WASHINGTON, D.C.- Through all the drama in the United States over budget deficits and overall debt, Americans are scrutinizing how their representatives are spending their tax dollars. With so many domestic issues plaguing the nation, many argue that Congress should curtail investments in foreign aid. Recent polls show Americans believe 28 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid. In reality, foreign aid accounts for just one percent of the overall budget.
This distrust of foreign aid seems to stem from years of misappropriation. Unfortunately, 39 percent of U.S. foreign aid goes to various countries for military purposes. Stories of money being funneled to dictators, extremist groups or over paid non-profit executives paint a disconcerting and untrustworthy image of America’s charity. Only 10 percent of Americans think that money spent on aid reaches its intended beneficiaries.
If Congress dedicated more funds to programs and initiatives that have proven records of helping the worlds poor, would Americans change their minds on foreign aid?
It turns out Americans would support foreign aid if they were asked the right questions. When asked about giving aid to treat HIV/AIDS, 79 percent said they would support it. How about aid for educating girls in other nations? 80 percent would. The same figure holds true for food and medical assistance for poor countries.
Here are some proven initiatives to help alleviate poverty around the globe that the U.S. can support that will help change the narrative for foreign aid support:
- Universal Vaccination: Vaccination programs sponsored by the United Nations and the World Health Organization have been the worlds leading and effective anti-poverty programs. Since the start of universal vaccination programs, over 20 million lives have been saved. In 1980, only 20 percent of the worlds children had their third dose of diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus on time compared to 75 percent by 1990. Despite the success, we can make more progress as new vaccines are engineered.
- Property Rights/Ownership: Throughout the developing world, in places like India, China, Brazil and others, people see entire communities made from scraps. These make shift properties can be sources of wealth for their inhabitants if they had a way to take ownership of their land. Land can be used to for collateral on loans, open lines of credit, and give access to other entrepreneurial solutions. Lengthy and complicated procedures make it next to impossible for poor people to claim a title for their land but organizations like Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD) are simplifying the process. Starting in Peru and El Salvador, the poor can now gain titles and legalize businesses in as little as one day. ILD even advises on how to use land titles effectively.
- Build Roads: Until recently, in villages across China and India, getting to a major city would take days and traveling to school could take hours. Economies remained local and communities were isolated. This was until a heavy investment in all-weather road infrastructure took place. A simple idea that we may take for granted can help save millions of lives.Villages without access to proper roads are often cut off from vital food, water, and health supply deliveries. The African Development Bank says a shortage of roads and other infrastructure reduces sub-Saharan Africa’s output by 40 percent.
These simple solutions have been helping entire countries climb out the depths of poverty. The U.S. Government can raise the effectiveness of it’s foreign aid by supporting similar efforts.
– Sunny Bhatt