Okay, folks, time for some serious talks.
Now that the election is over, all the news in the United States has turned to what the Congress will do to avoid tumbling over the "fiscal cliff" -- a serious of legislation which (if I understand it properly) if left unchanged, will result in a sudden reduction of the budget deficit that could increase the risk of recession in 2013. For this reason, Congress will be getting together in the next few days to see if there are ways that they can make some changes to the US budget, including the possibility of making deep and targeted budget cuts that will keep America from flying over this cliff.
I am not an economist, and there's no way I'm going to get into a discussion about what tax cuts should be extended or how we can keep from flying over a virtual cliff (so you can all breathe a sigh of relief). But I would like to make one brief point ...
... or actually, I'd like to play a little game with you, with your indulgence. If you don't mind, grab a scrap piece of paper, and, wherever you are in the world, I'd like you to please write down your guess as to the correct answer to the following question:
What percent of the US budget do you think goes toward foreign aid?
You know, humanitarian stuff: things like vaccination programs for pneumonia and other childhood diseases, HIV/AIDS testing and prevention, bed nets for malaria prevention, farming assistance and techniques to improve nourishment in impoverished nations -- things that, say, USAID and the CDC and PEPFAR would be involved with, that sort of thing?
Go ahead and write down your guess on your paper. You don't have to show it to anyone, or even share what you wrote down here. Then once you do, scroll down for the correct answer.
Okay. So I'll admit to you now that when I first was asked this question, my answer was in the 10% range. I figured that it wouldn't be a huge slice of the US budget, but, you know, a chunk of it. I mean, you hear enough about humanitarian aid in the news, and it seems like something that would hep preserve international security in some sense, you know?
I was wrong. Okay, ready for the real answer?
Less than 1%.
Are you getting this? Less than 1 penny of every dollar the US government spends goes to foreign aid. I don't know about you, but I was stunned when I learned this bit of information.
So, here's where I ask for your help:
Please, wherever you are in the world, whatever country you call home, add you name to this petition to the US Congress.
To be clear, this petition does not ask Congress to increase the allocation to foreign aid -- that, I recognize, would be ridiculous, particularly during these economic times. What it does ask, instead, is that Congress not cut the allocation foreign aid. Having been to Kenya, and now Ethiopia and seen with my own eyes how much countries who rely on this aid do with so little -- with their farming, and schools, and girls' programs, and other agricultural programs -- it would be horrible to pull this assistance out from under our brothers and sisters when they're on the cusp of really great things. And for those of you who like hard numbers, we're specifically talking about:
• 112,500 pregnant women who won't receive the medicine and education they need to ensure that HIV isn't passed to their unborn children
• 2.5 million bed nets that won't be distributed to help prevent folks from contracting deadly malaria
• 1 million fewer families who won't receive information on farming techniques and nutrition to better nourish themselves and their young children.
Besides, we're talking about a fraction of a percent that can save millions of lives, here. And the crazy thing is that cutting this money would be hardly enough to make a dent to the US deficit, anyway. So please: let's convince Congress to leave it alone.
* * * * * * *
Now, that you've signed the petition (you have, right?), I have something awesome to share with you: remember my friend, videographer Ryan Youngblood? Well, you've seen all my favourite photos of Ethiopia, so now, check out the video he put together of the ONEMoms and their amazing Ethiopia adventure. He did an amazing job, and every time I watch it, I'm transported right back to Africa.
I'm mean, seriously:
Spectacular, right? Tell me this doesn't make you want to start planning your trip to Ethiopia yourself!
Which, by the way, you totally should do. But before you do, please add your name to this petition.
See what I did there? But seriously: it would be great if you did add your name. Because if there's anything that Ryan's video, above, illustrates, it's that we're all brothers and sisters here on this planet.
Together as ONE.
UPDATE: One of my Ethiopia travel companions, Diana Prichard, is a conservative and wrote an amazingly brilliant and thoughtful piece on the fiscal cliff, and why foreign aid remains important. If you're on the more conservative side of the political spectrum, please go check it out.