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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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American teenager is the face of global TB | 

Washington, DC Jake paused when he entered the room. He pulled out his phone to take a picture of the empty seats facing the empty table where he and his mom, Caryn, will soon sit.

The Irvine, California high school Freshman is dressed in a sharp suit and polka-dot bowtie. A young embodiment of California cool, Jake jokes with his mother as he decides what Instagram filter to apply before sharing the photo.

He is every bit the normal American kid, except for one unapparent difference. Jake has tuberculosis (TB).

(l to r) Dr Felice Adler, Jake Kaufman and Caryn Kaufman
(l to r) Dr Felice Adler, Jake Kaufman and Caryn Kaufman
Courtney Miller

He shows no evidence of active TB, the kind that can spread from person to person, but cannot know for sure if the preventative therapy worked. Jake is a perfectly healthy teen who lives with the possibility that he is still infected by TB.

Nearly 1 million children around the world developed TB in 2010, says a new study. The researchers also estimated, for the first time, that more than 30,000 children were infected by a multidrug-resistant form of TB.

Jake and Caryn are in Washington to put a face on the problem of TB and encourage lawmakers to provide support for the research and development of treatments, diagnostic tools and preventative steps against TB. They lobbied with the advocacy organization RESULTS and participated in a briefing at the Senate Visitors Center on Wednesday.

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US financial policy to cause short term problems for emerging economies | 

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The recovery of the United States is not great news for emerging economies. The tide of investments that increased over the past few years is heading back out.

The news is great for people living in the US and the Euro zone. A much discussed recovery is actually happening. As a result, governments are making changes to financial polices that were meant to help deal with slow economic growth. Some of the policies, such as quantitative easing, were a boon for emerging economies.

Public discussions about the end of quantitative easing were enough to alter billions of dollars worth of investment portfolios. An estimated $64 billion in mutual fund investments was taken out of emerging markets between June and August last year. Much of the rise and fall of the investments can be tied to the policy of quantitative easing carried out by the US Federal Reserve (Fed).

“Five years of unconventional monetary policies in developed countries to address the impact of the global financial crisis led to increased capital flows to developing countries as investors searched for yields as developed countries’ interest rates were kept at historic lows,” explains a new report by the Overseas Development Institute.

“The potential for the unwinding of these unconventional policies caused global instability from May 2013, especially in emerging economies such as India (initially), Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Brazil.”
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$2.4 billion raised for Syria crisis does not allay concerns | 

Mideast Lebanon Syria Refugee Students
A Syrian teacher, left, teaches on the first day of classes at a private school built for Syrian refugees in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon.
AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari

International donors and charities pledged a total of $2.4 billion in aid for the Syrian crisis. It is only a fraction of the $6.5 billion needed to respond to the largest UN appeal ever.

A two-day conference in Kuwait brought together charities, donors and other global actors to rally support for the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria. The first day saw charities and NGOs pledge $400 million in aid. Kuwait led the way on Wednesday by pledging $500 million.

Roughly 70% of the $1.5 billion pledged in a similar conference last year has materialized to date. There is little reason to be confident that all of the money promised this week will be disbursed.

The three year old crisis has displaced an estimated 9 million people. An international response to the humanitarian problems caused by the fighting in Syria has struggled to meet increasing needs. Neighboring countries who are hosting the more than 4 million refugees are struggling to support all the incoming people.

“No country, no people should face hardship or calamity for helping Syrians in need. It is vital for this region and our world that the burden is shared. Let us reward the compassion of Syria’s neighbors with generosity and solidarity,” said UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.

The situation is getting harder.
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DR Congo: M23 rebels lay down guns, army targets FDLR | 

M23 rebels on patrol.
M23 rebels on patrol.

The M23 rebel group that has led a twenty-month insurgency in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo waved the white flag today. An announcement Tuesday morning that the rebels gave up came in the wake of a Congolese army campaign that beat back the group over the weekend.

“The chief of staff and the commanders of all major units are requested to prepare troops for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration on terms to be agreed with the government of Congo.”

Rebels will put down arms in order to accomplish, “purely political means,” solutions to the root problems that gave rise to the rebellion said M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa in a statement. The Tutsi group opposes the existence of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a militia made up of ethnic Hutus, that group that carried out the Rwandan genocide, in eastern Congo.

The Congolese army already says it move to deal with the FDLR. The M23 was at the top of the list for the army’s concerns and it is now moving on to the next group, said government spokesman Lambert Mende. He said an attack is “imminent” against the FDLR.

“There is no more place in our country for any irregular group,” he said referring to the FDLR. “We are going to get on with disarming them.”

Only a year earlier the M23 rebels marched, without resistance, into the main eastern city of Goma before agreeing to retreat. The destabilizing group garnered greater international attention when a United Nations report said that the Rwandan military was providing support to the rebels. Continue reading

Is the US now a legitimate player in Africa? | 

President Obama wrapped up his tour of sub-Saharan Africa. His $7 billion initiative to increase electricity access in the region called Power Africa was the biggest news from the visit. Some saw the move as a rebuff to China who has been spending more and more money on building roads, bridges and ports in sub-Saharan Africa.

Harvard professor Calestous Juma disagrees. The Kenyan agriculture academic says the trip is about asserting the US as a legitimate player in the region.

African leaders have set their own development priorities, and Obama’s messages were aligned with their aspirations. The challenge is to bring all of Africa in the spirit of the African Union around the table with President Obama to chart an equally practical way forward.

Africa’s global interests are shifting from relief programs and relations on raw material exports to domestic capability, development and trade. U.S. government programs such as the Feed the Future which emphasize the need for Africa to feed itself offer new cooperation models.

In this spirit, perhaps aid programs such as PEPFAR (the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) should include joint venture initiatives that involve the shift of pharmaceutical production to Africa. The continent’s next frontier of engagement with the rest of the world will increasingly involve such joint ventures.

 

Last Ditch Effort to Preserve US Global Health R&D Spending | 

header-ghtc-logoWashington DC - Sequestration hits the US federal budget on Friday. The Washington Post features a countdown to Friday on the front page each day. News reports and the talk around town radiates a certainty that the across the board budget cuts will go through on Friday.

That fact is not dissuading global health activists from warning of the harm caused by budget losses. A group of activists descended upon the US capital to meet with lawmakers and issue a congressional briefing on the setback to global health research that the cuts pose.

Among those pushing lawmakers to maintain the US’ leadership in the global fight against the diseases poverty is the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), which issued a report outlining the ways that the US can continue to be a global health research leader. The group is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and housed within Seattle-based PATH, an organization that specializes in finding technological solutions to health problems in poor countries. Continue reading

SEC Adopts Conflict Mineral Legislation; Activists Express Disappointment | 

The long journey through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of Section 1502 in the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act has come to an end. A 3-2 vote adopted the provision that will force mining companies to detail their operations in conflict regions.

For consumers, this means that large electronics companies will be put on the spot to show that they are sourcing their minerals from conflict-free sources. The section has elicited a very strong debate and neither side was very happy with the final decision on Wednesday.

Supporters of the bill say it is a way to reduce the power of armed militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If companies are unable to trade in conflict regions the areas will be forces to make changes in order to enjoy the benefits of international mineral trade. The decline in power will provide more safety for the people who have been brutalized for years.

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