Questions and Answers
Listen: HIV/AIDS in Uganda and St. Francis Health Care Services
The economic recession is hitting our nation hard and may continue well into the future. Shouldn’t we help hurting people here before we tackle poverty and hunger overseas?
We can and should do both—helping hungry and poor people in our country and elsewhere in the world. As Christians, we believe our government should devote some of its resources to support the efforts of poor people—wherever they live—to move out of poverty.
Today, U.S. poverty-focused foreign assistance accounts for less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget. With these limited resources, we must ensure that our government and the recipient countries use them wisely and effectively. Investing in developing poor countries is an important component of our national security and foreign policy. It increases political stability in developing countries and fights the hopelessness that leads to conflicts and terrorism.
A more effective system of foreign aid will allow help to reach those who need it most in a timely manner. Resources will be better spent, accountability improved, and decisions made in consultation with recipient countries and local organizations. This would also mean our tax dollars will go further at a time when our nation’s leaders must make hard budget choices.
In the past, aid to countries like Haiti has not always been used well. How can we help make foreign aid more effective in countries where governments are not strong or other barriers exist?
Conflict, political instability, bad governance, and weak institutions have thwarted past aid efforts in Haiti and a number of other developing countries. We do not condone corruption and this is why we should work hard to ensure transparency in our foreign aid programs. Research and experience tell us that the active participation of local citizens in development programs, especially in planning, monitoring, and keeping their government accountable, keeps corruption minimized or even eliminated.
In Haiti’s case, the country was essentially devastated—its infrastructure, its health network, its banking system. Disaster relief is important, but a year later, relief efforts should turn into long-term development efforts. Perverse as this may sound, the devastation offers a fresh start for the country, including strengthening the government’s capacity so it can implement development programs effectively.
In poor countries like Haiti, there are often large and effective networks of self-reliant local organizations such as Fonkoze (an acronym for Fondasyon Kole Zepòl, or Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation). With Haiti’s banking system badly damaged, Fonkoze provides a tried and tested model of how small loans can be used to help make poor people economically self-reliant—while at the same time improving their health, nutrition, and literacy.
The work of these civil society organizations, however, should not excuse governments from performing what is essentially their responsibility. But governments can learn a lot from these local organizations, especially in developing transparent ways to track budget flows and progress on aid projects to reduce corruption.
From the U.S. government’s side, it is also important that foreign aid is better coordinated and programs do not duplicate each other—not only in Washington, DC, but also in the countries that receive U.S. foreign aid. The U.S. government’s main development assistance agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), must be transformed and revitalized with more staff and expertise to lead and implement these changes. Today, the implementation of much of USAID’s programs is out-sourced since the organization no longer has enough in-house technical experts to coordinate the projects.
Wouldn’t it be better to donate to reputable charities instead of depending on government foreign aid?
Charitable aid is important, but what is more difficult is changing the systems that allow hunger and poverty to persist. This is why changing the policies and practices of how we deliver foreign assistance is essential to reducing hunger and poverty.
The U.S. currently leads other countries in delivering foreign assistance, a position we have effectively leveraged to generate more aid from others for poor countries. In 2010 the United States spent close to $23 billion on poverty-focused development assistance, and many of these programs are delivered by faith-based and secular nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Unlike charities, the U.S. government can coordinate international efforts that include other donor governments, multilateral institutions and NGOs, as was done in the Haiti earthquake relief effort. It is being done now with the current international initiative to strengthen agriculture and nutrition in poor countries. In fact, our government has leveraged development funds from other wealthy countries such as Germany, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.
Unlike charitable assistance, U.S. government aid can provide incentives for governments in developing countries to become more effective, efficient, and transparent.
The changes we seek—focusing aid on poverty reduction, ensuring better accountability, transforming USAID, and involving local communities in recipient countries—will help foreign aid get to those who really need it. Focusing on poverty also helps distinguish development aid from our nation’s political and military goals.
Some believe foreign aid just makes other countries dependent on the United States. Shouldn’t we find a way to make sustainable change?
Sustainable change requires partnerships with recipient countries and involvement by local communities and other civil society organizations in planning and implementing aid programs, building local capacity to implement programs, and building commitment and accountability for results.
Haiti’s Fonkoze is a good example of how U.S. foreign assistance—and support from churches—can lead to self-sufficiency. A group of 32 grassroots leaders, led by Haitian priest Father Joseph Philippe, formed the organization in 1994. Today, its network of 41 branches—mostly throughout rural Haiti—helps 50,000 women become economically self-sufficient. It has rightfully been called Haiti’s “Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor.”
A U.S.-funded project in Liberia, being implemented by nongovernmental organization ACDI-VOCA, is helping the country’s cocoa farmers produce quality cocoa beans and become better businesspeople. The impact has been so positive that David Kpan, who leads a cocoa farmers association in Nimba County, says they can now stand on their own.
Viewed largely, the impact of our nation’s generosity and leadership, and Bread’s advocacy, can be measured in millions of lives saved and transformed. For example, the Campaign for Child Survival (the subject of our 1984 Bread for the World Offering of Letters) raised immunization rates from 15 percent to nearly 80 percent in the 1980s. Efforts to increase access to HIV/AIDS drugs in Africa helped millions of people over the last decade, helped by Bread’s advocacy for funding the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The proportion of primary school-age children enrolled in school in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 56 percent in 1999 to 70 percent in 2006—thanks in large part to the 2000 Jubilee Campaign, which reduced the debts of poor countries in exchange for allocating more of their funds for education and other development needs.
How will foreign assistance reform affect the Millennium Development Goals?
To achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, we must shift from U.S.-led to recipient country-led development. Our development priorities must emphasize mutual accountability in order to accelerate progress. Developing countries took the lead in designing and implementing the strategies to achieve these goals, but they cannot do it alone. Rich countries, including the United States, have agreed to be partners in this effort.
We have made a lot of progress since the goals were adopted in 2000. But in order to achieve these goals, especially the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, we must reform the way we deliver U.S. foreign assistance. By changing our policies and laws governing U.S. foreign aid, we can make our aid more effective on the ground and help more hungry and poor people.