Trump's 'shameful insult' to America's humanitarian values

A dozen years ago, one blistering hot day on the island of Madagascar, I walked along a dirt path to a village so remote it had no name and spoke with a woman named Mariam Sese who was thrilled to hear that a well and a water pump soon would be installed in her settlement of huts inhabited by 84 people, including her husband and seven children.

That water project was part of a program supported by foreign aid from the United States, foreign assistance that the Trump regime plans to cut drastically.


Ms. Sese's description of her usual routine that day made it clear how important the well and access to fresh water would be.

Every day she washed the family's clothes in a river near her hut, the same river she and her family and the rest of the village used to wash their cooking pots and to bathe themselves. The villagers' drinking water also came from the river. Some would boil the water before drinking it. Others not. Some would die as a result.


In another place, in a village named Kawa Fako in the famine and pestilence plagued Western Africa country of Niger, I met a woman named Binta Amadou, a 35-year-old mother of three, all of whom were starving,

She said she and others in her village had been reduced to eating anza, a bitter, pea-sized berry, and after the anza was gone, she said, "we boiled leaves from trees, and weeds."

Relief that day came in a supply of grains and beans designed to last her family 40 days. No one could say for sure what would happen afterward. The hope was that rain would come instead of the hordes of locusts that had devastated the last harvest.

The desperately-needed food supply brought to Kawa Fako that day and help that would come later in the planting of crops, was part of a program supported by U.S. foreign aid and the United Nations World Food Program. The Trump budget also would make drastic cuts in the U.S. support for United Nations programs.

I was traveling back then with Catholic Relief Services, the Baltimore-based foreign development and relief agency of the U. S. Catholic Church. Writing assignments for CRS took me to such places as Madagascar and Niger and many other places where some of the world's most vulnerable populations struggled every day in horrific conditions brought about by famine, pestilence, conflict and corruption.

CRS, along with many other American relief and development agencies like World Relief, Mercy Corps and CARE, depend on U.S. foreign aid to support the programs that help these people.

And in the last decade since I traveled to these places, conditions have deteriorated drastically thanks to conflicts in Africa and the Middle East that have driven millions to migrate in search of safety.

Famines alone in large swathes of Africa and war-torn places like Yemen have left some "20 million people in need of help from our country now," Bill O'Keefe, a senior CRS official told me. "Congress needs to ensure life-saving programs to respond to these famines and prevent future ones are fully funded."


Now Donald Trump, who lives in gold-plated splendor, along with his regime of multi-billionaires whose combined net worth is close to the gross domestic products of countries like Madagascar and Niger, not only is trying to prevent many of these people from coming to the United States but it is cutting the already relatively minuscule amount of money the U. S. devotes to foreign assistance.

How much are we talking about? In the last few years, somewhere in the neighborhood of $43 billion. That's the equivalent of less than 1 percent of the federal budget and less than a quarter of 1 per cent of the U. S. gross domestic income.

The U.S. traditionally has spent more on foreign assistance and emergency relief than other countries, but far less than others proportionate to their economies. On that scale, Sweden, Norway and Denmark spend far more than the U.S. does.

Moreover, the U.S. includes military assistance — close to $9 billion — in its foreign assistance totals; the Europeans do not. That's good for the U. S. weapons manufacturers from whom the beneficiaries are required to make their purchases with that support, but it doesn't help people like Mariam Sese or Binta Amadou.

The reductions that Donald Trump and his phalanx of billionaires and millionaires propose in assistance to the most vulnerable people in the world is a disgrace and a shameful insult to the humanitarian values for which America stands.

G. Jefferson Price III ( is a former Sun foreign correspondent and editor. His quarterly guest column will run every other Sunday through May.