Government officials have admitted that no assessment has been done on the impact that drastic cuts to the UK aid budget will have on Yemen, a country experiencing a mounting hunger crisis that is at risk of the worst famine the world has seen in decades, after years of conflict.
James Cleverly, the government minister for the Middle East and north Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) admitted that the near 60% cut to aid for Yemen came at a time when “the fear of famine, the risk of famine is significant.”
Consequently Cleverly said that the reduced amount of UK aid spending in the country would be focused on food distribution. “I’ve seen some of the terrible situations that Yemenis live under and they are heartbreaking,” he added.
But Chris Bold, the development director for Yemen at the FCDO said: “We haven’t done an impact assessment,” after being asked twice by Conservative MP Pauline Latham on what effect the aid cuts will have on women, people with disabilities, and people who are internally displaced.
They were both speaking at a virtual meeting held by the International Development Committee (IDC) as part of their inquiry monitoring humanitarian crises and the impact of aid cuts. The committee is made up of a cross-party group of MPs who scrutinise overseas aid spending and FCDO policies.
Members of the committee probed details about the cuts and heard from experts working for humanitarian NGOs delivering support on the frontl ines in Yemen about what is at risk.
On the topic of impact assessment, Cleverly intevened in the question put to Bold, saying that it "wasn't possible to predict" what would happen, and that aid project delivery, "doesn't lend itself to impact asssessments" in the way another government department might plan cuts. Cleverly added that the cuts had to be made because of “the unique economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic."
However, Sarah Champion, a Labour MP and chair of the IDC, challenged his responses. She said that uncertainty about what was being cut and why meant that many aid groups had already started ending projects and letting staff go without knowing what was going to happen next.
“You did make the decision [about aid cuts] in November, so you have had time to notify the organisations, make the decisions about where the cuts are coming, and do a risk analysis [of the impact]," she said.
The UK aid budget, which supports development projects in low-income countries and provides humanitarian assistance in times of crisis, faces a 30% cut of around £4.5 billion this year.
It normally stands at 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income (GNI), a percentage that is enshrined in UK law, but the government is pressing ahead with a cut to 0.5% of GNI. No vote on the decision is currently planned in parliament.
Yemen is a country that is especially vulnerable right now. Around 80% of the population are dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, and in March over 100 charities came together to warn that tens of thousands of Yemeni lives will be lost if the planned cut of £73 million to frontline support goes ahead.
Discussing the impact on frontline delivery at the IDC inquiry, Gillian Moyes, the deputy Yemen director for Save the Children, said the “scale of the need is overwhelming."
Moyes pointed to the levels of malnutrition in the country and said that children who are malnourished can experience life-long problems. She said this means a longer term development crisis was building up as humanitarian needs go unaddressed.
Moyes added that a cash-transfer programme delivered by Save the Children had improved the numbers of people receiving “acceptable food” in one region from 46% to 93%, but the aid cuts had forced the project to be wound up in June and so had an uncertain future.
Salvatore Vicari, the regional humanitarian affairs advisor for Yemen at Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), said that while his NGO is not funded by the UK, he could already see the impact of cuts on efforts to provide shelter, water, and health care around his work.
For example, he said that in a district which is housing a large number of internally displaced people, maintenance of water and sanitation facilities had fallen by the wayside due to lack of funding that had previously been there.
“Now we see that this population does not have access to clean drinking water… they are resorting to drinking unsafe water,” he said. “We are witnessing some of the consequences of that among our patients,” he added.
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