LONDON: The UK’s humanitarian aid budget was slashed by 51 percent last year, disproportionately affecting some of the world’s neediest countries, including Yemen and Somalia, at the “worst moment in history,” according to a senior MP with the main opposition Labour Party.
The government had pledged to cut total overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent in November 2020.
Figures show that the cut saw the UK send £744 million ($929 million) overseas last year in humanitarian aid, down from £1.53 billion the previous year.
The total overseas aid spend was £11.5 billion, down 21 percent from the £14.48 billion in 2020.
War-torn Yemen suffered one of the deepest cuts, with its pool of aid falling 63 percent to £82 million, from £221 million in 2020.
The UN estimates that as many as 24 million people, including 13 million children, require aid of some kind across the country.
Somalia, also devastated by conflict, saw its humanitarian aid from the UK slashed by 41 percent to £71 million, from £120 million the previous year.
Both countries have been hit hard by acute food shortages, exacerbated in recent months by spiking prices as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The Eastern European neighbors represent almost a third of global wheat exports, and are vital producers of agricultural fertilizers.
The UK has dipped into its finances to find an additional £220 million in aid for Ukraine, but the UN says the war could put as many as 1.7 billion people worldwide at risk of poverty and starvation.
Yemen in particular faces famine, with the UN estimating that 17.4 million people are already food insecure. East Africa is also affected by drought, with 23 million people requiring food aid.
Sarah Champion, chair of the House of Commons international development committee, told The Observer: “It would be hard to consider a worse moment in history for the government to be cutting its foreign aid budget.
“We are the only member of the rich country G7 grouping to be doing so. It is having a damaging effect on our international standing — and the survival chances of some of the poorest people on the planet.”
Sam Nadel, head of government relations at charity Oxfam, told the paper: “The government is cutting aid at a time we have war in Ukraine, the Covid pandemic and millions of people in Africa on the brink of starvation.
“It’s the most horrific timing. It’s also shortsighted because aid helps tackle global challenges, which helps the UK in the long term.”
Another charity, Action Against Hunger, is calling for an additional package of £750 million in aid for African countries affected by war, drought and the coronavirus pandemic.
Kate Munro, the charity’s head of advocacy, told The Observer: “It saves money to act early in a crisis.”
Last week, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced a new international development strategy to target British aid more directly at areas around the world that needed it.
The Foreign Office said in a statement: “Stepping up our life-saving humanitarian work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering around the world is one of the top priorities the foreign secretary laid out in the UK’s international development strategy this week.
“We will prioritize humanitarian funding levels at £3 billion over the next three years, to remain a global leader in crisis response, including in Africa.”