Planned cuts to the UK’s international aid budget could imperil funding for global development programmes that are crucial to the survival of vulnerable groups in some of the world’s poorest countries.
The government’s plans to breach a manifesto promise, reducing aid funding from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI), and slash the overseas assistance budget have drawn bipartisan condemnation, with many calling for a parliamentary vote on the policy. Andrew Mitchell MP, Former Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, said that:
“Brexit was supposed to be about enhancing the power of parliament, not ignoring its will on a matter where every single one of us was elected just over a year ago on a firm and clear promise to stand by our commitments to the poorest.”
One of the programmes reportedly threatened by the cutbacks is an initiative aimed at developing low-cost and locally produced prosthetic limbs, often used to help the victims of landmines and other explosives.
This is likely to have an adverse effect on war-torn countries such as Yemen, where the frequency of injuries resulting from landmines and other unexploded ordinances has surged following the outbreak of the Civil War in 2014. Believed to be the world’s most mine contaminated country, remote explosive devices have caused at least 5,500 casualties in Yemen since 2015.
Ousama Al-Gosaibi, the program manager for the Masam demining project, said that “Mines today exist in every single area of Yemen”, adding that:
“It’s not being used as a defensive (or) offensive mechanism. It’s being used to terrorize the local population across Yemen.”
The UK has drastically reduced the general aid budget for Yemen – £164m to £87m – at a time when around 16.2 million Yemenis are food insecure, two-thirds of the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance and the aversion of large-scale famine is gradually becoming inconceivable.
Pressure on the government has been mounting in recent months as the specifics of planned aid cutbacks are steadily exposed.
In March of this year, it was found that funding for the newly formed Open Societies and Human Rights directorate, which promotes human rights, anti-corruption and media freedom across much of the developing world, is set to fall by as much as 80%.
Leaked Foreign Office internal documents have also revealed proposed aid cutbacks of more than 50%, with Syria and Libya seeing a reduction in funding of 67% and 63% respectively.
David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, said that projected aid reductions would undermine Britain’s “global reputation”, stating that:
“The phrase ‘global Britain’ rings hollow. As the UK prepares to host the G7, the reduction of assistance to Yemen is a stark warning of what is to come as the government delivers on widespread cuts across the entire UK aid portfolio”
It is crucial that funding for humanitarian programmes, essential to the wellbeing and survival of vulnerable groups, be unimpeded. The UK government must not use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to reduce aid spending, but rather a reason to increase it.