'Hard To Comprehend' The Effect Of U.S. Humanitarian Aid Cuts

Apr 2, 2017
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Under President Trump's budget proposal, money for international humanitarian aid will be slashed. That means less support for famine relief and refugee assistance. This would come at a time when the United Nations says the world is facing some of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II.

NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Nairobi.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The last time the U.N. declared a famine was six years ago in 2011. People were dying in Somalia because of drought and because of a siege by the Islamist group al-Shabab. But as soon as the famine declaration was made, the humanitarian world reacted. Challiss McDonough, spokeswoman for the World Food Programme, says the entire world's attention was focused on Somalia.

CHALLISS MCDONOUGH: There is nothing that's doing that right now. There are too many crises. They are too severe.

PERALTA: Right now, the world is still dealing with the fallout from the Syrian civil war, another famine in South Sudan and millions of people in three other places - Somalia, northeast Nigeria and Yemen - on the brink of starvation. It has left the world's humanitarian missions struggling to keep pace.

MCDONOUGH: The donors are stretched. The logistics systems are stretched. We are really nearing the breaking point.

PERALTA: Yet looming over all of this is President Trump's proposal to slash United Nations' money and U.S. foreign aid by more than a quarter. McDonough says it is quote, "hard to comprehend" the kind of effect those cuts would have because the United States doesn't just provide about 40 percent of the World Food Programme's money, it also pushes other countries into giving more. Right now, she says, U.S. money is going into dropping food out of planes in South Sudan. It's saving lives. But by all accounts, the situation is getting worse. And McDonough is blunt about what will happen if the humanitarian effort stalls.

MCDONOUGH: People will die. If the world does not do more, people will die.

PERALTA: In a press briefing last month, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney shrugged off the crises.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICK MULVANEY: The president said specifically, hundreds of times - you covered him - I'm going to spend less money on people overseas and more money on people back home.

PERALTA: Johnnie Carson, who was in charge of African Affairs at the State Department in 2011, says that America-first philosophy is shortsighted.

JOHNNIE CARSON: If we don't address these humanitarian situations, they contribute to the civil conflicts that are there, and they nurture long-standing grievances and resentment.

PERALTA: He says the Obama administration was also talking about cutting foreign aid in 2011. But when they saw people dying in Somalia, they dropped it.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.