LONDON: High-profile global philanthropists, including Bill Gates, have pledged to provide almost $140 million to make up for losses created by the UK government’s cut to foreign aid.
The cut, which involves the country’s foreign aid budget falling from 0.7 percent of national income to 0.5 percent, is set to create a shortfall of almost $6 billion, leaving vulnerable countries such as Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Somalia at risk of malnutrition, disease and medical crises.
The group of philanthropists, the Sunday Times reported, “did not want to see” medicines going to waste as a result of health projects being forced to close due to the cut.
It includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the ELMA Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.
The organizations will target specific health projects and make up the shortfall in their funding.
Kate Hampton, CEO of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, said: “These life-saving treatments are cost-effective investments. If they go unfunded this year, British taxpayer generosity will be wasted as clinics are closed and essential drugs expire and are thrown away.”
Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said he is still praying for the government to abandon the cut. “These diseases cause unimaginable suffering and entirely preventable deaths,” he added.
“This emergency funding is welcome and desperately needed, but I continue to pray for the restoration of our promise to those living in extreme poverty around the world, which was to love them as our neighbor through our commitment to the 0.7 percent aid spending target.”
Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Kaur Gill said philanthropists’ move to step in has “embarrassed the UK.”
She added: “This is a shameful moment for this Conservative government. As low-income countries continue to battle against the pandemic, this contribution to try and plug some of the gap left by the government’s slashing of life-saving paid programs is welcome, but it will only be able to prevent the very worst of the damage caused.
“The government’s decision to cut the aid budget, against the wishes of Parliament, has already cost lives, and they must reverse it or put it to a vote as soon as possible.”
Aid services warned last month that the UK cut had left 70,000 people without health services and 100,000 without water in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement.
In April, following an 85 percent cut in its funding, the UN Population Fund said the missing money would have helped prevent about 250,000 child and maternal deaths and 14.6 million unintended pregnancies in some of the world’s most impoverished countries.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has attributed the cut to high levels of public borrowing and growing national debt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesperson said: “The UK will spend billions to improve global health, fight poverty and tackle climate change this year — making us one of the biggest aid donors in the G7.
“We have always been clear that the government will return to spending 0.7 percent of national income on international development as soon as the fiscal situation allows.”