Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Don't cut funding to USAID

Foreign aid is essential to maintaining the wellbeing of impoverished people across the world.

By Adam Willman

The United States of America currently has a debt of over $17 trillion

There is a broad consensus that the current direction of the national debt and the federal budget deficit needs to be addressed and the nation put on a new spending track.

However, this new track should not and cannot be laid on a foundation that ignores those who need help — domestically and abroad. 

Former President John F. Kennedy established the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) in the early 1960s to help foreign countries advance and prosper. Today, USAID is still helping the poorest of the poor in nations that have been ravaged by famine, violence, and natural disasters.

USAID is an excellent example of how America can help countries in need without military force. It is impossible for the United States to become involved militarily in every uprising, war, or civil war. We can, however, provide aid and relief to those civilians who are affected by the turmoil. Emergency assistance to places like Syria and South Sudan shows that the United States is watching and willing to help those in need. 

Emergency aid is just a small part of a complex puzzle that makes up foreign assistance. It is more common, but rarely reported, that aid is needed in rural parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia that struggle with chronic hunger, lack of water, inadequate education and poor (if any) healthcare. These areas may not be in the throngs of violence but instead are faced with the simple yet extremely challenging prospect of staying hydrated and fed. People in these regions don’t just need packaged rice that will only help them today. What they need is a plan, a way out of poverty and into prosperity. 

The United States does not have to develop this plan alone. Back in 2009 at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, U.S. President Barack Obama, along with several other world leaders and non-governmental organizations, (NGOs) agreed to finance a path to global food security. The key is not found in shipping rice and beans from wealthy countries, but instead is found by investing in small farmers who, when given the right information and tools, can grow their way out of poverty and hunger. The bright future of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific Islands can emerge if given the chance. 

Vietnamese flood victims receive aid from USAID. Foreign assistance comprises less than 1 percent of the total federal budget.                                                                                                                                                                         (Photo by USAID)

U.S. tax dollars can have a big impact abroad. Over the next decade, the Pentagon plans to spend an estimated $40 billion on drones. The members of the G8 summit pledged a collective $20 billion in aid to those countries struggling with food insecurity. 

In an effort to combat our growing debt and rein in spending, some members of Congress have suggested spending cuts to foreign aid agencies such as USAID. Balancing a budget on the backs of the poorest and neediest people in the world is deplorable. The citizens of western Kenya and people all across the world need assistance now, and the assistance they require is an investment in education and agriculture that will pay off down the road. Unfortunately, in recent years the United States has been a lot of talk, but not a lot of action. 

This inaction has opened the door for other nations, namely China, to invest in rural areas especially in Africa. According to The Guardian, China has invested about $75 billion on projects throughout Africa in the past decade. Although the United States invested an estimated $90 billion during that same time period, the aid from China shows just how willing the Chinese government is to fill a void left by U.S. budget cuts. 

Increasing funding to USAID and other foreign aid programs fits American values and interests if the United States wants to maintain its leadership position in the global community, continue to spread the democratic ideals that founded this nation, advance countries in need, and help lessen global food insecurity. 

Adam Willman is a senior at Marshalltown High School and the co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, Pebbles.

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