In an America where personal relationships can move billions of dollars, and financial markets in the trillions can go unregulated, it is puzzling that we have not managed to properly implement the concept of “official development assistance” (ODA).
The premise is simple, and not as compassionate as you might think. Foreign aid, or ODA, from America was never intended to heal the sick, clothe the naked, or save the children. It was intended to keep peace and political stability in a post-World War II planet, and started with the rebuilding of Europe. Theoretically, with political stability will come effective public services, and healthy, peaceful societies.
Our rich tradition continues, as you can see in on the Guardian’s new Data Blog:
If you scroll over the green dots you will notice who gets the most ODA from America:
1. Iraq: $9.12 bn
2. Afghanistan: $3.95 bn
3. Pakistan: $2.21 bn
Now this is not military aid, this is development assistance. How much of it gets to building schools and hospitals, instead of inappropriately funneled into purchasing arms and tanks? That data is not included on any public report, but it is likely that it happens. After all, when we look at the state of public services and quality of life for average Iraqi, Afghani, and Pakistani citizens, these nations have not fared exceedingly well compared to other nations who are (and who are not) receiving ODA.
There are certainly many important questions to ask and variables to consider in assessing the usefulness of ODA (read my thesis on it, if you can brave the regressions!), so I am by no means trying to make a superficial criticism of where the US spends its ODA.
I am simply pointing out that – unlike with religious fundamentalism and terrorism - starting with the relatively straightforward problems like health systems, hunger, and education might be a better ODA strategy. A different means to the same peaceful end.
The U.S. claims to do this, but until we put our money where our mouth is, it’s simply unbelievable. The truth is, the U.S. invests relatively far less in these societal building blocks, ones that once in place, would inherently protect against the fundamentalism and terrorism. Wasn’t this our whole intention of starting an ODA program?
I believe the U.S. has gotten off track, and needs to reconsider ‘development’ as an integral part of ‘defense’, complete with financial backing for ODA not only for the countries where we start and sustain wars, but the countries where we have the power to prevent them. The countries where we have the power to build health and education infrastructures that will bring peace and prosperity. Again, this is said in speeches, but the funds have not yet shifted to reflect changing priorities.
Now I never like to leave readers feeling unable to address the problem at hand, and this feels like a particularly lofty one. While you may not have the same leverage as a Clinton to change foreign affairs, today I ask you not to underestimate yourself as a citizen of the world.
Here are two simple actions you can take right now, and must take BEFORE this Thursday, September 30th, if you agree with and want to support the points I have made in my post:
1. Demand your national government decides to fully replenish the Global Fund – an international public health organization saving lives worldwide every day – with the $20 billion it needs to overcome HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria around the world. Sign this petition now AND e-mail, call, and write to your legislators to keep their commitment.
2. Support an incredible international campaign called “Man Up”, engaging men to end violence against women and girls, by voting for founder (my my dear friend) Jimmie Briggs to win $10,000 for his work. Vote here now!
Because the fact is, there is not presently enough money going towards (1) non-military, systemic approaches to societal change (like the Global Fund) and towards (2) committed grassroots organizations (like Man Up). I am always surprised when I ask Americans how much they think we spend on ODA, and they believe it is a large part of our national budget. We are always saving the world, aren’t we? Yes, it’s true, in 2007 we were the biggest spenders of all giving nations, investing a whopping $21.79 billion in ODA.
The catch? That enormous amount is a mere 0.16% of our national budget. Imagine the peace we could bring to the world if we invested even just 1%?
I consider it my job on this blog to argue, with evidence, that it is absolutely worth it to support channeling more resources to committed grassroots organizations and transparent international institutions who prioritize building blocks of health and education systems.
It’s a big world, and you as an individual have got to start somewhere to have an impact. It is my hope that this week, with the aforementioned action items, you decide to start here.