Senators staying up all night to vote on budget resolutions doesn’t make the pulse race, unless you’re a C-SPAN junkie or a devoted listener to NPR News. But late last Thursday night both Washington State's senators cast important votes that will reduce poverty, and bring hope to millions of hungry people around the world.
The planet becomes daily more interconnected. America needs wise and active partners in every country to build a safe and prosperous world. Healthy and flourishing people in Africa will not only use our software, ride in our planes, and buy wheat from the Palouse; they will also help us write software, produce goods we need, and enrich our intertwined cultures. Alleviating hunger and poverty in the developing world is part of building a better America.
Malnutrition during the first two years of life affects a child's development by reducing IQ, slowing motor skills, and increasing learning disabilities. Chronic hunger increases people's susceptibility to disease. It leaves children listless and unable to concentrate in school, and adults lacking the energy to think and work productively. Approximately 800 million people in the developing world are chronically undernourished. Hungry people cannot be our partners in building a safe and prosperous future.
Ending hunger and poverty is also a moral issue. All religions and ethical traditions teach that the path to salvation leads through compassion. Each of us becomes a better person when we relieve the suffering of others. We can do this individually and collectively: through direct, personal action, and through discharging our obligation as the world’s wealthiest nation to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
No one disagrees that ending huger and poverty is a worthy goal, but it might seem utopian. In the face of so much suffering, entrenched for so long, can anyone really make a difference? The governments of the United States and 188 other nations believe so: in September 2000, they pledged to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty by 2015, less than a decade from now. The financial cost of ending hunger is relatively slight. The United Nations estimates that the basic health and nutrition needs of the world's poorest people could be met for an additional $13 billion a year. Animal lovers in the United States and Europe spend more than that on pet food each year.
The President and Congress doubled poverty-focused overseas assistance between 2001 and 2008. This has helped poor people in many ways, for example by providing wells near homes and fields. The resulting easier irrigation means more food, and more time for children to do their homework rather than spending hours every day carrying water from a far-away river.
But the work has just started; doubling poverty assistance is easy if one starts from a small base. Currently, less than one-half of 1 percent of the Federal budget goes to programs that help lift people out of hunger and poverty. A stronger International Affairs budget is essential to create partners for America in building a better world.
The Senate had actually been on track to cut this budget well below the President’s request. Fortunately, both Senators Murray and Cantwell understand the vital importance of building a hunger-free world, and they supported the passage of the Biden-Lugar Amendment on Thursday night. This brought the International Affairs budget back to the level of the President’s request. Both senators are also co-sponsors of the Global Poverty Act, which would make cutting hunger and extreme poverty in half by 2015 an official goal of U.S. policy.
To learn more about poverty-focused development assistance, see the Bread for the World web site