‘THERE is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century,’ teachers representing the National Education Union (NEU) are insisting this week: ‘History will judge us all by the actions we take today.’
Criticising a UK government statement/plan to cut UK international aid from 0.7 to 0.5% of Gross National Income, NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted has warned: ‘Government plans for slashing overseas aid are indefensible …
‘These cuts will shave a whisker off UK borrowing, but bring deep devastation to the lives of the world’s most marginalised people, precisely when global solidarity is most needed.
‘The brass neck to promise children, particularly girls around the world, that this government will champion their right to learn only to then take an axe to education spending – is as shallow as it is reckless.
‘Covid-19 has exacerbated the global education emergency. 258 million children were already out of school before the pandemic and millions more stand to never return. Teachers the world over have worked tirelessly to guarantee pupils’ right to learn – often without adequate resources, training or fair renumeration. This moment demands steadfast, compassionate and measured leadership, not unjust, mindless knee-jerk reactions.
‘The UK is hosting key summits this year including the G7, GPE, and COP26. But with this announcement the government has compromised its ability to lead allies and partners. The UK’s international credibility is in tatters.
‘A direct line can and will be drawn between these cuts and irreversible damage to children’s fundamental right to education, safety, and dignity. The government must reverse this decision.’
- Cuts to humanitarian aid by the UK are a ‘tragic blow for many of the world’s most marginalised people’, 200 charities have jointly stated.
Organisations including Save the Children and Oxfam said humanitarian assistance was being reduced by more than £500m. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the changes reflected a ‘strategic shift’ in UK aid spending.
Raab also said the £18m aid budget given to China will be reduced to £900,000. Following the economic shock of the coronavirus crisis, the chancellor cut the foreign aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of total national income – a £4bn reduction.
The Foreign Office controls 80% of aid spending – £8bn – and the priorities were set out by Raab in a written statement. More than £1bn will be spent on Covid and global health, £500m towards tackling climate change and £400m on getting girls into education.
But aid charities said even the priority areas were receiving less than before, and £500m less was being spent on humanitarian aid.
The 200 charities, which also include Christian Aid and Care International, said: ‘Today’s announcement is a tragic blow for many of the world’s most marginalised people whom the UK once supported, and for the UK’s reputation as a trusted development partner. The government has not even spared countries ravaged by humanitarian crisis, disease, war and poverty.’
Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, accused the government of ‘making cuts with no consideration for the human harm they will cause’ after reducing aid in Yemen, ‘the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis’.
Among the key signatories to the letter were: Oxfam, CARE International, the Danish Refugee Council, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, World Vision, the Islamic Relief, and Plan International.
The open letter says to states and their leaders in civil society organisations working with/for the 270m people facing hunger, starvation or famine across the world: ‘Every day, we bear witness to suffering and resilience. In Afghanistan, Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DRC, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, CAR, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can simply to get through one more day.
‘Every day, we work with people who are fully capable of producing or earning enough to feed themselves and their families. These people are not starving, they are being starved. These girls and boys, men and women, are being starved by conflict and violence; by inequality; by the impact of climate change; by loss of land, jobs or prospects; by a fight against Covid-19 that left them further behind.
‘Every day, we see that it is women and girls who suffer the most. Every day, we share stories and evidence of hunger, starvation, and increasing humanitarian needs. Yet this does not prompt urgent action or sufficient funding. The widening gap between the great needs we face and the limited assistance we are able to provide threatens to steal what hope remains. We cannot allow all hope to be lost.
‘It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts. We all have a part to play. But you, as Leaders, States and main duty bearers, have a unique responsibility. We call on you to take action now.
‘We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately and reach as directly as possible the people most in need, now, so they can take action to feed themselves today and in the future. All countries should contribute their full and fair share, without diverting resources from meeting other pressing humanitarian needs.’
In the first quarter of 2021, donors have provided just 6.1% of the total $36 billion requested in the UN humanitarian appeals for the year. In the food security sector, donors met only 5.3% or $415 million of the total $7.8bn requested. (figures as of April 7, 2021)
By contrast, the military spending figures, based on the 2019 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, estimated global military spending at $1.9tn.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), world food prices stood at their highest level in seven years in February 2021.
The study by Development Initiatives of the impact of Covid-19 on aid levels found substantial declines in aid commitments in 2020 for Canada, Germany, the UK and the US, and a small decline for EU institutions. No data are provided on France, Italy and Japan.
The latest figures on global hunger levels are as of March 2021 from FAO-WPF’s Hunger Hotspots report. In December the UN’s Global Humanitarian Overview warned the number of acutely food insecure people could rise to 270m by the end of 2020. FAO & WFP echoed this estimate in their call to action to avert famine in February 2021.