Britain is set to spend 80% less on helping feed children in poorer nations than before the pandemic, according to a charity’s analysis.
Save the Children said the British government will spend less than £26m this year on vital nutrition services in developing countries, a drop of more than three-quarters from 2019. The estimate of aid cuts to nutrition comes after UN agencies called for urgent action to avert famine in 20 countries including Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.
The charity said the cuts will leave tens of thousands of children hungry and at risk of starvation. Malnutrition affects lifelong development and contributes to half of all the world’s child deaths.
The G7, whose foreign and development ministers met this week in London, published a famine prevention and humanitarian crises compact – a call to action in recognition of the situation.
The Global Report on Food Crisis, published this week, showed the number of people in need of urgent support was the highest in the report’s five-year history, and that 155 million people are facing food shortages.
Save the Children’s analysis, which applied confirmed aid cuts in Africa and Asia to funding for basic nutrition programmes, combined with known cuts to nutrition funding in other countries, suggests UK assistance here may be cut in half from 2019. In humanitarian settings, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funding to nutrition was £396m in 2019 and estimated to be £218m in 2021, a 45% cut. UK aid funding to basic nutrition was £122m in 2019, £111m in 2020 and £26m in 2021, an 80% cut, it said.
Pandemic-related increases in malnutrition could result in 4.4 million years in lost education, it said.
Kirsty McNeill, executive director at Save the Children UK, described the UK’s aid strategy as “incoherent and inconsistent”.
“We are looking at the near-collapse of British help for hungry children in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries, including Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan. Ending preventable child deaths will never be achieved when we ignore the role prolonged malnutrition plays in the development of a child and their future quality of life.”
The Power of Nutrition, a foundation set up to tackle underfunding, said the FCDO had reduced its funding by 57%, from £7m to £3m.
Simon Bishop, the foundation’s CEO and former special adviser to Justine Greening when she was international development secretary, said it “simply isn’t credible” for Britain to claim global leadership in tackling hunger while slashing aid.
“People see right through it,” he said. “It amounts to ‘hollow’ global Britain – a slogan with nothing tangible behind it. What makes this so sad and self-defeating is that Britain has been a genuine global leader in this area for the last decade, saving lives and getting huge soft power from doing it. That’s all now rapidly disappearing down the drain.”
Britain announced last year it would slash aid funding from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%. The cuts are not split evenly, with some programmes having funding reduced by up to 85%.
On Wednesday, the Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET) revealed the government has cut £48m in funding for global health training. One programme affected is the UK Partnerships for Health Systems set up by THET and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to enable NHS staff to train 78,000 healthcare professionals in low and lower-middle income countries.
This week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said the government had cut 75% of its funding for Syria, where more than 12 million people have been displaced by conflict, resulting in an immediate end to projects supporting tens of thousands.
The organisation said it was particularly concerned about women and girls living in camps in north Syria who will no longer have access to safe spaces or services.
IRC, which provides water, shelter, healthcare, education and empowerment programmes for displaced people in more than 40 countries, said funding for its protection and legal work for vulnerable Syrians in Lebanon has been completely cut.
The organisation is waiting to hear from Whitehall but it fears it will lose at least 60% of UK funding for work in north-east Nigeria, and a similar cut to health programmes in Sierra Leone. Its staff are redesigning programmes.
Melanie Ward, executive director for IRC UK, said: “It is deeply troubling that lifesaving services are being lost as part of these cuts. And the manner in which they are being carried out has made things even harder. We are more than a month into the financial year and still without clarity on how the cuts will fall at a country level.
“The lack of consultation, failure to set or stick to timelines, absence of criteria for decision-making and overall lack of transparency is hitting the aid sector hard, at a time of rising humanitarian need.”
The FCDO has said it will still spend £10bn on aid this year and re-issued a statement given to previous articles on the aid cuts: “The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.”
Russia to lose Swift access, pipeline if it invades Ukraine
“Work is already underway for … disconnection of Russia from the Swift banking system, sanctions on the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 [to Germany],” if it invades Ukraine, Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said in The Guardian Tuesday. “If [Russian president] Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine,” US national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told Reuters.
Can artistic freedom survive in Sudan? The writing’s on the wall… | Global development
In the new dawn of a heady post-revolutionary era, Suzannah Mirghani returned in 2019 to the country of her birth for the first time in years. Her mission was to shoot a short film on Sudanese soil. It proved unexpectedly straightforward.
“When the revolution happened, there was this exuberance,” she says, from her Qatari home. “When we came to make our film, we were given the green light. We were told: ‘Anything you want’.
“Nobody harassed us. Nobody told us what to do. Nobody asked us for the script. I call this time in the history of Sudan ‘the honeymoon’,” says Mirghani.
More than two and a half years after the toppling of the longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, Mirghani fears the honeymoon is over, at least for her. The turmoil into which Sudan has again been plunged means she feels unable to return safely.
On 31 October, as her film, Al-Sit, won the latest of many awards, Mirghani had to give an acceptance speech that was anything but celebratory.
Six days before, the military had seized power in a coup, detaining the civilian prime minister and bringing the country’s fragile transition to democracy to an abrupt halt.
In a video address from Qatar to the Africa in Motion film festival in Scotland, Mirghani said “the only reason” she and her crew had been able to make Al-Sit was the active encouragement given by the civilian-military partnership government. “Now,” she added, “we’re in very serious danger of going back to the bad old days of military rule and stifling creative expression.”
Since the coup, a lot has happened: huge pro-democracy protests thronged through Khartoum and other cities, with at least 40 demonstrators killed.
After almost a month, the prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was released as part of a deal struck with the coup leader, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
But the protesters, who want the military out of politics for good, are not convinced, and even less so as security forces fire teargas into the crowds that continue to gather despite Hamdok’s return. With the creative gains made after the revolution now hanging in the balance, Sudanese artists feel they have to speak out.
“We artists will be the first to be targeted if the military government continues in power,” writes Aamira*, a painter, in an email from Khartoum. “We are demonstrating in the streets, facing guns, unarmed. There is nothing to fear any more.”
In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Hamdok defended his decision to strike a deal with the military, saying it was essential to stop the bloodshed and “preserve the achievements of the last few years”.
It may not have been uppermost in his mind, but one of those achievements was the flowering of an artistic community that had long been harassed, censored and forced into the shadows. Assil Diab, a street artist, says: “I painted Omar al-Bashir as the [face of] coronavirus in a stadium in Bahri during the daytime, which would have been just impossible; my whole family could have been killed two years ago.”
Feeling compelled to return amid the revolutionary fervour, Diab returned to Sudan in 2019 and made her name painting the faces of the revolution’s “martyrs” on the outside of their families’ homes, with a getaway car close by in case the notorious paramilitary Rapid Support Forces saw her.
For Mirghani, the “absolute elation” of the revolution yielded creative results. Al-Sit is the beautifully observed story of a Sudanese village girl whose parents want her to marry the sharp-suited son of a wealthy cotton trader in Qatar. “To finally be able to express yourself, to say what you had wanted to say to these people for 30 years: it’s amazing.
“My film is about women’s rights. It’s social commentary on arranged marriage. I don’t think we could have said that a few years ago,” says Mirghani.
The “honeymoon” was not without its challenges. The dictator was gone, but social and religious conservatism – and a reluctance to champion the arts – remained. Artistic freedom was patchy: in 2020, the renowned film-maker Hajooj Kuka and several others were detained during a theatre workshop.
Asim*, a documentary film-maker in Khartoum, says that, although in the capital the “direct censorship” of the Bashir era has eased, the rest of Sudan is not as relaxed. “It’s partially freedom and partially censorship,” he says. “It is a battle about 10% won.”
Khalid Albaih, a political cartoonist based in Qatar, returned after the revolution to launch the Sudan Artist Fund (SAF), to provide budding creatives with money and mentors, and with an ambitious plan to create a public art and design library. He says: “I thought: this is it. All doors were open and this is what we were going to do.
“I took all my papers, and for the first time in 10 years I’m in Sudan walking around, not scared of any police, or secret police, or anything. I went to every business owner in Sudan and everyone that can donate money to these causes. And I got nothing but rejection – for a library and for an artists’ fund.”
Finally, Albaih secured $7,000 (£5,300) from CultuRunners, a cultural exchange organisation, and the SAF awarded its first grant of $500 in October – just before the coup. “It was incredible because the internet cut out [after the coup leaders imposed a nationwide online blackout] so the artist didn’t even know he had won. We had to call him. It took two or three weeks to send the money to him,” says Albaih.
The cartoonist knows there will not be any more funding for a while. “Now everything is rocky. No one knows how things will go. It’s going to be really hard for artists and these kinds of initiatives to move forward.
The coup, says Diab, left the creative community feeling “disappointed and just broken down … because we finally thought we were free and then this happened.” She intends to apply for political asylum in the US, where she is studying, feeling she “can be of better use to Sudan” from overseas.
Those in the thick of it cannot afford to give up hope. Asim was at a protest in Khartoum against the post-coup deal last week and was “teargassed the entire afternoon” amid chants of “no partnership, no negotiation, no legitimacy”. He is realistic about future challenges but knows that people have made up their minds.
“I feel like there is a grip on power and it will not end today; it will not end tomorrow. Whether those power-hungry authoritarians will roll with democratic transition and allow people to express their freedoms, allow journalists and film-makers to operate or not, that is something that is still [up in] the air, because you never know with the ever-changing dynamic of power in this country,” he says.
The momentum towards democracy is undeniable, he says. “I believe that is possible and I believe there is hope. The people will not stop asking for what they really want. [Will] that future come tomorrow? The day after? In two years? In five? We never know. But it seems like the consensus is that people agree it has to happen.”
*Names have been changed to protect their identity
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