Information and stories on foreign aid.

foreign aidAs the COVID-19 pandemic spread over the world, so did foreign aid in many forms. Countries were sending masks, money, equipment and even healthcare professionals. Despite suffering from the effects of the pandemic themselves, China, Taiwan and South Korea all contributed to providing 16 countries around the world, including in Europe and Asia.  Even the U.S. became among those who were aid recipients when a shipment of masks and equipment from Russia arrived in April 2020. Perhaps most notably, Italy received foreign assistance from the U.S., China, Cuba and Russia among other countries.

Concerns About Aid Effectiveness

A common misconception regarding aid is that developed countries rarely benefit from foreign aid. Studies have shown that most Americans think the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid. Moreover, many aid opponents argue that aid is ineffective, costly and creates dependence.

Even Africans, who receive 20% of U.S. aid, have raised concerns about aid effectiveness. In 2002, Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade, said “I’ve never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit. Countries that have developed—in Europe, America, Japan, Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore—have all believed in free markets. There is no mystery there. Africa took the wrong road after independence.”

Foreign Aid to Developed Countries

The pandemic has shown that strong relations and aid are necessary for countries to overcome economic and healthcare challenges. Foreign aid has a complicated history, but many developed countries were recipients of aid in the past and still benefit from it in many ways.

Italy received around $240 billion in aid from the E.U. during the pandemic. If a similar aid package was given to Sub-Saharan Africa, it could provide primary healthcare to every African. If used to relieve food insecurity, $240 billion could end world hunger by 2030. That is not to say that foreign aid to developing countries should come at the expense of the recovery of developed countries. But contextualizing the funding helps demonstrate what foreign aid could do if distributed equally.

During the destruction of Notre Dame in Paris, France received $950 million in total from donations globally. The White House also pledged to help rebuild France, a year after announcing a reduction to the foreign aid budget. When it comes to aid, the question is not whether to provide it or not—it is about who to provide it to.

Foreign Aid to Developing Countries

Contrary to popular belief, the developing world does not receive nearly enough aid. The average Sub-Saharan African country receives less than $1 billion in aid annually. Following the Ebola outbreak in 2013 – a crisis that is most notably remembered for U.S. involvement – the WHO received around $460 million to help affected West African countries. The World Bank estimated that the outbreak cost $2.2 billion for these countries.

As African and Latin American countries see their first huge waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now crucial that the U.S. and other countries continue to increase their foreign aid budget to help these nations recover. In addition to the pandemic, most developing countries are dealing with food insecurity as well as continuing political and civil unrest. Although aid alone will not resolve all these issues, it can alleviate the impact of the crisis. By being aid recipients themselves, Western and European countries can understand the importance of foreign assistance and take the necessary steps to help those in need.

– Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

Honduras Uses U.S. Foreign AidAs one of the poorest countries in Central America, Honduras is one of the three countries in the region that receives U.S. foreign aid. However, in 2019, U.S. foreign aid to Central America came to a halt. The U.S. government denied foreign aid meant for three countries in the region: El-Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. According to NPR, mass amounts of refugees migrating north caused the U.S. to suspend aid. In April of 2020, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo issued a press statement ensuring the resumption of foreign aid to Central America. Despite the reassurance of continuing U.S. support in the future, the suspension of foreign aid left many programs and people in Honduras without their usual financial support. Honduras alone has requested over $65 million in U.S. foreign aid for 2020. With U.S. lawmakers doubting the effectiveness of this type of financial support, here’s how Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid.

Maintaining Governance

Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid to maintain its governance. In 2018, Honduras spent $55 million on agencies that provide government assistance. These agencies encourage public participation in government and make sure governments maintain checks and balances and separation of powers. In short, these agencies keep the government ethical, honest and accountable to the people. USAID funded this entire sector of Honduras’ U.S. foreign aid. As a U.S. foreign agency, USAID works to strengthen democratic institutions and citizen participation in Honduras.

Human Rights

In 2018, Honduras spent about $6 million on preserving human rights under the law. Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid to fund many agencies that protect international human rights. Partially funded by USAID, Honduras’ human rights agencies ensure that all people find justice and fairness under the law. The U.S.-Honduras Bilateral Human Rights Working Group, a product of USAID, works to strengthen human rights institutions, citizen security and migration issues in Honduras. Without U.S. foreign aid funding human rights groups, vulnerable impoverished Hondurans, who are most susceptible to human rights violations, would have decreased legal resources.

Agriculture

Honduras spent $11 million on its agriculture industry in 2019 and $22 million in 2018. The country’s economy relies heavily on the international trade of its agriculture. The agricultural industry also employs 39% of the population in Honduras. With a large section of the population relying on agriculture as income, investing in agriculture is imperative to the country’s economy. Because of Honduras’ high poverty rate, a large part of the agriculture industry employs impoverished Hondurans. U.S. foreign aid is essential to the poverty-stricken portion of Honduras’ agriculture industry.

Education

Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid for considerable education development. In 2019, Honduras spent $24 million on basic education. This includes improving early childhood, primary and secondary education in Honduras. USAID largely funds this sector of Honduras’ foreign aid. USAID works with Honduras’ education systems on education reform, teacher training and alternative education for many children who can’t afford secondary school. Without U.S. foreign aid, impoverished children in Honduras could lose access to basic education and alternative education.

Minimizing Crime

Crime is a serious problem in Honduras. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. However, in 2012 Honduras began investing in crime prevention agencies, and investment has been increasing ever since. Honduras spent $25 million of U.S. foreign aid on crime-prevention agencies in 2019 compared to less than $300,000 in 2014. These agencies provide training to combat international crime and corruption while promoting international cooperation. In correlation with investments in crime-prevention agencies, homicide rates in Honduras dropped drastically in 2012. This portion of U.S. aid directly impacts Honduras’ impoverished communities where violence is prevalent.

Conclusion

The suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Central America created some doubt in the usefulness of foreign aid. However, Honduras uses U.S. foreign aid to fund agencies that work to better some of the most serious and significant problems affecting Hondurans. Many of these agencies help the most vulnerable and impoverished populations in Honduras.

– Kaitlyn Gilbert
Photo: Flickr

U.S. foreign aid
Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, built the foundations of U.S. foreign aid from 1947 to 1949. Marshall wanted to help reconstruct Europe after the brutalities of World War II by providing financial funding and technical support. The initiative was a great success. In 1950, President Harry S. Truman followed in Marshall’s footsteps and started the Point Four Program. The program’s goal was to reduce poverty and at the time, communism. Though many different agencies helped with foreign aid, none were specifically dedicated to foreign, economic development. President John F. Kennedy soon realized the need to bring these organizations together into one agency that could help foreign countries with their economic and social growth. Therefore, in 1961, the Foreign Assistance Act created USAID in the hope of uniting different countries in the name of development and modernization. Below are more U.S. foreign aid facts that everyone should know.

What Does the US Really Give?

While the U.S. is perceived as one of the top contributors of foreign aid, only about 1.2% of the U.S. federal budget goes to foreign assistance. This perhaps represents a lesser-known U.S. foreign aid fact. However, the U.S. gives the most in absolute terms. Notably, a comparison of GDP income ranks the U.S. as one of the lowest, out of 27 countries. Only 0.18% of the nation’s GDP income goes toward foreign aid. The U.S. is not giving nearly enough as it might otherwise.

How Foreign Aid Helps

One of many U.S. foreign aid “facts” that many people think true — “no matter how much is given, it makes no difference,” could not be further from the truth. Even with the estimated 1.2% given, millions of lives are saved as a result. Over the last 20 years, foreign aid lifted countless people out of extreme poverty, while fighting disease and malnutrition.

USAID invests in nearly 140 countries, providing 31 million education materials to children in need. Investing in childhood education is a surefire way to increase the chances for an objectively better future. “Nutrition-specific interventions” reach about 33 million children up to age five, along with other healthcare services. Despite these drastic improvements, there is still much more to do to improve the lives of the world’s poor.

How the US Benefits

Out of many, often overlooked U.S. foreign aid facts — is that the aid benefits both the recipients and the U.S., itself. Aid programs are extremely efficient ways to boost the U.S. economy. They operate via a domino effect — i.e., when poverty rates decline, more and more people can afford U.S. products. This increases the demand for products and leads to the creation of more U.S. jobs. Simply put, providing aid to poverty-ridden countries helps the U.S. fund domestic businesses and jobs. U.S. foreign aid contributes to both national and global security; it provides a safer country, domestically and a safer world abroad.

The benefits of U.S. foreign aid are plentiful, but the crux of the matter is that helping others when it is within the power of the U.S. is the noble thing to do. For more information on U.S. foreign aid and global poverty — click this hyperlink to hear more from the President of The Borgen Project, himself.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Flickr

types of foreign aid
U.S. foreign assistance is defined as “aid given by the United States to other countries to support global peace, security, and development efforts, and provide humanitarian relief during times of crisis.” In 2019, the United States disbursed a total of $29 billion in foreign aid across all sectors to over 200 countries or geographical areas, amounting to 1% of its total budget. Within each category are many specific sectors, such as agriculture and food security, environment and climate change, gender equality, education, global health and many others. These sectors may overlap, and improvements in one area often lead to improvements in other areas as well, as many of these issues interconnect. Below are five types of foreign aid.

5 Types of Foreign Aid

  1. Military Aid: Military aid is any type of aid given to strengthen security measures within a country. An estimated 33% of total U.S. foreign aid is dedicated to the military sector. In 2018, $33.1 billion went toward military aid. The country that receives the largest amount of military aid from the U.S. is Afghanistan, which received about $5 billion in military aid alone. The country also received $953 million for developmental and other purposes, according to USAID. Contributing to the financial security of other countries may reduce conflict between nations and improve global security as a result. Military aid allows for nations to build relationships with allies, improve democracy, establish foreign military bases or potentially support counterterrorism efforts in other countries.
  2. Economic Aid: Economic aid is a general category that describes transfers that support the economies of recipient countries. The donor can either be an independent country or a large international organization. Aid of this type can be in the form of loans, grants or credits. The most common type of economic aid is Official Development Assistance (ODA), in which money goes toward the development of the recipient’s economy. The U.S. dedicated 0.16% of its total Gross National Income (GNI) to ODA in 2018, according to the OECD.
  3. Humanitarian Aid: The primary purpose of humanitarian aid is to improve the social wellbeing and the living situations for people in the recipient country. This can take place in response to a natural disaster, in which emergency supplies like first aid, water, food and clothing go to a country in need. Organizations may also send services such as healthcare volunteers to help with recovery efforts. In 2018, the U.S. disbursed $6.9 billion in emergency response assistance to foreign countries. For example, the U.S. dedicated about $700 million to Syria during the COVID-19 pandemic, to assist with emergency food, water, sanitation and medical care for vulnerable populations.
  4. Bilateral Aid: The most simple definition of bilateral aid is when a single country gives aid to another. This is a common occurrence within many countries, in which a developed country may transfer resources to a developing country. The donor country may introduce restrictions in terms of how the other country uses this assistance, such as by designating it to a specific sector. A donor country may offer funding through an international organization, but as long as “decisions regarding fund disposal are on balance taken at the donor’s discretion,” then it is still considered to be bilateral.
  5. Multilateral Aid: International organizations disperse multilateral aid, rather than a single country. These organizations, such as the World Bank, the United Nations and around 200 other groups, receive their funding from multiple nations and governments. They disburse that money to countries so they can use it for improvements in a variety of sectors.

Other types of foreign aid include “multi-bi” or “non-core” aid, which donor countries give to international organizations to disperse for a specific reason or to a specific area. Despite having separate categories and sectors, different types of foreign aid can influence one another, and no one type is most important.

– Sydney Bazilian
Photo: Flickr

YouthBuild International Act
Around the world, over 200 million youth live in extreme poverty, earning less than $2 a day. On February 12, 2020, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, introduced her sponsorship for the YouthBuild International Act. The Act aims to amend and improve upon the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. In doing so, it strives to program educational opportunities and employment training for underprivileged youth in developing countries.

The bill adds a new point to Section 105 of the indispensable Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Following the original Act, the bill adds: “Program to provide disadvantaged youth in developing countries with opportunities to receive education and employment skills.” Following this broad point, the text describes five distinct goals for the bill: economic self-sufficiency, community engagement, leadership development, affordable housing and improvement of facilities.

Goals of the Bill

To begin, the bill states its goal to make higher education and employment skill-training more accessible to underprivileged youth. By providing these opportunities, the bill aims to equip youth with economic self-sufficiency. Secondly, the bill promises to provide poverty-ridden youth with opportunities for “meaningful work and service to their communities.” Thereafter, the bill promises to enhance the development of marketable leadership skills for youth in low-income communities.

Next, the bill proposes the establishment of affordable and permanent housing initiatives for homeless and low-income families. The final section of the bill promises to improve the energy efficiency and overall quality of community facilities. This is meant to benefit nonprofit and public facilities that protect homeless and low-income families. Youth participants in the program will contribute directly to these efforts.

Domestic Success

The potential for the YouthBuild International Act is demonstrated by the successes of the United States YouthBuild program. That program provides educational, employment and leadership opportunities to thousands of young Americans who lack education and employment. As of 2019, 70% of YouthBuild participants earned a certificate or a degree, 62% improved their literacy or mathematical skills and 54% gained earned education or employment.

Next Steps

The positive results of the United States YouthBuild program prove how successful the YouthBuild International Act could be. However, the odds are not in this bill’s favor. Although Congresswoman Omar introduced it nearly six months ago, the bill has neither gained any cosponsors nor moved past the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Act remains stagnant despite its immense potential for change. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3% chance of being enacted into law.

Although domestic poverty legislation is more pressing than ever, these issues must not put foreign aid on the back-burner. It is vital to bring awareness to under-supported aid legislation, especially when it can lead to economic self-sufficiency. Passing the YouthBuild International Act could significantly uplift millions of vulnerable communities and break the cycle of poverty for future generations. This will not happen unless more Americans contact their senators and representatives about the YouthBuild International Act and other under-prioritized aid legislation.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

undervalued foreign aid
If there is one certainty about the process of lawmaking, it is that enacting a bill into law requires persistence. Thousands of bills never pass the House of Representatives, much less receive the Senate or Presidential approval. This is especially true when it comes to the way Congress undervalues foreign aid. Govtrack.org allows anyone to view who cosponsors pending bills and track the bill’s progress through Congress. Even more telling, however, is the website’s indication of the probability that any given bill will be enacted into law.

Nonprofit organizations like The Borgen Project mobilize thousands of Americans to contact their elected officials in support of foreign aid and international relief. Nevertheless, bills regarding foreign assistance commonly have prognoses under 5%. Compared to the prognoses for bills regarding homeland security and domestic business protections, these numbers highlight the lack of urgency for foreign aid at the federal level. In the fiscal year for 2019, foreign assistance comprised less than 1% of the federal budget. Given the growing severity of humanitarian crises amidst the pandemic, why does Congress continue to undervalue foreign aid?

A Bipartisan Call For Support

A common misconception exists that Republicans are the main cause of undervalued foreign aid. Democrat-identifying voters at large typically prioritize foreign aid more than Republicans. However, Congress members in both political parties lend their support and cosponsorship to undervalued foreign aid bills. Over time, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have installed effective foreign aid initiatives. Recently, Congress members from both parties rejected President Trump’s proposal to cut to the International Affairs Budget by one-third.

While bipartisan protection of the existing aid budget is optimistic, senators and representatives are slow to demonstrate support for pending legislation. For example, the Global Fragility Act has gained a modest 20 cosponsors since its introduction in April 2019. Its prognosis, like many similar acts, stands at 3%. In contrast, an act entitled H.R. 1252: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 6531 Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys, California, as the “Marilyn Monroe Post Office” garnered 50 cosponsors and received enactment within a year.  When new bills and initiatives lack attention and cosponsorship, it is difficult for foreign aid to create widespread benefits. This is especially true in an unprecedented time of crisis. Oftentimes, seemingly non-urgent and low-impact acts gain more congressional momentum than urgent and potentially life-changing foreign assistance. This observation indicates a disparity in support of domestic and foreign interests.

Domestic Benefits As An Obstacle

Generally, undervalued foreign aid lacks impetus because of the framework that Congress created around foreign aid as early as World War II. From World War II to the Cold War era, support for foreign aid depended on how much that bill could bring domestic benefits back to the United States. This precedent informs how Congress evaluates foreign aid to this day. Senators and representatives often select foreign aid based on the likelihood of it bringing economic benefits to their particular geographic region.

While it is natural for elected officials to consider the American economy, an empirical question exists as to whether foreign aid realistically compromises American interests. In short, it does not. Foreign aid, specifically when USAID drives it, brings billions of dollars to the American economy each year. This has been the case since the late 20th century.

Combating Domestic Fear

Another notable reason for why Congress undervalues foreign aid is the fear of benefiting autocratic governments. This contributed to the lack of foreign aid during the Cold War, and this fear surged once again in the early 21st century in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Foreign aid bills that grant basic resources to civilians rather than governments lack support from Congress based on these anxieties. However, to generalize about developing countries based on preconceived fears or stereotypes only blocks progress, both domestically and abroad. Congress is more than capable of making informed decisions about foreign aid without compromising the security of their constituents, who call in support of pending aid legislation more often with each international crisis and tragedy.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

UK Poverty Reduction Efforts
In the last decade, the United Kingdom’s most influential international organization, known as the British Council, has made various cuts to British foreign aid in developing countries. The world recognizes the U.K. for generous foreign aid, but policymakers are beginning to push for “development assistance.” These budget cuts are occurring to fulfill more self-serving international interests. This bureaucratic debate has sparked increasing tension among council members over the value of U.K. poverty reduction efforts.

Imminent Change

In her December 2019 speech, Queen Elizabeth II announced that the U.K. government would restructure international policy in more integrated terms. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently made the most drastic change to U.K. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

On June 15, 2020, the tension over foreign aid led Johnson to merge two historically distinct departments: the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). This essentially terminated the DFID, which championed World Bank’s “poverty reduction strategies.” This change has not sparked an immediate consequence. British policy-makers and journalists alike are asking a fearful question: will this shift put ongoing U.K. poverty reduction efforts in danger?

A Threat to “Soft Power”

The merging of DFID and FCO will likely compromise a significant amount of funding for the Official Development Assistance (ODA), which provides poverty-reducing aid to developing countries. The projected 30% loss to the aid budget, equivalent to $2.5 billion, will force the government to cut a variety of aid programs.

While outstanding U.K. poverty reduction efforts remain vital to the ongoing development of countries, they also maintain the soft power on which Britain prides itself. The June 2020 interim report by the U.K. House of Commons International Development Committee argued for the DFID to remain independent. Independence would maintain Britain’s global reputation for aid and soft power. Soft power is Britain’s ability to shape another country’s decisions through collaboration rather than coercion. Nevertheless, the departments merged a week after the report’s publication.

As far back as a decade ago, foreign policy reports projected a collapse in Britain’s diplomatic capacity if the government made cuts to an already inexpensive foreign aid budget. In comparison, the U.K. spends significantly more on other foreign policy matters, such as defense. Britain gains diplomatic influence at both a bilateral and multilateral level by providing aid to impoverished countries; thus, cutting back on foreign aid reduces Britain’s voice and reputability in these meetings and relationships.

Active Solutions

There is much uneasiness around cutting vital aid to developing countries. Still, the restructuring of DFID and FCO may not undo years of U.K. poverty reduction efforts. If the government takes certain steps, the U.K. could remain a leader in international aid efforts. Namely, the newly combined department must adhere to the International Development Act of 2002, which allows the U.K. to allocate aid money to poverty reduction initiatives. Additionally, the government could appoint a cabinet minister for development. This role would ensure that poverty reduction efforts remain at the forefront of the U.K. aid strategy.

According to the International Development Committee member Sarah Champion, Britain is a country of humanitarians who value helping the world’s most vulnerable communities. As a result, it only makes sense to represent their values through policy and action. Ultimately, it is the duty of FCO to ensure that U.K. poverty reduction efforts remain a priority. Supporting the world’s poor is more imperative than ever in the midst of a global pandemic. With hope, British leadership will continue to aid communities suffering from systemic underdevelopment and poverty.

– Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

Success of Foreign Aid
Many misconceptions exist about the federal budget, but perhaps one of its least understood sections is the International Affairs Budget. While Americans, on average, estimate that the United States dedicates nearly 31% of its federal budget to foreign aid, the International Affairs Budget comprised only $57.8 billion of the $4.829-trillion federal budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which is less than 1.2%. Though the perception of money dedicated to international affairs is often inflated, the real success of foreign aid programs often fails to make headlines. The following three USAID programs have managed to make real progress in agricultural development, disaster relief and education, despite a small budget.

Feed the Future

Feed the Future is a USAID program that partners with countries to improve their agricultural sectors and fight hunger. In doing so, it demonstrates the success of foreign aid. The program operates by teaming up with nonprofits, businesses and individuals in order to make an immediate difference in partner countries. However, it also aims to make a long-term difference by empowering participating governments and private sectors to eventually become self-sufficient.

Though the organization works in nearly 12 partner countries, it was particularly active in Sierra Leone and Liberia after the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015. When this disease threatened the stability of these countries, Feed the Future helped to stimulate the private sector by distributing cash transfers and hosting agricultural input fairs, where farmers could acquire discounted seeds. In total, more than 14,000 farmers received farming inputs and more than 97,000 households received cash transfers. Ultimately, this immediate action helped to stabilize prices and fight poverty during the crisis.

Currently, Feed the Future is helping Bangladesh endure the economic trials of COVD-19. Through Feed The Future’s partnerships, Bangladeshi citizens have not only adopted healthier diets but also become more self-sufficient in their production of food. For example, Prantojon Argo Enterprise, an agricultural cooperative receiving support from Feed the Future, has given farmers access to a formal milk market by training them and providing refrigeration to 60 small shops. With the support of this foreign aid, hundreds of farmers have been given financial security during the pandemic. And with Prantojon milk sold in 66 local retailers, customers in Bangladesh have been given access to a healthier diet, demonstrating the success of foreign aid.

Baliyo Ghar

Baliyo Ghar is a USAID partnership program with Nepal, designed to aid recovery efforts from a powerful 2015 earthquake. The natural disaster destroyed over a quarter of a million homes, most of which were constructed and inhabited by the rural poor. Although the earthquake itself was devastating, the extent of the destruction was intensified by the construction style of Nepali homes. As described by USAID, “construction workers’ and homeowners’ lack of awareness and training in earthquake-safe construction … as well as the absence of a national curricula, standards, guidelines and manuals for training individuals involved in housing construction” were all factors that left Nepali homes in a vulnerable position.

Focusing both on immediate and long-term recovery, the USAID-funded Baliyo Ghar project provides resources to help homeowners rebuild structurally sound homes and works with the Government of Nepal to improve standardized training materials given to masons and construction workers. Additionally, the National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal (NSET) has implemented USAID funds to train masons and engineers in earthquake-resistant methods and has prioritized establishing a formal test for mason certification.

The results of these activities illustrate the success of foreign aid: more than 75% of the project’s beneficiaries have rebuilt their homes. Additionally, because of USAID’s partnership with the government of Nepal and other organizations, such as NSET, over 90% of these homes in the project’s operational area were rebuilt in a seismically safe way. In total, USAID has helped hundreds of thousands of Nepalis avoid poverty by providing nearly $200 million in earthquake assistance, supporting NSET in training nearly 4,000 masons and establishing nine Reconstruction Resource Centers throughout Nepal.

Selective Integrated Reading Activity

As the country of Mali looks to lower poverty rates, boosting literacy is a main priority. According to USAID’s website, the Selective Integrated Reading Activity (SIRA) is designed to support the government of Mali in providing reading and teaching materials, improving reading skills, training teachers and school directors and supporting early grade reading outcomes. As measured in 2018, the adult literacy rate in Mali was a mere 35.47%. Partnering with the Education Development Center, the $51 million SIRA project looks to address this low rate and improve education in the country of Mali.

The program’s objectives focus on the education of first- and second-grade children, with a heavy emphasis on providing higher-quality resources to teachers. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the program is its emphasis on community support. By teaching students in their national language and hosting training sessions that instruct parents in continuing education at home, the program has been able to engage parents in their children’s early education. Overall, SIRA has trained over 7,000 teachers, reached more than 264,000 learners and offered coaching to nearly 4,000 school directors, demonstrating the success of foreign aid.

The programs funded by the International Affairs Budget are some of the most visible examples of the success of foreign aid. Whether it be increasing access to nutrition, rebuilding homes or improving literacy, the budget helps to sustain initiatives that play crucial roles in making a difference in communities across the globe.

Michael Messina
Photo: Flickr

poverty in afghanistanForeign aid in any form can be considered positive at face value, but Afghanistan could benefit from greater investment in private organizations due to its specific needs. Aid from countries such as the U.S. is accompanied by political strings that, according to a U.S. agency report on Afghanistan, results in the Afghani government’s focusing on the goals of its foreign investors rather than the needs of its citizens. Poverty in Afghanistan requires attention unhindered by political expectations.

US Foreign Aid Policy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in March of 2020 that the U.S. would be cutting $1 billion in foreign aid to Afghanistan, which became a foreign policy initiative following major U.S. military presence in the country. The U.S. foreign aid is allocated to a variety of purposes, some of which attempt to address the widespread poverty that still impacts 54.5% of Afghans. Despite these efforts, poverty remains a large concern. For example, the number of Afghans without basic food and housing increased from 6.5 to 9.4 million between 2019 and 2020.

Dr. Jessica Trisko Darden, an assistant professor at American University with expertise in foreign aid and Central and Southeast Asia, asserts that different types of foreign aid are better suited to target specific goals. Darden noted that U.S. foreign aid in Afghanistan is largely concerned with developing infrastructure tied to the needs of the foreign parties in this country, such as Kabul International Airport. Additionally, while the U.S. aid package may set aside some portion of the money with the intention of addressing poverty in Afghanistan, the larger goals are often political in nature.

Non-Governmental Organizations’ Contribution

Private organizations could focus their resources on areas ignored by foreign government aid. “I think that, in terms of overall strategies for Afghanistan, getting more resources to outlying regions, and having more NGO and local NGO presence in outlying regions is something that should be a goal of a sustainable development strategy for Afghanistan, rather than continuing to over-concentrate resources and efforts in the Kabul area,” said Darden. The U.S. aid focusing on the Kabul area for accessibility and the ability to address political goals arguably takes away attention from less centralized regions. A larger NGO presence in the country could mean an established, long-term effort to target the humanitarian needs of Afghans and reduce poverty in Afghanistan.

Afghan Women’s Network

One of the most prominent independent groups acting in Afghanistan is the Afghan Women’s Network. It was created following inspiration from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. This organization serves as an umbrella for a variety of humanitarian efforts in the country. It has direct points of contact in several major regions throughout the country and provides support to other organizations in the remaining regions. With 3,500 members and 125 women’s groups under its leadership, the Afghan Women’s Network has the ability and resources to provide immediate and specialized support to Afghans.

The political struggles of Afghanistan exist in tandem with the struggles of Afghani citizens. Multiple NGOs with unique goals ranging from gender equality to infant mortality to education could target the diverse needs of the Afghani population more directly. By supplying aid without political expectations and restrictions, NGOs could work to downsize poverty in Afghanistan.

Riya Kohli
Photo: Pixabay

Humanitarian Aid for the Rohingya Refugee CrisisThe Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar, a Buddhist country, has been severely discriminated against throughout history. Discriminatory policies in Myanmar deny citizenship to the Rohingya people. Additionally, Rohingya individuals cannot obtain birth certificates, receive an education or be employed legally. In August of 2017, violent attacks and persecution against the Rohingya people forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to seek refuge in Bangladesh. Almost one million Rohingya refugees currently live in refugee camps in the Cox Bazar region of Bangladesh.

Many organizations and international agencies are providing aid and support to the Rohingya refugee crisis. In addition to improving access to basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, UNICEF and the UNHCR have recognized access to education as a top priority.

The UNHCR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is supporting the refugee population with basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health services, including mental health resources. One of the largest challenges that the refugee camps face is flooding from annual monsoons in the Cox Bazar region. The UNHCR was able to relocate over 24,000 Rohingya and provide more than 150,000 monsoon preparation kits in anticipation of the monsoon season. These efforts continued through 2019 with the additional construction of 50 miles of infrastructure including bridges and roads and the distribution of post-disaster kits.

The UNHCR also provides first aid training for refugees and has trained more than 1,200 individuals. They also lead sessions to raise awareness about emergency preparedness within communities and have reached more than 80,000 Rohingya through these programs. Providing the Rohingya with access to education is one of the main goals for the UNHCR. Many children were not receiving any formal education in Myanmar due to discriminatory policies. The UNHCR has reached 502,000 refugee children with some form of education by building 1,602 learning areas and bringing 1,251 teachers to the area.

UNICEF

In collaboration with the government of Bangladesh, UNICEF has recently launched a plan to increase access to education for Rohingya refugee children in the Cox Bazar region. The curriculum will be tested on 10,000 children in grades six through nine during the first half of 2020. From there, it will expand for all ages. Education is a key factor to help the integration of the Rohingya people into society in Myanmar. Refugees are already at a significant disadvantage as a result of discrimination and consequential displacement. They lack basic resources such as nutritious food, proper housing and medical services. Access to education can help Rohingya refugees to reintegrate into society instead of further exacerbating disparities. It can increase their chances of finding employment and decrease poverty rates.

UNICEF has also been running informal education programs that have reached 315,000 refugee children in 3,200 learning centers. Subjects studied include English and Burmese language, Math and life skills or science depending on the level. The majority of children are still at levels one and two which are comparable to pre-primary to second-grade level. UNICEF has programs in place for adolescent education as well which include vocational and life skills. Education can tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis by reducing the chances of children being exposed to trafficking, child marriage and abuse as well as empowering refugee children.

Southeast Asian Governments

Two boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees set out in February 2020 but were stuck at sea for months after setting out to find refuge. Many countries have denied them entry, leaving the refugees stranded without sufficient supplies of food or water. Bangladesh has taken in over one million Rohingya refugees since the violence and persecution began in Myanmar. However, in April 2020 the Foreign Minister Abdul Momen stated that Bangladesh would not allow any more Rohingya into the country. Momen cited the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the numerous refugees already in Bangladesh, as reasons for this decision.

Other Southeast Asian governments such as Malaysia and Thailand have also failed to assist the refugees. The Malaysian officials who initially found one of the boats attempted to bring it back to international waters but about 50 refugees were able to swim to shore and are currently detained in Malaysia. The UNHCR has requested access in order to support these refugees with humanitarian aid with no response from Malaysia.

Nearby governments should cooperate to provide assistance to Rohingya refugees in their own countries. They need to provide resources such as health services and basic needs, especially during a global pandemic. These governments should be cooperating with international agencies to address the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.

– Maia Cullen
Photo: Human Rights Watch