As originally published by The Hill, May 27, 2014, 4 p.m.
Most of us tend to consider disasters – manmade and natural — to be an exception in life. But in poor countries disaster can be a way of life. As our congressional legislators in Washington work under budget constraints, they need to know that they have the bipartisan support of our constituencies — millions of Americans who support funding for life-saving humanitarian, development, and health programs around the world. Every religion calls on its followers to care for the neediest not just the nearest. In our Christian tradition Jesus teaches, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
As religious leaders and faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) committed to promoting the dignity of every human being, we are keenly aware of the irreplaceable role American leadership plays on the world stage. The work we NGOs do would not have nearly the impact it has without U.S. government leadership and funding, which, through our own leadership and private funding, we leverage every day.
Together we are helping build healthier generations in even in the most desperate places. Our work does not just alleviate the emergency at hand, we work to mitigate disasters before they hit. Building strength and resilience in anticipation of unavoidable catastrophes prevents avoidable deaths. It helps populations make a fast comeback so they can get back to the act of living and not just surviving until the next catastrophe strikes.
Take Africa’s Sahel, infamous for its history of famine. Because “building resilience” is underway, during the massive 2011 drought, children did not die by the tens of thousands as they tragically did in areas we have yet to reach, such as Somalia. Our public and private partnerships across the region have made it better able to weather the recurring cycle of droughts. How? With health centers that provide nutrition when it’s needed most; more resilient drought-resistant crops; diversified food sources; improved livestock survival rates; preserved food stocks; safe water storage; roads that get crops to market and keep local economies afloat.
Foreign assistance can dramatically reduce the need for expensive emergency relief, and, most importantly, it saves and improves lives for the long haul. Foreign assistance from the U.S. and many other countries around the world is making smart investments that enable communities to thrive and momentum is on our side:
- Six million fewer children died last year from preventable diseases than in 1990 and a record-breaking number of children around the world now live past their fifth birthday. Nutrition interventions during the critical first 1,000 days from pregnancy to age two help to ensure a child’s ability to grow, learn, and thrive throughout their lifetime. Every dollar invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity. It is exciting to see that the U.S. government will soon announce a landmark, comprehensive nutrition strategy on global maternal and child nutrition.
- Investments in primary education have helped increase the global literacy rate by 33 percent and triple primary school enrollment in the last 25 years. Individual earnings increase 10 percent for every year of school completed which fuels economic productivity among these countries, many of whom are also our trade partners.
- The U.S. government has supported life-saving HIV/AIDS antiretroviral treatment for 6.7 million men, women, and children worldwide. Of the 780,000 pregnant women who tested positive for HIV last year, 95 percent of their children were born HIV-free due to treatment interventions.
- Then there’s polio. On the verge of eradication, polio once crippled 350,000 children every year. Last year there were 400 documented cases worldwide.
As the U.S. Congress works on appropriations, every American who believes in the basic dignity of a human being must continue to support this momentum. That means funding for humanitarian and poverty-focused development assistance programs must remain at levels comparable or higher than those enacted in the previous year.
We don’t believe there is a choice here. How can we stomach the desperate looks on children’s faces and refuse to help when we know we are able? Each of us, citizens and elected representatives, reflect the priorities of this great nation, and among the most important is hope and compassion for all God’s children.
Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World, a collective Christian voice urging Congress to end hunger domestically and abroad. McCullough is president and CEO of Church World Service, a global humanitarian agency with programs in development and humanitarian affairs, advocacy for social justice, and refugee assistance.