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UK Government set to cut malnutrition programmes by 80 percent, leaving tens of thousands of children hungry and at risk of starvation

Save the Children

4 min read Partner content

Save the Children and Action Against Hunger urge the UK to reverse these cuts without delay

LONDON, May 5 - The UK Government could spend less than £26 million on vital nutrition services this year, down from £122 million in 2019, according to new analysis by Save the Children. Malnutrition contributes to roughly half of all child deaths and holds back children’s education and future economic potential.

The analysis comes as the G7, this year hosted by the UK, is set to publish a Humanitarian Crisis and Famine Prevention Compact which recognises the deteriorating global hunger situation and calls for effective action in response.

Despite this, the analysis also suggests that UK nutrition assistance in humanitarian settings could be cut in half, at a time when the world’s poorest countries are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Further analysis by Save the Children shows that pandemic-related increases in malnutrition could equate to 4.4 million lost years of schooling.

The G7 Compact lands on the same day as the Global Report on Food Crises reveals that hunger and malnutrition continue to rise globally. There are over 155 million people around the world facing serious food shortages. Furthermore, newly released estimates on child malnutrition indicate that 149 million children under 5 were affected by stunting in 2020. This rise does not consider the effects of the pandemic, which are predicted to be devastating for children.

UK aid cuts to nutrition will end up costing children’s lives. The cuts are entirely inconsistent with the UK’s leadership on famine prevention.

Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children UK, said:

“The UK’s strategy is incoherent and inconsistent. The government is paying lip service to preventing famine while slashing the very programmes that will keep malnourished children alive, at a time when global hunger is increasing. 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. 

“As the UK hosts the G7 and seeks to champion action on famine, it is the only member of the group cutting its aid budget and its cuts are hitting nutrition programmes disproportionately hard. These cuts tarnish the UK’s standing as a compassionate, generous country that is serious about its commitments to the world’s most vulnerable people. After recently announced aid cuts to war-ravaged Yemen and Syria, slashing aid to tackle malnutrition by a staggering 80 percent simply defies credibility.”   

Kate Munro, Head of Advocacy, Action Against Hunger, said:

"Cuts to nutrition programming are completely incompatible with the UK’s leadership on famine prevention at the G7.

"How, in good faith, can the UK take the lead on famine prevention whilst abandoning support for the prevention and treatment of catastrophic malnutrition? Cutting nutrition programming means prospectively closing clinics supporting people in the world’s worst food emergencies, like DRC. This means leaving thousands of mothers and children to fend for themselves in the midst of a global hunger crisis.

"Dominic Raab said that no one is going hungry because the UK isn’t signing cheques. This is untrue. Hunger is rising globally and children suffering from malnutrition are now at risk of losing access to treatment. The consequence of a severely malnourished child not having access to treatment is that the child will die.”

Impact of UK Aid cuts: Emergency Nutrition Programme, DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has become the world’s worst food crisis with 21.8m people facing acute food shortages. This includes 5.7m people on the brink of famine. Some of the most vulnerable to hunger are those displaced by escalating conflict: nearly 3 million people in DRC were forced to flee their homes in 2020 alone.

Action Against Hunger is a leading member of the UK Aid funded PUNC Emergency Nutrition Programme in DRC, a humanitarian project designed to both assist the population with emergency response to the acute nutrition crisis and address its consequences. It is intended to improve the nutrition and health status of children under five and pregnant and lactating women, including by ensuring that children with acute malnutrition receive treatment. 

There are 210 health facilities supported by the programme, which aims to treat 44,000 children a year with acute malnutrition, amongst other services. The programme has already been hit by a £1m cut from a £13m budget and there is no clarity now on funding beyond June 2021. The Foreign Secretary has already indicated that UK aid to East Africa will be cut by 66%. If the programme is cut by the expected 80% reduction to UK aid for nutrition globally then this could mean the closure of 168 health facilities and over 35000 children a year losing access to life saving treatment for acute malnutrition. 

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