Ione Gildroy is a Youth Ambassador from the UK.
In March, I went to the international youth climate strike in Edinburgh and was overwhelmed by the huge number of protesters. They were chanting for climate justice and gender equality, and against racism, with many protesters also carrying banners and flags in support of Ukraine.
With this current crisis in Ukraine, it has become even more clear how important international aid is. Sanctions in Russia will have a global impact on food, fuel, and energy. We need to consider the effects that cuts to overseas aid would have on countries that receive and need aid.
Meanwhile, the upcoming UK International Development Strategy is due to be published imminently. It will outline drastic changes to aid spending allocations this year. The new strategy is said to focus on diplomacy and defence while making cuts to conflict, climate change, and poverty alleviation. It comes with the arrival of a new Foreign Secretary, MP Liz Truss, and will set out her strategy for International Development. Succinctly, the changes are said to prioritise foreign policy goals over long-term development initiatives.
Already, the cuts to the aid budget have amounted to £4.5 billion (US$6.3 billion) since 2019, making cuts to and even closures of key aid and development programmes abroad.
At the start of this month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published its 2020 and 2021 ODA figures by member countries. While there was a marginal increase in aid since 2020 (as one would expect from recent world events), the UK cut aid by 21.2% — the only G7 country to do so.
On top of this, climate change will cause issues in education, health, gender equality, food security, and conflict, all issues which will also be affected by cuts to aid. Currently, 6.5% of the aid budget is spent on climate change and biodiversity issues — that‘s about £534 million. But as the UK‘s aid budget remains at risk of being cut, that figure will decrease, putting millions of lives at risk.
These cuts will be a massive blow to the world’s most vulnerable. The effects will be felt most among the already marginalised in areas such as food security, global health, education, and more.
To ensure the safety and well-being of those most at risk, here are five reasons why the UK shouldn‘t cut key aspects of its aid budget.
1. It will impact climate action
Despite climate being listed as one of the UK‘s seven key priorities of overseas aid, the aid sector is expecting to see cuts being made to climate programmes. By aligning the UK‘s aid policy with the Paris Agreement, it evoked a climate leadership role on the world stage, setting the standards of overseas aid for other countries. The threat of aid cuts is a turnaround from this key priority.
Low-income countries bear the brunt of climate change — through floods, droughts, and desertification, while not being able to finance climate mitigation. High-income countries have a responsibility to reduce climate emissions and allow emerging economies to adapt and develop in a climate-sensitive way.
Climate change is inextricably linked to crises such as conflict, forced migration, and health crises. Cuts to climate mitigation projects will inevitably make the fight to end the more commonly-reported ’human‘ crises far harder to end. Climate change has a widespread impact in all corners of the world. Redirecting the aid budget away from long-term climate mitigation projects decreases the likelihood of achieving any of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
2. It will impact global education
Education has a huge effect on the global economy, health, conflict, and poverty. If adults had just two more years of schooling, 60 million people would be lifted out of poverty. This is especially true when it comes to girls‘ education.
When anyone, especially a girl, is educated, economies boom. One additional school year can increase a girl‘s future earnings by 10-20%, and 12 years of schooling for all girls would increase their lifetime earnings by $15-30 trillion. Education also reduces the risk of conflict, reduces child marriage, and reduces childhood deaths,
Cuts to aid would mean thousands of children would miss out on a potentially life-saving education.
3. People will miss out on vaccinations
It has become more evident than since the COVID-19 pandemic started that nobody is safe until everybody is safe. Cuts to aid will threaten this.
Cuts to funding organisations that fight diseases such as AIDS, polio, and malaria will have global effects, but will have a particular impact in low-income countries. For example, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative said that cuts would endanger the possibility of completely eradicating polio, having great effects on global health, but also on the people who are already the most vulnerable to these issues and others, such as climate and gender issues. Cuts to funding other global health initiatives will have similar global effects.
4. It will impact global food security
Malnutrition causes preventable childhood deaths, and negatively influences child development and future quality of life, and educational opportunities. If funding for programmes to fight it gets cut, there will be even more negative effects. And now with the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 crisis, and climate change, global food security is even more at risk. The war is impacting the global food supply, while the converging COVID-19 and climate change crises are leading to a “hunger pandemic.”
Access to food is affected by many factors, but particularly climate change and conflict, both nationally and internationally. Ukraine and Russia, for example, supply 34% of the world‘s wheat. Disruptions in this supply and also the supply of fertiliser could impact crop yields and food security in African countries, impacting prices on international markets. Egypt is dependent on Russia and Ukraine for between 70% and 85% of its wheat, meaning that, although Egypt is a relatively secure country food-wise, the war in Ukraine may have staggering effects on hunger levels. Cuts to international aid will further exacerbate issues that have already been worsened by both COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.
5. It will put those living in conflict even more at risk
Conflict is tightly linked with poverty. By 2030, up to two-thirds of the world‘s extreme poor will live in conflict affected settings, the World Bank estimates. Conflict exacerbates existing issues, and insecurities exacerbate existing fragility. Conflict prevents children from receiving education, increases food insecurity, and worsens gender-based issues and violence.
Cuts to the aid budget will threaten people, such as refugees and those living in conflict, who are already affected by these issues. But saving the aid budget and investing in stability potentially means that crises can be prevented from escalating to war, therefore saving lives.
6. It will impact women and girls‘ well-being
“When funding stops, women and girls suffer,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, the United Nations Population Fund‘s executive director, said following previous funding cuts.
It is women and girls who are affected the most by climate change, with 80% of climate refugees being girls and women. Female refugees are at a greater risk of sexual violence, sex trafficking, and forced marriage. That‘s why the UK, and the world, cannot afford to stop investing in women and girls.
If governments invested in female refugees‘ economic opportunities these women could contribute $1.4 trillion to the global GDP. Similarly, investing in girls‘ education and sexual health would have positive effects on global economies. By decreasing investment in women and girls, we lose the skills and ideas that these women have to offer, as well as their potential positive influence on the global economy.
Why we need to act now
The huge effects that aid budget cuts would have on ongoing work to fight the climate crisis, provide healthcare, fight gender inequality and violence, support education, and prevent conflict and famine will undoubtedly cost lives. With the war in Ukraine and the economic fallout of the pandemic, crises are increasingly global.
They see no borders and their effects are beginning to be felt in all corners of the world. Now is the time to be investing more in key areas of development aid – not making more cuts.