In response to widespread criticism of President Trump’s recent budget, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended massive cuts to government programs, saying “it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.” Mulvaney was directly defending the choice to eliminate funding for domestic programs like Meals on Wheels and afterschool programs for low-income children. But his ridiculous comment reveals the Trump administration’s general lack of sympathy and support for low-income populations. The President’s blatant apathy towards the plight of the poor demands our attention both as people in an increasingly globalized world. The reality is that the proposed cuts in the budget, if endorsed by Congress, are likely to have devastating and potentially deadly consequences for vulnerable groups both in this country and around the world.
The global threat of famine
One clear application of the budget’s potential danger is to those experiencing severe food insecurity. Currently, several countries are experiencing or are on the brink of experiencing a massive famine. Droughts, systemic poverty, and instability have merged in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria to produce a precarious situation where nearly 20 million people are at risk of death by hunger and disease.
The United Nations has pleaded for emergency aid from donor countries, with the UN’s new Secretary General Antonio Guterres desperately tweeting “People are dying. The world must act now to stop this.” The UN estimates that $5.6 billion is needed to avert the worst effects of these famines in 2017.
And yet, President Trump’s recently released budget goes the opposite way. The budget calls for a reduction in funding to the State Department and USAID by 31% over the next fiscal year. President Trump has also reportedly told State Department officials that he hopes to cut UN humanitarian aid by 36%. Many news outlets aptly point out the likely harm caused by looming famines and the gaping holes of international aid in President Trump’s budget.
The importance of international aid
Funding for international food security programs and emergency aid are critical in the struggle to prevent famines and humanitarian crises. The most critical funding during emergencies is from voluntary direct pledges of donor countries to the UN for programs like the World Food Programme, which coordinates and provides emergency food aid and humanitarian relief. If Congress endorses the UN funding cuts, there will likely be calamitous effects, beginning with the preventable suffering of millions currently threatened by famines.
Famines are not sudden. Rather, they are a culmination of broken food systems impacted by climate-change related natural disasters, civil wars, and governmental instability. Famines are often called “man-made disasters” because deaths caused by extreme hunger are often preventable if the signs of a famine are recognized and responded by the appropriate global leaders. Early warning systems exist to call attention to potential famines and growing food insecurity in regions across the world. But warning systems means nothing when leaders fail or feel compelled to respond.
A truly compassionate response
Trump’s proposed budget unapologetically neglects those impacted by famines and other international crises. In doing so, his priorities cast serious doubt on the United States’ longstanding commitment to creating a safer and more secure world. Instead of propelling a story of compassion and global leadership, Trump’s proposed budget foretells a dreary picture of an isolationist United States against a backdrop of preventable humanitarian and food-related crises over the next few years.
Fortunately, Trump’s proposed budget cuts have yet to be addressed in Congress and actually face strong opposition from both parties. Which means there is still time to acknowledge our country’s role in preventing the global disasters unfolding before our eyes.
Congress must reject Trump’s deep funding cuts to international humanitarian aid and commit to addressing food insecurity and humanitarian disasters around the world. Such a response from our elected leaders would truly reflect the compassion the current administration claims to espouse, but fails to provide.
Emily Johnson is a first year Master’s of Public Policy candidate studying social policy.