Letter to Congress: Humanitarian Funding in 2011-12 Budgets

February 4, 2011

The Honorable Paul Ryan, Chair
Committee on the Budget

The Honorable Harold Rogers, Chair
Committee on Appropriations

The Honorable Kay Granger, Chair
Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair
Committee on Foreign Affairs

The Honorable Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member
Committee on the Budget

The Honorable Norm Dicks, Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations

The Honorable Nita Lowey, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

The Honorable Howard Berman, Ranking Member
Committee on Foreign Affairs

Dear Chairs and Ranking Members:

I write on behalf of Refugees International (RI), a non-profit organization that does not accept government or UN funding, to respectfully request that you include substantial funding for the Department of State and foreign operations in the U.S. budget. Specifically, as you complete the FY2011 Continuing Resolution and begin to craft the FY2012 budget and appropriations bills, I urge you to at least maintain current FY2010 funding levels for critical humanitarian and security accounts in the International Affairs Budget. These accounts include Migration and Refugee Assistance, Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, International Disaster Assistance, Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities and Peacekeeping Operations.

Historically, the United States has been the global leader in responding to the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. Americans support this assistance not only for humanitarian reasons, but also because foreign assistance is a smart investment that helps avoid future military conflicts, head off threats from beyond U.S. borders and lay the foundation for future economic growth.  Successive Republican and Democratic Administrations and Congresses have understood that humanitarian assistance upholds America’s tradition of generosity and is an effective way of promoting stability and building trust with foreign governments and their citizens.

In 2007, policymakers drafted the FY2008 appropriations bills utilizing statistics from 2005-2006 to help set funding levels. Today, the global situation is drastically different.

  • There are 42.3 million people displaced by conflict around the world – 17 million more than in 2005 (2.4 million more refugees and 14.7 million more internally displaced people).
  • The second highest number of natural disasters since 1980 occurred in 2010 with 950 natural catastrophes, 90 percent of which were weather-related events such as storms and floods. The number of natural disasters worldwide has increased by nearly 35 percent between the last decade of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st Century. Likewise, the number of people affected rose by about 15 percent.  An estimated 36 to 50 million people are uprooted by disasters in any given year.
  • Fuel and food prices internationally have risen drastically, risking widespread hunger and instability. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, they hit an all-time high in December 2010.
  • Security costs for aid workers are dramatically higher. According to the Overseas Development Institute, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Somalia are among the six most dangerous places in the world for aid workers. Between the three-year periods of 2003-05 and 2006-08, the number of attacks against humanitarian workers (including abduction, assault, and assassination) increased by 89%.

RI strongly believes that reducing support for vulnerable people in unstable countries would be a grave mistake for U.S. foreign policy.  Foreign assistance constitutes little more than 1 percent of total U.S. spending, but polls consistently show that a majority of Americans believe that we spend far more.  We appreciate the important role that you can play in helping to educate and inform the public on issues of moral responsibility and national interest. 

Due to U.S. support, UN interagency collaboration, and the Government of Iraq, tens of thousands of religious minorities in Diyala province have been able to return to villages in areas once dominated by Al Qaeda.  Peace and reconciliation between religious sects has contributed significantly to improved security.  But over a million Iraqis are still displaced. Continued funding will help tens of thousands more displaced Iraqis return safely and permanently to their areas of origin.

In Pakistan, 4 million people remain homeless from last years massive flooding and over 1 million remain displaced as a result of U.S. backed military operations against the Taliban. Just this week 25,000 more people were displaced by military offensives and it is estimated that the number could rise to 90,000 by the end of the month if offensives intensify. Cutting aid as the United States calls for more aggressive military action and before the displaced obtain food, shelter, medical care and access to livelihoods would only make these populations more susceptible to the violence and influence of extremist groups. 

For the past two years, the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) has made a concerted effort to expand gender based violence programming.  Initiatives that combat violence against women could be significantly cut if PRM’s budget returned to 2008 levels. This would seriously hinder programs that protect and help meet the needs of displaced and conflict-affected women worldwide, including those in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan. Likewise, in places like Sudan, reducing U.S. support and/or diplomatic pressure during a particularly delicate transition to southern independence will hurt efforts to help southern Sudanese build a stable country.

And finally, cuts in U.S. contributions to UN Peacekeeping or U.S. initiatives to strengthen international peacekeeping capacity could jeopardize the effectiveness of ongoing operations critical to U.S. strategic interests, including missions in Haiti, south Sudan and Darfur. Professional, well-equipped international peacekeepers reduce the burden on the U.S. by acting as a key stabilizing force at a fraction of the cost of U.S. intervention – a mere 12 cents to the dollar according to the Government Accountability Office. RI has seen firsthand the vital role UN peacekeepers play in protecting civilians from harm, preventing displacement, providing security for refugee and IDP sites, and enhancing stability so that people displaced by conflict can return home safely.

I appreciate your most serious consideration of these issues and affirm our willingness to work with you to help protect critical U.S. humanitarian and foreign aid programs.  I would appreciate a meeting with you and your staff to discuss this further.


Michel Gabaudan