SEATTLE — The United States provides foreign assistance to 96 percent of the world to promote peace, security, provide humanitarian relief in crises and stimulate economic growth. Aid levels are at their highest since the period immediately following World War II. Despite the $18.6 billion budget cut requested by the Trump administration, funding for international affairs remains at $55.9 billion in 2018, compared to $59.1 billion the previous year. The World Economic Forum listed the U.S. as the most generous humanitarian country in the world, outspending any other OECD power by an average of $10 billion.
While this dollar amount is high, and the U.S. often carries the burden of taking action on the ground, the U.S. still only spends 0.18 percent of its gross national income (GNI), or less than 1 percent of the overall federal budget. The U.N. calls for economically advanced countries to spend at least 0.7 percent of GNI on aid. Sweden, who gives approximately 1.4 percent of its GNI, is the top humanitarian donor according to that measure. So long as this percentage remains low, the notion that the U.S. is the most generous humanitarian country on Earth remains in question. A deeper analysis of U.S. foreign aid reveals more about the wide-ranging impact of its assistance.
The Many Accomplishments of U.S. Humanitarian Aid
The first U.S. aid program started after World War II, when Secretary of State George Marshall acted to aid Europe in rebuilding its infrastructure, stability and economies. Several foreign programs followed to build off of the success of the Marshall Plan. With the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, U.S. foreign assistance programs underwent a metamorphosis, as the many organizations tasked with foreign assistance merged to become the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). From then on, long-term global economic and social development became a mainstay in U.S. policy. USAID continues to this day to serve as a reflection of American values of doing the right thing, with boxes and crates stamped “From The American People”.
As the largest single donor of foreign aid in the world, the U.S. is doing a lot. In 2017, the U.S. allocated $18.25 billion in economic aid to 92 countries and $18.23 billion in security aid to 143 countries. In supporting education programs in recent years, USAID programs have benefited more than 109 million learners. In 2016, $2.2 billion in food security funds were allocated across the world.
As the largest supporter of democratic societies abroad, the U.S. has helped countries emerge from dictatorships, poverty and civil conflict to become strong democracies where all voices are heard. Funding for human rights and governance, while composing only a small portion of the U.S. foreign aid budget ($2 billion annually), is designed to ensure that they are implemented by national and local institutions. According to USAID, in 1991, less than half of the world’s governments had democratic leadership. By 2006, that number had increased to 64 percent.
U.S. Considered Most Generous Humanitarian Country in Terms of Direct Assistance
As the most generous humanitarian country in the world, roughly 93 percent of U.S. foreign aid goes to official development assistance (ODA). While countries like China have spent whopping amounts in recent years on infrastructure projects, especially in regions like Africa, it is estimated that only 22 percent goes towards ODA. Without OECD certification, such projects are heavily criticized as self-serving and propping up undemocratic regimes. The U.S. consistently gives the most to direct assistance year after year as the most benevolent donor.
Through the work of USAID, the U.S. has made incredible strides to help people around the world fight poverty, hunger, health crises and dictatorships. Although U.S. foreign aid has not yet met the U.N. standards for GNI percentage, it has had a huge positive impact on the world, and by striving to reach this benchmark, the U.S. can truly become the world’s most generous humanitarian country.
– Joseph Ventura