John Kerry continues pro-aid rhetoric as NGOs wage budget campaign

John Kerry delivers his first major address as the U.S. secretary of state at the University of Virginia on Feb. 20, 2013. Photo by: U.S. State Department

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued his praise of development cooperation in a major speech Wednesday, as a coalition of aid groups amps up the pressure on Congress to boost humanitarian relief.

Kerry said Feb. 20 at the University of Virginia: “Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It’s not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world.”

The call in what has been touted as Kerry’s first major foreign policy speech since becoming the U.S. top diplomat echoes one made by a coalition of 40-odd aid groups last week in a letter to Congress.

“We write to express deep concern that current resource levels for humanitarian assistance are not sufficient to meet these challenges, which will prove harmful to both U.S. interests and millions of vulnerable people requiring lifesaving assistance,” the open letter states. “Therefore we urge Congress to ensure that the levels approved for the remainder of [fiscal] 2013 are commensurate with humanitarian need.”

Time is running out for lawmakers to reach a budget deal by early March, when not only automatic cuts could take effect but also the current continuing resolution, which has kept government afloat in recent weeks, expires. The NGO coalition, which includes InterAction and many of its member organizations, wants lawmakers to increase funding to levels earlier approved by Senate for the 2013 budget.

“Should another Continuing Resolution be passed, these accounts should be adjusted to reflect needs which have increased dramatically from when the [fiscal] 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act was passed by Congress on December 23, 2011,” the coalition suggests.

The groups note that the Obama administration couldn’t have anticipated several emergencies when it sent a budget proposal to Congress last year.

From Syria to Sudan, the cost of humanitarian crises is staggering – conservative estimates by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs peg it at $9 billion.

As of Feb. 21, the United States had provided $307 million and pledged around $109 million more. The looming across-the-board cuts, also known as sequestration, would mean about $200 million less for humanitarian assistance and $70 million less for food aid.

In his speech at the University of Virginia, Kerry defended the foreign aid budget.

“Our whole foreign policy budget is just over 1 percent of our national budget. Think about it a little bit,” he said. “Over 1 percent, a little bit more, funds all of our civilian and foreign affairs efforts – every embassy, every program that saves a child from dirty drinking water, or from AIDS, or reaches out to build a village, and bring America’s values, every person.”

In the long run, Kerry said, the United States wants its country partners not to not depend on its aid assistance.

“Eleven of our top 15 trading partners used to be the beneficiaries of U.S. foreign assistance. That’s because our goal isn’t to keep a nation dependent on us forever,” Kerry said.

“It’s precisely to create these markets, to open these opportunities, to establish rule of law. Our goal is to use assistance and development to help nations realize their own potential, develop their own ability to govern and become our economic partners.”

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About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.