Nix: Congress Can Stretch U.S. Aid With Investments

Posted March 17, 2010 at 5:01pm

What do the NAACP, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Sierra Club have in common? They recently joined ONE and more than 150 other organizations in a letter to Members of Congress supporting the president’s proposed international affairs budget.

[IMGCAP(1)]These diverse groups join a chorus of well-respected voices. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have strongly endorsed investments in our civilian and diplomatic capacities to help achieve U.S. foreign policy goals. And just last week, in a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, leading philanthropists Bill Gates and former President Bill Clinton testified to the advances in global health made possible by U.S. funding.

At ONE, we understand the fiscal challenges facing Congress. And in the case of foreign assistance, the challenges are magnified by public belief that this aid represents a sizable portion of federal spending. In reality, it is less than 1.4 percent of the total.

Even so, the return on this investment is enormous.

Thanks to support from the U.S. and other donors, 3 million HIV-positive Africans currently have access to lifesaving medicines. Compared with just a few years ago, around the world there are now about 42 million more children in school. Deaths from malaria have been sliced in half in countries across Africa. And in a report released just last week, the Global Fund (which the U.S. is the largest donor to) reported that disease prevention and treatment programs have saved 3,600 lives — every day.

So while foreign assistance is a very small proportion of the overall budget, its effectiveness is both measurable and priceless. These investments are helping shape a world where no one dies from malaria, no more children are born with HIV and families are able to feed themselves and others through the use of sustainable agriculture techniques. But this future reality is possible only with continued strong support from the United States.

I recently traveled in Ghana as part of ONE’s new campaign Women ONE2ONE and saw firsthand how America’s investment in agriculture has lifted up entire communities. We visited a rice farm, supported by a U.S.-based nonprofit that receives funding from the United States Agency for International Development, that gave farmers — most of whom were women — greater access to seeds, fertilizer and training, which led to improved crop yields. These entrepreneurs are then able to invest in their communities, send children to school and provide a pathway out of poverty. This can happen all over Africa if we continue to make sustained and smart investments there.

The effect of these efforts is not only demonstrated in the number of lives saved but also over the long term by creating healthier, more stable and productive countries — one life, one family, one community at a time.

We see every day that we are living in an increasingly interconnected world — what happens on the other side of the globe, be it financial crisis, political strife or infectious disease, can affect us right here at home. In addition to transforming lives, smart investments in the developing world also help prevent political strife. This clearly enhances our own national security.

The United States has always been a leader in efforts to improve the lives of the more than 1.4 billion people in extreme poverty. We have done this through smart investments in global health and development. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s not allow disease and despair to replace tangible progress. Congress and the president should work together to continue to fight global poverty. It is an investment with tremendous ability to make the world a more human and healthy place.

Sheila Nix is executive director of ONE, a global anti-poverty organization.