UK Government accused of 'abandoning moral obligations' for slashing aid to Yemen

Slashing humanitarian aid for Yemen will 'condemn' children to starvation, a minister has said. Credit: AP

The UK has been accused of abandoning its "moral obligations" which will "condemn thousands of children to starvation" after slashing its aid pledge to war-torn Yemen for a second time.

Government ministers have pledged £87 million in aid response to the country which has seen 4 million people displaced and thousands of children killed by famine and disease.

The aid ring-fenced is less than half the £200 million originally pledged in 2019 which was slashed to £160 million in 2019.

Former Conservative international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said the reduced aid was an "unimaginable" move that would "condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation".

And shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the move represented the UK "abandoning our moral obligations".

The cut in funding was confirmed by Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly at a United Nations pledging conference.

It came as Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claimed the UK should be a "force for good in the world", highlighting the Government’s funding for the Covax coronavirus vaccine programme.

Thousands of children in Yemen are malnourished. Credit: AP

Mr Mitchell said: "The Government have today announced the unimaginable decision to cut aid by more than half for the greatest humanitarian crisis on Earth – and in the middle of a global pandemic.

"Britain is the lead country at the UN on Yemen, yet this decision will condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation.

"It makes no foreign policy sense at all. Rather, it is the consequence of breaking a promise made in our manifesto.

"We have become the only G7 country to cut aid this year, while other G7 countries are ramping up their humanitarian support.

"The Government should urgently put this issue to a vote in the House of Commons before they cut any more lifesaving projects which are clearly in Britain’s national interest."

Ms Nandy said: "This is a deeply depressing statement of intent from the Government.

"Despite all the talk of global Britain this is us abandoning our moral obligations, pulling further away from our allies and stepping back just as the USA steps up."

  • ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo discusses the response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen:

The damage done to the economy by coronavirus has led the Government to shelve its commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, cutting spending to 0.5% despite a Conservative manifesto commitment to the higher target.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK remains steadfast in our support to Yemeni people as one of the biggest donors of lifesaving aid and through our diplomatic efforts to bring peace.

"Since the conflict began we have supported millions of vulnerable Yemenis with food, clean water and healthcare, and will continue to do so.

"We are using our UN Security Council seat and working with our allies to push for a lasting resolution to the conflict.

"Yemen’s leaders must meaningfully engage with the UN to agree a ceasefire."

Antonio Guterres said the response to the UN appeal was 'disappointing'. Credit: AP

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was "disappointing" that the UN's Yemen appeal had raised just $1.7 billion (£1.2bn) - $1 billion short of what was pledged in 2019.

Speaking at a virtual pledging conference, he called for countries to "consider again what they can do to help stave off the worst famine the world has seen in decades".

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is on a week-long visit to Yemen, warned: "The shortfall in humanitarian aid will be measured in lives lost."

Officials said schemes supported by the funding included helping 1.5 million of Yemen’s poorest households to buy food and basic supplies and providing at least 1.6 million people with clean drinking water.

Meanwhile, a coalition of leading UK aid agencies said hunger levels were rising and famine looming in several countries, with the coronavirus pandemic pushing people in fragile states towards catastrophe.

A new report found that the pandemic had worsened the already “dire humanitarian” situation in fragile states such as Syria, Yemen and South Sudan.

It added that aid workers expected the situation to deteriorate further in the coming months, with the economic impact of the virus leaving people unable to afford food and other essentials, with thousands likely to die from hunger this year in several countries.

The Disasters Emergency Committee’s (DEC) report concluded that support for the poorest communities with cash grants, vouchers for food and direct food aid should be prioritised to reduce hunger levels and stave off famine.

The war in Yemen has displaced 4 million people. Credit: AP

  • Why is Yemen at war?

The current conflict began in 2014, but it's rooted in the 2011 Arab Spring.

During Yemen's uprising, authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh was replaced by his second-in-command, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Mr Hadi was widely thought to be a weak leader with a corrupt administration.

The Iran-backed rebel Houthis took this opportunity to seize the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north and Mr Hadi went into exile in early 2015.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Sunni Muslim allies - backed by the US, UK and France - and sought to stop Iran from gaining influence on its border.

They began air strikes in the hope of toppling the Houthis and reinstating Mr Hadi's government.

The conflict killed some 130,000 people and destroyed infrastructure and 4 million Yemenis were driven from their homes.

Infighting on both sides of the conflict has continued causing a complex deadlock that has caused what most consider to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

  • What is the scale of the humanitarian disaster in Yemen?

The coronavirus pandemic, cholera epidemics and severe malnutrition among children have led to thousands of additional deaths.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned that more than 16 million people in Yemen will go hungry this year, with some half a million already living in famine-like conditions.

  • How has the UK's £87 million pledge compared to other countries?

Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition fighting the Houthis, announced it would donate $430 million (£308.8m) in aid for Yemen this year to be funnelled through the UN and related agencies.

Saudi Arabia had pledged half a billion dollars in 2020, the largest amount pledged by any country.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US would donate $191 million (£137 million) for Yemen this year, a decrease of about $35 million from the amount it announced in the 2020 pledging conference.

Other major pledges came from Germany ($241 million), the United Arab Emirates ($230 million) and the European Union ( $116.2 million).

  • Why has aid been cut back?

Wealthy countries, including the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, cut back drastically on aid to Yemen last year.

The reductions came amid the pandemic, corruption allegations and concerns the aid might not be reaching its intended recipients in territories controlled by the rebels.

Last year, aid agencies received about $1.9 billion — half of what was needed and half of what was given the previous year, according to David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee.

Several speakers at the conference called for the Houthis to stop their offensive on the central province of Marib and their increasing cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.

“Money is not the only thing Yemenis need. They need an end to attacks on civilians; they need a ceasefire; they need an end to bureaucratic and political blockages on aid flows,” said Miliband.