Congress thinks big to tackle a defining crisis of our times

The steady stream of partisan bickering constantly enveloping Washington has most Americans convinced that our government simply cannot get anything done. A Gallup poll released last month reported that just 15 percent approve of Congress. People have started to lose faith that our leaders in Washington can solve big problems. Yet, while much of the media is laser-focused on all of that partisan bickering, this week Congress introduced a bipartisan bill that has the potential to help save millions of lives. The Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act, introduced by Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse lawmakers delay decision on Saudi Arabia pending investigation GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Dem lawmaker pledges hearings after CIA briefing on Khashoggi MORE (D-N.Y.), Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeTexas New Members 2019 Cook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs MORE (R-Texas), Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulPuerto Ricans may have elected Rick Scott and other midterm surprises Midterm results shake up national map Senate passes key cyber bill cementing cybersecurity agency at DHS MORE (R-Texas), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Senate Armed Services chair not convinced of need for Trump's Space Force GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote MORE (D-Wash.), Bill KeatingWilliam (Bill) Richard KeatingSeniors are big winners in House elections Lawmakers press Trump officials on implementing Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council MORE (D-Mass.) and Paul CookPaul Joseph CookNew partnerships in South America could lead to additional action on Hezbollah GOP House candidate once called Obama a secret Muslim who sympathizes with terrorists: report Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks MORE (R-Calif.), is an important first step towards addressing a defining crisis of our time: the widespread violence that has forced millions of people from their homes.

In my 40 years working in the humanitarian field, nothing has ever compared to the global crisis we are witnessing right now. Today, more than 65.6 million people are on the run. The main drivers of this epic displacement are not natural disasters, but violence and armed conflict. Yet those of us who work in this field constantly struggle to get the rest of the world to pay attention, and to get our own governments to stand up and take action.

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In Syria, the tragic seven-year war is somehow growing even more horrific. Some 400,000 people are trapped in the Eastern Ghouta region, with little to no access to food, medicine or sanitary supplies. In the past two weeks alone, more than a thousand people have died in fresh onslaughts of violence, and conditions are worsening by the day. Meanwhile, in South Sudan, millions of people across that country do not know where their next meal will come from, and some are dying from hunger. Fueled by conflict and displacement, this crisis is on the verge of catastrophic, with an estimated 9,000 more people losing access to food every single day. Sadly, those are but two examples of the many conflict-driven crises around the world.

All told, the world is experiencing a frightening 25-year peak in violent conflict. Yet U.S. foreign assistance spending still does not prioritize violence reduction. Fortunately, the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act seeks to change this. If enacted, this legislation would direct the creation of a government-wide strategy to reduce global levels of violence by reforming the U.S. foreign assistance approach to addressing root causes of violent conflict in 10 countries over 10 years. The administration will be required to cite measurable impact to show progress in each country.

Around the world, our experience shows that such investments in conflict prevention, governance and justice can have a tangible impact on long-term peace and stability. For example, a Mercy Corps program in Somalia that was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and gave young people access to education and civic engagement opportunities reduced their likelihood to participate in and support political violence. In Afghanistan, new research evaluating our youth program there found that proactively offering vocational training alongside cash reduced young people’s willingness to support armed opposition groups. These successes show the way for a new direction in U.S. foreign policy, one in which we are focused not only on responding to threats and provocations, but on initiatives that will reduce the root causes of violence.

For a long time, my colleagues and I have called on the United States to take a leadership role in making violence reduction and prevention signature elements of our foreign assistance investments. The Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act would do just that. Importantly, this bill will support efforts underway at USAID to elevate conflict mitigation and prevention as a core development objective. It will bring new data and metrics to monitor and inform the U.S. government’s violence reduction and conflict prevention efforts, helping make programs more efficient and effective over time. This bill is an important step forward in terms of reducing global violence and ending suffering around the world.

Neal Keny-Guyer is chief executive officer of Mercy Corps.