U.S. quietly boosts funding by $990 million to prevent historic famines

U.S. Capitol building. (Credit: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr)

A budget deal struck by the U.S. Congress this week to prevent a government shutdown was viewed as a rebuke to proposed cuts by the Trump administration. Both political parties agreed to continue funding existing programs and went a step further by providing $990 million in additional funds for international famine relief.

“With 20 million people on the brink of starvation, there’s no question that this money will save lives,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said in a statement applauding the budget. “However, this funding alone will not bring peace and economic stability to the four nations currently affected by famine. In the coming months, Congress must also do more to address the underlying conflicts that led to this crisis and show that our commitment to humanitarian assistance is unwavering.”

It is a crucial boost for the global effort to prevent 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia from experiencing famine. The U.N. continues to sound the alarm about the potential crisis. A sum of $4.4 billion is needed now to pay for the humanitarian response. New warnings from South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen in the past few days paint a dire situation in each of the countries.

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The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland called the situation in Yemen a “famine of Biblical proportions.” Similar statements made by aid groups and the U.N. are intended to show the urgent need for more money. The pressure appears to be working in the U.S.

The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution late last week urging a U.S. response to the famine in South Sudan. It did not include more money or specific actions but was a strong signal that all politicians are aware of the problem and want the U.S. to do more.

“I’m proud of this body and of this chamber for putting partisanship aside to address this critical situation and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to find solutions to avoid these crises in the future, but waiting for famine to be declared is waiting too long,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., said in a statement after the resolution’s passage. “We have the ability and the resources to end famine now and we have the moral obligation to do it.”

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The signal from the resolution and the financial commitment days later indicate that the bipartisan agreement extends beyond calls to action. At least $300 million of the new money goes to the Food for Peace program that carries out food assistance in the four affected countries.

“We are thrilled that Congress acted swiftly to recognize and respond to these urgent crises, and we are grateful to our congressional champions and fellow advocates who fought to make hunger a priority,” officials from the NGO Action Against Hunger said in a statement.

The budget deal was for the current fiscal year, which is already well under way. The Trump administration’s budget proposals make clear an intent to cut the international affairs budget. It remains to be seen whether this current commitment to famine relief will continue into the next round of budget talks for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.