Sorghum bags being dispatched from Jijiga to drought-affected areas in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Photo by: U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa / CC BY-ND

Foreign aid works for us all

Sorghum bags being dispatched from Jijiga to drought-affected areas in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Photo by: U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa / CC BY-ND

Originally published on Devex.com

Leaked documents reported this week suggest the Trump Administration would like to cut foreign aid by more than 30 percent and possibly merge the U.S. Agency for International Development with the State Department. This proposal comes despite the fact that we are facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II—there are more people fleeing war and persecution than ever in history—and famine conditions are threatening parts of the Middle East and Africa.

I’ve recently heard some critics say that foreign aid does not work. This could not be farther from the truth. Dollar-for-dollar, it is one of the most effective uses of our taxes. One penny of every dollar in the total U.S. budget goes to helping families in other countries—a small investment that saves lives and helps millions of people every year. Strong U.S. leadership during the last 25 years has helped cut extreme poverty in half and led to half as many children dying around the world from preventable illnesses like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. We need to build on this progress rather than allow it to lapse.

America currently spends nearly 50 percent less on foreign assistance, as a percentage of gross domestic product, than during the Reagan administration. Further reducing this budget would hinder the U.S. government’s ability to help respond to disasters – natural and man-made – including those that know no borders, like the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks. Being prepared to respond quickly to the next disease is just as critical for U.S. citizens as it is for those at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Countless times, I’ve seen firsthand how U.S. foreign assistance works and saves lives. I recently visited Jordan, a country that is committed to welcoming families fleeing violence and persecution in neighboring countries. More than 650,000 Syrian refugees, half of them under the age of 18, are now in Jordan, and the U.S. provides significant foreign aid for refugee programs in the country. That support feeds young refugee children, offers children the chance to get back into school after years of being away from home and provides vocational training for Syrian youth to give them hope for a productive future. This U.S. funding is essential if we are to avoid a lost generation of young people who can eventually help put their country on a better path.

In addition, today nearly 20 million people in Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, and South Sudan face the threat of starvation, and famine has already been declared in South Sudan. Save the Children is on the ground working with partners, including USAID, to provide lifesaving water, food and treatment to these children and families whose lives depend on our help. U.S. foreign aid is critical for preventing and addressing famine, yet proposed budget cuts would eliminate funding for the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) that helps us prevent and respond faster and more efficiently to famine conditions around the globe.

Preparing for drought before its worst effects take hold is on average three times more cost-effective than emergency response, as illustrated by studies in Ethiopia and Kenya. Pair this with the World Bank study that calculated disaster risk reduction saves $4-7 for every $1 invested, and it’s clear that our foreign aid investments are not only the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective but also from a fiscal perspective. To put it simply: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Promoting health, education, gender equality and economic opportunities for communities around the world leads to more stable societies, which are critical to our national interests. A group of more than 120 retired generals and admirals agree and sent a letter to Congress in February stating, “The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism – lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.”

The international affairs budget is a triple win: it helps U.S. economic and national interests, it helps people prosper, and it saves lives. These proposed budget cuts and the folding of USAID into the State Department would deeply hurt America and our neighbors. We all need to do our part by telling our members of Congress that this funding is critical to our wellbeing.

The Decision to Escape Syria


Anonymous man

Hedinn Halldorsson, Emergency Communication Manager

Jordan

September 11, 2013



Two reasons. That is what most of the refugees give me
when I ask them why they decided to flee and take on a perilous journey. One, security
and the simple fear for their lives and their families. Secondly, Syria is a
country in ruins. With its eroded infrastructure, simply getting by, finding
water and bread, has become nearly impossible for many.

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Photo Credit: Save the Children/Hedinn Halldorsson

So in the end, the refugees don't have a choice. That's
the calculus. A question of life and death. They risk their lives by staying,
and they risk their lives by fleeing and embarking on a long journey, with no specific
destination other than “safety.” "We walked during the night and slept in
the daytime", says a pregnant mother of three who walked 60 miles in 5
days. "I was so afraid someone would attack us from the bushes".

The option of fleeing, if everything goes well, offers
refuge a distant light at the end of tunnel. That is why one in three Syrians
is now on the run, either internally displaced within the Syrian borders or in
a neighboring country, having left everything they once knew and loved.

There is no sign of the violence to cease, on the
contrary. And those bearing the brunt are ordinary people. The needs are
biggest in the plagued country itself, where humanitarian access is greatly
limited. Nonetheless, Save the Children has, since the onset of the crisis,
more than 900 days ago, reached hundreds of thousands in Syria, under extremely
difficult conditions.

Save the Children has for months demanded unhindered
humanitarian access, something we don't have today. Operating without
limitations in Syria would mean that we could reach those most in need. And
secondly, the burden of Syria's neighboring countries, already hosting more
than two million refugees, could be eased.

Syria has become the great tragedy of this century,
says the head of the UNHCR, "with suffering and displacement unparalleled
in recent history". According to the UN, the fighting has been so intense
that the number of refugees has risen tenfold in a single year.

When you know how enormous the needs are and how dire
the situation of millions of people are as these lines are being typed, it is
difficult to get your head around the fact that the emergency response of an
organization like Save the Children, whose simple aim is to meet basic needs of
children and ensure they stay alive, is only 40% funded.

Some months ago, Jordan had the biggest numbers of
refugees, but today it is Lebanon. One in ten inhabitants of Jordan are Syrian,
one in five inhabitants of Lebanon. Most of the two million people that have
sought refuge and safety and neighboring countries live in ramshackle homes,
temporary shelters, vacant housing.

The demographics of the region have changed for good,
on such an epic scale that no one could have predicted. And what is worrying,
is that the exodus is bound to grow in coming days.

Numbers have a tendency of losing their power the
bigger they get. That is the case of more than one million Syrian children that
have fled to a neighboring country. One million of them, in a dire need of
humanitarian assistance. I've met Aya, aged seven, who said she would dance
when there was shooting outside, "Cause I don't like to be afraid",
she explains.

No one says it, during my interviews with the refugees,
but many do realize that it could be months and years before they will be able
to return to a country that was once called Syria. And those I talk to, are in
different stages of grieving everything they have lost and left behind and
might never see again. Family, home, a country. The conflict has unleashed an unimaginable
tide of suffering, and continues to do so.

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