From The Guardian
Monday — 27 February 2017
US spending on overseas aid is expected to bear the brunt of dramatic cuts as part of Donald Trump’s plan to increase defence spending by $54bn in his upcoming budget.
The US operates the largest and most expansive overseas aid programme in the world, with a proposed federal spend of $50.1bn (£40.3bn) for 2017 alone (pdf). More than $18bn of that is made up of economic and development assistance, commonly referred to as humanitarian aid. A further $8.1bn was due to go towards security assistance.
While humanitarians had been bracing themselves for possible cuts to their budgets since Trump’s election, the indications coming out of Washington on Monday appeared to suggest that he was going to make good on a campaign pledge to “stop sending foreign aid to countries that hate us”.
White House budget officials briefed on Monday said there would be a large reduction in foreign aid, and that most domestic agencies will have to absorb cuts.
The largest single intended recipient of economic and development assistance for this year is Afghanistan ($1bn), followed by Jordan ($632.4m) and Ethiopia ($512.6m).
Alarm bells are also likely to be ringing at the UN, where officials were already on alert after reports that a draft order would usher in 40% cuts to US voluntary contributions to international bodies. US legislators have long complained that the US contribution, at 22% of the main UN budget and nearly 29% of peacekeeping operation costs, is disproportionate.
Question marks are also likely to now hover over the US stance on providing resources to urgent humanitarian emergencies. The US had been expected to make up the bulk of further efforts to answer an appeal by humanitarian bodies and the UN for $1.5bn needed this year to prevent a famine Africa’s stricken Lake Chad region. It is currently a third of the way to completion following pledges at a conference on Oslo by European governments and some others.
“We are really very concerned about assistance to sub-Saharan Africa bearing the brunt of these cuts,” said Tom Hart, North America executive director at the aid advocacy group the One campaign.
“But I think at this point we are concerned also that, frankly, the whole portfolio is coming under extreme stress. It’s ironic and upsetting given that our own military leaders have been saying that aid is a crucial part of our national security infrastructure.”
More than 120 retired US generals and admirals urged the US Congress on Monday to ensure that foreign aid spending would be protected, warning: “We know from our service in uniform that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone.
“The State Department, USAid, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way,” they added.
The letter, organised by the US Global Leadership Coalition, which advocates for robust aid spending was signed by some of the most prominent US military officers to serve in recent decades, including retired Gen George Casey, former chief of staff of the US army; and retired Gen David Petraeus, the former CIA director and commander of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
News of the impending cuts are likely to come as a shock at the US Agency for International Development (USAid), where senior officials had privately been briefing that they were optimistic, citing a recent visit to their office by the new US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
While the US has the world’s largest development aid budget, it is actually one of the least generous countries in relative terms: its foreign aid spending for 2015 stood at just 0.17% of gross national income, compared with Britain’s 0.7%.
The US public appears to be largely unaware of this, with research from YouGov suggesting that just over half of those polled think the US gives too much away in terms of foreign aid.