02/21/2013 12:44 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2013

Cutting Lives from the Budget? What Sequestration Could Mean for the World's Hungry

As the battle over sequestration heats up, the current debate in Congress over our country's fiscal future is important for all of us. But for poor and hungry people around the world, the current budget negotiations could prove to be the most far-reaching for the next decade. In the balance hang the U.S. Poverty-Focused Development Assistance programs, which provide a literal lifeline to millions of people in the world, while bolstering livelihoods and strengthening resilience. These efforts serve to make our country safer, our economy stronger and the U.S. a world leader in global development assistance.

For far less than one percent of the federal budget, these programs provide essential life-saving emergency assistance to millions of the most vulnerable people in the world. The McGovern-Dole Food for Education program ensures that millions of children can receive nutritious meals to attend school. Agricultural development programs, such as the Feed the Future initiative, provide funding for farmers in impoverished rural areas, which helps to strengthen the nutrition and incomes of millions of rural families. This helps households become more resilient to natural disasters, disease and other shocks.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the planned sequestration cuts would mean that U.S. poverty programs would suffer a $1 billion blow. Potential fallout from these cuts would put millions more people at risk and countless lives in danger. Bread for the World estimates that more than 600,000 children would lose nutritional assistance. Additionally, two million people in need of emergency food aid would see supplies drastically cut, if not eliminated, and over five million people will be left without prevention and treatment programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Beyond their positive humanitarian impact in the world, American anti-poverty efforts also serve to boost our own economy and security. A significant portion of our development support goes to fledgling democracies worldwide, supporting economic and political stability, and opening markets for American trade, research and entrepreneurial ingenuity. I was a firm believer in the importance of U.S. leadership in foreign assistance before I became the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nation's food programs, and my diplomatic experience has reinforced that these programs are essential both for our country's political and economic health, as well as for millions of vulnerable people worldwide.

During my 24 years in Congress, I participated in my fair share of budget debates, and similar tests of our resolve will continue to be a part of political life forever. The seriousness of our fiscal woes is very real, but so are the consequences of harmful budget cuts. These programs save lives and bolster our country's standing in the world, while cuts may irreversibly harm both. We all must make sacrifices in our lives during these trying economic times, but we don't need to sacrifice the lives of others.

Ambassador Tony P. Hall is the Executive Director for the Alliance to End Hunger. Previously, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, Italy, from 2002 to 2005. Prior to his diplomatic service, Ambassador Hall represented the Third District of Ohio in the U.S. Congress for 24 years.