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UK cuts humanitarian aid to Yemen by more than 50%

PM Johnson also faces criticism on continuing arms deal with Saudi Arabia

by: Mireia Jimenez

Foreign Office Minister, James Cleverly, announced on March 1st that Britain’s aid to Yemen in the next year will be £87 million, more than 50% less compared to the £164 million and £200 million of the past two years. The significant cut resulted from the decision to reduce the overall foreign international aid budget by £4 billion in 2021-22. Cleverly justified, the reduction claimed that ‘recent global challenges’ had ‘meant a difficult financial context for us all’.

Protesters holding signs against UK-Saudi Arabia arms trade in 2018.

Photo courtesy of Alisdare Hickson via Creative Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Since 2014, Yemen’s civil war between the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement and the Saudi-led coalition, backed by the US, UK, and France, has caused up to 233,000 deaths by 2020. These are mostly from indirect causes such as starvation, lack of health services, and infrastructure according to the UN.

About 20 million people depend on humanitarian aid to survive and over 2 million children face malnourishment.

Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres said “Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence.”

Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell also added that “Britain is the ‘pen holder’ at the UN on Yemen, yet this decision will condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation.” Also, he stated how “unimaginable” is to reduce aid in the middle of a global pandemic.

According to UNICEF, young children and mothers are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases, Covid-19 included, due to a lack of basic health care, clean water, sanitation facilities, food, and shelter.

Former Foreign Secretary and Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt said that

“abandoning a forgotten country and people is inconsistent with our values, weakens our moral authority and reduces our influence.”

Meanwhile, the UK government has claimed to be one of the most important contributors not only to the Yemeni cause, but also, to many other UN-led humanitarian campaigns. First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in 2019 that the UK was a leading “force for good” in the world, however, many claim that the country could lose its reputation after the events of the past weeks.

In addition to the cut in humanitarian aid, the British government has been accused of continuing to sell £1.4 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia after resuming unrestricted arms trade in July 2020.

On March 3rd, MP and leader of the Labour party Sir Keir Starmer faced Prime Minister Boris Johnson regarding the UK’s arms selling. He mentioned the actions taken by the newly elected US president Joe Biden, who is temporarily freezing the selling of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Johnson answered by saying that the UK is part of an “international coalition” and the British people “can be hugely proud of what we are doing to support the people of Yemen.”

Around a hundred NGOs have already criticised the cuts on humanitarian aid to Yemen and others have also condemned the resuming arms sale. These events could put the UK in a difficult stance regarding its global reputation as one of the leading humanitarian aid providers in the world.


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