UK foreign aid cuts will harm world’s poorest nations

The move will cut about 4 billion pounds ($5.34 billion) in spending, with some programmes such as the Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ASCEND) health programme cut completely.

By Lin Taylor

Millions of people will be left at risk of death and disability after Britain halted funding against a group of debilitating diseases in the world’s poorest nations, the World Health Organisation said, as Britain comes under pressure to roll back deep cuts to overseas aid spending.

Read more: U.N. says UK aid cuts likely to cause thousands of needless deaths

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced Britain would slash overseas aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of its gross national income this year in order to free up more cash for domestic spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move will cut about 4 billion pounds ($5.34 billion) in spending, with some programmes such as the Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ASCEND) health programme cut completely.

Tens of thousands will die needlessly as a result of the decision to end ASCEND programme early, said the WHO, the latest in a series of warnings about the human impact of the cuts.

Why is Britain committed to spending money on aid?

In 1970, Britain pledged to spend 0.7% of its national income on aid as part of a United Nations pact.

It is among 30 wealthy countries including Germany and Japan that have vowed to meet this commitment each year and, in 2015, Britain enshrined in law that 0.7% of its income must be spent on aid.

“Investing less than one percent of our national income in aid is creating a safer, wealthier and more secure world,” reads a government website explaining why it spends money on overseas aid.

In 2020, Britain spent 14.5 billion pounds ($20.18 billion) on aid, meeting the 0.7% U.N. target, according to preliminary data released in April. However, this was a decrease of 712 million pounds compared to 2019 due to a reduction of the country’s Gross National Income (GNI).

Do other countries make the same 0.7% commitment?

Yes, and in fact, several countries have exceeded the U.N. aid target including Denmark (0.73%), Luxembourg (1.02%), Norway (1.11%) and Sweden (1.14%), according to 2020 data by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In terms of overall spend, the United States is the biggest aid donor, spending $35.5 billion in 2020, followed by Germany ($28.4 billion), Britain ($18.6 billion), Japan ($16.3 billion) and France ($14.1 billion).

Despite the pandemic, official development assistance in 2020 rose by 3.5% compared to 2019, the highest figure on record, the OECD said.

Where does UK aid money go?

The top five countries receiving UK aid in 2019 were Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Nigeria, with almost all the money going to countries in Africa and Asia, according to official data published last September.

Britain spent 1.5 billion pounds on humanitarian assistance mostly in Yemen, Syria and Bangladesh, government statistics showed.

The U.N. describes war-torn Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the population reliant on aid.

The coronavirus pandemic, economic decline, floods, escalating armed conflict and a severe aid funding shortage have again raised the possibility of famine in Yemen.

Britain also spent around 1.4 billion pounds on health projects including medical research, family planning and infectious disease control globally.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/gfWbK/1/

How could recipients of UK aid be impacted?

Aid groups say that reducing the aid budget would harm the world’s poorest, hinder climate action and damage Britain’s reputation as a leader in international development.

Bond, a network of UK development agencies, said humanitarian aid will be slashed by around 40%, though it was still unclear which countries will be affected.

Some humanitarian groups have shared details of heavy cuts to programmes.

The United Nations reproductive health agency UNFPA said the UK was slashing a 154 million pounds ($214.58 million) commitment to just 23 million pounds this year.

That loss of funding is likely to lead to an extra 7 million unintended pregnancies, 2 million unsafe abortions and 23,500 maternal deaths, according to analysis from family planning charity MSI Reproductive Choices on how the cuts would impact its services.

More than 150 million pounds has been withdrawn from programmes fighting neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) said a coalition of aid and research organisations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Telegraph reported that the UK will slash funding for lifesaving water, sanitation and hygiene projects in developing nations by more than 80%, a move that charities have criticised given the importance of sanitation under COVID-19.

“At a time when the UK should be leading the international community in responding to the climate crisis ahead of the climate summit, it is slashing aid to communities on the front line of that crisis,” said Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, in a statement along with 200 charities.

“The UK’s hard-won reputation for international leadership in aid is in tatters.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council said such cuts could exacerbate crises in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why does Britain’s government say it is changing the way aid money is spent?

Britain is currently reviewing foreign, defence and security policy, seeking to define a new role for itself in the world after leaving the European Union.

Last June, it merged its diplomatic and aid departments to form the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Charities said scrapping its development office, DFID, risked money being diverted to address foreign policy interests rather than alleviating poverty which itself fuels migration and insecurity.

But Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, said the pandemic had shown how security, prosperity, development and foreign policy were inextricably interlinked.

($1 = 0.7187 pounds)

This article was updated on June 17 to add the WHO warning of the impact of cuts to programmes tackling Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Additional reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly.  Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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