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Foreign aid on chopping block | 

Given the demand for cuts in government spending following the compromise deal Congress struck in order to raise the debt ceiling, many experts say foreign aid and development programs are on shaky ground.

As reported by Omar Karmi in The National, US argues over foreign aid policy along with its debt problem, some are concerned that with the unrest in the Middle East — the so-called Arab Spring — now is perhaps the worst time to talk about scaling back foreign aid:

Last year, Washington approved US$55.8 billion in foreign aid. This year, despite a period of unprecedented change in the Middle East and North Africa, the Republican-led Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives already has approved legislation that calls for $8.6 billion less and attaches political conditions on what remains.

Stephen Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations is quoted expressing concerns that shrinking aid and tying it to political requirements — such as requiring that the Muslim Brotherhood have no role in Egypt’s emerging new government — are both unrealistic and undemocratic.

Says Cook: “If we want to support democracy in Egypt, we should support democracy – in word and deed.”

Writing in The Guardian, Sam Worthington of Interaction, a coalition of aid and development organizations, says that even the conservative party now ruling in Britain recognizes that reducing foreign aid is penny-wise-and-pound foolish. The U.S. government already contributes a fairly small proportion of its budget to foreign aid, Worthington says, and cutting it back will reduce our influence and “soft power” strategies overeas:

The argument that a nation with an annual GDP of $14.6 trillion cannot afford to invest a fraction of 1% of that to help build a safer and more prosperous world is irresponsible. But in the current political climate, foreign aid, and in particular development assistance, is an easy target.

It’s an easy area for politicians to cut because it has less electoral consequences, but Worthington warns it will “lead to major security, humanitarian and global health headaches later on.” Many around the world depend upon U.S. foreign aid for their very lives, he says, noting the current famine in the Horn of Africa. Worthington adds:

This budget approach comes as the Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. Tens of thousands have already died and the United Nations estimates 11.6 million people need help.