02/06/2014 01:25 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2014

US: Send Development Aid to the Sahel Region of Africa

This Fall, the Sahel region has become a center of international attention with the United Nations calling its security situation "alarming" and deploying 12,600 peacekeepers to stabilize the region. This aid is desperately needed. Hillary Clinton recently called the Sahel a "powder keg" for terrorist activity. In Mali, for example, "Al-Qaeda recently seized control of an enormous territory larger than France or Texas -- and worked for much of the year to consolidate a virtual terrorist enclave, attracting new jihadist recruits" according to the Potomac Institute. Sahel-based terrorists are wreaking havoc beyond their own borders. Of the 25 countries ranked most likely to become failed States by the UN, 13 are in the Sahel. Yet, despite its instability, the OECD is reducing development aid to the Sahel. Just the opposite tact needs to be taken -- alleviating the root causes of conflict through targeted aid projects is the only way forward.

Development assistance to the Sahel will help stabilize the region. Currently, the Sahel is impoverished because of poor roads, faulty infrastructure and inefficient crop storage. The Brookings Institution reports that farmers lose 50 percent of crops just trying to get them to the market. By "building roads and improving agricultural productivity, land use rights and primary education in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and other Sahel nations," development aid will solve for the root cause of poverty according to the State Department. In Niger, foreign aid has resulted in 8.3 percent GDP growth. In Mali, primary school enrollment increased from 55 percent to 80 percent and poverty declined from 56 percent to 44 percent as a direct result of foreign aid according to the World Bank. US aid alone is reducing poverty rates by 20 percent. Development aid flows averaged across the Sahel region have accounted for 12 percent of increased GDP and 5.7 percent. The US should continue to implement these successful programs to reduce poverty.

Less poverty means a higher standard of living in terms of a Human Development Index rating 223 times the regular rate without aid according to the University of Oregon. Second, it means less conflict because civil wars occur disproportionately in poor countries. Oxford economists show that a $1 per capita increase in development aid sustained over a five-year period increases economic growth and reduces the likelihood of conflicts by 30 percent.

Furthermore, development aid will improve the "poor governance and weak democratic institutions" that the State Department writes "cultivate fertile ground for conflict." Jose Tavares writes in Economics Letters that "aid may be associated with rules and conditions that limit the discretion of the recipient country's officials, thus decreasing corruption -- a conditionality effect. Second, if foreign aid alleviates public revenue shortages and facilitates increased salaries for public employees it may diminish the supply of corruption by public officials." Third, aid improves civic institutions. A meta-analysis of 137 aid recipients showed that aid increases civil liberties and political rights, rooting out corruption and stabilizing regimes. In Burkina Faso and Mauritania, sustained investments have resulted in fair parliamentary elections, an indicator of political stability.

Most importantly, development aid will solve for the overpopulation problem that today poses an existential threat to the stability and economic prosperity of countries in the Sahel region. The UC Berkley study "Crisis in the Sahel" explains that by 2050, population in the Sahel will increase by 200 percent to 300 percent, threatening over 100 million with starvation, destabilizing the Sahel and resulting in civil war. The African Institute for Development Policy reported that by increasing the drastically low usage of contraceptives through development aid, "population will go down, starvation, abuse of women and overall conflicts will decrease."

UC Berkeley quantifies the impact: family planning programs could reduce the total population by 18 percent. It furthers that the contraceptive rate will increase by 2 percent annually, shifting population growth from exponential to linear growth. Family planning will result in less hunger, malnutrition and poverty saving 100 million from pain and misery. Second, it will reduce conflict because low-income states with demographic patterns characterized by a large youth population disproportionately succumb to civil conflict. A recent Population Action International report finds, "the decline in the annual birth rate of .5 percent corresponded to a decline of about 5 percent in the likelihood of conflict." Third, birth controls reduce the spread of sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS which afflicts 30 million Africans.

On an even more basic level, the Sahel will not be stable until farmers learn to improve agricultural productivity. According to Oxfam International over 18 million people in the Sahel are affected by a severe food crisis caused by drought, a failure of several crops and sharp rises in food prices. Last year, the international community averted a humanitarian catastrophe by providing $1.2 billion in aid to 10 million people in 8 Sahel countries. Activities such as overgrazing and over cultivation can lead to desertification, crop failure, soil erosion, famine and hunger. Development aid educates local communities in farming practices to improve food security. By 2032, Sahel hunger will be eradicated because of foreign aid policies according to European Commission estimates. Economically, agricultural training has increased crop yields in Burkina Faso by 114-124 percent. Aid from Feed the Future has already resulted in $84 million in increased profits for seven million farmers.

The United States should give development aid to countries in the Sahel region of Africa in order to reduce poverty, overpopulation, political instability, terrorism and conflict, thereby improving the quality of life for Africans living in the Sahel and stabilizing the region. If we don't, we can expect an increase in Sahel based terrorism and drug trafficking as well as an increase in destabilizing conflict in the future that will only harm US interests in the region.