By Sen. Bill Frist M.D.
This piece is co-authored by Dr. Anand Parekh, Chief Medical Advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Center, Trustee of WaterAid America, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services.
While more and more of us are living lives augmented by virtual reality, self-driving cars and “smart” homes, a global report released July 12 by the authoritative Joint Monitoring Program on Water Supply and Sanitation shows that 2.1 billion people don’t even have access to safe drinking water at home.
More than twice that number—4.5 billion people, or a full 60% of earth’s population—live without a toilet that safely protects them from human waste.
And, for the first time, the annual report provides global data on people’s access to hygiene. There the situation appears even more dire. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 15% of people are able to wash their hands with soap and water at home.
It almost sounds like a platitude to say it, but we will: these statistics are not just numbers. They reflect fundamental, urgent human needs. Diarrhea caused by ingesting foul water kills 361,000 infants and toddlers under the age of 5 each year—a fact that becomes more unfathomable the harder you contemplate it.
For generations, the United States has devoted a small portion of our national budget—currently less than 1 percent—to aiding the world’s least fortunate. And while this aid is certainly altruistic, it is not solely altruistic. It serves our national interest in a variety of ways. It promotes more resilient and prosperous economies, fosters more stable societies, and improves health and security worldwide.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s first budget proposal submitted to Congress did not grasp this. The unprecedented extent to which the President has proposed withdrawing life-affirming aid to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people fundamentally misjudges the value and purpose of America’s engagement with the world’s poorest countries.
The story originally appeared on Forbes.