Foreign assistance must be part of primary dialogue

George Bruno (Ambassador to Belize, 1994-1997) and Dan St. Hilaire 

Cross-posted from the January 17, 2016 opinion column as published in the Concord Monitor.

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With the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary just weeks away, our state’s voters have a chance and a responsibility to urge candidates to address a topic that is receiving little attention in the campaign but will make a vast difference in the lives of millions worldwide.

The topic: U.S. foreign assistance, and the use of America’s strength as a global leader to fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease.

This important policy issue is the basis for the ONE Campaign’s newly launched ONE Vote ’16, a national, nonpartisan public affairs campaign to make the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa – a priority in the 2016 presidential election.

More than 1 billion people, nearly 15 percent of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty. Although only less than 1 percent of the federal budget is committed to foreign assistance, the United States has helped make great strides around the world by distributing aid through faith-based and nongovernmental organizations, including CARE, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision.

In the past 25 years, such collaborations have changed lives throughout the world for the better, and America’s leadership has made the difference.

In the early 2000s, only 300,000 people had access to life-saving HIV/AIDS medicine. Today, more than 15 million people have access to lifesaving medicine and hospitals, and although funding remains insufficient for global disease control, 43 million lives have been saved thanks to effective diagnosis and treatment of malaria. From 1990 to 2011, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day dropped by 60 percent.

Extreme poverty has been cut in half over the past 20 years, and could be virtually eliminated by 2030 if we recommit ourselves to continuing and expanding this vital work. By improving and saving lives throughout the world, we can make our own lives safer.

As Gen. James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Our dollars can connect smallholder farmers to markets to break the cycle of hunger and poverty, and link millions of people with first-time access to energy that will open new doorways to education, health care and job opportunities. Vaccinating a child, providing lifesaving medication and food, or partnering to provide access to electricity and job opportunities encourage stability abroad and promote security and economic growth here at home.

Nationwide polls indicate that national security is our most important foreign policy objective. With our nation’s military and national security leaders viewing global development as a key strategic component for securing our safety, we must urge our presidential candidates to put U.S. foreign assistance on their agendas.

As New Hampshire voters, many of us will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one or in small groups with the presidential candidates. Let’s share our concerns, and tell them that while we are proud of the U.S. as a global leader in international development, much more work remains. Lifting people out of global poverty will strengthen us all, will reduce the likelihood of those in dire straits turning to terrorist organizations and will make us all safer.

It is important that issues involving foreign assistance, international development and extreme poverty become part of the national dialogue, as well as a component in each presidential candidate’s agenda and message. Through ONE Vote ’16, and with the support and actions of voters, we can ensure that foreign assistance becomes a crucial element in the policy discussion surrounding the future of our country and our national security.

Let’s make our voices heard, and our ONE vote count this election.

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