UK planning massive aid cuts to Middle East

UK Foreign Office planning massive aid cuts to conflict-hit Middle East countries
3 min read
06 March, 2021
The plans would drastically slash aid to war-torn and poverty-stricken countries in the Middle East and Africa
UK aid cuts could severely affect refugees in the Middle East [Getty]
Some of the poorest and most conflict-ridden countries in the world, including several Middle Eastern and African countries, face huge cuts to their UK aid programmes, according to a leaked report of discussions held in the last three weeks among Foreign Office officials.

The cuts include slashing aid to Somalia by 60%, and South Sudan by 59%. The Foreign Office has also planned slashing Syria’s aid budget by 67%, and Libya’s by 63%.

The statistics, seen by openDemocracy, follow UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak's announcement in last November’s budget of a cut of foreign aid from the UN-mandated target of 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%. This entails a reduction from £15bn to £10bn over the next two years.

The Foreign Office has not publicly commented on the statistics, but a spokesperson said that the “seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough decisions, including temporarily reducing the amount we spend on aid”.

“We are still working through what this means for individual programmes and decisions have not yet been made,” the spokesperson added.

Humanitarian NGOs have voiced concerns over the impact of the reported aid cuts. James Wani, Christian Aid’s country director in South Sudan said, "Cuts on the scale being reported couldn’t come at a worse time for a country in crisis."

South Sudan is currently undergoing a difficult peace process after years of brutal civil war.

"Without funding for peacebuilding, the talks risk failure. And without peace, development and humanitarian work can’t succeed. People in South Sudan cannot afford for that to happen," he added.

Four previous UK prime ministers – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May – have spoken out against the proposed aid cuts.

They have urged current UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to consider the damage to the UK’s global reputation, as no other G7 country has announced similar cuts.  

This week, the UK government offered just £87 million ($120.5 million) for Yemen at an international donors' conference this week, about half the amount it offered last year.

Over 100 charities, including Oxfam and Save the Children, on Saturday slammed the UK's plans, saying it would "destroy" Britain’s image abroad.

“History will not judge this nation kindly if the government chooses to step away from the people in Yemen and thus destroy the UK’s global reputation as a country that steps up to help those most in need,” their joint letter read.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, described the reduction in international aid to Yemen this year as “a death sentence” for the country.

Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell this week told MPs the cuts in Yemen were “harbingers of [futher] terrible cuts to come”.

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