Direct foreign aid at children

Myriam Marquez

October 05, 1993|By Myriam Marquez

THE news reports concentrated on the costs of policing the globe, on the United States' place in the New World Order and on the United Nations' role in hot spots from Bosnia to Somalia.

All of those, of course, are legitimate issues of grave magnitude, and I expected President Clinton would wax eloquent on them in his address to the United Nations last week.

Yet none of the half-dozen news reports I saw mentioned what Mr. Clinton said about the most critical issue facing the leaders of the world today -- the unconscionable deaths of children from preventable diseases and hunger, at home and abroad.

"It is tragic enough that 1 1/2 million children died as a result of wars over the past decade," Mr. Clinton said. "But it is far more unforgivable that, during that same period, 40 million children died from diseases completely preventable with simple vaccines or medicines. Every day -- this day, as we meet here -- over 30,000 of the world's children will die of malnutrition and disease."

Mr. Clinton's remarks followed last week's United Nations Children's Fund report on the progress made by 158 nations that attended the 1990 World Summit for Children. The nations pledged to improve the living conditions of 1 billion poor people -- most of them children.

At the summit, the United States was among the nations to commit to a set of goals for 2000. Among those goals: cutting child deaths by one-third, cutting child malnutrition by half and providing all children and their families access to clean water.

Some progress already is being seen, even though the United States and most industrialized nations direct less than 10 percent of their foreign-aid budgets to help meet the basic of human needs for children.

For instance, UNICEF's goal in the early 1980s was to immunize 80 percent of the world's children. That dream was realized by 1990, and it's estimated to be saving the lives of 3 million children each year.

But still not getting immunized are 20 percent of all children throughout the world, including hundreds of thousands of American children, most of them living in inner cities.

The poverty rate for children has gone up in the United States in the past 20 years -- from 15 percent in 1970 to 20 percent in 1992. And the immunization rate against measles, for example, is better in India than in the United States for children younger than 2. Our country, the leader of the free world, no less, ranks 19th among 27 industrialized nations in infant survival rates.

So the problems of the world's children are not everybody else's problems; they are our problem as well.

Mr. Clinton's proposed health-care plan would go a long way toward improving American children's health. The new federal budget, which includes more money for Head Start programs and vaccination programs for the poor, also will help children grow up to be healthy and literate adults.

But the U.S. foreign-aid budget still isn't geared to helping children survive the worst aspects of poverty.

A grass-roots lobbying group called Results, which aims to end world hunger, noted recently that "steady progress in shifting an increased proportion of U.S. foreign assistance funds into vital children's programs. . . was halted this year" in Congress.

More U.S. dollars aren't necessarily needed to help children live in a better world. It is our financing focus that must be changed in the foreign-aid budget, with the priority placed on children's welfare.

"We are compelled to do better by the world's children," Mr. Clinton said. "It's the best investment we'll ever make."

Nice words. But will next year's budget reflect that commitment for the world's living miracles?

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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