The election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president is sure to send shockwaves throughout the global development community as worries rise about his aid policy and stated position on climate change.
Little is known about exactly what a Trump presidency means for foreign aid, in part because in this election development issues have been largely overshadowed by debates over national security, immigration and a myriad of highly personalized attacks.
Yet development is a key issue, especially for people beyond the U.S. borders. Some 65 million people around the globe — more than ever before — are currently displaced from their homes and seeking development assistance to help restore a sense of normalcy in their lives. The world has an opportunity to end diseases such as malaria and HIV. And in Marrakech, Morocco, climate negotiators are hard at work assembling the financial and monitoring systems needed to address climate change.
Trump has said he would “cancel” the Paris climate deal, setting back not just U.S., but global efforts to tackle climate change. The few answers Trump has given on foreign aid policy, mostly in an April town hall, have largely been vague: He would try to continue some support to Pakistan and would try to help humanitarian efforts, but not if it cost too much. What is clear is that Trump has run on an agenda that rejects American international engagement and that he would not invite Syrian refugees fleeing the crisis into the U.S.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulates U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and looks forward, as the future for U.N. funding comes under question.
Some worry that his aid policies turn out to be extreme. As Devex wrote earlier this year: It’s not impossible to imagine Trump proposing to abolish the U.S. Agency for International Development altogether, to end funding to Muslim countries, or to demand countries refund the foreign assistance they’ve received. It could also mean an end to the recent era of bipartisan cooperation on issues of foreign aid.
Respondents to a recent anonymous survey of Devex members on the impact of this election found that some believed Trump’s presidency could erode support for existing U.S. aid programs and according to one would undermine “an area of U.S. policymaking that has been a rare success story for bipartisan cooperation.”
Another survey respondent said, “The former bipartisan coalition undergirding support for international development has already been eroding — Trump's candidacy has effectively obliterated it.”
Early reactions from the development community seem to be of shock and concern at the reality of a Trump administration taking office.
"I'm just so stunned and sad for the country in general,” said Meghan Froehner, an independent consultant working on gender and social policy. “I can't even begin to imagine what this could mean for the development sector. He is completely a loose cannon."
Blair Glencorse, the founder of the Accountability Lab, an organization that works to empower local citizens to strengthen systems of accountability, called Trump’s win a “deeply troubling result.”
“It is going to be a very, very difficult period for American development efforts around the world,” Glencorse said. “Trump has repeatedly indicated he'd rather spend on domestic infrastructure than foreign aid, and has demonstrated very little knowledge of poverty reduction and governance efforts. So I think we're looking at cuts in spending, a deeply unhappy aid bureaucracy and an America that moves away from aid.”
The unexpected election of Donald Trump as U.S. president added an unwelcome element of uncertainty into climate negotiations that were only finally starting to yield concrete global progress.
The Trump win may also harm U.S. credibility abroad, particularly on issues related to women and cracking down on human rights violations, said Apeksha Vora, who works for a nongovernmental organization working on gender issues in India.
“I think it has brought America to the reality of itself, that it is not as ‘developed’ as it thinks it is, that we're all on the same plane, as far as human rights and social justice indicators go,’ Vora said.
More will become clear over time, but earlier this year John Norris, the executive director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at Center for American Progress, suggested that a first step to Trump’s approach “would probably have to start with someone explaining what the U.S. Agency for International Development does.”
One area that has already seen an impact is the financial markets. Stock markets in Asia were slumping on the news and the dollar was weakening — something that, if it became a long-term trend — could reduce U.S. spending power on aid and development projects overseas.
Reporter Sophie Edwards contributed to this article.
As a Devex Impact associate editor, Adva leads coverage of the intersection of business and international development. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, she enjoys exploring the role the private sector and private capital play in development. Previously, she has worked as a reporter at newspapers in both the U.S. and South Africa. Most recently, she has been ghostwriting a memoir for a former child slave and NGO founder in Ghana.
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