Every February, the president releases his budget request. The request for 2017 is $4.1 trillion. Budgets reflect our values as a nation, and the U.S. likes to think of itself as the world’s most generous country.
But will the budget help to overcome extreme poverty around the world? Unfortunately, this year’s budget would reduce funding for several poverty-focused development-assistance accounts. Already, less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget goes to international development activities, including food assistance, global health programs and international disaster assistance.
These proposed cuts are being made at a time of unrest and suffering, from Syria to Nigeria, South Sudan and Burundi. About 125 million people are devastated by wars, violent conflicts and natural disasters like drought and famine. More than 60 million have been forced from their homes. Women and children are affected the most.
God has bestowed more than enough resources on humanity (Gen. 1:28-30), yet astonishing poverty remains in the midst of plenty.
I recently visited northern Nigeria, where I worked until a few years ago. In rural areas people still live in abject poverty, without socio-economic infrastructure and basic amenities. Many struggle to find enough food as a result of poor harvests, lack of storage for crops and the absence of mechanized agricultural techniques.
The maternal and infant mortality rate has increased because of a lack of primary health care and medicine. Rural roads are in a deplorable state and become inaccessible during the rainy season when crops are harvested, leaving poor farmers with no access to markets for their produce.
God calls us to unreservedly love and sacrifice for others (Mark 12:30-31; Matt. 25:31-46). Mennonite Central Committee seeks to respond to this call by working alongside local partner organizations in northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the areas of nutrition, water, sanitation, emergency humanitarian assistance, disease prevention and treatment, and much more, in order to enhance human dignity and well-being.
But assistance on a much larger scale from governments such as the United States is needed as well. If the U.S. and others in the international community increased funding for poverty-focused development assistance, as many as 85 million lives could be saved from hunger and starvation. More than 60 million people displaced from their homes could be cared for. More than 100 million women and children infected with HIV and AIDS could receive treatments and life-saving interventions.
Congress will soon move into its own budget and appropriations season, determining how much funding goes to various programs.
During this time, we have the opportunity to advocate and to influence and encourage our policymakers to assist people in the world’s poorest places to become independent and build sustainable futures for themselves and their families.
As communities of faith and shared grace, we can take action to increase poverty-focused foreign assistance, encouraging policymakers to go beyond partisan or institutional motivations to seek the common good of the human family (1 Cor. 12:7). In this process we become authentic witnesses of God’s love, image and likeness.
Charles Kwuelum is legislative associate for international affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.