UK to slash funding for overseas water and sanitation projects by 80%

Scale of aid cut emerges in leaked FCDO memo, prompting experts to describe it as ‘a national shame’

The UK is to slash funding for lifesaving water, sanitation and hygiene projects in developing nations by more than 80%, according to a leaked memo.

The cuts have been described as “savage”, “incredible” and “a national shame” by experts highlighting that sanitation and handwashing is a key line of defence during the coronavirus pandemic. The reduction to the bilateral aid budget was revealed as details emerged of cuts in the foreign aid budget.

The government has come under sustained criticism for shelving its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, cutting that to 0.5%. The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, was lambasted for having given scant detail of how the cut would affect overseas aid spending when publishing a statement last week.

Further details have emerged from the leak, in the form of a document prepared for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) minister Wendy Morton and first reported by the Telegraph.

“We expect criticism on the reduction in spend, particularly as the UK public views water, sanitation and hygiene (Wash) as a priority area for UK aid, because hand hygiene is widely recognised as a critical intervention to counter the spread of Covid-19, and because the cuts are being announced in the year that the UK is hosting Cop26,” it says.

“Try to focus their attention on the fact that we are shifting our approach to strengthening sustainable and resilient national Wash services,” it adds.

While the overall Wash budget will be cut by 64% in 2021-22 compared with 2019, bilateral aid funding for clean water will be reduced by 80%.

Tim Wainwright, the chief executive of the WaterAid charity, said: “There is never a good time to cut aid for lifesaving water and sanitation but the middle of the worst pandemic for 100 years must be one of the worst.

“What is even more incredible is that these savage cuts to the funding of water and sanitation, which are the first line of defence against the twin threats of Covid-19 and the impacts of climate change in the world’s poorest countries, should happen just months ahead of the G7 and Cop26 climate summits at which the UK is wanting to demonstrate global leadership.”

The former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said the move would be “extremely unpopular” and undermine Britain’s reputation.

The Conservative MP said: “Access to water and sanitation is consistently the UK public’s top priority when polled about what aid should be spent on. We are balancing the books on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world and it is a matter of national shame for our country to be slashing spending in this way.

“This will be extremely unpopular and will undermine Britain’s reputation ahead of hosting the G7 and the climate change Cop. Ministers must put these cuts to a vote.”

The FCDO defended its plan to cut the overall aid budget, saying “tough but necessary decisions” were being made due to the financial impact of Covid-19.

“We will still spend more than £10bn this year to fight poverty, tackle climate change and improve global health,” a spokesperson said. “We are working through what this means for individual programmes.”

The shadow international development secretary, Preet Kaur, said the cuts to clean water funding were “shameful”.

Contributor

Amelia Hill

The GuardianTramp

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