SEVERE cuts to the UK’s aid budget to South Sudan will cost lives as the country teeters on the brink of famine, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, has warned.
In a joint appeal with Christian Aid, he called on the Government to halt its proposed 59-per-cent cut in aid to South Sudan, saying that it would “tip the country into deep crisis”.
He said: “I understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but these are the wrong cuts, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. Be it carelessly or deliberately, these cuts will harm vulnerable people. We must not balance the books on the backs of the poorest in our world. In the name of all that is good, Prime Minister, please stop these cuts.”
A joint letter from Christian Aid and 84 other charities, including Tearfund and Plan UK, has urged the Government to rethink the cuts. “There is no doubt that the anticipated cuts will cost lives, and undermine significant, long-term progress made with UK funding to date,” it says.
More than eight million people are reliant on humanitarian aid, and 60 per cent of South Sudan’s population is reaching crisis levels of hunger, the UN has said. It says that it needs $1.7 billion (£1.2 billion) to help those most in need in the country, including the 1.2 million children and nearly 500,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women who are acutely malnourished.
A World Food Programme spokesperson, Tomson Phiri, said: “Approximately 7.2 million South Sudanese have been pushed into severe food insecurity due, again, to sporadic violence, extreme weather, and the economic impact of Covid-19.
“This figure includes over 100,000 people who are in those hard-to-reach areas of six counties who are at risk of famine. They are literally one step away from famine, according to the Famine Review Committee report.”
Tearfund’s country director for South Sudan, Anthony Rama, said that last season’s crops had been washed away by floods, and there were fears that such floods could happen again. “About half the population is in dire need of food assistance. We have endured years of intercommunal conflicts, and now Covid has disrupted trade and weakened our fragile health-system’s ability to treat people. There are severe food shortages in all of the areas in which we work.”
The Government announced that it was cutting its aid budget this year, from its commitment of 0.7 per cent of gross national income to 0.5 per cent, as a result of the pandemic (News, 27 November 2020). Boris Johnson told MPs on Tuesday that they would not get a chance to vote on the cuts to the aid budget, as the proposed reduction was only temporary, and the figure would return to 0.7 per cent “when the fiscal situation allows”.
Many Conservative MPs oppose the Government’s decision: one of them, Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire), said that the Government “was balancing the books on the backs of the poor”.
Countries whose populations are suffering from war and conflict are on the list for cuts: a 59-per-cent cut in aid to Yemen was confirmed — which the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has called a “death sentence”.
Aid to Somalia is to be cut by 60 per cent, and to Syria by 67 per cent.