blog logo image

Archive for August, 2011

Budget cuts threaten lives abroad and the economy at home

Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post from Christopher J. Elias, MD, MPH, President and CEO of MFAN Partner PATH on the severity of House-proposed cuts to the 150 account, particularly looking at the impact such cuts would have on global health programs worldwide.

As the president and CEO of PATH, a nonprofit organization that helps to improve the health of some of the world’s poorest people, I am deeply concerned about the drastic cuts to global health funding proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives for the fiscal year 2012 budget. In the 70 countries where PATH works, we see firsthand the benefits of the leadership role that the U.S. government plays in global health not only in terms of lives saved abroad, but also in relation to U.S. diplomacy efforts and the U.S. economy. We recognize that the success of global health, as well as every other development sector, depends on the stability of the international affairs budget overall.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ proposal reduces the so-called “150 account,” which contains spending on global economic, diplomatic, and humanitarian programs by the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, among others, by a total of 18 percent. Global health funding, which is part of this account, would be cut by roughly 9 percent, and more cuts are possible down the line. If this funding is not protected, we face the risk of reversing many of the impressive, lifesaving gains our community has made over the years.

No one would disagree with the premise that the United States needs to get its fiscal house in order. At the same time, we need to be smart about what programs are cut. Taking a hatchet to this very small piece of the fiscal pie, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, would do much more harm than good to the American economy.

Today, 50 percent of our exports go to countries in the developing world, and that trend is expected to accelerate at the same time that our trade with other industrialized nations slows. Choosing to cut investment now to countries that have the potential to become America’s next big trading partner is not only myopic, but fiscally imprudent.

In a similar vein, American jobs depend on the business we do abroad. In fact, more than 20 percent of our jobs rely on international trade, particularly trade with the developing world where markets are growing faster than anywhere else. In a letter to Representatives Nita Lowey and Kay Granger, chairs of the House Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote, “The international affairs budget play[s] a vital enabling role for U.S. companies to tap foreign markets and create jobs and prosperity at home.”

In addition to benefiting our economy, international aid programs have been proven to strengthen our national security. The military’s top brass have lauded development as a cornerstone of America’s overall foreign policy. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates succinctly put it, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

Our development efforts are not only cost-effective, they promote a positive image abroad. Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID, has spoken at length about the “values” that our civilian forces express overseas. This is evident in much of the work USAID does: the agency’s quick response to last year’s natural disaster in Haiti; the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets in malaria-prone countries; and the educational opportunities it has helped to provide to girls and women throughout the world. The return on investment for these initiatives is not always easy to quantify, but without them, the costs both at home and abroad would be tremendous. The “soft power” that we exert through our international affairs programs plays a key role in staving off the very conflict and instability that puts our national security at risk.

The appropriations decisions that Congress has before it are not easy, but indiscriminately cutting programs, especially programs that are working, is hardly the solution. Reducing funding for malaria control, for instance, would be “a foolish waste of a historic opportunity,” according to Awa Marie Coll-Seck, executive director of Roll Back Malaria. In the last ten years alone, the lives of nearly 750,000 children were saved across 34 African countries, the equivalent of about 485 children every day. Much of this success is due to the efforts of the U.S. government, particularly the President’s Malaria Initiative. To suddenly slash investment in malaria-control programs would severely hurt our chances of winning the war against this age-old disease and leave millions of children vulnerable.

There are many more examples of how U.S.-funded global health programs have made substantial progress against devastating diseases that exacerbate poverty. And there are many more examples in the other areas of the 150 account. With less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, we have managed to accomplish some amazing feats, not only in the global health context, but throughout the development sector, and this is cause for celebration. If these dollars are cut any further, though, it is hard to say what we’ll have left to celebrate.

 

A Crisis with a Female Face

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post by Sinead Murray from MFAN partner International Rescue Committee on gender-based violence in the Horn of Africa crisis. The post originally appeared on ONE’s blog.

Dadaab, Kenya — On the outskirts of Hagadera, a refugee camp near the town of Dadaab, Somali women and their families are gathered, desperately seeking assistance after fleeing a famine and the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa region in six decades.

I have been working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) here for nearly a year. Looking around this arid, desolate corner of northwestern Kenya — barely 50 miles from the Somali border — it is hard to imagine that this is where more than 1,000 people a day come to look for help.

Newly arriving refugees from Somalia are housed in the outskirts of Dadaab. Photo credit: Edward Macharia/ IRC.

Famine has gripped headlines in recent weeks. Yet the story you might not have heard is what I consider the hidden side of this crisis –- violence against women and girls.

Two weeks ago, I sat in a thatch-roofed hut outside Hagadera speaking with a group of Somali women who had just crossed one of the most dangerous borders in the world. Their stories were alarming and disturbingly similar: Women and girls were taken from overcrowded vehicles, then robbed and raped by men with guns. Many were raped by multiple attackers, sometimes in front of their own families. Some “came to the camp naked,” one woman confided.

Each day, my IRC colleagues see a growing number of women and girls seeking help for the attacks they encountered on the road. But there are many more that don’t come forward, either out of shame and fear –- or simply because by the time they reach Dadaab, they are so exhausted and hungry that what happened to them along the way is one of many urgent concerns.

Sadly, Dadaab has not proven to be the safe haven that many women and girls had hoped for. The camps here are buckling under the pressure of a steadily increasing stream of refugees. New arrivals must wait on the outskirts, where aid agencies are trying to stretch their limited funding to meet the enormous needs all around. The result is that Dadaab simply isn’t safe for women and girls. They must walk far to get firewood and water, risking attack just to cook food for their families.

While the famine has been portrayed as a natural disaster, this crisis is not so simple. There is a complex web of conflict and insecurity in the region that has not only subjected millions of people to hunger and disease, but also to violence. And women and girls are facing the biggest risks.

This crisis couldn’t have hit at a worse time. As Congress spent the summer trying to make deeper cuts in spending, there is little funding available to go to an emergency like this. This is unfortunate because we know that with the right attention and resources, easy solutions can be put in place. Aid groups like the IRC can scale up services that help survivors recover and heal. We can construct more water points and latrines so that women and girls don’t need to risk attack in the forest. We can create safe spaces so that women and girls have a place to go for assistance and support.

The United States has been a leader in investing in women and girls, stating loudly and clearly that their needs are of primary importance to our country’s development and security goals. If there is one place where such leadership is needed today, it is in the Horn of Africa. Somali women and girls are counting on it.

For more information about the International Rescue Committee’s work in the Horn of Africa go to our Famine and Drought in the Horn website.

Sinead Murray is the International Rescue Committee’s gender-based violence program manager based in Dadaab, Kenya.

 

CCEFA Profile: Rep. James Moran

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011
Bookmark and Share

See below for our latest Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance (CCEFA) profile of the Congressman from Virginia, James Moran. We’ve already profiled the Co-Chairs Ander Crenshaw and Adam Smith, as well as Representatives Keith EllisonDenny RehbergLaura RichardsonDennis RossAaron SchockLynn WoolseyHank JohnsonJim McDermott, and Tammy Baldwin. Stay tuned for more!

James Moran (D)

District: Virginia’s 8th

Twitter: @Jim_Moran

Committees:

  • Appropriations Committee (Senior Member)
    • Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment: Ranking Member
    • Subcommittee on Defense
    • Military Construction Subcommittee
  • House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee

Congressman Moran has been a constant fixture on Capitol Hill for two decades and, during his time in Washington, he has proven time and again to be a leading advocate for U.S. foreign assistance.  Serving as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, he has been involved in a wide array of legislative issues with both domestic and international implications.  As a Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, a leader in the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, and the founder of the New Democratic Coalition, Rep. Moran brings a keen sense of responsibility and a deeply proactive spirit to the CCEFA.

In his eleven terms in Congress, Rep. Moran has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the developing world through his legislative endeavors.  A proponent of comprehensive foreign assistance, he was a cosponsor both on the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 and the Global Poverty Act of 2007.  With regards to women’s issues, Rep. Moran has repeatedly taken steps towards eliminating gender inequality by cosponsoring the International Women’s Freedom Act of 2011 and the Violence Against Women Act of 2010.  Going further, his portfolio of legislative achievements on the global health front is matched by few others on Capitol Hill.  He is a cosponsor of the Global Food Security Act of 2009, the Improvements in Global Maternal and Newborn Health Outcomes while Maximizing Successes Act, the United States Commitment to Global Child Survival Act of 2007, and several other acts of equal relevance to U.S. foreign aid policy.  With such a resolute commitment to the promotion of socio-economic equality and stability on the international stage, Rep. Moran will undoubtedly be a valued asset to the CCEFA.

 

MFAN Partner Mercy Corps Testifies before U.S. Senate about Horn of Africa Crisis

Thursday, August 18th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

See below for a guest post from Jeremy Konyndyk, Director of Policy and Advocacy at MFAN Partner Mercy Corps, on his recent testimony regarding the crisis in the Horn of Africa. The original post is available here.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ African Affairs Subcommittee on the intensifying crisis in the Horn of Africa. The issue could not be more pressing – even as the hearing was underway, the United Nations declared that famine had spread to three additional regions in southern Somalia, and it expects famine to spread across all regions of the south in the next four to six weeks. At least 12.4 million people across the Horn are in need of humanitarian assistance — 3.7 million of them in Somalia alone.

Internally displaced Somali women and children are seen outside their shelter at a camp in Mogadishu. Photo: REUTERS/ ISMAIL TAXTA, courtesy Trust.org -- AlertNet

The subcommittee’s chairman, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, and its ranking member, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, took the very unusual step of staying on into the Senate recess to hold the hearing now, rather than wait until the Senate comes back into session in September. They asked thoughtful, pointed questions and are genuinely seized with the unfolding crisis. Their leadership on this issue is important, and much appreciated.

The hearing also came on the heels of the U.S. government’s recent announcement that it is easing rules that had previously impeded U.S. assistance from reaching southern Somalia. The rules had thrown up significant legal roadblocks to the humanitarian response as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) feared prosecution if any amount of aid were to be diverted. Meanwhile, over the last two years we saw that obtaining an Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) license was politically difficult and time-consuming.

The rule change is an important — but only partial — step forward. As I urged in my testimony, the protections now extended to USAID and its partners through their OFAC license should also be extended in full to NGOs that are operating with their own funding or funding from non-U.S. donors. Additionally, I advised that Congress re-examine the interplay between OFAC restrictions and humanitarian aid, and explore whether a more streamlined and responsive approach can be found that would minimize the long, drawn-out bureaucratic process that we have seen in the face of such an emergency.

I also encouraged the senators to help ensure a robust U.S. government response. The U.S. response this year (at $459 million, with another $105 million just pledged) stands at roughly half of what the Bush Administration contributed in response to a lesser drought in the region in 2008 ($1,033 million). Meanwhile, U.S. support specifically to Somalia has dropped by 69 percent between 2008 and 2011. To use a different benchmark, the U.S. contribution towards the Horn this year amounts to roughly one-sixth of the amount that Congress appropriated for the Haiti response, despite the fact that the population at risk in the Horn is greater than the entire population of Haiti.

Moreover, there are real concerns about whether the U.S. will be able to sustain even this level of response as the crisis continues to worsen heading into the fall. The House of Representatives is proposing — in the face of this famine — to slash the very accounts that are financing the U.S. government response:

  • Food for Peace (a 30 percent proposed cut below FY11 levels, and 50 percent belowFY08 levels), which funds food aid
  • International Disaster Assistance (a 12 percent proposed cut below FY11 levels), which funds non-food assistance such as water and medical services, and
  • The Migration and Refugee Assistance account (an 11 percent proposed cut below FY11 levels), which provides US support to Somali refugees in the camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

These accounts are saving lives every day in the Horn. Cutting them now, as the House is proposing, would be a tremendous — and for many Somalis, fatal — abdication of U.S. leadership in the world.

CCEFA Profile: Rep. Tammy Baldwin

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011
Bookmark and Share

See below for our latest Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance (CCEFA) profile of the Congresswoman from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin. We’ve already profiled the Co-Chairs Ander Crenshaw and Adam Smith, as well as Representatives Keith EllisonDenny RehbergLaura RichardsonDennis RossAaron SchockLynn WoolseyHank Johnson, and Jim McDermott. Stay tuned for more!

Tammy Baldwin (D)

District: Wisconsin’s 2nd

Twitter: @RepTammyBaldwin

Committees:

  • Committee on Energy and Commerce
    • Subcommittee on Health
    • Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

With the addition of Congresswoman Baldwin to the CCEFA, the caucus has gained a resolute and outspoken proponent for U.S. activism in the global community.  As a leading voice on the Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Baldwin cosponsored the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2011.  Though her agenda in Washington has been largely focused on improving our domestic healthcare model, her initiative on this front and her constant advocacy for increased U.S. foreign assistance programming demonstrates that this Congresswoman is well aware of the potential role the U.S. can play in partnering with the developing world to create the conditions for safer, more secure lives.

To this point, Rep. Baldwin has been quoted in saying, “America’s reason for maintaining her superpower status must be to export the best of our democratic system of governance and the hope of the American Dream to the rest of the world.”  Driven by a sense of responsibility to our global partners, she has repeatedly stressed the need to act collaboratively in combating the world’s threats, challenges, and conflicts.  Targeting gender inequality, hunger, and poverty as fundamental issues in the international community that the U.S. must take action to resolve, Rep. Baldwin brings a coherent and ambitious vision of U.S. foreign policy to the CCEFA.  She is an avid supporter of U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and has been a major advocate for assisting the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Food for Peace Program.  The CCEFA is lucky to welcome into its ranks a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill who both recognizes the plight of the developing world and believes fervently in the American capacity to assist the international community.