UK slammed for ‘unconscionable’ Yemen aid cut

Distribution of UK-funded wheat grain by the World Food Programme in Yemen. (WFP/Ahmed Basha)
Distribution of UK-funded wheat grain by the World Food Programme in Yemen. (WFP/Ahmed Basha)
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Updated 02 March 2021

UK slammed for ‘unconscionable’ Yemen aid cut

Distribution of UK-funded wheat grain by the World Food Programme in Yemen. (WFP/Ahmed Basha)
  • Britain ‘shouldn’t be cutting aid when risk of famine so high,’ Save the Children tells Arab News

LONDON: The British government’s decision to cut its aid package to Yemen is “unconscionable,” the public affairs advisor at Save the Children UK told Arab News on Tuesday.

“The UK shouldn’t be cutting aid to Yemen at a time when the risk of famine is so high. Britain has announced that combating famine is a priority, so to cut aid to a country that’s on the cusp of one is unconscionable,” said Joseph Anthony.

“Every other G7 state is increasing its overall foreign aid spending, and the UK has chosen this moment to cut theirs just when it’s needed the most.”

The 50 percent cut in British aid to Yemen comes as the UN and several charities call for an increase in support for the war-torn country, which is enduring a severe humanitarian crisis.

The UN hoped to raise $3.85 billion from more than 100 governments and donors at a virtual pledging event on Monday to help prevent a famine in Yemen, but received only $1.7 billion.

“It was incredibly disappointing to see just under half of what’s needed pledged at the UN conference. This will invariably lead to greater suffering for Yemen’s children,” said Anthony.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described it as a “disappointing outcome,” adding: “Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence.”

The $1.7 billion donated on Monday is less than the UN received in the same campaign in 2020, when donations dropped sharply as governments prepared for pandemic-related economic shocks, and $1 billion less than what was pledged at the 2019 conference.

David Beasley, executive director of the UN’s World Food Programme, told Monday’s pledging conference: “We’ve got famine knocking on the door.” 

The US pledged an extra $191 million at the event, bringing its total aid for Yemen to $350 million this year.

The UK is now under pressure from aid agencies and political figures to reverse its cuts. Britain pledged £87 million ($121 million) to Monday’s event, just 54 percent of the amount it provided in 2020.

“The government had made an unimaginable decision … in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary. 

“Britain is the (penholder) at the UN on Yemen, yet this decision will condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation.”

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the UK’s £87 million pledge compared with a £164 million total promised to the UN last year, but added that during 2020-2021, the government provided a higher total of £214 million.

However, with an anticipated funding cut throughout the UK’s international development program, it is highly unlikely that Britain will boost its offering to Yemen this year. 

The £87 million donation is set to be the lowest annual amount provided to Yemen by Britain since 2015.