Preserve the humanitarian aid in war spending bill

May 10, 2007|By Ken Hackett

Winning a stable peace and securing global justice require not only a strong fist but also a helping hand. Unfortunately, the United States could miss an opportunity to extend that open hand of generosity at a time when the world has never needed it more.

Now that President Bush has vetoed the Iraq war spending bill and Congress has begun work on a new draft, public debate rages about deadlines and benchmarks. But there is a critical part of this legislation that almost no one is talking about. The veto didn't just freeze money for the war; it also shelved assistance meant to save lives and foster peace.

The Iraq war spending bill included vital funding for emergency humanitarian crises, including food for the hungry, assistance for refugees and migrants, disaster and famine relief, and contributions to global peacekeeping operations. Without this funding for human emergencies in places such as Sudan, the Horn of Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan and the West Bank and Gaza, malnutrition, disease and violence will spread and the vulnerable will die.

The United States leads the world in the support of global humanitarian causes and has a long history of assisting the most desperate of humanity. Our country initiated the postwar reconstruction of Europe and Japan through the Marshall Plan, and led the formation of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For the past half-century, U.S. food assistance has provided life and hope to hundreds of millions of people. And in the aftermath of famines, tsunamis, earthquakes or other disasters, the generosity of the American people is unmatched. American leadership can make the critical difference in addressing dire situations around the world. We must respond effectively.

The war spending bill included $460 million for food aid. This support feeds starving people in places such as Sudan and Somalia and also provides a platform for recovery and long-term development partnerships. Such collaboration supports education, agriculture and health. According to a study by the World Bank and the U.S. Geological Survey, $1 spent on disaster preparation through these kinds of developmental programs could avert as much as $7 in future emergency relief.

Also in the bill was $165 million to provide disaster assistance for the world's most critical emergency needs. The U.S. continued its long tradition of reaching out to refugees and migrants, many of them displaced by unspeakable violence such as the genocide in Darfur, with $185.5 million in refugee aid. And we furthered our goal of global stability by pledging just over $500 million for peacekeeping contributions and operations.

As our nation and our leaders debate the military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand that much is at stake. But at the same time, global humanitarian needs cry out for attention.

When we use both our strength and our generosity effectively, we boost our national security. Congress and the president should put aside their differences over war funding to preserve the previously approved assistance for global humanitarian emergencies.

Ken Hackett is president of Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community. His e-mail is

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