Why Foreign Assistance Matters Series, week 1

September 15, 2011

This month, as the U.S. Congress works tirelessly to address our nation's pressing financial issues and the United Nations convenes in New York, we recall that the world is now just four years from the completion-point of the Millennium Development Goals to meet the needs of the world's poorest and most vulnerable. These goals, which represent an unprecedented effort by the nations of the world, include aims to end poverty and hunger, provide universal primary education, and halt the spread of HIV/AIDS. Accordingly, we are dedicating a three-week series to the implications of our own government's spending priorities on the livelihoods of those of those living in nations gripped by poverty.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is so well known that it is easy to overlook the revolutionary message at the heart of Jesus' story. A man (presumably Jewish) is left robbed and severely beaten on the side of the road to die. After several of lofty stature pass without a glance, a Samaritan - a culture which, at the time, shared only common contempt with Jesus' Jewish audience - stopped, nursed the man back to health, and left him with his very own food, clothing, and shelter.

Jesus' message is simple: God calls us to look beyond culture, nationality, race, and creed and support our sisters and brothers when they are in dire need. Our common humanity in Christ, "through whom all things were made," makes no distinction by citizenship or nationality. This message becomes politically revolutionary when we think of the consequences today. God calls us to look beyond borders and give life to those who have fallen victim to hunger, violence, and abject poverty.

Unfortunately, we do not have to look far for an all-too-literal example of those who have fallen on the side of the road. Over 13 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti continue to suffer from famine and drought in the Horn of Africa and require immediate humanitarian assistance. Tens of thousands—predominantly children—have already died. And the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who survived the sometimes weeks-long journey to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia passed countless who had died of starvation and civil conflict on the side of those very roads during their own journey to the camps. Approximately 750,000 more people in Somalia are predicted to die in the next four months if governments around the world do not increase assistance to the region.

In addition, the 718,800 Somali refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti are still in dire need of food, water, and basic medical supplies. Episcopal Relief & Development is working through Anglican and ecumenical partners in the region to support those affected by the famine and drought. Yet we cannot do it alone. The U.S. federal budget has profound impacts on the lives of the 13 million people in need of food and assistance in the Horn of Africa, and around the world.

Federal funds and government programs are needed to address these emergency situations and help develop long-term solutions to stopping these global cycles of poverty. U.S. funding for international affairs - including poverty-focused development assistance - provides life-giving resources that help the world's poorest countries meet their urgent needs. It funds solutions whose benefits to life, global health, education, prosperity, and development, far exceed their costs. Yet funding for international affairs only makes up around 1% of the U.S. federal budget.

Our Good Samaritan no doubt had financial concerns of his own. Yet he recognized that the gift of a few items - a meal, a coat, a place to stay for a few nights - would go along way in saving another person's life. As our nation addresses our own pressing financial concerns, we remember that the very small percent of our federal funds allocated to poverty-focused development assistance goes a long way in saving the lives of our sisters and brothers around the world.