Poverty and disease plague the poorest countries of the world and impede economic growth, development, and international stability. The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, but its foreign assistance is lower, as a percentage of its wealth, than that of any other major donor country. Moreover, less than 20% of U.S. foreign aid is allocated to development assistance and health programs that could help the poorest countries.
Nearly half the world's population of 6 billion people lives in poverty, on less than $2 a day. In sub-Saharan Africa, more people live in poverty than the entire population of the United States. For the poorest countries, the situation is worsening, not improving. The gap between the richest and the poorest has been steadily increasing over the past decade. In the year 2000, the richest 10% of the U.S. population (around 25 million people) had a combined income greater than that of the poorest 43% of the world's people (around 2 billion people).
8 million people die every year from hunger. But the symptoms of poverty are not just starving families and children, but also lack of education, lack of economic infrastructure, lack of proper health care and access to clean water, and environmental degradation. The burden of heavy debt payments diminishes the already limited resources for addressing these problems.
A significant international investment is needed to bring hope and possibilities to the poorest and most vulnerable of our world. For global health alone, estimates are in the range of $10 billion to $15 billion each year. However, investments to address health crises will not succeed if they are not part of a comprehensive development strategy that addresses some of the root causes of disease. At least an additional $4 billion per year is needed from the international community just to halve hunger by the year 2015.
The United States investment
The U.S. investment in foreign assistance is scandalously low. For the past three years, the United States has given just 0.01% of gross national product, lower than any other major donor country. This figure represents a 45% drop in U.S. official aid as a percentage of GNP since 1990-1994 (average 0.18 percent of GNP).
Over the past two years, the U.S. investment in global health has grown about $200 million each year, with these funds dedicated to fighting infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. While these increases are helpful, they are far from the magnitude needed to address the devastation of the population inflicted by these diseases in the poorest nations of the world. Apart from the global health increases, the U.S. investment in development assistance and health programs has remained relatively constant over the past three years. Meanwhile, foreign military assistance is proposed to increase by half a billion dollars in FY 2003.
Legislators often reject claims that U.S. aid is scandalously low by observing that the country is second highest among major donor countries in terms of the total volume of official development assistance. While true, this ranking is a dubious distinction, since it compares U.S. aid with that of much smaller countries with lower per capita income. The chart at left makes more relevant comparisons. The European Union, with a slightly lower combined GNP than the United States, gives 2-1/2 times as much aid by volume, and Germany, France, and Italy, with only half of U.S. GNP, together give the same volume of aid as the United States.
The Catholic Church in the United States supports:
- a significant increase in U.S. foreign aid for sustainable development.
- Senate Resolution 182, which would combat global poverty by tripling U.S. foreign assistance by the year 2007, through 25% increases in each of the next five years.
- continued attention to debt relief, by limiting debt payments to no more than 10% of government revenues or, if the country is suffering a severe health crisis, to no more than 5% of government revenues.
|What You Can Do|
Materials on foreign aid, including written and oral testimony before Congress: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/foreignind.shtml