UK aid cuts will put tens of thousands of children at risk of famine, says charity

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Issa Al-Rajhi/AP</span>
Photograph: Issa Al-Rajhi/AP

Britain is set to spend 80% less on helping feed children in poorer nations than before the pandemic, according to a charity’s analysis.

Save the Children said the British government will spend less than £26m this year on vital nutrition services in developing countries, a drop of more than three-quarters from 2019. The estimate of aid cuts to nutrition comes after UN agencies called for urgent action to avert famine in 20 countries including Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.

The charity said the cuts will leave tens of thousands of children hungry and at risk of starvation. Malnutrition affects lifelong development and contributes to half of all the world’s child deaths.

Related: Britain’s aid cuts: what’s been announced so far

The G7, whose foreign and development ministers met this week in London, published a famine prevention and humanitarian crises compact – a call to action in recognition of the situation.

The Global Report on Food Crisis, published this week, showed the number of people in need of urgent support was the highest in the report’s five-year history, and that 155 million people are facing food shortages.

Save the Children’s analysis, which applied confirmed aid cuts in Africa and Asia to funding for basic nutrition programmes, combined with known cuts to nutrition funding in other countries, suggests UK assistance here may be cut in half from 2019. In humanitarian settings, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funding to nutrition was £396m in 2019 and estimated to be £218m in 2021, a 45% cut. UK aid funding to basic nutrition was £122m in 2019, £111m in 2020 and £26m in 2021, an 80% cut, it said.

Pandemic-related increases in malnutrition could result in 4.4 million years in lost education, it said.

Kirsty McNeill, executive director at Save the Children UK, described the UK’s aid strategy as “incoherent and inconsistent”.

“We are looking at the near-collapse of British help for hungry children in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries, including Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan. Ending preventable child deaths will never be achieved when we ignore the role prolonged malnutrition plays in the development of a child and their future quality of life.”

The Power of Nutrition, a foundation set up to tackle underfunding, said the FCDO had reduced its funding by 57%, from £7m to £3m.

Simon Bishop, the foundation’s CEO and former special adviser to Justine Greening when she was international development secretary, said it “simply isn’t credible” for Britain to claim global leadership in tackling hunger while slashing aid.

“People see right through it,” he said. “It amounts to ‘hollow’ global Britain – a slogan with nothing tangible behind it. What makes this so sad and self-defeating is that Britain has been a genuine global leader in this area for the last decade, saving lives and getting huge soft power from doing it. That’s all now rapidly disappearing down the drain.”

Britain announced last year it would slash aid funding from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%. The cuts are not split evenly, with some programmes having funding reduced by up to 85%.

On Wednesday, the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) revealed the government has cut £48m in funding for global health training. One programme affected is the UK Partnerships for Health Systems set up by THET and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to enable NHS staff to train 78,000 healthcare professionals in low and lower-middle income countries.

This week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said the government had cut 75% of its funding for Syria, where more than 12 million people have been displaced by conflict, resulting in an immediate end to projects supporting tens of thousands.

The organisation said it was particularly concerned about women and girls living in camps in north Syria who will no longer have access to safe spaces or services.

IRC, which provides water, shelter, healthcare, education and empowerment programmes for displaced people in more than 40 countries, said funding for its protection and legal work for vulnerable Syrians in Lebanon has been completely cut.

The organisation is waiting to hear from Whitehall but it fears it will lose at least 60% of UK funding for work in north-east Nigeria, and a similar cut to health programmes in Sierra Leone. Its staff are redesigning programmes.

Melanie Ward, executive director for IRC UK, said: “It is deeply troubling that lifesaving services are being lost as part of these cuts. And the manner in which they are being carried out has made things even harder. We are more than a month into the financial year and still without clarity on how the cuts will fall at a country level.

“The lack of consultation, failure to set or stick to timelines, absence of criteria for decision-making and overall lack of transparency is hitting the aid sector hard, at a time of rising humanitarian need.”

The FCDO has said it will still spend £10bn on aid this year and re-issued a statement given to previous articles on the aid cuts: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.”

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