Americans are selfish people, even when we don't think we are. There are very obvious and serious problems here at home that require our attention, but we'll do far more harm than good by pretending our domestic problems are the only ones worth worrying about, or that some form of globalism isn't inevitable.
The world has gotten a lot bigger and smaller all at once, revealing hidden strife and unsolved problems all around the globe. Let's not wait until these foreign issues have become history to learn from them. Let's get plugged back into our global reality and use our resources to help others.
1. Asia and Central America: Displaced Climate Refugees
As the average temperature of the planet rises, so does the likelihood of drought in many of the drier regions of the world. In 2018 alone, hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes in Afghanistan, the Sahel region of North Africa and Somalia due to droughts, floods and famine. According to the World Bank, things will only get worse from here: 2050 could see 143 million people displaced from Latin and Central America as well as parts of Africa and South Asia.
Why worry about this? First, because many on the political spectrum seem to believe climate change will be some trifling inconvenience with minimal or easily reversible consequences. It's not. Second, where climate refugees already exist in other countries, others will soon follow right here at home. Some already are.
2. Haiti: Natural Disasters and No Relief
This potentially idyllic Caribbean nation has had a string of bad luck in recent years, a great deal of which makes noise here in the States but then quickly subsides again.
A disastrous earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing 316,000 people and displacing another 1.5 million. Seven years after this devastation, it was estimated that more than 2.5 million Haitians were still left without basic humanitarian aid. The UN has reported that in the aftermath of the storm, the nation has seen famines, runaway poverty, additional natural disasters and even outbreaks of cholera.
3. France et al.: Political Turmoil Fueled by Economic Inequality
Unfortunately, Haiti's desperate situation makes a double appearance on this list thanks to its precarious and often violent political climate. This degree of unrest comes courtesy of the same economic stratification we see everywhere else on earth: friction and violence between the haves and have-nots as decades of grotesque inequality and rising costs-of-living come to a head.
Haiti, like France, has been rocked with protests over the government's decision to hike the price of gasoline. As of November 2018, 10 Haitians have died in demonstrations. The vision was to use the revenue to fund infrastructure projects — a noble goal. However, after decades of tone-deaf leadership and the neglect of the working poor and destitute by the well-off, the proposed path forward in Haiti, France and elsewhere has so far put a disproportionate burden on the working class rather than the ones with enough buying power to actually change things.
4. Yemen: Sectarian Violence and World Power Shadow Wars
For 2019, the United Nations is petitioning member countries for $4 billion USD to bring aid to Yemen. This is the most aid money ever requested for one country. How did things get this bad?
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and its allies began attacking Yemen in earnest. Saudi leadership claimed to be seeking the restoration of a "legitimate" Yemeni government, and have mounted multiple offenses against Houthi rebels, which they claim to be acting as a proxy for Iran. Quelling Iran's influence and crushing religious and political dissent, claimed the Saudis, is a vital part of defeating Al Qaeda in the region.
That was years ago. Today, a confluence of world powers remains in Yemen, where one of history's worst famines is raging on and claiming the lives of the young and old alike. According to 2018 estimates, the war has claimed more than 50,000 lives.
Yemen seems to be inching toward a difficult peace, but Americans should be paying very close attention to the finer details. It's easy to write off the war in Yemen as a proxy conflict between other religious and governmental powers, in which the U.S. has no obvious vested interest.
Except we do. Saudi Arabia has been the most enthusiastic buyer of American-made weapons of mass destruction since the '90s. In 2017, U.S. weapon sales to the Saudis rose 33 percent, for a new total of $55.6 billion. A great deal of this merchandise was brought to Yemen by the Saudi coalition, where it has cost the lives of more than 50,000 people through direct means and an estimated 85,000 children since 2015, due to indirect causes such as famine.
The Trump Administration has been a factor in this disaster, all in the name of vouchsafing American jobs and livelihoods. This is a critical reminder that economic growth at any cost usually carries a price that's far too high to pay.
When Ignoring World Problems Is Convenient
The reason Americans don't have better answers to these challenges is because we're good at convincing ourselves that borders drawn on a map carry more weight than they actually do. We tend to believe, probably because some of our loudest leaders do, that an exchange of solutions across borders will leave the aid-giving nation at some kind of lasting disadvantage. As though rising tides don't raise all boats. As though we're not all human beings, no matter which side of an arbitrary line we grew up on.