Opinion: In Defense of Foreign Aid
Foreign aid is in the news again. As the Trump Administration proposes $54 billion in cuts to the federal budget to increase military expenditures, they are targeting a significant reduction in foreign aid.
In response to this, a diverse chorus of supporters has come forward in support of foreign aid. This includes more than 100 military leaders, non-profit organizations, individuals, and former State Department officials. These experts recognize the multiple benefits of foreign aid and how useful it is as a tool for U.S. diplomacy and to ensure global security. They also recognize that foreign aid supports the U.S. Government’s position as a true world leader and allows our government to have influence in many critical ways, including economic and political engagement with recipient countries.
Foreign aid is used to support key social investments in recipient countries. It allows for millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable children to go to school, basic health systems to work, and governments and the UN system to save lives in emergency situations. As former U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator, Gayle Smith, says, this is a life and death issue for millions of people. Reductions in aid could result in droughts becoming famines and disease outbreaks killing children. This is not in anyone’s interest.
U.S. support also helps the more than 65 million displaced persons in the world — those people who have been forced to leave their homes, most due to conflict. This number has grown significantly over the past years and is at a historical high. Of these, the vast majority move to countries in the global ‘south’ and only a very small percentage come to the U.S. and Europe. The country where I live, Ethiopia, hosts more than 800,000 refugees, and that number grows year by year. Most of these are children who have walked for days or weeks fleeing war and food shortages. Immediate assistance is vital to their survival.
The U.S. is generally a generous nation. We gave an estimated $375 million in charitable donations in 2015. Of this, however, more than 90 percent is spent in the U.S. Our non-military foreign aid provided through the federal government was only around $34 billion in 2015, which was less than 1 percent of the total federal budget and 0.2 percent of our GDP. The reality is that we are much less generous internationally than European countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, and Germany.
I believe that we are a caring and generous country, and that this should be reflected in the support we give to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. If it is indeed our priority as a nation to cut the federal budget, there are better ways to do it than to cut foreign aid.