Thursday, March 08, 2007

Just 0.4% More Could Save Millions of Iraqis

Yesterday Emily mentioned that EPIC and 40 other NGOs including Amnesty International, Mercy Corps, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Iraq Foundation and Refugees International had sent a letter to Congress urging members to amend President Bush's $99.6 billion 2007 Supplemental to include more money for development projects and humanitarian crisis response.

The letter was initiated by the Iraq Peace and Development Working Group (IPDWG), a newly-formed NGO working group advocating policy improvements to reduce human suffering and conflict in Iraq.

One would think that a sum as large as $99.6 billion would adequately cover all facets of our involvement in Iraq, but an overwhelming majority of the request ($93.4 billion) is on behalf of the Department of Defense, once again demonstrating this administration's over-reliance on a military solution to the conflict in Iraq.

Bush has requested $5.99 billion of the remainder for the State Department. Of this sum, $2.3 billion is ear-marked for foreign assistance for Iraq. Secretary Rice broke this figure down further in her February 27th testimony to Congress. The aid-related numbers:

• $428 million for democracy programs to support greater engagement with political parties, civil society organizations and national political institutions such as parliament.
• $60 million for humanitarian programs to support the growing number of displaced people within Iraq who have fled areas due to sectarian violence.

Let's start with the last figure: $60 million to aid and resettle displaced Iraqis who have fled from the violence. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) approximately 3.7 million Iraqis, or 1 out of every 8, have been displaced by violence, with tens of thousands more fleeing every single month. While the figure is certainly a great improvement, it falls far short of what is needed to even begin to adequately address the displacement crisis. Several NGOs party to the letter who have operations on the ground in Iraq conducted a needs assessment and determined that at least $290 million would be needed to address the effects of the crisis.

With $290 million the U.S. will be able to:
assist refugee-hosting countries with strained social services
fund local NGO's to take care of basic needs of refugees
fulfill 50% of UNHCR's funding appeal and 20% of the International Committee for the Red Cross' appeal
resettle 20,000 Iraqis over FY07 and FY08
assist internally displaced people (IDP's) with housing, food, healthcare, etc
Likewise the $428 million for democracy building is an improvement, but as the letter notes the Community Action Program (CAP) is still not fully-funded, despite it being one of the few successfull programs in Iraq. In the supplemental the administration asked for $50 million for CAP, a 50% decrease from previous years. The NGO letter asks that Congress restore full funding to CAP by granting it an extra $50 million. In addition, the letter also asks for an extra $100 million to support Iraqi civil society, conflict resolution and peace-building strategies, and the advancement of human rights and rule of law. All together, the letter asks for $440 million to address this critical funding gap for relief and development projects.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately $30 billion has been spent to date on foreign aid and diplomatic operations in Iraq. Unfortunatly, as the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has found, much of this money has been wasted due to a lack of proper oversight. For more on this see these previous postings:

The CBO report notes that to date no funding has been provided to promote local economic development nor to assist local governance in 2007. I suppose just the fact that the supplemental includes funding for such projects is somewhat reassuring. However, it is clear to the 40 national organizations that signed the letter that more money, at least $440 million, is needed to ensure they can be effective.

That is an increase to the current supplemental of only 0.4%. Surely the futures and lives of millions of Iraqis are worth an extra 0.4%.

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