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UK cuts grants for small aid charities to save ‘less than cost of No 10 press room’ | Aid

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The UK has scrapped three rounds of grants to small international development charities, prompting fury that it has wiped out funding for 42 projects around the world to save “less than the [£2.6m] cost of the Downing Street press room”.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) told charities last week that rounds six, seven and eight of the Small Charities Challenge Fund (SCCF) would not go ahead because of aid cuts, cancelling in total about £2.1m of funds earmarked for new and future programmes, including many that had been approved.

“The cruelty of these cuts cannot be overstated. For less than the cost of the Downing Street press room, small UK charities would have delivered more than 40 transformative projects to the world’s most vulnerable people,” said Jess Price, a director at Health Improvement Project Zanzibar. “Instead of delivering this critical work, we are now trying to recoup losses and rebuild local trust.”

The charity, one of 1,500 members of the Small International Development Charities Network (SIDCN), was planning to use an approved £50,000 grant to build an A&E department and train 12 staff in a rural hospital in Zanzibar, a project it said would give 220,000 people access to life-saving emergency services.

Other projects due to receive SCCF grants include programmes to provide basic skills for 11,000 child domestic workers in Bangladesh, teach young pregnant women in Sierra Leone, and support girls living on the streets in Uganda.

Ruth Patil, operations manager at Carers Worldwide, said the cancellation of funding for its approved helpline for 2,000 family carers of children with disabilities in remote Nepal was “undoing years of good work in the community”.

“Nepal is about to go into another lockdown and instead of supporting people who are more isolated than ever, we are breaking our promises,” she said.

Charities said FCDO officials told them on 30 April that agreements had been cancelled, including the Community Partnerships fund, UK Aid Connect, UK Aid Direct impact grants, and the UK Partnerships for Health Systems programmes. Some active grants were halted and given 90 days to close, they said.

The SIDCN said applications for SCCF grants were still being accepted a month ago and a huge amount of work would be wasted during a pandemic that had already devastated the budgets of small charities. It is calling on the government to commit to a £50m package of support.

Neil Heslop, the chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: “Small UK charities stepped up brilliantly to support British values at home and abroad in the face of the pandemic. Aid cuts at this level risk permanent damage to dozens of international development charities and their delivery of life-saving programmes for the poorest … Without support, vital services will go and lives will be lost.”

The FCDO have been approached for comment.

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France attacks US over ‘stab in back’ submarine deal

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France has called a US deal to develop nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia and the UK, but not any EU countries, unveiled Thursday, a “stab in the back,” in the words of French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The move is to see France lose out on a multibillion-euro submarine-technology deal with Australia. “This is not over. We’re going to need clarifications. We have contracts,” Le Drian added.

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‘A forgotten disaster’: earthquake-hit Haitians left to fend for themselves | Global development

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David Nazaire, a 45-year-old coffee farmer from Beaumont, a small village in rural southern Haiti, was getting ready to harvest when an earthquake struck his home and livelihood. Much of the farming infrastructure – as well as nearby homes, schools and churches – was damaged or completely destroyed. A month later, he and thousands of rural Haitians – those most severely affected by the tremor – are still waiting for relief, and are not expecting it to arrive soon.

“The earthquake didn’t destroy our crops, but it did take everything else,” Nazaire says, outside a neighbour’s house, now a pile of rubble beneath plastic roof tiles supported by the remnants of concrete walls. “We were just getting ready to harvest, but that’s lost now.”

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Haiti on 14 August killed more than 2,200 and left 30,000 homeless. But while foreign aid and builders have been trickling into urban centres such as Les Cayes, the capital of Sud province, and other quake-struck areas, many rural Haitians see an all too familiar abandonment.

“Haiti has always been divided between an urban professional class and the ignored rural communities,” says Estève Ustache, 58, a researcher on rural development attached to a Methodist church outside Jeremie, another quake-struck town. “You have to ask yourself, why do leaders and aid workers only travel to these rural areas in a helicopter? Because they know it would be nearly impossible to go otherwise.”

The frame of a house left destroyed by the earthquake in Tricon
The frame of a house left destroyed by the earthquake, in Tricon, a rural hamlet near Les Cayes. Photograph: Joe Parkin Daniels

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, where nearly half of the 11.4m population is food insecure. But the poverty in which rural Haitians – who make up two-thirds of the population – live is startling, even by the country’s own abject standards.

The drive to Tricon, a rural hamlet just a few miles from Les Cayes – the regional capital – takes more than an hour. The road has never been paved and heavy rains can leave it impassable. Communities live in shacks built partly from material scavenged in the city. The phone signal is unreliable, and aside from a handful of community-built wells, there is no water supply.

“Everything we have, we built ourselves,” says Moise Magaly, 49, who was tending to her bean crops when the earth beneath her began thrashing, throwing her to the ground and making her arm “go crack”.

Most in the community are gaunt, after a dry spell that led to crops of cassava, beans and corn failing to yield their usual harvest. Vetiver, a cash crop often used to combat soil erosion, has been over-farmed in the area, further damaging the land.

Magaly’s house was damaged in the earthquake, knocking out the walls but leaving the roof standing on top of wooden struts. Like almost everyone else in southern Haiti, the fear of aftershocks and another quake has kept her sleeping outside, vulnerable to the Atlantic hurricane season.

Moise Magaly was tending to bean crops when the earthquake struck
Moise Magaly was tending to bean crops when the earthquake struck. Photograph: Joe Parkin Daniels

“I don’t know why no one comes for us,” Magaly says, clutching at her arm. “We’ve contacted the media and our representatives but we’ve heard nothing.”

Aid has arrived in the country, with the US delivering more than 60 tonnes of aid to quake-hit regions, while Britain has pledged £1m of support, including shelter kits and solar-powered lanterns.

But some working on the relief effort worry that as international compassion wanes, so too will the funds from donors.

“It’s a very poor area, where people don’t have the resources or the funds for materials to build their houses well,” says Kit Miyamoto, a structural engineer who runs a firm and foundation that works in Haiti and around the world to improve earthquake preparedness. “And this is a forgotten disaster because it happens out of the eyes of the world, which means there will be less funding.”

Miyamoto adds that rural homes, churches and schools were more affected than those in cities because many of them were built before 2010, when improved building codes were adopted nationwide after a catastrophic earthquake struck the capital Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000.

“Construction is different now, and people are more conscious of how to build in a way that does the little things right, and makes the difference,” Miyamoto says.

But despite growing awareness of resilient construction techniques, the relief effort remains hampered by the sheer isolation of the most affected communities, and some are giving up hope.

“No one has been here since the earthquake. Just like before, the only time we see an outsider round here is when they want our votes,” says Altema Jean Joseph, a 52-year-old farmer who grows vetiver, an ingredient used in expensive perfumes which, despite costing $25,000 (£18,000) a barrel, makes farmers only $4 a week. “So why would we expect them here? We’ll have to build back ourselves.”

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MEPs suspect Gazprom manipulating gas price

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European gas prices have risen by more than 170 percent since the start of this year – raising concerns for worsening energy poverty.

On Friday [17 September], the European Commission said it “monitored” the situation in a press conference.

The commission said that a global increase in gas demand had caused prices to spike.

But 42 MEPs, ranging from the Greens, through the EPP, S&D and Renew Europe, to ID on the right, suspect that the Russian gas giant Gazprom is manipulating market prices and sent a letter on Thursday asking the commission to open an investigation.

According to the letter – seen by this website – Gazprom has refused to guarantee additional volumes of supply “despite available information that Gazprom has sufficient production capacity.”

The signatories also raised suspicion that Gazprom is pressuring Europe to agree to an immediate launch of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite its non-compliance with EU energy market regulations.

While speaking at an online conference, Alexei Miller, the head of Gazprom, warned that natural gas prices in Europe will in fact rise even further – but said that was due to low storage levels.

When quizzed on Friday, the commission said it had received the letter and would look into the matter. However, when pressured further, the representative did not want to go into detail.

The EU has, however, accused Gazprom of market manipulation in the past.

Lower renewable prices?

Meanwhile, higher prices are reverberating through other parts of the economy.

On Friday, Yara, the second-biggest producer of fertiliser globally, and with large production bases in the EU, announced it would reduce its ammonia production by 40 percent due to the current high gas prices. Ammonia is used to produce ammonium nitrate, which is a widely-used fertiliser.

Of 4.9m tonnes of ammonia produced in Europe, the company said it planned to reduce production by approximately 2m tonnes in the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom and France – which in turn might affect food prices.

Household energy prices have also begun to rise.

In Spain, a megawatt-hour of electricity has increased from €46 to €154 in a year, prompting the Spanish government to intervene in the energy market and lower taxes on gas and electricity.

Commission vice president Frans Timmermans was critical of this plan: “You can’t just do that,” he said on Wednesday. “The free energy market is the basis on which we base our energy prices.”

But according to the think tank Bruegel, major gas-price increases do pose a problem for European countries. Higher prices affect low-income households and member states disproportionately.

According to Eurostat, 30 percent of people in Bulgaria cannot afford to keep their house warm. In total, 34m people suffer from what is called ‘energy poverty.’

Rising gas prices will exacerbate this.

While temporary measures like direct payments to citizens can help cushion the effects of the current high prices, Bruegel says that European leaders can avoid future prices hikes structurally – by committing to renewable energy.

EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson also mentioned renewable energy as a way to stabilise prices.

But Bruegel writes that governments have not yet committed enough to green energy: “Clearer commitments from governments will imply growing electricity demand. As a result, investors will not have to worry about over-investing in low-carbon power systems.”

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