Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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US underfunding crucial global health research and development, warns group | 

Steve Snodgrass

As global health funding remains largely stagnant, more groups are trying to get a bigger piece of the US budgetary pie. For their part, research and development supporters wants a bigger slice, or at least for theirs to stay the same size.

A report by the Global Health Technologies Coalition warns that the political wrangling over federal budgets in Washington DC are putting crucial global health research and development at risk.

The coalition, made up of some 30+ NGOs, says funding for research and development has eroded over the past few years. Making proper investments means not only that new lifesaving developments in areas like TB, AIDS and maternal health can be made, it also represents a significant boost to the US.

“The investment we have made in research to date has contributed to major public health successes, but there is no guarantee that the gains we have made today will work tomorrow,” said Kaitlin Christenson, MPH, director of the GHTC, to Humanosphere.

Christenson argues that investing in research and development is one that will benefit people around the world, as well as Americans. It taps into the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans. The report, Innovation for a changing world: The role of US leadership in global health R&D, says that existing investments have helped to create 7 million jobs and contributes $69 billion to the US GDP each year.

“The investment in innovation resonates with American character, that helps support domestic improvements, economic growth and our diplomatic goals,” she said.

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UK response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines makes the grade | 

UK-funded jerrycans being distributed by the NGO Plan International in the village of Santo Nino on Leyte island, Philippines, Saturday, 7 December 2013.
UK-funded jerrycans being distributed by the NGO Plan International in the village of Santo Nino on Leyte island, Philippines, December 2013.

Survey says, the UK did a very good job in its response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

At least that is what the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found when investigating the work of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). A green rating was given for the humanitarian support provided by DFID, the best possible rating. Not only that, the £77 million that the UK provided was more than any other country, even beating out the US.

“DFID responded swiftly and decisively to the emergency,” said Independent Commission for Aid Impact Chief Commissioner, Graham Ward. “It was the largest single donor and played a lead role in the response, providing vital humanitarian assistance to people in dire need. Its early and multi-faceted action helped to galvanize support from other donors and to influence the global humanitarian aid response.”

This represents only the third time that DFID has scored green in thirty-two reports. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact is an independent body that scrutinizes the UK’s foreign aid work. A team of investigators were sent out in January to determine how things went in the Philippines. Their findings that the UK was a leader in the response, but there is still more work to be done. Continue reading

Winning hearts and minds, one aid dollar at a time | 

PEPFAR branding appears on hospital in South Africa.
PEPFAR branding appears on hospital in South Africa.

There is plenty of debate over whether aid can help countries grow economically, but there is new evidence showing that it affects public opinion in a recipient country. Programs that provide targeted, sustained, effective and visible aid can lead to positive views of the donor countries.

While the money that US spends on aid programs in other countries helps people, it also serves a foreign policy goal. On one hand, the US stands to benefit from a safer, healthier and more prosperous world. On the other, it can generate good will towards the US.

“By doing good, a country can do well,” says Yusaku Horiuchi, an associate professor at Dartmouth College.

Benjamin Goldsmith of the University of Sydney, Terence Wood of the Australian National University and Horiuchi published a paper that proves how foreign aid can be a positive force for winning the hearts and minds of individuals. While the impact has been claimed for some time, they say that there was no evidence base, only anecdotes and claims by aid proponents. They undertook a  comparative, cross-national perspective using data from a variety of countries to evaluate how the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launched by the Bush administration in 2003, has impacted views on the US.

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Remittances make foreign aid look like a paltry sum | 

The United States is a global leader it its foreign aid spending. It sends more than $30 billion in official development assistance, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That is more than twice that of the next country, the UK.

Campaigners for foreign aid like to point out that the massive sum of US spending is less than 1% of the annual US federal budget. It is also small when held next to the $123.273 billion that foreign migrants send back home from the US in 2012. While attention is paid to the assistance given by governments to poor countries, individual remittances total more than $500 billion.

Supporters of more free migration rules often point to the vast sums that are sent back to families. Some professionals from parts of sub-Saharan Africa can send more money back home than they could have made if they stayed. As evidenced by the campaigning to prevent the shut down of remittance flows through the UK’s Barclays bank to Somalia, some families even rely up the money sent home as a major source of income.

The $69 billion that was sent back to India, an amount that likely had a much greater impact than the $4.86 billion that arrived in aid. The benefits also reach rich countries. Dozens of countries sent $4.5 billion in remittances back to the US, from Sudan to South Korea. However comparisons to foreign aid are not so neat. A working paper from Michael Clemens and Timothy Ogden for the Center for Global Development poses the idea that research on remittances has not been framed correctly.

They offer new questions that should be answered. It is based on re-calibrating the thought that remittances are aid and move it to the idea that they are a financial tool for individuals and families. Such a shift, they suggest, would lead to policies that would seek to free up the the constraints to remittance flows. For now, this interactive Pew Research map helps to visualize the flow of remittances in and out of countries.

Here are a few examples:

Remittances to Brazil
Remittances to Brazil

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Why Congo prefers Chinese investment over Western aid | 

The Chinese are gaining ground in Africa while Western powers, and corporations, struggle to catch up. Last week, China’s official news service reported on the success of a joint effort of the Chinese and Congolese governments: A new $8.7 million, 40-mile long electricity line linking two towns in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The line will also supply power to a new hydroelectric dam. But an even larger dam – the largest in the world, in fact – to be built by Chinese contractors could also be in the works. And the United States is considering whether to contribute its own humanitarian funds to the project.

Workers in a mine near Goma, eastern DR Congo. 2012
Workers in a mine near Goma, eastern DR Congo. 2012

In today’s podcast, Nairobi-based reporter Jacob Kushner puts that news in context and explains why America should be open to collaborating with Chinese investments in the Congo. After reporting on Western mining operations in Haiti, Kushner visited similar Chinese mining operations in the Congo, but noticed that many Congolese respect and appreciate the presence of Chinese companies even as they extract the country’s resources without any “do-gooder” pretensions.

He published an e-book last fall called “China’s Congo Plan: What the Economic Superpower Sees in the World’s Poorest Nation.” Kushner joins us to explain what China’s influence in the Congo looks like on the ground, why many Congolese respect Chinese profit motives over Western humanitarian ones, and how China’s massive investments in Central Africa might hold up over the long term.

And I ask him an obvious but little-asked question: what should Western humanitarians learn from Chinese contractors? The answer might surprise you.

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WFP Struggles Under Financial Weight of Food Crises | 

Displaced families in CAR carry 25 kg bags of maize, distributed by WFP.
Displaced families in CAR carry 25 kg bags of maize, distributed by WFP.

Funding shortages have led the World Food Programme to announce cuts to food rations in countries including Haiti, Kenya, Mali and Niger. The UN organization says it needs an extra $1 billion to meet the food needs of people around the world.

The need for food aid has increased in Syria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and across the Sahel have increased over the past few months. However, the agency has struggled to gain access to and meet the demand for some of the most desperate people in Syria and the CAR.

A new appeal to assist an estimated 20 million people across the Sahel region of West Africa requires $2 billion. The arid belt is particularly vulnerable to drought, leading to higher rates of food insecurity and malnutrition.

More than half of the money, $1.115 billion, is intended to address food security and nutrition. The appeal estimated that 5 million children are affected by acute malnutrition, with 1.5 million of that number suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The World Food Programme (WFP) will work alongside other UN agencies to address the problems faced by people living in the Sahel. More money is needed to ensure that the UN can undertake an appropriate response. Only 60% of the $1.72 billion UN appeal for the Sahel was fulfilled last year.

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City Council member: Why fighting poverty means fighting for socialism | 


We’re all familiar with the fear-mongering that goes on when it comes to socialism, communists, and anyone deemed outside the “mainstream” of American politics. The right-wing is fond of calling President Obama a socialist – even as he pushes for a massive, corporation-friendly free-trade agreement – without explaining why that would be a bad thing. Perhaps we can chalk up most of the hysteria against further-left-than-liberal figures to the Cold War.

But it’s 2014. It’s time to move on.

In Seattle, economics professor Kshama Sawant ran on an openly socialist platform against a longtime capitalist, Democratic incumbent in November. And she won.

Today, we explore with Sawant why her campaign was successful, why socialism seems to be gaining momentum, and her analysis of global poverty – including how her views are informed by her upbringing in India, where she says extreme poverty was rampant right alongside staggering wealth. Why was one person rich, and someone living next door destitute? Like many in the development sector, “I was obsessed with this question,” Sawant says. But it drew her to socialism and politics, not aid.

And no discussion of the humanitarian industry is complete without a mention of the world’s largest philanthropic institution, based here in Seattle: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While Sawant has some strong words for Gates, there’s also some common ground between this socialist and the billionaire on the question of what kind of aid works. Tune in!

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