UK government denounced after slashing aid to Yemen

Decision described as ‘inexplicable’ with millions facing famine

The British government was rebuked after confirming it would significantly reduce aid given to Yemen in 2021, despite the threat of famine and death to millions of people there.

Middle East Minister James Cleverly told an online donor conference that the UK would give at least £87m ($121.2m) over the next financial year, compared to the £160m it pledged at the same summit last year and £214m across 2020.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who visited Aden in 2019, said he was “deeply disappointed by the decision”.

“Timing is inexplicable, with the UN warning only last week that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades,” he said.

The UN told the conference attended by more than 100 governments and donors that it is seeking $3.85 billion to prevent famine in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia said it would give $430m, the UAE $230m and the US $191m.

Germany offered $241m, compared to $138m last year.

Aid groups warned of catastrophe if cuts to funding continued. Six million people in Yemen – half of them children – are without access to clean water or sanitation during the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK took its decision after its former international development secretary said about four million Yemenis will "continue the slow, agonising and obscene process of starving to death” should aid be cut.

Andrew Mitchell said that reducing support to Yemen would be the “harbinger of cuts to come in the future” that could lead to hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths around the world.

He was referring in part to Britain’s decision last year to reduce its total spending on aid from 0.7 per cent of its gross national income to 0.5 per cent.

Mr Hunt said the UK’s move to cut financial support for Yemen felt like “an inevitable consequence” of that decision.

“It is unlikely to be noticed with so much else going on but will cost lives and discourage other countries from playing their part.

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

“We should be increasing the scale of our support in the face of such suffering; to cut it at this moment of extreme peril is incomprehensible,” Mr Hunt said.

Before the Yemen conference, Mr Mitchell said reports of the cuts were particularly troubling because the UK was president of the UN Security Council in February.

“It’s a very serious matter indeed in terms of what is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment, but also in an area where Britain has in the past shown very considerable leadership and achieved extraordinary results,” he told the BBC.

Mr Mitchell said it was important that other countries increased their aid contributions to Yemen, but that it would set a bad example if the UK reduced its input.

He said the UK was involved in the situation in Yemen because it was part of the Saudi-led coalition in the country.

“We cannot wash our hands of what is going on the ground there, the humanitarian catastrophe," he said.

Updated: March 2, 2021 02:54 PM

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