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 EngelRep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Democrats elect Meeks as first Black Foreign Affairs chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates MORE (D-N.Y.), Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas), Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense: Pentagon prepping for Trump order to draw down in Afghanistan, Iraq | Questions swirl after DOD purge | 10th service member killed by COVID-19 Former VOA producer sues US global media agency over termination Record number of women to serve in the next Congress MORE (R-Texas), Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithClimate swarming — Biden's 'Plan B' for the planet Despite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill Overnight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget MORE (D-Wash.), Bill KeatingWilliam (Bill) Richard KeatingOvernight Defense: Trump, Biden set to meet in final debate | Explicit Fort Bragg tweets were sent by account administrator | China threatens retaliation over Taiwan arms sale Overnight Defense: National Guard chief negative in third coronavirus test | Pentagon IG probing Navy's coronavirus response | Democrats blast use of Russia deterrence funds on border wall Democrats blast 'blatant misuse' of Russia deterrence funding on border wall MORE (D-Mass.) and Paul CookPaul Joseph CookLawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money following Treasury delays The 14 other key races to watch on Super Tuesday Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel 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.