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Testimony on FY2001 Foreign Aid

 

Before the
Subcommittee on Foreign Operations,
Export Financing and Related Programs
House Appropriations Committee

on behalf of
The United States Catholic Conference
and
Catholic Relief Services

Presented by Mr. Francis Carlin
Deputy Executive Director
Catholic Relief Services

March 30, 2000

We would like to thank the Subcommittee for this opportunity to testify on behalf of the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which have a large and diverse agenda as reflected in our testimony as well as that of our colleagues from Migration and Refugees Services who will be testifying before the Subcommittee later today.

With field staff in over 80 countries, CRS is one of the largest and most effective organizations providing food for the hungry, emergency relief for victims of disaster, and development assistance to people living at the margin of existence in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), too, is one of the nation's largest organizations dedicated to resettling refugees and is actively involved in addressing refugee crises throughout the world.

Our deep concern for foreign aid comes from the fact that we are on the ground helping to alleviate the plight of refugees from Kosovo and Serbia to Sudan and East Timor. We are helping to feed and house the millions who have lost their homes and livelihoods in the floods in Mozambique. We are engaged in the difficult and frustrating work of rebuilding peoples' lives and communities after disastrous conflicts in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Liberia. We are helping promote sustainable development in the world's poorest countries.

The U.S. bishops are motivated to do this work by the Gospel call to serve the least among us; we are guided in our work by fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching, which we believe apply equally to our nation and other members of the international community. First, the fundamental human dignity of each person is the basis for a complex fabric of human rights and duties that creates responsibilities and relationships across national borders. Second, peoples and nations have a responsibility to promote not just the good of their own societies but also the global common good. Third is a bond of solidarity, which is both an attitude toward others and a sense of duty. Solidarity makes it impossible to consign members of the human community to a status beyond our care and compassion when they are faced with threats to their life and dignity. The preferential option for the poor leads us to give special priority to the basic needs of the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of the population, in every stage and condition.

The need for foreign aid is clear. Every day a half billion people go hungry; three times that number are chronically ill. Half the world's population does not have safe drinking water. A third are unemployed or underemployed, and at least that many lack shelter. Despite the obvious need and the tremendous wealth of our own country, one of the disturbing signs of the times is a reduced priority given to the world's poor and a growing indifference towards them. The world is more and more illustrative of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, with an ever-widening gap between the world's haves and have-nots.

The superior power and influence of the United States in the world carries with it a responsibility to contribute to the universal common good. Building peace, combating poverty and despair, and protecting freedom and human rights are not only moral imperatives, but also wise national priorities. We have the capacity to shape a world that will be a safer, more secure and more just home for all. Foreign aid is more than an optional form of largesse. It is a fundamental obligation of solidarity on the part of those who enjoy a plentiful share of earth's riches to promote sustainable development for those who have barely enough to survive. Sustainable development requires a complex set of changes in the international economy, but foreign assistance is a necessary component that can make a significant difference in the lives of poor people around the world.

It is astonishing that, despite an era of unprecedented prosperity, the United States has not significantly increased aid to the most impoverished countries, many of whose economies continue to decline. Compared to other industrialized countries, the United States continues to rank at the bottom in terms of the share of the economy devoted to development assistance. The meager amount of aid that our nation gives to Africa, in particular, is a scandal. Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the poorest regions of the world, continues to suffer from a decrease in aid disproportionate to that of other regions of the world.

At the same time, over half of all U.S. foreign aid is given for military and security purposes. Funding for development, especially for the poorest nations, can and should be realized through transfers from military aid to genuine development assistance. The United States must dedicate more resources to individual countries in need, and it must also maintain an active role in the efforts of the United Nations and the international financial institutions to promote peace and development.

We would like to highlight several of the many components of foreign aid that are of concern to us.

1. Debt Relief

More than 40 of the world's poorest countries are bound in such a web of indebtedness that they have little hope for a better future. They will not be able to sustain their growth, much less invest in basic health care, primary education, and other services that are necessary to lift people out of poverty. In this Jubilee year, we should all remember Pope John Paul's call for "reducing substantially, if not canceling outright" poor country debt.

Thanks in part to the work of the House Appropriations Committee last year, there is now important new authorization and funding for reducing the debt owed to the United States by many of the world's poorest countries. However, the comprehensive debt relief program endorsed by the law requires coordinated action by all creditors if it is to work effectively for debtor countries and assure fair burden sharing among the creditors.

The Administration's request of $800 million would finance bilateral and multilateral debt relief for Fiscal Year 2001 through Fiscal Year 2003. This amount represents the cost to the United States of canceling the bilateral debt of 33 heavily indebted poor countries and the U.S. share of the multilateral debt reduction for these countries under the Enhanced HIPC Initiative, as agreed to by G-7 creditor countries last June.

Because of our country's delay in contributing to the multilateral HIPC Trust Fund, countries such as Bolivia are still waiting to benefit from new debt relief despite having met all of the requirements for the enhanced HIPC program. In Mozambique, where CRS is supporting a major relief program to assist the flood victims, the effort toward long-term reconstruction will be significantly hampered by the requirement for the government to continue servicing its debt. Mozambique is expected to qualify for relief, but is not likely to actually get relief unless there are adequate contributions to the HIPC Trust Fund.

Debt relief is one approach to reducing poverty in the poorest countries. Key aspects of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Process adopted by the World Bank and the IMF hold considerable promise for ensuring that new lending will benefit the poorest people. We are monitoring the implementation of the process at the international level. Even more importantly, we are supporting the efforts of the Catholic Church and other partners in countries such as Bolivia, Honduras, and Benin to participate in the process of developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy for these countries. Only through the involvement of citizens will the process be meaningful and will governments be held accountable for their commitments and management of financial resources.

The United States should focus its attention on monitoring the implementation of the HIPC agreement and Poverty Reduction Strategy. Legislation passed last year included conditions on the World Bank's administration of the HIPC debt relief program. Countries must perform satisfactorily under an economic reform program, promote civil society participation, implement anti-corruption measures and transparent policy making, adopt strategies for poverty reduction, and strengthen private sector growth, trade, and investment. While Congress is considering further institutional reforms, we urge that debt relief not be delayed until these broader issues are resolved. The plight of people suffering from disease, illiteracy, and malnutrition demands immediate and full support for debt relief.

2. Development and Emergency Assistance

HIV/AIDS

Many communities are already severely affected by poverty, food insecurity, illiteracy, isolation, lack of resources, and poor health; AIDS is the straw that is breaking their back.

The Catholic Church in Africa is addressing the AIDS disaster in a variety of ways. For its part, CRS supports AIDS programs that help local secular and religious NGOs provide community-based home care networks, education on AIDS prevention through behavioral changes, and support to orphanages for children of AIDS victims. CRS expects its education programs covering general life skills and AIDS prevention to cushion early entry into adulthood for those children living in AIDS-affected households. CRS has also designed a pilot project that integrates credit, health/nutrition, agriculture and education through gardening methods designed for school children and teens in AIDS-affected communities. Given the great need of families, extended families, and communities, funding for AIDS should be twice the Administration's request of $10 million and should be used primarily to care for children orphaned as a result of AIDS.

We note that USAID's "preferred strategy" for AIDS, based on preventive measures such as Asafe sex@ practices, has been a major constraint impeding CRS access to USAID funding. It is our position that this focus ignores many aspects of the complex, and often silent, AIDS emergency, and unwisely limits the involvement of effective agencies which cannot in conscience promote such practices.

Transition from emergencies

Following the onset of emergency activities, the transition and rehabilitation phases are costly and often underfunded. Unfortunately, resettlement kits, housing/community structure, reconstruction, and livelihood recovery strategies often fall between funding definitions. Yet, these activities are vitally important to prevent a return to emergency conditions.

The Office of Transition Initiatives (supported through International Disaster Assistance) was created, in part, to deal with such issues. However, it is inadequately funded to support the work of private voluntary organizations seeking to help countries make the transition from a complex emergency to sustainable development, particularly in the areas of health, education and agriculture. Funding for the Office of Transition Initiatives should be at least $100 million.

Micro-enterprise

Micro-enterprise is a highly cost-effective method to reduce poverty by making small loans. When well targeted, these loans reach the poorest of the poor. Although USAID is a global leader in micro-enterprise, funding for micro-enterprise has not kept pace with the demand. In addition, despite USAID's goal in 1994 of directing half of overall micro-enterprise funds to the very poor, by the end of 1996, it had not done so. And in 1998, only 40 percent of overall micro-enterprise funding actually went to credit programs serving the very poor. Recently, USAID's support of micro-enterprise has been further weakened by a new emphasis on Business Development Services, which is less poverty focused and demand-driven than micro-enterprise. USAID should once again focus on the poorest of the poor by offering small loans in the range of $300 or less. Of the $167 million needed this year for micro-enterprise, half should go to programs serving the poorest.

Inter-American Foundation

The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) makes small grants for development assistance to subsistence farmers and community based groups throughout Latin America. These grants are meant to empower individuals and community organizations to take joint action to combat poverty. Unique among U.S. agencies providing humanitarian assistance, most IAF programs are highly effective. The IAF should be funded at the Administration's request of $20 million.

Lebanon

After years of conflict, Lebanon is faced with the daunting task of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy, and addressing the plight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Although last year's appropriation of $15 million (of which $3 million was dedicated to universities) was much needed, a substantial increase is called for this year, especially in light of the new prospects for a peace settlement.

Population Assistance

As world population growth rates decline and many developed countries face actual declines in population, this is an excellent time to reevaluate U.S. priorities regarding population assistance. Efforts to end hunger, reduce illiteracy and promote sustainable development offer truly responsible ways to help bring population and resources into a healthy balance.

In our view, any support for coercive population programs leads to violations of human rights and brings the U.S. into disrepute in the developing world. While Congress has taken steps to prevent such coercion through the Tiahrt amendment to the FY 1999 and FY 2000 foreign assistance appropriations bills, reports of coercion in Peru and elsewhere persist. The Tiahrt amendment's policy against coercive programs should be monitored and fully implemented. We believe U.S. funding should be denied to agencies such as the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) if they support programs using coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

It should remain clear as well that the United States will not support programs that promote abortion as a method of family planning in developing nations. The modified Mexico City policy approved last year as part of a compromise measure to pay U.S. back dues to the United Nations should be maintained in law this year.

3. Appropriate Funding for Refugee Protection

The U.S. Catholic bishops strongly believe that the United States must maintain a generous refugee protection program which reflects our nation's humanitarian traditions. The United States has been a worldwide leader in refugee protection for years, annually offering resettlement protection to the largest number of refugees in the world. Since 1993, however, the number of refugees admitted to the United States has dropped an alarming 41 percent, from 132,000 in Fiscal Year 1993 to 78,000 in FY 1998.

Specifically, refugee crises in Africa, the Near East, and Southeast Asia continue to spawn large numbers of refugees who require attention. For example, conflicts in places such as Sierra Leone, Sudan and Ethiopia, Liberia, Uganda, and Congo have sharply increased the number of African refugees, a continent which hosts close to half the refugees in the world. Political and military unrest in such places as Burma, East Timor, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet Union also are producing refugees which require some sort of assistance and protection.

In light of these trends, the U.S. Catholic bishops are concerned that U.S. leadership in the area of refugee protection is in decline. Whether because of a shift in how we strategically view the world since the end of the Cold War, or reflective of a decision of our leaders to turn inward, the United States is increasingly abdicating its worldwide leadership role in refugee protection.

The Administration's FY 2001 budget request includes $660 million for the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account, which provides funding for overseas assistance and initial resettlement services to refugees. According to the Department of State, this level of funding, which equals the original funding request last year, should support the baseline admittance of 76,000 refugees during FY 2001, a decline in the number of refugees admitted both in FY 1999 and projected in FY 2000.

In our view, the Administration request for FY 2001 for MRA is insufficient to the need. We respectfully ask the committee to increase funding for MRA to $700 million, which should account for the admission of 100,000 refugees during the next fiscal year and better reflect the global need for refugee protection. Such an increase in funding would reassert U.S. leadership in this area and signal to other nations a renewed U.S. commitment to refugee protection worldwide.

4. Supporting Peace in Areas of Conflict

The United States can play a pivotal role in supporting peace in areas of conflict. In Congo, support for the peace process and the Inter-Congolese dialogue, in conjunction with support for the new U.N. peacekeeping effort, could offer hope of beginning to move toward a brighter future there.

For its part, Colombia today has every right to call upon the United States to come to its aid, given that our country is the source of much of the demand for the illicit drugs grown and processed in Colombia. Over the long term, our country's greatest contribution could be the reduction in the domestic demand for these drugs, the result of enhanced policies promoting drug education, treatment and rehabilitation. In the short term, however, it seems clear that assistance from this country and other friends of Colombia is essential.

The goal of our aid program must be a peaceful, political and negotiated settlement to the internal conflict. There should be significant support for the peace process, including judicial reform, increased protection of human rights, humanitarian aid to the internally displaced, greater involvement of civil society in the peace process itself, and vigorous efforts to promote alternative agriculture to enable poor farmers to forgo cultivation of coca and poppies. A genuine balance must be found between aid to the Colombian armed forces and aid that more directly addresses the root causes of the conflict and assists the victims. All military aid must be carefully monitored and conditioned on well-established human rights criteria. U.S. aid must promote, not inhibit, the process for a negotiated and just settlement of the conflict.

Conclusion

We acknowledge the important assistance your committee has provided in the past, and we strongly urge you to work to ensure that humanitarian and development issues are made a higher priority in U.S. foreign policy.

In closing, we would like to mention the USCC's and CRS' appreciation for the positive comments often heard in congressional debate about the role of faith-based organizations in directly meeting the needs of the poor. We can assure you today that the legislation you are considering will make a dramatic difference in the ability of these organizations and many others to help a world of ever expanding human need.





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