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Could US budget cuts mean slashing aid to Africa?

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“The logo of USAID says, ‘from the American people,’ but I think the American people increasingly understand that our development commitments in Africa also generate outcomes for the American people,” says Raj Shah, the chief administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which handles most of the US government’s foreign development assistance.

“It’s an expression of our moral values when we are able to save lives on this continent and protect young children from starving or protect people with HIV from dying when they don’t need to die,” Mr. Shah says. “But we also know these outcomes keep us safe and lay the groundwork for economic stability and growth.”

Foreign aid to Africa may have bipartisan support in Congress, but ordinary American voters often see foreign aid as a colossal waste of taxpayer money – while also vastly overestimating the US government's foreign aid budget. In a November 2010 poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org and Knowledge Networks, Americans were asked what percentage of the US federal budget was spent on foreign aid; the median answer was 25 percent. When asked what would be the “appropriate” percentage of the budget spent on foreign aid; the median answer was a much more parsimonious 10 percent figure. The US actually spends only 1 percent of its federal budget on foreign aid.

If budget cutters were to go after giant projects, then the six-year-old initiative PEPFAR would present an attractive project. At $7.2 billion in the Fiscal 2012 budget, it is the largest single foreign aid program of its kind, not only in the US federal budget, but also in the world. In South Africa alone, 917,000 men, women, and children are able to receive Anti-Retro Viral (ARV) treatment each year because of the PEPFAR program, and doctors estimate that some 114,000 babies worldwide have been born HIV-free because of ARV treatments made available to their HIV-positive parents.

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