Across the globe, millions of people are currently fleeing their home countries for reasons ranging from war to persecution to famine, prompting the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. This notably comes at a time when the majority of citizens from the United States and several European countries are averse to the idea of accepting refugees. But these developed nations must help combat the issues that cause people to leave home and seek refuge – not by closing borders and cutting foreign aid programs, but by increasing government engagement with the world. This engagement must focus on reducing two major factors that cause millions of people to flee their countries of origin: famine and climate change.
While the ongoing wars in the Middle East have dominated the news, 8 of the 10 least reported humanitarian crises of 2016 are simultaneously occurring in Africa. As you read this sentence, a famine in the north of South Sudan is causing approximately 100,000 people to suffer from malnutrition, as many of them die. This horrific situation, combined with near famines in the African countries of Nigeria and Somalia, plus Yemen in the Middle East, threatens to affect over 20 million people. To put this into perspective, that is the combined populations of New York City, Los Angeles, and London. If these three cities were starving to death, would the world refuse to act? Famine is a man-made phenomenon, and the developed world can combat famine and its consequences by resisting oppressive regimes, combating warlords, and prosecuting human rights abusers throughout the world.
Climate change is another major factor causing migration from Africa to Europe and beyond. The United Nations states that weather-related disasters around the world occurred twice as much over the past 10 years than the two decades before, and desertification, along with traditional migration routes and a poor security situation, creates “an arc of tension in Northwest Africa.” The result is that these people, without a means to survive, leave their homes and become what former Secretary of State John Kerry called “climate refugees.” Despite the fact that the Pentagon has previously labeled climate change as a “threat multiplier” that is making the world more dangerous, the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency climate change prevention policy and has repeatedly spoken out against the Paris climate change deal.
President Trump has also proposed a budget that would redirect funding from government agencies that deal with engagement and development abroad towards the Department of Defense and US Customs and Border Protection. These agencies – including the US State Department, US Institute of Peace, US Agency for International Development (USAID), and US African Development Foundation (USADF) – have the potential to solve problems that cause global migration. Contrary to the beliefs of many Americans, foreign aid is less than 1 percent of the US government’s budget. But a small investment can have huge impacts around the world, and indirectly back home; just like a dollar bill, it goes a long way in many developing countries. This relatively small investment has the power to reduce the push factors that cause migration to the United States where it originates.
USADF, for example, focuses on long-term development by working to improve agricultural systems, improve access to electricity, and employ youth across vulnerable communities in Africa. Each of these activities strengthens the populace and makes them more resilient to any shocks that may occur from war or climate change. USADF also serves in the three previously mentioned African countries suffering from or threatened by famine: Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan. USADF, as well as organizations like USAID, work in the most volatile regions in the world and seek to mitigate the refugee and economic migrant crises that famine, climate change, and war have set off. Reducing American engagement in these areas is counterproductive to President Trump’s goal of reducing immigration to the United States, as the humanitarian crisis will be worse if the United States is not involved in relief efforts.
If the developed world continues to follow the status quo, and especially if Trump cuts funding to organizations that are on the ground fighting the root causes of mass migration, refugees and economic immigrants will not disappear. It is necessary to fight the disease of human suffering at its root, instead of solely treating the symptoms. Regardless of where someone falls on the political spectrum, it is the duty of every human being to push their governments to use their influence and resources to fight climate change, pursue development efforts, and minimize the consequences of corrupt regimes and warlords in the most desperate parts of the world.
Anthony Orlando is an Africa Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). He is also an Associate Consultant with WARC Consulting, based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Anthony graduated from The University of Arizona in 2013 with a BA in Economics & East Asian Studies.