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.”
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.”
The Tigray region in Ethiopia faces the grim prospect of a man-made famine. What can be done to end this slide into tribal conflict?
Alexander Mercouris, editor-in-chief at The Duran, and writer on international affairs with a special interest in Russia and law, and Dr. Kenneth Surin, Professor Emeritus of literature and professor of religion and critical theory at Duke University, join us in a conversation about the main takeaways from the G7 summit over the weekend, the proposal of a global minimum global tax rate of 15%, what impact this could have on multinational corporations, and whether we should be hopeful or skeptical about this considering how low the bar has been set for these corporations. We also talk about how many of the conversations were framed within the context of a confrontation with China, by proposing a plan to counter the Belt and Road initiative, and focusing on the issues in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
Teodrose Fikremariam, cofounder of Ghion Journal, tells us about the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia, including the involvement of Eritrean troops in the conflict and why they are there, claims that there is a risk of a man-made famine in Tigray and how there have been episodes of collective punishment. We also talk about how this conflict has brought a new tribalism into the forefront, how the portrayal of the Tigray authorities as victims in Western media is not completely accurate, taking into consideration that they began hostilities, and how international multilateral and regional organizations do not have the capacity or understanding of the situation to work as honest brokers in the conflict.
John Feffer, Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, joins us to talk about the NATO summit taking place in Brussels this week, how the organization is yet again trying to redefine its mission and find its purpose, and whether they will be able maintain their membership as the justification for its existence seems to change every year. We also talk about the continued withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the establishment of permanent airbases in the region.
The public prosecutor in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia has accused General Denis Sergeev – a Russian spy who traveled to Barcelona two days before the October 1, 2017 unauthorized referendum on Catalan independence – of the attempted murder of Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, his son Hristo Gebrev, and an executive of Gebrev’s company Emco Odd, according to intelligence sources consulted by EL PAÍS.
The three victims were poisoned after coming into contact with a chemical agent. Emilian Gebrev suffered hallucinations, vomiting and fell into a coma, remaining in hospital for three weeks. The incident took place in Sofia between April 28 and May 4, 2015, according to sources from Sofia’s public prosecutor.
Gebrev began to feel unwell, four days after Sergeev arrived in Bulgaria
In January this year, the public prosecutor accused three Russian citizens of the attempted murder, but did not reveal their names. A spokesperson from the organization told EL PAÍS that the secrecy was justified given that the country’s laws prohibit information being revealed from an ongoing investigation.
The Sofia public prosecutor subsequently issued three European arrest warrants and international arrest warrants with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) in an effort to extradite the three accused Russians to Bulgaria, where they are facing charges of premeditated attempted murder.
The Sofia public prosecutor began to suspect Sergeev’s involvement in the poisoning after reviewing security camera footage of an underground car park from April 28, 2015. The video, which lasts two minutes, shows a man approaching a vehicle. According to the public prosecutor, “an FBI laboratory was tasked with doing an expert study to identify the person implicated in the crime.”
Security camera footage of the underground car park.
Dressed in a hat and gloves, the figure in the video loiters near the car of one of the victims. Investigators believe that the suspect applied a chemical agent to the vehicle in an effort to kill the arms dealer Emilian Gebrev.
Sergeev uses the false name Sergey Fedotov, and has been connected to dozens of destabilization operations in Europe and Asia. The agent, who is linked to the elite Russian military unit known as “Unit 29155,” is also on the radar of Spanish investigators. Last year, Judge Manuel García-Castellón of Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, opened a sealed probe into the role the spy played while he was in Barcelona. As this newspaper revealed, Sergeev traveled to the Catalan capital on at least two occasions – on November 5, 2016 and on September 29, 2017, just days before the illegal referendum on Catalan independence.
According to the investigative website Bellingcat, with which EL PAÍS collaborates, eight agents from Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU, as it is known in Russian by its initials) were involved in the attempted murder of Gebrev, his son and the head of the Emco Odd production department. The Russian spies had traveled to Bulgaria using false names during the period in which the victims were poisoned.
At the end of April, 2015, Sergeev and his colleague Georgy Gorshkov arrived as tourists at a hotel complex in the city of Burgas, on the coast of the Black Sea. Another spy from the unit, Sergey Pavlov, arrived the same day in Sofia.
Four days after the Russians arrived, Gebrev began to feel unwell. The arms dealer initially thought he was suffering from tiredness and the flu, but he then began to feel a burning sensation, dizziness and blurred vision. He was taken to a military hospital in Sofia, where he fell into a coma. His son Hristo and the Emco Odd business executive also fell ill, and were taken to the same hospital, where the three remained for more than three weeks.
A month after being admitted to hospital, Gebrev and his son began having the same symptoms. According to Bellingcat, a urine test revealed that their bodies contained traces of two organophosphates, a toxic substance linked to pesticides.
According to ‘The New York Times,’ Unit 29155 is working to destabilize Europe
Sergeev and Gorshkov left Bulgaria the day after the first poisoning attempt. They flew first to the Istanbul Atatürk Airport in Turkey and then to Moscow. Pavlov returned to the Russian capital on a direct flight.
When former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the United Kingdom with the nerve agent Novichok in March, 2018 – an operation Western intelligence services attribute to Unit 29155 – Gebrev noted similarities between their symptoms and those he had experienced in 2015.
Although Gebrev’s company Emco Odd exported weapons to Georgia during its war with Russia in 2018, the arms dealer told Bellingcat that this was not why he was targeted by the Russian spying unit. According to Gebrev, his company sold less than 10% of all the weapons sold to Georgia by Bulgarian firms.
Another hypothesis from Bellingcat links the attempted poisoning to a power struggle between Bulgarian oligarchs. Gebrev told the investigative journalist network that he did not export weapons to Ukraine, which has been in conflict with Russia since 2014.
Western intelligence services connect 20 agents from Unit 29155 to the assassination of a Georgian citizen of Chechen origin in Berlin in August, 2019. The unit is also linked with the failed coup in Montenegro in 2016, which included a plan to assassinate the prime minister and a destabilization campaign in Moldova.
In October of last year, The New York Times reported that Unit 29155 is part of a hybrid war orchestrated by the Russian government that mixes military confrontation with propaganda, hacking and disinformation. According to the newspaper, the members of the unit are working to destabilize Europe, and are trained in operations of subversion, sabotage and assassination.
“Egypt is in a difficult state right now,” he wrote before leaving for Cairo, in messages shared with the Guardian by his friend. “The dictatorship is back and until recently it wasn’t clear how brutal it was going to become. It seems that it’s ‘stabilising’ now … this state of affairs is very precarious.”
Regeni is unusual because he was a foreigner, an Italian PhD student at Girton College who moved to Cairo in September 2015 to work on a development studies thesis about independent trade unions.
It was a touchy subject in a country that had seen a huge rise in worker representation during the Arab spring, which swept Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader, to power in 2012.
Twelve months later, Morsi was toppled in a coup that eventually installed the former general, Sisi, as the country’s leader, in a return to military rule.
Regeni, who had previously studied Arabic and politics at Leeds University, decided to research his thesis in Cairo from September 2015 to March 2016, with a two-week break at home with his family for Christmas in Fiumicello, north-east Italy.
In October, a month after his arrival, he described trade unions as “the only remaining force in civil society”.
He concentrated on the street vendors, of whom there were about 6 million, who had set up a union to combat government crackdowns. Regeni said the situation in Cairo was “depressing, but not manic like 2013”.
“This doesn’t feel like it’s going to be another 30 years,” he added, in reference to the length of rule of the previous army leader, Hosni Mubarak.
But things took a worrying turn when, at a meeting of union activists, Regeni spotted a veiled young woman taking his picture on her phone, which made him fear he was under surveillance.
He was also getting irritated by vendors hassling him for mobile phones and the head of their union asking for money for family medical bills. When the student said he could not help, Mohamed Abdallah reported him to police, later claiming he thought he was a spy.
In one of his last Facebook messages, Regeni asked for help with his English in a paper he had written.
Five days later he was snatched off the street on his way to an evening out.
Nine days after that his body was found, dumped on the side of the Cairo-Alexandria highway. He had been tortured; beaten, burned and stabbed before his neck was broken after he was struck from behind with a heavy, blunt object.
His injuries were so severe that when his mother, Paola, saw his body she could only recognise him from the “tip of his nose”.
What followed was an apparent cover-up by the authorities. President Sisi, in an interview with the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, vowed to track down the culprits. Instead it was then claimed there had been a robbery by a gang, all now dead.
In large part due to eyewitnesses coming forward to say they saw Regeni being interrogated at the National Security Agency headquarters, an Italian judge last month said the four senior Egyptian security officials should stand trial. Gen Tariq Sabir, Col Usham Helmi, Col Athar Kamel Mohamed Ibrahim and Maj Magdi Ibrahim Abdelal Sharif face charges of aggravated kidnapping. Sharif is also being accused of conspiracy to commit murder.
Egypt has closed the case and refuses to extradite the suspects to Italy, so the trial will go ahead without them.
Johannes Svensson shared a flat in Cairo with Regeni while he was working for a UN agency in 2013, at the time Morsi was overthrown.
“He was interested in how this group of street vendors, who you might suspect are quite weak, organises itself in an efficient way and manages to have some political leverage.”
Regeni was an academic, not a political agitator, says Svensson.
In fact, he described Regeni as the “cautious” one when they were together on the streets in July 2013 to witness the celebrations after Morsi’s overthrow.
Since his death, Regeni has become a martyr – or shahid – for the disappeared in Sisi’s Egypt.
“That’s why there’s graffiti of him in Cairo,” says Regeni’s anonymous Facebook friend. “He is a representative figure of that.”