and promote awareness and constructive behavioral change at the community and industrial levels to reduce risks that pollution poses to people’s health.

Can you tell us a little bit on USAID's decision to award up to $9.2 million to support the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and how it will be used for projects in India?

On March 19, 2021, USAID announced $9.2 million to support the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) to help foster disaster and climate resilient infrastructure pending the availability of funds and Congressional approval. USAID will support CDRI to develop and share innovations, policy recommendations, and best practices in developing disaster and climate resilient infrastructure worldwide. As a result, USAID’s support will enable the CDRI to help countries incorporate best practices into their infrastructure planning, as well as foster partnerships between governments and the private sector to expand disaster and climate resilient infrastructure development.

Labourers work in a utensil manufacturing factory at Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) unit in Gangyal industries. USAID cash injections into India  during the pandemic have helped migrant workers and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises to sustain their work.
Labourers work in a utensil manufacturing factory at Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) unit in Gangyal industries. USAID cash injections into India during the pandemic have helped migrant workers and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises to sustain their work.Courtesy: ANI

USAID recently announced jointly sponsoring a $41 million loan portfolio guarantee to help finance investments by Indian Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in renewable energy solutions? Why SMEs and why in the renewable energy sector in particular?

In March 2021, USAID and the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced their joint sponsorship of a new $41 million loan portfolio guarantee designed to bolster Indian micro, small and medium enterprises’(MSMEs) ability to invest in rooftop solar panel installation.

USAID and the DFC will partner with US-based Encourage Capital and Indian companies cKers Financial and Electronica Finance Limited to finance MSMEs’ capacity to invest in rooftop solar panels -- a $9 billion market opportunity. I am happy to share that our partners have already developed a robust pipeline of projects, worth $4 million, for financing under the guarantee. We encourage Indian companies to learn more about this opportunity to grow their business in a more cost-effective, climate-positive manner. USAID will continue its support through providing technical assistance to address quality and safety concerns in the rooftop solar market.

Recognizing India’s dynamic economy and growth trajectory, its status as a leader in innovation, and its diverse set of private and public sector stakeholders, USAID is working with the Government of India, the private sector, and civil society to test and scale innovative development solutions locally, regionally, and globally.
- Ramona El Hamzaoui

The MSME sector is Indian economy’s key pillar. In 2017, it accounted for 29 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and created 111 million jobs, at the same time driving important social benefits, including innovation and economic growth. It is also one of the largest consumers of energy in the economy, comprising about 48 percent of the total energy used by the industrial sector. That means that any effort to decarbonize energy used by the MSME sector will have a substantial impact on India’s carbon emissions.

Rooftop solar will significantly decrease the cost of electricity consumption, which on average is up to one-fifth of MSME operational costs. At the same time, it also reduces carbon emissions and improves air quality.

However, MSMEs face obstacles in securing the financing needed to invest in clean technology. Key financing challenges include stringent collateral requirements, cumbersome documentation, and time-consuming loan processing procedures. Other barriers encompass a reluctance to invest in non-core business activities and a lack of information on the quality and safety aspects of rooftop solar projects.

USAID-DFC partnership will enable MSMEs to affordably access reliable clean power and reduce their energy costs. And they will help India decarbonize its industrial sector and generate new green jobs.

Could you tell us more about the US and India's 'triangular' cooperation in Africa and other parts of Asia and the projects currently active on the ground towards these efforts?

The US Government recognizes India as “a leading power” in the Indo-Pacific region, which includes many of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies and most populous nations.

Recognizing India’s dynamic economy and growth trajectory, its status as a leader in innovation, and its diverse set of private and public sector stakeholders, USAID is working with the Government of India, the private sector, and civil society to test and scale innovative development solutions locally, regionally, and globally.

USAID is collaborating with the Government of India to address both remaining domestic development challenges as well as address regional and global development issues.

Recognizing that the India-US Strategic Partnership is a significant contributor to regional and global stability and prosperity, USAID and India’s Development Partnership Administration (DPA) signed the Statement of Guiding Principles on Triangular Cooperation for Global Development. Its shared purpose is to work together and leverage our combined capacities to assist other developing countries and address global development challenges for the benefit of the wider region and the world.

USAID/India supported the Government of India’s National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management in implementing need-based training to agricultural officials from 20 African and Asian countries through the Feed the Future India Triangular Training activity.
USAID/India supported the Government of India’s National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management in implementing need-based training to agricultural officials from 20 African and Asian countries through the Feed the Future India Triangular Training activity.Courtesy: Reuters

We have had many successes in the last few years. For example, as part of the US-India joint commitment to promoting sustainable growth in developing countries, USAID/India supported the Government of India’s National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management in implementing need-based training to agricultural officials from 20 African and Asian countries through the Feed the Future India Triangular Training activity. The activity has trained more than 1,100 officials since its launch in 2016. These trainees in turn trained fellow agricultural workers and farmers on proven, innovative, and cost-effective solutions to address food and nutrition security challenges in their home countries.

USAID’s South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy (SARI/E) promotes cross-border electricity trade in South Asia to revitalize and accelerate regional economic development. Since 2000, the program has supported energy security in the region through cross-border electricity trade, energy market formation, and clean energy access. The SARI/E program focuses on eight South Asian countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

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