U.S. Assistance Makes a World of Difference for Children

I recently saw a list that surprised me.

It was a record of emergencies that Save the Children has responded to so far in 2011. The year started with flooding in Sri Lanka, followed by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In May we saw the Ivory Coast dissolve into conflict and thousands of refugees flee to neighboring Liberia. During this time, the Horn of Africa was descending into the worst drought in 60 years. And just last month, massive typhoons hit South East Asia, flooding Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The world, it's safe to say, has had a tough year.

Some of the catastrophes saw news crews, celebrities and diplomats descend immediately after the disaster. They tiptoed through wreckage, interviewed witnesses and brought the story to the world. Other conflict s-- the flooding in Pakistan, for example -- barely registered with the U.S. media.

But one constant presence in the response to these emergencies is one many Americans might not even know about: the U.S. government.

In almost all of the 23 emergencies Save the Children has responded to so far this year, the U.S. government has played a pivotal role in lending humanitarian assistance. The U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, for instance, helped doctors care for malnourished refugees in Ivory Coast. They enabled humanitarian groups to treat sick children in Yemen. And they helped Save the Children purchase food to distribute to families in Kenya's refugee camps.

For years, for both large crises and basic development, the U.S. government has helped millions of people. This doesn't often make the headlines, but it has had a profound impact on America's global reputation as a humanitarian country and one invested in making a better world.

A recent speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted the United States' role around the world when she said, "I can report that American leadership is both respected and required. President Obama and I hear this when we sit down across the table from foreign leaders in nations big and small. They look to America to help meet so many of the challenges they are facing, from responding to natural disasters, to resolving ancient conflicts, to spurring sustainable growth."

As several of my international colleagues from the Save the Children organization joined me in Washington last week to talk about how we can expand our work for children, the worldwide influence of the U.S. was clear: when America takes the lead on global development and children's rights, its actions ripple favorably across the globe.

The world is only getting smaller. Decisions made in one country will affect children for the better or for the worse half a world away. We must continue to make the argument that if we want to protect the rights of any one child, we must protect the rights of all children.

That's why foreign assistance, which Congress is considering cutting, is crucial. Humanitarian groups know that millions of Americans are struggling financially. Here at home in the U.S., Save the Children is working every day to battle the effects of poverty on children in poor rural areas across the country. The challenges are clear. But just as we work to protect the rights of children in the U.S., we must safeguard children facing unthinkable hardship globally. Both the future of our country and our world will be shaped by the health, well-being and security of children everywhere. These are very tough economic times -- but we cannot ask children to pay the price.

And as I discussed with my international colleagues, leadership on global development goes beyond aid levels. What also matters is how those resources are invested. World leaders must seize the opportunity at an international conference in Busan, Korea on November 29th to strengthen their commitment to development practices that will sustainably improve the lives of the world's poorest. The United States' new approach to foreign assistance, which seeks to empower partner countries as well as focus on results and mutual accountability, holds great promise for better helping children and families living in poverty. My colleagues took special note that Secretary of State Clinton took the initiative to lead a high-powered, interagency U.S. Government delegation to the Busan conference.

Now is not the time for the U.S. Congress to disproportionately cut development assistance. So much progress has been made-2.5 million girls are in school and 3,000 midwives have been trained in high conflict countries like Afghanistan, for example-that a cut in aid would roll back 10 years of progress. Gains like this are happening in the 120 countries Save the Children works in across the world, empowering families to make a better future for their children.

If the U.S. cuts foreign aid, these gains will be lost. And that will affect the future for all of us.