By Megan Dohert and Bill O’Keefe
Fourteen years ago, Mustefa Hafiz and 1,300 farmers in his village in Ethiopia could barely grow enough food to feed their families.
Today, Mustefa harvests over 30,000 pounds of potatoes and other crops each year. He also earns $9,700 in annual profit, enough to enroll his daughters in school and build a house equipped with a water pump and modern outhouse.
Thanks to the generosity of the American people, U.S. foreign aid has helped Mustefa and millions of Ethiopians work their way out of poverty.
Village by village, farmers have become more resilient to droughts and floods and are able to build a more prosperous country. Twenty years ago, Ethiopia’s GDP was hardly over $8 billion and more than 50 percent of the population lived below the global poverty line. By 2016, largely as a result of U.S. development assistance, the poverty rate had been halved. Ethiopia’s GDP skyrocketed to $80 billion, giving the country sufficient economic strength to launch its own major anti-poverty programs.
Self-reliance is the ultimate goal of American foreign aid. Such aid helped transform Germany, Japan, and Korea into stable democracies with vibrant economies. It is working in Ethiopia and dozens of other countries ravaged by man-made and natural disasters.
Despite this, the Donald Trump Administration has three times proposed dramatic cuts to U.S. foreign aid. Most recently, the President’s Budget Request for 2020 called for a 24 percent reduction.
Congress has twice rejected similar proposals from the Administration. Republican and Democratic leaders alike understood the practical benefits of foreign assistance as both an expression of American values abroad and a vehicle to support global peace and security.
We urge the new Congress to stand firm. Helping others is both part of our heritage and in our national interest. Success in post-WWII Europe was the direct result of sustained U.S. humanitarian leadership and generosity after war devastated the continent. That investment was worth it. Today, eleven of America’s top fifteen trading partners are former recipients of foreign aid.
Cuts to foreign aid jeopardize hard-won gains and threaten American safety, values, and leadership. Foreign aid is not a hand out; it’s a hand up. The millions of people who receive U.S. humanitarian and development assistance each year are active partners trying to help their families and communities.
Aid works. Hunger has been cut in half in developing countries in the past two decades, and global poverty is at an all-time low.
Ethiopia’s current prosperity would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. Some Americans might still associate Ethiopia with wide-spread food insecurity and the Live Aid fundraising effort in the mid-1980s. Today, despite the negative impact of climate change and civil unrest, Ethiopia’s economy has grown an average of 10.3 percent annually for the past decade, almost double the regional average, according to the World Bank. This is thanks to the hard work by regular Ethiopians like Mustefa Hafiz benefiting from assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Cutting off our investments in the developing world would be harmful to our national interests. The same villages and countries becoming more self-reliant because of our support also are facing violent conflicts and the effects of climate change. An unprecedented 69 million people have been forced from their homes. We’ve seen the impacts of those catastrophes driving migration and refugee flows to neighboring communities and countries.
Local and international aid groups like Mercy Corps and Catholic Relief Services partner with the U.S. government to mitigate the effects of such disasters by strengthening communities from within. In the case of subsistence farmers like Mustefa Hafiz, our assistance is helping combat soil erosion, strengthen farm yields, and install irrigation pumps. A farmer like Mustefa — who was once himself a recipient of U.S. assistance — is now contributing to the growth of his local economy.
This is a cheap investment, considering foreign aid represents about 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget. We urge Congress to continue its strong bipartisan support for these low-cost, high-return investments in global development.
Megan Doherty is Mercy Corps’ Senior Director for Policy and Advocacy. Bill O’Keefe is Executive Vice President for Mission and Mobilization at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
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