The UK has been accused of taking the “insulting and shortsighted” decision to cut humanitarian aid to east Africa at a time of chronic drought, conflict and rising food prices.
At a United Nations pledging conference in New York on Wednesday, which the UK is co-chairing, Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s international development minister, announced a humanitarian aid package to the region of £143m.
But NGOs pointed out that the funding marked a £13m reduction on the amount allocated last year, and came as the cost of basic items such as cooking oil and fuel continued to rise.
“The UK’s announcement that it will cut funding … is a betrayal of tens of millions of people in the region facing life-threatening food insecurity,” said Katy Chakrabortty, head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam.
“As co-chair of the pledging conference, the UK is guilty of a gross dereliction of duties. In place of global leadership we have furtive penny pinching,” she said.
The UN estimates that across east Africa almost 72 million people require humanitarian aid this year due to five failed rainy seasons, conflict and flooding.
Many of the problems are particularly acute in Somalia, where more than a million people have been forced to flee their homes so far this year, according to new figures released on Wednesday.
Data from the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), showed the country had seen a record rate of displacement between 1 January and 10 May.
“With 1 million people displaced already in less than five months, we can only fear the worst in the coming months as all the ingredients of this catastrophe are boiling in Somalia,” said Mohamed Abdi, NRC’s country director in Somalia.
In mid-May 245,000 people fled from the central Somalian town of Beledweyne when the Shabelle River burst its bank triggering flash floods.
The UK has given Somalia £48m this year, less than the £62m last year, and less than half of what was provided in 2021.
In a video statement, Mitchell described the unrelenting drought facing the Horn of Africa as “one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in the world”, and noted that conflict was “tearing apart communities” across the region.
Sudan, one of the countries included in the aid package, recently erupted in conflict between two warring generals, triggering a wave of displacement and further bloodshed.
“Our funding could not come at a more critical moment, and it is clear that we must act now and do all we can to save lives,” said Mitchell.
However, Mike Noyes, ActionAid UK’s head of humanitarian response, said the funding, while indeed “urgently needed”, was “still significantly less” than in previous years and crises.
He said: “Had these funds been made available earlier, they would have been far more effective at tackling the horrific impacts of this climate crisis.”
Lis Wallace, UK policy and advocacy director at the One Campaign, said: “This wholly inadequate response exposes the human cost of the government’s decision to reduce its support to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
“Failing to increase funding to one of the most devastating humanitarian emergencies happening today, when G7 leaders have just pledged billions of dollars in Japan for security and defence, is both insulting and shortsighted.”
Callum Northcote, head of hunger and nutrition at Save the Children, said that in 2017, when governments acted to prevent famine in parts of east Africa, the UK under prime minister Theresa May had contributed more than £800m.
“Today they have pledged just a fraction of this,” he said, adding it was “critical that this … announcement serves as a starting point. The job is far from done and, given the scale of need, this cannot signal the total ambition of the UK government.”
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said the £143m pledged for the financial year 2023/2024 included £48m for Somalia, £42m for Ethiopia, and smaller amounts for South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda.