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Development Assistance: Where Does It Lead?

By Tom Bolton on September 1, 2013
© Hopeful

This is the seventh essay in the Bread For the World compilation on Development Assistance, which I have been highlighting for the past seven week. You may read all 7 Development Works essays in a wonderful PDF that is available by clicking the link in this sentence. Here, the authors tell  the stories of real people around the world  who are building better lives with the help  of effective U.S. development assistance. 

Development Works uses examples, photos,  and graphics to illustrate what development  assistance actually is and does. The seven  short essays included here focus on some of  the key questions—from why development  assistance is so important and what impact  it has, to whether America can afford it and where we should concentrate our efforts.

This week, we explore Development Assistance: Where Does It Lead?

50 years ago, one person in three around the world was malnourished. Now, hunger is less common, affecting one in six people. Has there been enough progress if “only” one-sixth of the global population is hungry? No. But it’s a big improvement over a time—still in living memory—when twice as many people were hungry.

In just the past two decades the global community has also made impressive progress:

• The percentage of people living in extreme poverty (on less than $1.25/day) has been cut in half.

• Low-income countries as well as wealthier nations are making rapid progress against child mortality. For example, Liberia, Rwanda, and Bangladesh have each reduced their child death rate by more than two-thirds.

• In 1990, an estimated 12 million children younger than 5 died of preventable causes, while by 2011, this number was less than 7 million. Measuring child mortality in the millions means there is a long way to go. Still, each year 5 million young lives are being saved, children who would have died in 1990.

• About 80 percent of the global population now has access to safe drinking water close to their homes.

• Polio is near eradication: this deadly and disabling disease is vying with guinea worm disease to become the second dis- ease, after smallpox, eradicated through human effort. The number of polio cases has fallen by more than 99 percent since 1988.

• The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) began in 2003. In 2012, the United States supported life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 5 million people. The cost of a year’s worth of antiretroviral medication has dropped to $100. 2012 was also the year that, for the first time, health officials said that an AIDS-free generation was possible.

• Africa will have the world’s highest rate of economic growth for at least the next five years, propelled by several of the 10 fastest-growing economies.  Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana, Zambia, and Nigeria are all expected to expand their economies by more than 6 percent a year until 2015.

The dramatic reductions in global hunger and extreme poverty over the past two generations prove that—now, if not in the past—it is well within human capabilities to end mass hunger and extreme poverty within a generation. The deaths from malnutrition of hundreds of thousands of young children year after year can become not just preventable,” but prevented.

More key points are shared:

+ The idea of “building resilience” is simply that poor communities can better fight hunger by identifying potential threats to their livelihoods and developing workable alternatives before they are desperately needed.

• Safety net programs are a key part of building resilience.  Emergency feeding programs, too, can distribute food in exchange for work that contributes to the community’s future food security.

• Country-led plans to reduce hunger help build the resilience of the country itself. U.S. assistance helps support these plans. Countries with effective governments and strong civil societies are also more resilient.

Myths & Realities


There is little that very poor people can do to reduce their vulnerability.  The only thing we can do is keep sending humanitarian assistance to ease their suffering when disaster strikes.


Low-income people are as eager as others to improve their lives when they have an opportunity.    Just one example is the popularity of “microlending,” the practice of making modest loans, as little as $50, to individuals or groups to start small businesses. The original program was in Bangladesh; microlending later spread to many other  ountries. Overall, there has been an excellent track record of repayment on the microloans, and many borrowers have been able to expand their businesses and later qualify for larger loans.

Experience shows that committed leadership can bring about rapid reductions in hunger and extreme poverty. Notably, Brazil reduced the percentage of its people living in extreme poverty from 10 percent to 2 percent in just five years, 2004-2009. Also in 2009, the country’s income inequality hit a 50-year low. In November 2012, Luiz Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil and 2011 World Food Prize laureate, agreed to work with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the African Union to pursue their “shared vision” of a hunger-free Africa through a coordinated campaign against malnutrition and food insecurity.


Development assistance is a big part of the U.S. budget and is fueling our record budget deficits.


Development assistance is less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget, so cutting it would not fix the budget deficit. It does, however, save millions of lives every year.

You may read all 7 Development Works essays in a wonderful PDF that is available by clicking the link in this sentence.

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