Bill Gates meets Trump to argue for foreign aid

Tech billionaire Bill Gates met with President Donald Trump and highlighted the “indispensable role that the United States has played in achieving these gains,” his foundation said in a statement.

Gates wrote a blog post Friday to argue that the U.S. shouldn’t slash humanitarian aid. Spending on projects overseas helps “keep Americans safe,” Gates wrote.

“By promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.”

American aid, Gates wrote, helps prevent and eradicate epidemics, citing polio and Ebola as examples.

To illustrate the security benefits of international aid, he praised former President Bush’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS abroad with a program known as PEPFAR. Eleven million people with HIV are alive because of the program, Gates said, and “many more never got the virus in the first place because of the prevention efforts supported by PEPFAR.” What this meant, he continued is that there were more teachers, entrepreneurs, and other workers “contributing to strong, stable societies,” and Gates pointed to a study that showed that political instability and violence in African countries with PEPFAR dropped signficantly, compared to when PEPFAR was not in use.

[CBS]

The Christian case for foreign aid

The Bible is replete with references to caring for the poor in obedience to God. Jesus declares that loving our neighbor — wherever they live — is one of the greatest commandments, a corollary to loving God.

While the U.S. government doesn’t directly share this mandate, it plays a critical role in fulfilling the moral responsibility of all Americans to help those less fortunate. …Yet now, President Trump’s proposed budget threatens to severely cut that foreign aid.

At less than 1 percent of the federal budget — an amount analogous to the “widow’s mite” — foreign assistance promotes our values, our own prosperity and our nation’s security, all while providing a lifeline to the most vulnerable in the world, those Jesus called “the least of these.”

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If the U.S. government isn’t on the ground saving lives and promoting recovery and development — in solidarity with thousands of American aid workers and American allies — then global crises will proliferate and cause destabilization that eventually reaches our shores.

In an increasingly unstable world, this small but vital account is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure. Former secretary of defense Robert Gates has said, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

[Read full article by Richard Stearns (president of World Vision U.S.) and Sean Callahan (president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services)]

US no longer leads global efforts to mitigate suffering

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the United Nations, which runs agencies such as the World Food Program and UNICEF, come at a time when famine is reaching a crisis point in parts of Africa. The timing of the proposed cuts has sent chills through the international aid community, which fears that a retreat by the U.S. in relief funding could make a bad situation worse.

Just days before Trump’s budget was released, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned that the globe is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Two years of drought and failed rains across much of Africa have affected 38 million people in 17 countries.

For decades, the U.S. has been the largest supporter of the World Food Program as part of a bipartisan congressional commitment to averting famine and starvation. In 2016, the U.S. paid 24% of the food program’s $8.6-billion budget, or about $2 billion. At present levels, the U.S. also funds 40% of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 22% of the U.N. Secretariat, as well as 28% of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Ben Parker, an analyst and editor at IRIN, a news agency specializing in humanitarian issues, said the U.S. humanitarian contribution was large in dollar terms, but in terms of the percentage of its economy, “the U.S. is not very generous.”

Scott Paul, senior policy adviser at the humanitarian agency Oxfam, said Trump’s budget blueprint sent tremors of alarm through the humanitarian community. “The message that it sends is that the U.S. is no longer interested in leading or being part of global efforts to mitigate suffering in the world,” he said.

[Los Angeles Times]

The US spends a lot less on foreign aid than you think

President Trump’s wants a 28 percent cut in America’s foreign aid funding, though some areas would go untouched — U.S. assistance to Israel, for example.

But Trump is playing to a strong feeling among Americans that we spend large parts of our national budget on international programs. That’s a persistent belief.

And a false one.

Guess how much of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign aid. Go ahead.

“When we ask the public to give us their best guess, we find on average they tell us 31 percent,” said Bianca DiJulio, associate director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“The actual amount is 1 percent or less.”   Read more  

Underappreciated benefits of US foreign aid

Carnegie Endowment senior fellow Rachel Kleinfeld points to an underappreciated fact about foreign aid. “I would say the majority of it helps us strategically and economically,” Kleinfeld said.

U.S. companies and organizations often carry out disaster assistance for example. But there’s long-term payoff as well. “Think about it this way, of our 15 biggest trading partners today, 11 used to be recipients of U.S. aid,” she said.

Helping others helps ourselves in the long term. And of course, helping others … helps others.

Compared with other countries, the U.S. gives the most money. But when you compare by what percentage of our budget we give, we’re 19th in the world.

[Marketplace]

US asks Cambodia to pay war debts for destroying it!

Half a century after American B-52 bombers dropped more than 500,000 tonnes of explosives on Cambodia’s countryside, Washington now wants the country to repay a $US500 million war debt. The demand has prompted expressions of indignation and outrage from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Over 200 nights in 1973 alone, 257,456 tons of explosives fell in secret carpet-bombing sweeps. The pilots flew at such great heights they were incapable of discriminating between a Cambodian village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply lines. The bombs were of such massive tonnage they blew out eardrums of anyone standing within a 1-kilometre radius.

According to one genocide researcher, up to 500,000 Cambodians were killed, many of them children. The Kymer Rouge then seized power in 1975 and over the next four years presided over the deaths of more than almost two million people through starvation disease and execution.

Cambodia’s strongman prime minister Hun Sen has hit back, saying “The US … dropped bombs on our heads and then ask up to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF (International Monetary Fund) not to lend us money,” he told an international conference in early March.

A former Reuters bureau chief in Ho Chi Minh City, said no-one could call him a supporter of Hun Sen,  but on this matter he is “absolutely correct. … Cambodia does not owe a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover,” he wrote in the Cambodia Daily.

American Elizabeth Becker, one of the few correspondents who witnessed the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, has also written that the US “owes Cambodia more in war debts that can be repaid in cash.”

[Sydney Morning Herald]

Why is the world facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1945?

The UN has warned that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since the organization was founded in 1945. Aid agencies have been warning for months and, in the case of Somalia, for years of an impending catastrophe. But the situation has deteriorated rapidly in the past 12 months.

Here is a look at the causes of food shortages and what is being done.
Are these crises man-made? The short answer is yes, although to varying degrees:
– North-east Nigeria has been a center of Boko Haram militancy. In the past 12 months the government has made military inroads, but hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes or trapped in Boko Haram areas. The UN’s World Food Programme says individual families face starvation, but the situation is not yet widespread enough for a famine to be officially declared.
– The two-year conflict in Yemen has pushed the poorest Arab state into a humanitarian crisis and driven millions of people to the brink of starvation. Saudi Arabia launched a Sunni-led military coalition two years ago to fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who had ousted the government. More than 10,000 civilians have died. Some 7m people face severe food shortages. The Saudis are blocking ports, ostensibly to stop the flow of weapons but also affecting food imports.
Somalia is different because the main reason for hunger is a drought, described by pastoralists as the worst in living memory. Temperatures have been rising in the Horn of Africa and weather patterns have become more unpredictable, a phenomenon some blame on global warming. Ever since 2011, the country has been plagued by internecine fighting.  Aid agencies say that, in some of the worst-affected regions, multiple armed militias are fighting for territory. 40 per cent of the population are at risk.

Is there donor fatigue? The refugee crisis triggered by the war in Syria has sucked up a lot of international attention and funding. In western countries, the appetite for foreign aid is lower among parts of the population. But Challiss McDonough, regional spokeswoman for the World Food Programme, said “fatigue is not the right word,” adding: “It is more like an overwhelming of the humanitarian system: 20m people are facing potential famine. A year ago I would have said that was unimaginable.”

Are countries condemned to repeat these catastrophes year after year? No. Ethiopia is often associated with starvation because of the 1983-85 famine in which at least 400,000 people died, with some estimates suggesting as many as 1m. Since then, however, a new government has taken big steps to prevent a recurrence. Last year, Ethiopia suffered the worst drought in at least three decades. People certainly went hungry, but Addis Ababa was able to mount a concerted response that was made easier by much-improved infrastructure, years of fast economic growth and prudent planning.

[Financial Times]

Man-made famine in Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called war-wracked Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with two-thirds of the population, or 18.8 million people — three million more than in January — in need of assistance and more than seven million with no regular access to food.

The conflict in Yemen has left more than 7,400 people dead and 40,000 wounded since a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened on the government’s side against rebels in March 2015, according to UN figures.

In just the past two months alone, more than 48,000 people have fled fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country, according to O’Brien, as it grapples with a proxy war fought by archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“The humanitarian suffering that we see in Yemen today is caused by the parties and proxies and if they don’t change their behavior now, they must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow,” said O’Brien.

“Yet all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid,” he added.

A total of $2.1 billion are needed to reach 12 million people with life-saving assistance and protection in Yemen this year, according to O’Brien, who noted that just six percent of those funds have been received so far. He announced that a ministerial-level pledging event for Yemen will take place in Geneva on April 25, to be chaired by UN chief Antonio Guterres.

[PRI]

2016 worst year yet for Syrian children

Children suffered a “drastic escalation” in violence from the Syrian civil war in 2016, the United Nations said Sunday in a report that showed child deaths jumped at least 20 percent from the year before and recruitment of child combatants more than doubled.

“The depth of suffering is unprecedented,” Geert Cappelaere, the UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement releasing the report. “Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future.”

More than a third of the children killed, were killed in or near a school, a reflection of how all sides in the conflict have disregarded schools as a safe haven in the war. A Unicef report in December said the United Nations had documented attacks on 84 schools in 2016.

“Children are [also] being used and recruited to fight directly on the front lines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers and prison guards,” the report said.

Other statistics in the UNICEF report showed 280,000 children live in hard-to-reach areas almost completely cut off from humanitarian aid. Nearly six million children now depend on such aid to survive, a 12-fold increase from 2012. Millions have been displaced, some as many as seven times.

More than two million Syrian children are living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, representing roughly half the number of Syrians who have fled their country since the conflict began in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

[The New York Times]

World facing greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945

The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, the United Nations says, issuing a plea for help to avoid “a catastrophe”.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said that more than 20 million people faced the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

“We stand at a critical point in history,” Mr O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations. … More than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.

“Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.”

Mr O’Brien’s comments follow on from a similar appeal made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month.

[BBC]