Cutting aid to Yemen is the first deadly consequence of abandoning our 0.7% promise
Ahead of Yesterday’s conference on Yemen, the UN warned that 400,000 children in the country risked starving to death without an increase in humanitarian support.
The British government responded to that call by cutting its aid to Yemen by more than half.
It’s difficult to overstate the level of need in what was the poorest country in the Middle East even before the devastating conflict started there in 2015. 80% of the population relies on humanitarian support, half of all medical facilities have been destroyed and a child dies every ten minutes from diarrhoea, malnutrition or other preventable causes. The situation there is as bad as it has been since the conflict started, with famine looming, the peace talks stalling and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes. Our life-saving aid is needed more than ever, but the cut announced yesterday means that, in real terms, the level of British support to the people of Yemen will be lower this year than it was even before the war began.
Ministers took pride, as recently as last year, in describing the United Kingdom as “an International development superpower”. This is a title that nobody has ever suggested that Germany could claim, and yet yesterday the German government committed twice as much support to Yemen as the United Kingdom did. As we seek to reshape foreign policy as a “Global Britain” post-Brexit, the government is wilfully dismantling what was one of our greatest strengths on the world stage.
This cut to aid in Yemen is the first of many that will be caused by the breaking of our promise to spend 0.7% of national income on aid. Across the poorest and least stable countries in the world, the United Kingdom is stepping back, with overwhelmed health systems largely yet to even begin COVID-19 vaccination, 10 million children at risk of never returning to school, and poverty on the rise.
No other G7 member is cutting aid in response to the pandemic. Unanimously, they are increasing their support to the poorest countries to help them recover, and as Chair of the group which will meet in Cornwall this summer, the UK will have a hard time claiming any sort of leadership role in the global recovery effort as it shrinks from the task. The government has misread the global mood, and it will be noted in Washington as much as anywhere else, where the Biden administration looks for partners in its efforts to re-engage the United States with the world.
It’s an easy excuse for some of my colleagues to say that their electorate is not interested in giving aid. But there is no issue for which this is less true than in providing emergency response to those in crisis, such as the people of Yemen. ConservativeHome’s survey of party members found that 92% of them agreed that the government “should help to fund emergency relief for people in other countries, for example in the case of floods, earthquakes or wars.” There is no greater humanitarian catastrophe on earth than that affecting Yemen, and the government should know that in stepping back from our leadership role in responding to it, they do not have the support of those who elected them.
Continuing to reduce the aid budget through cuts like this one for Yemen will sooner or later have to be put to Parliament. I hope that the government will rethink their approach in time to prevent further disastrous consequences for the world’s most vulnerable people, but if they hold their course I suspect they will find that MPs do not support them.