Mother and Child Use Mosquito Netting to Stave off MalariaThink the US spends too much on foreign aid? Over half of Americans do. So it's no surprise that during the recent budget debates, aid to other nations was one of the programs frequently suggested for the chopping block. How much do we spend on foreign aid? It's a paltry sum in comparison to virtually every other developed nation (see this infographic for more information). According to the website Global Issues, approximately half of all foreign aid is not humanitarian in nature, but made up of military and strategic spending. This includes expenses such as the weapons we supply to Israel and payments to Pakistan that essentially bribe the nation to remain our ally. Of the other half - the money given to alleviate suffering in impoverished countries - a sizable chunk is comprised of waiving their governments' outstanding debts to the US. After both military and budgetary handouts to sometimes corrupt regimes, what's left for the citizens who are in need? It is a pitifully meager sum.
The US needs to consider fundamentally altering the way we distribute foreign aid. Instead of propping up "friendly" dictatorships or trying to influence regional politics in South Asia and the Middle East, the US should allocate its foreign aid to where it can do the most good. Humanitarian assistance is one realm in which a few dollars can go a long way if applied effectively. For instance:
- Vaccines cost very little and can be extremely effective in lowering rates of infectious disease and improving public health.
- Opening a school in a developing country can cost less than $15,000.
- Microloans spur economic development through small businesses at a cost that usually doesn't exceed $2,000.
- Low-cost initiatives like building wells and distributing mosquito netting can transform the quality of life in rural areas.
So, let's withdraw our troops and security forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Defense has overreached into a role as global policeman, and we are at the point where the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State are doing many more tangible things to defend American interests, protect the lives of US citizens, and foster goodwill overseas. It's possible for our taxpayer dollars to go further in more places around the world on a much tighter aggregate budget; the US government just needs to start looking at problems and solutions with the attitude of a nonprofit organization. If anything, lawmakers should cut waste from foreign aid and increase total funding. On such an issue where human decency and logic dovetail so beautifully, not taking bolder action would be a travesty.