By the end of this month Cambodia will have run out of the pitiful supplies of home-grown food remaining from the thin harvests last fall when famished people ate much of the rice as seedlings. Until November or December the strife-torn nation will again be totally dependent on some 40 tons a month of food from the outside to feed 3 1/2 million people. Almost a fifth of the population has already displaced itself to the borders of Thailand -- or across those borders -- in hopes of better access to the supply. So urgent is the need that the international community is planning a new pledging conference, like the one last year, with a probable goal of another $200 million in aid for Cambodia and Cambodian refugees in Thailand.
Yet the nation which pledged a third of the previous similar goal -- the United States -- does not know where the funds are coming from to fulfill that commitment, let alone to assume a proper share in the next round. It is not that the US has failed to follow through on President Carter's promise of $69 million in food and other aid. The sad problem is that to do so it has had to take funds , at least temporarily, from other relif programs.
The reason is that the administration has never been given the $30 million in "new" aid money which Congress so enthusiastically promised at the peak of international concern for the Cambodians in the fall. Without this money, aid officials have had to scrounge for the sum elsewhere. With the new austerity mood in Washington, the question is whether and how soon Congress will act to make up the deficiency.
What complicates the matter is that the $30 million was tacked onto a foreign aid bill for fiscal 1980 that Congress unexpectedly rejected last week after the Congressional Budget Committee reported Congress's 1980 budget ceiling had already been reached. Much could be said about the humanitarian, foreign policy , and national security reasons that America should not shortsightedly sacrifice foreign aid to the budget knives. Relieving economic tensions in the third world is essential to relieving political and military ones. But we are here concentrating on the commitment to Cambodia as an inescapably symbolic indication that America has not selfishly retreated into the shell of its own economic problems, still, after all, the problems of affluence.
If the foreign aid bill continues to be held up as a whole, Congress ought to act promptly to extricate the $30 million in Cambodian aid and appropriate it without delay. What have Americans already been doing for Cambodians with that authorized programs)? A special airlift of food for children, for example. Two mobile laboratories. Funds for processing food deliveries in Cambodia. Transport planes to ship the huge cranes necessary for unloading.
US aid officials are convinced that the distribution of food has improved, that steps are being taken to restore the local agriculture to return Cambodia to food independence. But every measure is complicated by war conditions. Farmers can be displaced. Shipments can be diverted. While such a situation remains, so does te need for outside aid. The conscience of the US Congress must lead it to do its part.