Saturday, 15 May 2021

Aid workers describe the devastating impact of the UK government’s cuts to foreign aid

Last week, the UK government announced that it would be cutting its annual foreign aid commitment.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab set out the allocation for the UK’s Official Development Assistance spending for 2021-22 at 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income.

Following the announcement, 200 UK charities and aid organisations accused the government of delivering a “tragic blow” to the world’s most marginalised people.

Four aid charities operating in Lebanon, Zambia, Congo and Sierra Leone spoke to Sky News about the impact these cuts will have on their work.

Rami Shamma, World Vision, Lebanon

“Let’s see what surprises we have today, and which part of our lives will be destroyed.”

This is the daily mantra of an individual living in Lebanon.

I oversee the development and humanitarian projects that World Vision implements across the country.

I make sure that these projects are best serving the people who need them most.

UK aid has helped fund part of these projects working on child protection, education and cash for impoverished families.

Lebanon is enduring four simultaneous crises: the worsening economic situation, the Syrian refugee crisis, COVID-19, and the impact of the Beirut explosion.

In the face of these desperate times, families are turning to desperate measures, of which children often suffer the worst.

In Lebanon, 90% of households survive on less than the equivalent of £5 a day.

Because of this, removing children from school, child labour, and even child marriage, have become coping mechanisms for survival.

In the field, I witness these struggles first-hand, whether in the tented refugee settlements, the crowded urban areas surrounding the capital, Beirut, or on the bordering rural towns across Lebanon.

With every field visit, I sense the deterioration in the community.

People are even turning to robbery just so they can feed their families.

A mother in the Akkar region of Lebanon told me: “Children are suffering already, they are not living their childhood, they think older than their ages.

They worry about how they will get food for tomorrow. The current situation is letting children lose their interest in education as they have no hope.

I spoke to another mother in a tented settlement in Bekaa who spoke of how two of her children have to go work on the street selling napkins.

They are alone, vulnerable, and missing school, but they have to do this to support the family’s needs.

Without foreign aid, this will only continue to get worse, and the impact will be on all the programs that this aid is currently contributing to.

To get things into perspective, the cut in funding of £500,000 will leave 10,000 families without food for a whole month.

Luka Nkhoma, Planned Parenthood Association, Zambia

I work for the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia which is part of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

I’m the project director for Women’s Integrated Sexual Health funding which comes from UK aid.

We deliver life-saving contraception and sexual health services to Zambia’s poorest and most marginalised women and girls.

In Zambia’s rural areas many families live in poverty with women and girls unable to afford to make the long journeys to access health clinics.

During the rainy season, they are completely cut off as there’s no transport.

When we received the UK government’s WISH funding we were able to train community healthcare workers to go out to under-served districts and support the most vulnerable women and girls.

We started to increase available contraception as well as provide cervical cancer screening, HIV support and STI treatment.

For many of the women, it was their first time using contraception and the first time they’ve had complete control over their bodies and fertility.

In Zambia almost 30% of adolescent girls drop out of school because of teenage pregnancy.

By having this access to our health service we have been able to help so many more girls stay in school and finish their education, giving them control over their futures.

The UK aid cuts have meant the end of WISH funding.

We have to shut part of our operations in just a few months which leaves us no time to stabilise the gains we have made.

Dismantling these services just three years into the programme is devastating.

We can no longer reach women in rural communities so I don’t know what these women and girls will do.

Just because there is a global pandemic, women’s needs don’t suddenly stop, and if they can’t access safe services, an unsafe abortion might be the only option.

I’m scared for their futures.

Elizabeth Mattia MSI Sierra Leone

Elizabeth Mattia, Marie Stopes International Reproductive Choices, Sierra Leone

I work for MSI’s Sierra Leone team bringing reproductive healthcare to remote communities on Bonthe Island.

Women and girls here have no one else to turn to and desperately need us.

Getting to them isn’t always easy. We have to travel by boat and wade through mangrove swamps, but we go wherever we’re needed.

That’s why we’re known locally as “de mammy fo welbodi” or “the mother of health”.

We don’t yet know the full extent of what the cuts could mean for Sierra Leone, but what we do know is how important UK aid has been in helping us reach the remote communities with reproductive healthcare.

We have been here for women through the civil war, the Ebola epidemic, and now a global pandemic.

MSI ceasing operations on the island is unimaginable.

People in remote areas would have nowhere else to access sexual and reproductive health services, women will go back to the practice of the childbearing year in year out, teenage pregnancy will rise, denying girls an education and death rates will increase.

Clients have told me: “If MSI stops delivering services in our communities because of lack of funds, we will suffer; because we will not be able to space our children as we are presently doing.”

We are begging MSI and the donors not to stop the good work they are doing. Family planning has and is improving our lives.

Bernard BM Malonga, Action Against Hunger, Democratic Republic of Congo

I work within an emergency nutrition and health response team that supports children and pregnant and lactating mothers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Our aim is to detect malnutrition and tackle the disease before it is too late.

In my country, 3.4 million children under five suffer from acute malnutrition. They need access to health services and treatment.

The project I work for is financed by UK aid and was going to support 210 health centres.

With the cuts announced yesterday, we know we will no longer be able to reach all the people we had intended. We will need to make choices, we will need to reduce our services, and that means people will be left out.

It breaks my heart and those of my colleagues. We have the knowledge to beat this treatable disease, to fight against it alongside the local communities, but the means to achieve our goals are denied because of economic reasons.

No one should suffer from hunger and malnutrition in 2021.

Children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are at immediate risk of death without treatment.

That is the most significant and awful consequence of the cuts on the short term. On the long term, malnourished children have more risk to develop stunting which has a physiological impact on the child’s own development.

Studies have shown that stunting consequences include poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages, lost productivity, which affect the whole society at the end.

Therefore, these cuts will have dramatic short term and long-term effects on both Congolese children and Congolese society.

A Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office spokesperson said: “The UK remains a world leader in international development, not only through the impact of these financial allocations but also through the creation of the FCDO, integrating diplomacy and development to deliver greater impact.

“In 2020 we were the third biggest aid donor globally, spending £14.5 billion. We will still spend more than £10 billion this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health.”

They added that the UK will prioritise supporting a range of other initiatives like girls’ education, humanitarian response, science and technology, conflict resolution and economic development.

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