Can We Stand to Lose 70,000 Children?

By Hannah Lythe 04-01-2011

When I was younger, I played by the rules. Everything had to be fair. The quantity of animal crackers in my possession had to be equal, not greater or less than my brother's. Games were best concluded with a tie. Entering middle school, I soon realized life was not as easy to manage as the small Utopian universe my parents had created during my childhood. Nothing was fair. And for some reason people accepted this status quo.

On Wednesday, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), testifying before a House panel, told legislators that the House version of the budget bill would result in the deaths of at least 70,000 children. Not only is this unfair, but it is morally and ethically disgusting.

"Of that 70,000, 30,000 would come from malaria control programs that would have to be scaled back specifically. The other 40,000 is broken out as 24,000 would die because of a lack of support for immunizations and other investments and 16,000 would be because of a lack of skilled attendants at birth," Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator said. Sometimes I want to respond the way my 10-year-old self would: with frustrated tears. How has it come to this? How did we become so self-involved that we cannot even balance a budget morally?

Congress is in the middle of debating a fierce budget battle, one with major implications for the country. A version of the budget, that passed the House of Representatives, makes huge, gaping cuts in domestic and international safety net programs, while leaving the largest section of our discretionary budget -- the military budget -- with an increase. I am not so ignorant that I cannot acknowledge the dire need for us to close a deficit that has injured our economy. Many of our social programs are in need of reform so as to better serve our communities. But how do we justify spending more than half of our discretionary budget on the military while insisting on austere measures for the social services and aid programs that are the livelihood of so many in our country and around the world? Less than 1 percent of all discretionary spending goes to humanitarian and poverty development. Less than 1 percent. This cannot be the status quo.

My 10-year-old self would be ashamed with my inaction. Unfortunately, I do not think stomping my feet and incessant pleas will be enough. This will require every voice. Systemic change can only occur when the wind changes. And how do we change the wind? By praying and acting in unity.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the arc of universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I pray it rushes to that ultimate conclusion of equity.

portrait-hannah-lytheHannah Lythe is policy and outreach associate at Sojourners.

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