Trump foreign aid cuts hurt world's mothers

Trump foreign aid cuts hurt world's mothers

Publication info

Posted
5/12/17
By
Michelle Nunn, Chris Coons, and Jeff Merkley

Originally published by USA Today.

Should the United States continue to spend 1% of our budget on foreign aid? The answer was clear to us last month as we walked through a mountainside farm two hours outside of Kathmandu, Nepal.

There we met an inspirational mother named Sita, who showed us her small, once-barren plot of vegetables, now bursting with cabbage. Sita described how, with support from the U.S. government, she was able to join a women’s cooperative that teaches basic farming, harvesting and marketing techniques. Participants in the cooperative have seen their incomes soar, but the program has done far more than help them lift themselves out of the depths of poverty.

Sita said that like too many Nepalese women, she used to feel trapped in her home, where opportunities were few and domestic violence was all too common. “We were flesh and blood, but we were not human,” she told us. Before America supplied this catalytic assistance, “we did not have a voice. We did not exist outside of our homes. We were not really human. But we are now.”

Most Americans wrongly assume the United States spends much more money overseas than we do. Many are surprised to learn that we invest just 1% of our federal budget in foreign aid. They are even more surprised that President Trump’s budget proposes dramatically slashing these investments that advance American values, open new markets for U.S. businesses, keep our country safe and, as we saw firsthand, allow people to become reclaim their humanity.

We recently traveled to India and Nepal as part of a learning tour with CARE, a global humanitarian organization working to reduce poverty by empowering women and girls. Throughout our time in South Asia, we saw clear evidence that smart, targeted foreign assistance works — and that cutting this aid would have devastating consequences.

Now, as we approach Mother’s Day, we hope each of us will reflect on the critical contribution mothers make to healthy societies, strong economies and the well-being of future generations. When America invests in women, those women invest in their children. When their children are stronger, they’re more likely to grow into productive citizens. These simple and relatively inexpensive interventions make our world safer.

Take Sita. Today, incredibly, she’s sending two sons to college and breaking the cycle of poverty.

We also met Nidhi, a young mother who welcomed us into her small home in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, and Annapurna, a community health worker supported by U.S. assistance. Annapurna met Nidhi when Nidhi became pregnant and counseled Nidhi until the birth of her son, who was more than a month premature.

Without the efforts of Annapurna, a community health worker trained and supported by a U.S. foreign aid program, Nidhi’s pregnancy and childbirth would have been far riskier and far more uncertain. Thanks to our small investments, Nidhi’s son is thriving, Nidhi is healthy, and thousands of other women in Bihar are also having healthy pregnancies.

This kind of investment in mothers has helped reduce global maternal mortality and child mortality rates by more than half since 1990. That’s hundreds of thousands of lives saved and families stabilized every year. Our investments have led to huge returns measured in human lives, in the stability of nations and in global economic prosperity.

But millions of women still live without the basic rights and resources they need to be healthy. Every day, more than 800 women still die from pregnancy-related conditions we know how to prevent. If we’re serious about tackling these challenges, promoting global security, and building a safer world, we need to support healthier moms and kids.

Yet the Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts in funding for foreign assistance, diplomacy, the State Department and key departments such as the U.S. Agency for International Development that help lift families out of poverty and build more resilient and prosperous communities. By shrinking assistance and eliminating USAID offices in dozens of countries, these cuts would cripple decades of progress, without having any significant effect on federal spending.

As we prepare to review the president’s full budget, we have a choice to make. We can cut into the mere 1% of federal spending called foreign aid. Or we can protect these life-saving programs and send a signal to the world that America intends to lead not just by military strength, but also by making our world more stable, more secure and more prosperous.

That’s a world in which the United States lives up to its values and every American is better off.

Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Michelle Nunn is the president and CEO of CARE, a global poverty-fighting organization working in 94 countries.

Putali Tamang, 38, from Daubachour village in Sindhupalchowk district Nepal begins planting the vegetable seeds provided by CARE after the April and May 2015 earthquakes. These include cauliflower, radish, brinyal and beans. Photo credit: Lucy Beck/CARE

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