Congress can't shortchange America’s humanitarian responses

Congress can't shortchange America’s humanitarian responses
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2017 was a tough year for humanitarian needs. Globally, more than 65 million people were forcibly displaced, and the world continued to face the ongoing crisis in Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan. We were also confronted with new emergencies with the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh, as well as the hurricane responses and recovery in the Caribbean. And those were only the ones that made the news. 

While we hope for the best in 2018, we must soberly recognize that things can get worse.

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The United States of America has always been an essential player in the field of humanitarian response. The U.S. generously feeds, houses, and supports the wellbeing of millions of people; U.S. diplomacy is critical to resolving and de-escalating conflicts. 

 

And U.S. military might and logistical capacity is often the unseen foundation of humanitarian action. In order to preserve this leadership, Congress must avert budget cuts to humanitarian aid and finalize fiscal 18 appropriations as quickly as possible under a new budget deal.

The United Nations is predicting 135.7 million people worldwide will need humanitarian assistance in 2018, an increase over this year. More than 76 million people are projected to need emergency food assistance in 2018 as well.

Conflict is the prime driver of food insecurity in places like South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen, while shortages brought on by drought and fueled by climate events continues to plague the Horn of Africa. These estimates do not reflect the additional urgent needs of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the Hurricane Irma response and recovery in the Caribbean islands.

Given these daunting circumstances, we urge Congress and the budget negotiators to quickly arrive at a budget deal to avoid automatic spending cuts and provide at least the same amount of funding for critical humanitarian, development and diplomacy programs as enacted for fiscal 2017. 

Congress may provide funding for military increases, and it is critical that they complement this with funding for humanitarian assistance, as it likely will reduce the need for costly U.S. military engagement. Defense, diplomacy, and development each play critical and complementary roles in U.S. foreign policy. 

Development and diplomacy are just as central to enhancing security, boosting prosperity, and upholding American values as defense. Forgoing robust investments now could mean more costly and dangerous challenges in the future.

The United States has proven time and again to be the most generous country in the world, and our generosity has gotten results. U.S. support for the fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, hunger, and natural disasters has saved millions of lives, put food in the mouths of starving children and improved our world in obvious and indeed measurable ways. 

We must not walk away from this legacy, especially now. Even if Congress funds core humanitarian accounts at the most generous proposed levels provided in the appropriations bills being considered now, emergency response spending will be down 17 percent from the total humanitarian funding provided in 2017.  Passing an agreement that boosts funding for defense must include a boost for critical humanitarian, as well as other development and diplomatic needs.

Make no mistake; delay has its own costs. In places like South Sudan, funding is needed today. Current emergency food stocks are running out. If Congress waits to fund humanitarian assistance, it will put millions of lives at even greater risk.

For organizations like ours, raising funds is much easier after disaster strikes. When images of disasters are splashed across our television screens, people are moved and seek ways they can help. But we know better. We don’t need telethons to understand the threats our organizations, and many others, are working to alleviate.

Congress must urgently work out a permanent funding deal for next fiscal year that does not shortchange America’s humanitarian response in the midst of record-breaking need. 

Anything less would be immoral. 

Abby Maxman is the President and CEO of Oxfam America, the global organization working to end the injustice of poverty. She has more than 25 years of experience in international humanitarian relief and development and she previously served as Deputy Secretary General of CARE International. Sean Callahan is the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. A 28-year veteran of CRS, Sean, had held a wide variety of leadership roles overseas and at agency headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.