March 9, 2018

Cuts to Humanitarian Assistance Put Stabilization at Risk

By Sung Lee

After years of military battles and airstrikes, ISIS was finally defeated in Raqqa, but it left the city – once home to more than 200,000 people – in ruins. Traveling through the streets in the aftermath, General Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command said, “We’re moving into what I, frankly, regard as the more challenging, the more difficult part, and that is how we consolidate the gains and how we get people back into their homes.” To prevent the threat of ISIS from returning, Raqqa must rebuild, starting with basic services and new homes for residents.

State and USAID Programs Key to Rebuilding Raqqa
“That’s where we come in,” USAID Administrator Mark Green said. USAID will play “an irreplaceable role with our national security partners alongside Syrians…to help restore a semblance of essential services, so those people can go home. So, the communities might slowly rise and recover and one day prosper.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also announced an additional $200 million for stabilization efforts in Syria and said, “Our military presence is backed by State Department and USAID teams who are already working with local authorities to help liberated peoples stabilize their own communities.”

To help the more than 3 million Syrians freed from ISIS and build long-term stability in fragile communities in Syria, America’s civilian experts in agriculture, health, sanitation, governance, and development are more important than ever before. Yet, at this critical and fragile moment, the Administration’s newly proposed budget for FY19 slashes the International Affairs Budget by over 30 percent, once again cutting 71 percent of economic and development assistance programs in Iraq and Syria.

Beyond Raqqa
The impact of these proposed cuts isn’t limited to Syria. The disproportionate cuts to the International Affairs Budget would make countries’ efforts to move along a path to sustainable development and peace much more difficult. Already, 20 million people around the world are on the brink of starvation and more than 65 million have been forced to flee their homes.

Despite such challenges, the Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Food for Peace program would likely increase food insecurity for more than 8 million beneficiaries, forcing many to migrate to neighboring countries in search of better lives. And cutting 31% to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria would take away life-saving health treatments from more than 565,500 people. Furthermore, scaling back the Center for Disease Control’s programs in 39 of 49 developing countries will reduce their capacity to stop outbreaks before they develop into a global crisis.

Such desperate conditions provide an opportunity for violent extremism to gain a foothold, as is evident in many fragile states like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Nigeria – which are home to groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, and Boko Haram.

Impact of Budget Cuts At Home
These cuts have a direct impact on the United States as well. An infectious disease outbreak in the 49 countries would disrupt U.S. exports and jeopardize American jobs. In 2015, U.S. exports to the 49 global health security priority countries exceeded $300 billion and supported over 1.6 million American jobs in all 50 states. More importantly, political and economic instability brought on by outbreaks and famines could require the deployment of American soldiers, risking American lives and accruing enormous operational costs.

Congress Supports Development and Diplomacy
Despite proposed budget cuts, members of Congress recognize the importance of ensuring that America has the tools necessary to meet these growing foreign challenges. Responding to President Trump’s FY19 Budget, Chairman Hal Rogers said, “I firmly believe that strong investments in diplomatic and development programs are an irreplaceable component of our national security.” As Congress considers both the FY18 and FY19 International Affairs budget, let’s hope that these vital programs are fully funded to help bring long-term stability and peace, especially to the millions suffering in Syria. Doing so will not only help fight global poverty and build economies, it will safeguard America’s economic growth and protect American lives.