US Officials Worry Budget Cuts Could Hurt Aid Efforts

    29 March, 2017

    With over 20 million people nearing starvation in four countries, the United Nations (UN) is asking for $5.6 billion in emergency aid.

    For now, UN members have only offered about 20 percent of that amount.

    Officials say the world is facing one of the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. The UN's International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has declared a famine in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. A famine means that a very large number of people are starving because of food shortages.

    The United States provides about 28 percent of the world's humanitarian aid, the most of any nation. But some warn of large cuts if the U.S. Congress approves a Trump administration proposal. It calls for a cut of about $50 billion in the State Department budget.

    The State Department oversees foreign assistance programs.

    The Republican Party controls both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Top Republicans in the House and Senate say Congress is likely to reject the big cuts in foreign aid proposed by the president.

    New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, a Republican, is chairman of a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. He said his goal is to get more U.S. aid to help starving people.

    Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.
    Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey.

    Pregnant women suffering from famine may be too weak to survive pregnancy, Smith said at a subcommittee hearing this week.

    If they survive, he said, their children are likely to be "stunted," meaning well short of normal weight and height.

    That makes them more at risk of disease, and people in a weakened condition have a more difficult time surviving, UNICEF officials said. They added that 22 million children are hungry, sick and unable to attend school in the four countries.

    World counts on United States

    Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Democratic Party. Cardin said he is concerned President Trump has not spoken publicly about the starvation crisis and has proposed cuts in foreign aid.

    "If the U.S. is not in the leadership, the international community is not going to respond," Cardin said.

    Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He predicted Congress will not approve the big cuts in foreign aid proposed by President Trump.

    But he said action is needed immediately to deal with the starvation crisis, long before a new budget is passed.

    "We understand that people today as we sit here are dying. What is it that we can do right now today to help try to meet the needs over the next two weeks?" Corker said at a hearing last week.

    Senator Bob Corker walking in the U.S. Capitol.
    Senator Bob Corker walking in the U.S. Capitol.

    Gregory Gottlieb is with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He told Corker that if his agency received more flexibility on rules for food aid, it could feed an additional five million people a year.

    Nancy Lindborg is president of the U.S. Institutes of Peace, an independent, federal office. She said a lot of the starvation in the four nations facing famine is a product of war and other conflicts, not food shortages.

    Lindborg said armed groups are killing livestock, destroying food supplies and closing down markets.

    On March 16, one reporter asked Budget Director Mick Mulvaney if the proposed budget cuts will cause, in their words, "some of the most vulnerable people on Earth to suffer?"

    Mulvaney said that Trump is following up on his campaign promise to put America first.

    "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. And that's exactly what we're doing with this budget," Mulvaney said.

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. His report was based on VOANews, the Associated Press and other sources. George Grow was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    respond - v. to say or write something as an answer to a question or request

    flexibility - n. able to change or to do different things

    livestock - n. farm animals such as cows and that are kept, raised, and used by people

    vulnerable - adj. people at risk

    specifically - adv. in a definite and exact way