THE BRITISH government has decided to ‘balance the books on the backs of the starving people of Yemen,’ in an act that will see tens of thousands die and damage the UK’s global influence, the head of the UN’s Office for Humanitarian Affairs has said.
Mark Lowcock, formerly a senior figure in the UK’s Department for International Development, said he was shocked by the decision to slash the UK’s Yemen aid budget.
He slammed the decision as ‘an act of medium- and longer-term self-harm, and all for saving what is actually, in the great scheme of things at the moment, a relatively small amount of money.’
He added: ‘The decision, in other words, to balance the books on the backs of the starving people of Yemen has consequences not just for Yemenis now, but for the world in the long term.’
He was responding to the UK government’s announcement that it will provide £87 million ($120.3 million) in aid to Yemen this year – down from £164 million in 2020.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the decision was due to ‘current straitened circumstances’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
And it will impact a number of countries and vulnerable populations currently in receipt of British support.
A leaked Foreign Office report has also revealed that officials are considering slashing the aid budget to Lebanon by 88 per cent, to Syria by 67 per cent, to Libya by 63 per cent, and to Somalia by 60 per cent, among other countries.
Lowcock said: ‘The UK has had a strong reputation for being a leading donor and a lead player in international development. That has had wider reputational benefits for the UK and that obviously isn’t the case anymore.
‘There is a very substantial reputational impact, particularly because this is a commitment that was made in the United Nations.’
He added that the aid cuts would harm Britain’s ability to influence other countries, and that the move could prompt other donors to follow suit.
He warned: ‘The result would be much more loss of life, and misery, additional instability and fragility, and more substantial problems in these hotspots, which, we know, from bitter experience, have a tendency to spread and create their own bad dynamics, with wider international consequences, including to countries like the UK.’
A recent escalation in fighting has prompted UN warnings that the poorest Arab country is on the brink of the world’s worst famine and humanitarian catastrophe.
In a recent round of fundraising, the UN had hoped to raise $3.85 billion in aid from donor countries, but expressed ‘disappointment’ that current total pledges failed to reach even half that amount.
More than 100 UK charities have also condemned the Tory government’s decision to cut aid to Yemen, following cross-party criticism.
In a letter to PM Johnson, charities say the UK government has made a ‘misjudgement’ by thinking the public is happy to turn away from countries affected by poverty, war and disease.
The charities wrote: ‘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.’
Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, and Care International are among the 101 signatories.
Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: ‘Aid cuts are a false economy that will remove a vital lifeline from millions of people in Yemen and beyond who can’t feed their families, have lost their homes and whose lives are threatened by conflict and Covid.’
Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, said the UK’s decision to cut aid would have ‘devastating real-life consequences’.
MPs from across the political spectrum have criticised the reduction in aid.
Former Tory international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said the ‘unimaginable’ move would ‘condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation’.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the change represented the UK ‘abandoning our moral obligations’.
- Many people are feared dead after a fire at a migrant detention centre in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Sunday.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) confirmed eight deaths, but officials at the UN agency said as many as 30 might have been killed.
It is not known what caused the blaze at the facility, which was holding hundreds of mostly Ethiopian migrants.
But an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebel Houthi movement damaged buildings nearby.
The coalition carried out the strikes on Sanaa as the Houthis launched drones and ballistic missiles at cities and oil installations in Saudi Arabia.
In a statement, the Houthi authorities said they held the IOM and the UN fully responsible for the fire, accusing them of failing to house migrants and not helping to deport them.
- Lebanon’s most vulnerable continue to bear the brunt of its economic and health crises, six months after one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history devastated its capital Beirut, says Christian Aid.
On the ground, local humanitarian and civil society groups are leading efforts to support families and rebuild livelihoods, the charity has said, but warns the needs are immense.
Some 1.5 million Syrians have fled the decade-long conflict in their homeland and now live in Lebanon, the vast majority in deep poverty.
Fadi Halisso is co-director of Basmeh & Zeitooneh, an NGO founded in 2012 to serve Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the region, and one of Christian Aid’s partners. They now find themselves helping Lebanese citizens as well as Syrian refugees.
Fadi said: ‘We are overwhelmed with requests: recently we’ve received requests from an average of 10,000 families a month, for food and basic hygiene items.
‘Mothers are telling us that they are feeding their babies watered-down tea, as they cannot afford milk or baby formula. Many families who have been out of work for months are barely eating, they send us pictures of their empty kitchen shelves. It’s heart-breaking.
‘While we continue to help Syrian refugees, about half of those asking for assistance in recent months have been Lebanese citizens.
‘Before, it was rare to find Lebanese families asking for help with such basic needs. Now, even households who were managing before are hurting.’
The huge blast at Beirut port on 4th August 2020 happened because a large quantity of ammonium nitrate had been stored in unsafe conditions. The explosion and its shockwaves killed more than 200 people and injured more than 6,500, flattening or damaging some 74,000 homes across a large area of the city, and damaging scores of schools and hospitals.
Lebanon’s economy was already on the verge of collapse and the pandemic is now stretching the country’s healthcare system to the limit.
The government introduced a strict round-the-clock curfew on 14 January in response to a steep rise in Coronavirus cases. While cases are now declining, deaths rocketed during January, with 751 deaths reported in the week to 31 January, almost a quarter of Lebanon’s entire Covid-19 death toll since the pandemic began.
Covid-19 and the restrictions on movement imposed to contain it have exacerbated the longstanding economic crisis, hurting the poorest most, and the current lockdown is adding to the obstacles local NGOs face as they work to deliver support to the most vulnerable.
Majid, originally from Syria, came to Beirut with his family 10 years ago as refugees. His home was damaged in the August explosion – the doors and windows of his building blew in, injuring his wife – and though six months have passed, the emotional scars from that day remain.
He received cash support from Christian Aid’s partner Association Najdeh in Beirut, thanks to funding from the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund, which allowed him to buy essential food and helped pay his rent. But his children are still traumatised.
Majid said: ‘My children aren’t able to forget the sound of the explosion, when they hear any sound or noise around us, immediately they remember what happened … even my little son is now having speech problems.’
The Scottish government funding and Christian Aid’s Lebanon Crisis Appeal enabled Association Najdeh to provide emergency cash assistance to 708 vulnerable households directly affected by the explosion, mostly Palestinian and Syrian refugee families who do not receive any support from the Lebanese government.
Deborah Hyams, Christian Aid’s Senior Advocacy Advisor on Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, said: ‘The devastating explosion last summer has left deep scars in a country facing not only escalating Covid-19 cases, but extreme economic hardship, hyperinflation, mass unemployment and political turmoil.
‘The situation for Majid, and many families like his, was already difficult; they are now bearing the brunt of Lebanon’s spiralling economic and health crises, as well as struggling with the mental and physical aftermath of the August blast.
‘We remain grateful to those who have supported our Lebanon emergency appeal. Their support has extended the difference our partners are making to many more families, but there is still extreme need.
‘The long-term impact of the explosion, which devastated Beirut’s port and destroyed grain stores, is sharply worsening living conditions for those already vulnerable in Lebanon’s ongoing crisis. It requires a long-term response and continued international support, focused on reaching the poorest.’
Amidst rising Covid-19 cases and intermittent lockdowns since the August blast, Christian Aid’s partners in Lebanon continue to help the most vulnerable.
Mouvement Social is providing poor families with vouchers for essential food and hygiene supplies, while Basmeh & Zeitooneh continues to distribute emergency packages, including cash, hygiene kits and food, to hundreds of vulnerable households.
Fadi Halisso, co-director of Basmeh & Zeitooneh, describes the current crisis: ‘On top of widespread unemployment and skyrocketing food prices, the explosion in Covid-19 cases has completely overwhelmed Lebanon’s hospitals, and this is also hurting the poorest the most.
‘Intensive care units are full, and there are dire shortages of hospital beds, essential drugs, oxygen therapy devices, ventilators, and medical staff.
‘We are doing everything we can, getting food to poor families and working with medical organisations to make oxygen therapy accessible to people suffering from Covid-19.
‘But the roots of Lebanon’s ongoing crisis are political. People cannot be kept under curfew indefinitely with no government support.
‘Lebanon’s government and politicians must find solutions – and that will need continued pressure from abroad, as well as greater international financial support directed to local organisations serving those in greatest need.’