LONDON: Some of the world’s most impoverished countries, including Yemen and Afghanistan, could face devastating food shortages along with the closure of health and education facilities as a result of planned UK cuts to foreign aid spending, charities have warned.
Ahead of a potential vote in the House of Commons on Monday that will decide the fate of the aid changes, including a reduction in spending from 0.7 percent of national income to 0.5 percent, a coalition of high-profile charities such as Oxfam and ActionAid UK have warned in a letter that the cuts could have a “devastating” effect on Britain’s international credibility.
Last year, the top five recipients of UK foreign aid were Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Nigeria.
Save the Children, WWF UK and Cafod also signed the letter, which included more than 1,700 academics, charities and business leaders, warning that aid reductions already have led to feeding centers and health clinics shutting down in impoverished countries.
Water sanitation and health training programs were also affected, charities said.
“While other G7 countries have stepped up their aid budgets, the UK is the only one to have rowed back on its commitments,” the letter added, warning that the planned cuts amid the pandemic would represent a “double blow to the world’s poorest communities.”
A senior UN diplomat has also warned UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the proposal to slash overseas aid is “tarnishing faith in Britain’s trustworthiness at a crucial moment.”
Mark Lowcock, a former permanent secretary at the Department for International Development, added that Johnson’s overseeing of the policy shift revealed “a failure of kindness and empathy.”
He told The Observer newspaper: “At the moment, I’m particularly alarmed about a famine now affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Ethiopia, the biggest famine problem the world has seen for 10 years. Last year, the UK reported to the UN the provision of $108 million of humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia. This year, they have so far reported $6 million.”
He added: “It is very corrosive of trust, confidence and your reputation, and your relationships with people who matter to your own interests and prosperity. Every other country faces the same economic problems. But no one else in the G7 is responding in this way.”
Opposition groups and figures are demanding an immediate reversal to the planned cuts.
Some former senior Conservative ministers have also criticized the proposal.
Former culture secretary Karen Bradley said: “The prime minister’s personal priority for aid is girls’ education. But girls’ education has been cut by 25 percent, while UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, has had a cut of 60 percent. It just doesn’t make sense. You only get one chance at childhood.”
Caroline Nokes, former immigration minister, said: “The cuts to UK aid represent just 1 percent of what the chancellor is borrowing this year. But they mean funding for the UN’s reproductive health program has been cut by 85 percent.
“The UN says this aid would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths. This is literally an issue of life and death,” she added.
The Church of England has also warned that the cuts could have immediate consequences for war-torn Yemen.
Nick Baines, the bishop of Leeds, said: “Has anyone defended the cuts to Yemen? Arguing for girls’ education amounts to empty words when action denies honest intent. This is a shameful reneging on a promise, a denial of compassionate justice, and cries out for remedy.”
The charity coalition said that there is “no justifiable economic need” for the cuts, which the government has said will save almost £4 billion ($5.66 billion) per year.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a proponent of the aid changes, said: “The decisions that the government has taken around this are entirely reasonable. We face a once-in-300-year economic interruption.”