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Opinions: Foreign Aid Lessons From Britain; Food Security; Global Fund Investigation; U.S. Food Aid Cuts; Africa Needs Trade

U.S. Should Take A Cue From The Brits And Spare Foreign Aid From Budget Cuts

“Before Republican budget hawks wield their knife, … they should take a lesson from their conservative cousins in the United Kingdom: When belt-tightening gets serious, foreign aid should be improved, not gutted,” according to an opinion piece in the New Republic written by Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

There are “three main reasons” why the British have not cut foreign aid, which are “all instructive in the U.S. context,” Carothers argues. “First, British conservatives recognize that cutting foreign aid is penny-wise pound-foolish for a power with significant, wide-ranging international security interests, especially relating to terrorism. … Second, they also know that, in a world where surging new powers are competing with the West to gain favor with and access to people and markets all over, aid is a crucial tool for building good will, creating a rich cross-border web of organizational and personal ties, and shaping young minds. … Third, Prime Minister David Cameron and his team remain committed to robust foreign-aid spending because they feel a moral commitment to reduce poverty in the world and know foreign aid is a major way for their government to do that,” he writes.

“U.S. foreign aid can certainly be improved … The Obama administration’s efforts to date on aid reform merit debate and scrutiny,” according to Carothers. “If House Republicans want to get serious about developing a cost-conscious but still responsible approach to financing America’s global role, they should abandon their trash talk about foreign aid and get serious about weighing costs and benefits across the spectrum of the international affairs budget” (2/22).

For Long-Term Food Security Solution, The World Needs More Investment In Agriculture

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, C. Peter Timmer, a professor of development studies at Harvard University and a principal advisor to the Asia Society-IRRI Task Force on Food Security and Sustainability in Asia, examines why global food prices are rising and looks at how lawmakers are responding.

“Policy makers who forever live in the short run, putting out the brush fires from banking crises, food riots, or the palpable fear they are about to lose their jobs, do not focus on long-run needs. Because of this tendency, agricultural research and rural infrastructure is getting neglected in most countries,” Timmer writes. “The tragedy is that the poor pay the price of their policy makers’ failures. Without higher productivity on their farms, off-farm job opportunities for their children, and with the constant threat of food shortages, the poor end up trapped in enduring poverty. Food crises hit the poor doubly hard – through their short-run hunger and their long-run loss of opportunities and hope.”

But according to Timmer, “[w]e can do better.” He writes: “In the greater scheme of things, agricultural research is not that expensive. A group of experts convened by the Asia Society and the International Rice Research Institute calculated that the productivity of rice growing on a global basis could be raised by 8.5% over baseline trends through an annual investment of $120 million between 2010 and 2030 – an investment that is about 0.0002% of global GDP. Similar opportunities exist for most of the world’s important food crops. It is hard to imagine investments with higher payoffs” (2/22).

Investigate The Global Fund, But Don’t Punish Its Transparent Ways

“The U.N.-backed effort to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is in trouble. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Roger Bate, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in an AOL News opinion piece.

Bate highlights recent reports involving “waste and fraud” at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He points out that “most of the information we have is due to the transparent systems at the Global Fund. … But while the fund deserves praise for its transparency, it has simply tried to do too much in too many places – trying to run grants in 145 countries, many known to be highly corrupt. And it allowed its mission to creep along the way.”

The House FY11 budget bill proposes cutting $450 million from the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund. While the reduction “could drive the fund back to its core mission in an attempt to decrease corruption, Congress must not be lazy and short-sighted in trying to cut costs,” according to Bate. “Attacking the Global Fund because it has been transparent ensures that other agencies – like the UNDP – will never release audit reports. … It would be very simple to just shoot down the Global Fund. But to do so would set back transparency a decade or more.” He concludes: “Yes, the fund must be thoroughly investigated, but we mustn’t fool ourselves into believing that any other multilateral agency is doing a better job with the aid dollars it receives from U.S. taxpayers” (2/21).

Cutting U.S. Food Aid Programs Undermines Long-Term Interests, Hurts U.S. Economy

“The House of Representatives has put America’s international food aid programs on the chopping block … These cuts would deny aid to roughly 18 million people and would curtail efforts to reduce the burden of destabilizing food shortages on poor and vulnerable populations. The timing of these cuts could hardly be worse,” Ellen Levinson, the executive director of the Alliance for Global Food Security, writes in a National Journal opinion piece.

Levinson notes recent World Bank data on food prices before outlining how the House budget cuts would affect food aid. According to Levinson, the legislation “cuts nearly 15 million people from the Food for Peace program, which targets selected regions in 21 countries where there is persistent hunger and 30 percent or more children are undernourished.” Food aid cuts “also impact U.S. jobs and our nation’s economy,” she argues. “Agricultural and transportation industries and workers all play an essential role in the food aid supply chain. Moreover, rising prosperity in developing countries leads to increased demand for imports.”

“Reducing the deficit is urgently important, but it must be done in a fair and balanced way and without undermining American leadership and long-term interests. With one in six people facing a nutritional crisis, we can hardly justify retreating from food assistance programs … all for just three percent of U.S. international relations funds,” Levinson concludes (2/20).

African Progress Shows It Needs Trade Not Aid

“Think of Africa and for too many people it conjures up images of hunger, poverty, disease and conflict. … But these images fail to reflect an accurate picture of a fast-changing continent,” Ian Birrell, a former deputy editor of the Independent, writes in a Guardian op-ed.

“There are still deep problems, with monstrous dictators, rampant corruption, wretched inequality and grinding poverty for millions. … But for all this, the twin motors of capitalism and consumerism are driving profound changes for the better, especially when allied with technological advances, good governance and rapid urbanisation. People are living longer. Their lives are more prosperous and more peaceful. And many of the continent’s 56 countries are roaring ahead with such vigour that a pack of African lions may soon be snapping at the heels of the Asian tiger economies,” according to Birrell. In the piece, he lists several examples of African progress, including “mPedigree, a Ghanaian service to determine whether a medicine is counterfeit from its bar code, sent to a central number by text.”

Birrell advises: “If we really want to help, we can lift trade restrictions, support those fighting for civil society and ignore the current squeals over new anti-bribery legislation. But we should focus relentlessly on trade and not on aid. Africa does not need ‘saving’ by outsiders: it is finding its own solutions to its own problems with impressive speed” (2/20).