Congress can't afford to ignore famine overseas
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I was recently asked to testify before a subcommittee of Congress about the famine gripping parts of East Africa. In testifying, I urged members of Congress to reject the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to foreign assistance, especially to programs that help countries deal with humanitarian crises and other emergencies.

The world is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. More than 20 million people in four countries — Somalia, northeastern Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan —all face starvation and famine.


Our existing emergency funds are already stretched and the crisis is expected to worsen. If we do not act quickly and decisively now, not tomorrow, more people will die, greatly eroding the progress we made against hunger and poverty.


While testifying in Congress, a Somali girl named Shida was very much in my mind. Shida is a two-year-old living in a famine-stricken village in southwest Somalia. Mohamed, a young man working to counter extremism in Somalia by empowering fellow youth, narrated to me how Shida’s mother, Fatima, tearfully pleaded for lifesaving assistance for her only remaining child.

Fatima’s two sons, Juma, 6, and Suraji, 8 had succumbed to starvation three weeks previously. She knew too well that Shida could follow if she doesn’t get immediate food and medical help. But where can she turn? Severe drought and conflict have depleted their livestock. Crops and water sources have dried up. For Shida like 5 million others in Somalia time is running out.

America’s international development aid is critical for people like Fatima and her daughter, Shida. It is also critical to our national security. We simply cannot out-gun our way out of famines and humanitarian crises.

Countries experiencing extreme hunger and poverty can provide fertile ground for extremism, just as we have seen in Shida’s home country, Somalia.

As the world’s largest foreign aid donor, the United States spends less than 1 percent of our budget on foreign aid. Yet, the return on our investments in agriculture, health and the nutrition of women and children are incalculable. Not only do we save lives abroad, we also create robust local economies and strengthen democratic institutions.

These are two critical bulwarks against terrorism and extremism. Unchecked by our investments in foreign aid, terrorism could easily spread, just as we have seen it spread and reach our shores.

In the past 15 years, bipartisan efforts in Congress and various administrations have considerably increased the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance. U.S. assistance has now become more transparent and its progress tracked by the public. It has leveraged the commitment of all actors in development efforts low-income countries themselves, donors and the private sector. Evidence from around the world also shows clearer accountability for how U.S dollars are spent.

Foreign assistance has also created markets overseas for American exports. This approach has dramatically paid off. One example is Feed the Future, America’s initiative that works with U.S. businesses to combat global hunger and poverty. The program has boosted food supplies through agricultural development. Markets are functioning efficiently and we have reduced the number of hungry people around the world.

Republican and Democratic national security experts emphasize the importance of foreign assistance as an indispensable tool for diplomacy, national security and economic prosperity. International development assistance is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue. We know from experience that it is better and cheaper to prevent emergencies than to respond to them or put U.S. soldiers in harm’s way. America’s civilian tools of diplomacy and development are critical, particularly in our increasingly interconnected world.

We also know that the responsibility of funding development overseas is not borne by the U.S. alone. Across all four countries experiencing famine, our partners, including regional bodies, the World Bank, other countries, and the World Food Program, are engaged in large-scale, coordinated humanitarian operations.

The Trump administration’s proposed foreign assistance cuts ignore the ongoing and growing famines. The cuts will undermine progress we’ve made collectively on global hunger, health and national security.

American foreign aid is an investment, not a giveaway. Instead of these unprecedented cuts, the Trump administration and Congress should ensure that the budget protects and improves foreign assistance to promote a better, safer world.


Faustine Wabwire is the senior foreign assistance policy adviser at the Bread for the World Institute.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.