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Restore overseas-aid budget before more harm is done, charity tells Government

02 August 2023

Education, health, and well-being of women and girls at risk, civil servants report

ALAMY

In February 2022, medical students at the Edna Adan University in Hargeisa, Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, demonstrate how female genital mutilation (FGM) affects childbirth

In February 2022, medical students at the Edna Adan University in Hargeisa, Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, demonstrate how female ge...

CUTS to the UK’s overseas-aid budget are a “betrayal of the world’s most marginalised people” and should be made good before more harm is done, Christian Aid has said in response to an official report on their impact.

In 2020, when the current Prime Minister was Chancellor, he announced that the UK would temporarily reduce spending on overseas aid, from 0.7 per cent of the gross national income (GNI) to 0.5 per cent. This, he said, was due to the “domestic fiscal emergency”.

International charities and aid agencies were outraged. The Archbishop of Canterbury called the decision “shameful and wrong” (News, 27 November 2020).

An internal Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) report, published on Wednesday, details the effects of the cuts. It shows that spending has fallen from £14.5 billion in 2020 and £12.8 billion in 2022 to an estimated £6.9 billion so far this year. Spending is due to rise marginally in 2023-24, then increase by 12 per cent in 2024-25 to £8.3 billion, it says.

The reduction in spending, civil servants report, will potentially harm women’s health and well-being, resulting in an estimated 200,000 unsafe abortions and thousands of deaths in childbirth.

In relation to women and girls in Afghanistan, the report, provided for, and published by, the International Development Committee, says: “Due to the scale of the ODA reductions (76%) in Afghanistan, the FCDO will not be able to support critical services for women and girls.

“Since returning to power, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on women and girls; preventing them from enjoying their human rights and systematically erasing them from public spaces. Therefore, reducing funding will potentially leave some of the most vulnerable women and girls in the world without critical services.”

Of sexual- and reproductive-health rights in Africa, it states: “Spend reductions on the women’s integrated sexual-health programme will mean that the results for women and girls would be reduced by approximately 60%.”

Violence against women and girls in South Sudan and Somalia will not receive the response that is needed, and education for women and girls in Ethiopia will also be compromised, it continues.

Earlier this year, the Government announced cuts of six per cent, £28 million, in its aid budget to East and Central Africa (News, 6 April). The Africa regional head at CAFOD, Kayode Akintola, said at the time that “the situation in East Africa is as bad as I’ve ever known it,” and that aid was needed more than ever.

On Yemen, the FCDO report states: “Half a million women and children in Yemen will not receive healthcare, and fewer preventable deaths will be avoided. It may cause lasting damage to health systems in Yemen, if other donors are unable to fund.”

The head of campaigns and UK advocacy for Christian Aid, Jennifer Larbie, said on Wednesday: “Even when marking their own homework, ministers cannot escape the horrible truth that their erosion of international aid represents a betrayal of the world’s most marginalised people.

“The UK has a historic and moral responsibility for ending extreme poverty. We must not accept the false choice between responding to poverty at home and fulfilling our responsibilities to the vulnerable women and girls around the world.

“No ifs and no buts, the UK’s aid budget must be restored.”

She concluded: “We need a Government that will release new resources, not just by restoring the aid budget but also by getting private creditors such as the big banks to cancel the debt of countries whose people are in jeopardy.”

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