Population Matters

Foreign Aid: The Most Vulnerable One Percent

August 17th, 2011

One of the most widely held misperceptions about the federal budget is the percentage of the budget that goes to foreign aid. According to a World Public Opinion poll, the average American believes that 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. When those same Americans are asked how much of the federal budget they think should go to foreign assistance they answer 10 percent.

So how much does the United States spend on foreign aid?

One percent.

Right now the State and Foreign Operations portion of the budget is one percent of the total federal budget and that one percent does so much. First, it funds the State Department and its diplomatic functions – including embassies – around the world. It funds international organizations, including the World Food Programme, which is currently playing a key role in fighting the famine in the Horn of Africa. This one percent also includes U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)  programs for agriculture, democracy, environment, economic development, and global health, including HIV/AIDS and family planning.

The Obama Administration has spent the last two years touting the three D’s: Diplomacy, Development, and Defense, saying that for a safe and secure world you need to invest in all three. As a result, the Obama Administration has been increasing the budget for State and foreign assistance. However in the current budgetary environment, each of the three D’s are in trouble, including diplomacy and development.

The cutting has already begun: the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriation for FY2011 was cut by $8 billion. Right now the FY2012 budget is under discussion, and  the House State and Foreign Affairs Appropriations Sub-Committee cut funding for diplomacy and development to a level that’s 20 percent below the FY2010 funding level. While such a cut would have a dramatic impact on peoples’ lives around the world, it would have a profound impact on women’s lives.

International family planning would be slashed by 25 percent and support for the United Nations Population Fund would be eliminated. With world population reaching 7 billion later this year, and an estimated 215 million women wanting to avoid or delay a pregnancy, now is not the time to cut funding for family planning.

Unfortunately, this year’s appropriation battle isn’t the end of the story. Much bigger cuts could come as a result of the debt ceiling deal, which requires a super-committee in Congress to find between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next ten years from the budget by Thanksgiving. Right now, if the committee doesn’t act, $600 billion of the total amount will be cut from Defense.  If Congress acts to avert those automatic cuts in the defense budget, the cuts come out of future appropriations for diplomacy and development.

If foreign assistance is cut, it will have a disproportionate impact on women.  Unfortunately, there’s only one woman, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), on the 12 person committee that is charged with trying to put together the deficit-reduction package.  So how will programs that affect women’s lives around the world fare with only one woman to advocate for them? What will this mean for family planning and reproductive health programs both in the United States and abroad?  Only time will tell.

The budget for diplomacy and development is only one percent of the entire federal budget and even if it were cut completely you would not find enough money to solve the deficit problem. Unfortunately, foreign aid is an easy target. It is an area without a constituency. It is much easier for a member of Congress to cut money from foreign assistance than to cut programs that will directly affect voters in his or her own district. Yet, these cuts will have real impacts on the lives of men and women around the world, and, by implication, on U.S. interests abroad.

The super-committee has been given a big charge.  It’s no small task to cut $1.2 to $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years from the federal budget, but the small investment that the U.S. makes in foreign assistance, including family planning, has paid big dividends.  That’s why it’s called “smart diplomacy.”  Let us hope that the super-committee understands that.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

Interrupting the Cycle of Hunger in the Horn

August 12th, 2011

The worst drought in East Africa in 60 years has turned into a famine of epic proportions in much of Somalia.  The numbers are staggering.  Of the 9.9 million people living in Somalia, 3.7 million of them are in crisis, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with some 12.4 million at risk across the Horn of Africa.  In southern Somalia in just the last three months, over 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died.  An estimated 640,000 Somali children are currently acutely malnourished.

The UN’s declaration of famine on July 20 signifies that “acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 percent, more than 2 people per 10,000 die per day and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities.”

Somalia’s last severe famine occurred from 1991 to 1993; 240,000-280,000 people died and up to 2 million were displaced.  Unfortunately, not much appears to have changed in the last 20 years.  Child hunger is a chronic problem in Somalia. In fact, the infant mortality rate in 2009 was the same as that in 1990, with 40 percent of children exhibiting signs of malnutrition before the current drought.  While the situation may not have changed much between these two famines, we now have another opportunity to implement a new strategy for fighting hunger on the Horn of Africa.  As Secretary of State Clinton said at the International Food Policy Research Institute on Thursday, we must work to fight chronic and acute hunger in Somalia; these conditions are not “inevitable.”

While the international community works in the short-term to get emergency aid to those who need it, longer-term plans are being developed to make Somalia and other countries in the region more resilient and food secure.  Governance, infrastructure, and agricultural reforms are all part of any comprehensive solution.  However, in order for reforms to efficiently take root, family planning must be included. Somalia’s 9.9 million population is projected to jump to 13.3 million by 2025 and 22.6 million in 2050.  If we don’t make family planning and reproductive health services more widely available in the country, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make Somalia food secure.

Even prior to the famine, 32% of children in Somalia under the age of five were moderately or severely underweight, 13% suffered from moderate to severe wasting and 42% from moderate to severe stunting.  These poor outcomes begin in pregnancy; the child of an undernourished woman is more likely to suffer from permanent stunting.  However, only 1% of married women in Somalia use modern contraception, and the total fertility rate is a world-high 6.4 children per woman.  Without better access to reproductive health services, including contraceptives and neo-natal care, maternal and infant mortality rates will remain unacceptably high, and children will be inadequately nourished.

Empowering women should be an integral part of any long-term strategy for combating hunger and improving lives in Somalia.  It is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman: over 50% of the agricultural workforce is female, maternal mortality is shockingly high, and women have little control over their lives, including their reproductive lives.  In Somalia, as in many developing countries, the first and most vital step to improving food security and preventing famine is improving the lives of women.

Posted by Hannah Ellison, Public Policy Fellow

A Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals: How Far Have We Come?

August 5th, 2011

The clock is quickly counting down to the 2015 deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a framework established by the United Nations in 2000 to guide development in the areas of poverty, education, hunger, and disease. The MDGs are now more than a decade old and, according to a new report from the UN, while encouraging progress has been made, much work remains.

First, the good news: malaria deaths are down by 20 percent globally, more than one billion people gained access to an improved drinking water source, and between 1990 and 2005 the worldwide poverty rate – the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day – dropped from 46 percent to 27 percent. This rate is expected to drop even further so that by 2015 it will be below 15 percent; lower even than the MDG’s targeted 23 percent.

Yet, the news is not all good. While some regions continue to develop, other regions are falling far behind. For example, much of the reduction in the global poverty rate came from Eastern Asia where economic growth in China and India helped cut the rate from 60 to 16 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa, however, saw a drop of only seven percentage points – 58 to 51 percent – in its poverty rate during the same time frame.

In education, worldwide youth literacy has risen to 89 percent. Northern Africa increased its literacy rate by 19 percentage points and Southern Asia by 20. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, rose only seven points from 1990 to 2009.

The results are similarly mixed in the area of maternal health. The report notes that globally “the maternal mortality ratio dropped by 34 percent between 1990 and 2000.” Regionally, the ratio dropped by 53 percent between 1990 and 2008 in Southern Asia, but only by 26 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. The MDG of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters remains far off.

More than half of all married women between the ages of 15 and 49 were using some form of contraception by 2008, but progress has slowed “in almost all regions.” With international family planning aid on the chopping block, progress is likely to slow further. According to the report, the number of women worldwide between the ages of 15 and 19 is “approaching 300 million” and “intensified efforts are urgently needed to delay or prevent unintended pregnancies among this vulnerable age group.”

There is also a worrisome gap between the progress of development in urban and rural communities. In the foreword to the report, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, called these disparities “pronounced and daunting.” The MDG report states that, “Children in developing regions are twice as likely to be underweight if they live in rural rather than urban areas.” Additionally, an urban dweller in sub-Saharan Africa is “1.8 times more likely to use an improved drinking water source than a person living in a rural area.”

With four years left to meet the development goals set forth in 2000, time is running out. Much has been achieved – millions have been lifted out of poverty, more children are being educated, fewer people are dying from malaria and HIV, and many more. However, as previously mentioned, progress has not been evenly distributed, especially among the poorest of the poor and those living in rural areas. The UN appears confident that the MDGs will be met on time but in the words of the Secretary-General, “Achieving all the MDGs will require extra effort.”

Posted by Christina Daggett, Program Associate