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World News

Christian charities warn UK's foreign aid cuts risk hundreds of thousands of lives

by Heather Preston

Christian aid agencies are calling on the government to restore its oversees aid budget to protect hundreds of thousands of lives at risk. 

It comes as ministers have warned significant cuts to the foreign aid budget could increase poverty, hunger, and even deaths around the globe.

The International Development Committee has raised concerns that some programmes – particularly those helping women and children – are at risk of collapse.

An internal government assessment reveals hundreds of thousands more women will face unsafe abortions, and thousands will die in pregnancy and childbirth because of UK aid cuts in 2023-24. The document outlines cuts to the department's Overseas Development Assistance budget worth more than £900m for this year.

Published by the Foreign Office on Wednesday, the analysis reveals poor countries are being "short-changed" as a result of other government departments "raiding the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office's (FCDO's) aid budget" after government decisions to spend a significant proportion of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget in the UK. Cuts to the foreign aid budget followed a decision in 2021 by then-prime minister Boris Johnson to reduce its target from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income.

According to the report, a £ 30 million cut to aid for South Sudan this year will leave 27,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition, potentially resulting in up to 3,000 deaths.

Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD told Premier these cuts add fuel to the fire: "Aid cuts to that region of Africa have shrunk by a fifth from 2017 - so already that region was suffering from it. And that region is also suffering as one of the frontline states of the climate crisis - which the UK caused historically, and those people are suffering hardest."

The report also reveals a 49 per cent cut to the UK's "pan Africa" aid budget significantly impacts women's sexual health across the continent. It warns thousands more women will die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth while the number of unsafe abortions will increase by approximately 185,000.

Thorns told Premier that despite government cuts, he's been amazed by the response of the Catholic community to the struggles of those in East Africa: "People have been giving really generously, and I think that's fantastic. So actually, I think some of the money that people have provided from the Catholic community and others to us has provided support to some of the most difficult-to-reach areas."

The Foreign Office has said the cut to the overseas aid budget for low-income countries is a temporary measure to meet savings targets. It is expected to nearly double in the future, particularly as a year-long commitment to support Ukrainian refugees comes to a close.

Thorns says it's everybody's duty to hold the government to account: "I think we must make sure that when that money comes in, it really goes to support the poorest and most vulnerable communities. I think that is something we should all urge the government and Andrew Mitchell (the development minister) to do."

Christian Aid has warned the UK aid cuts "betray the world's most marginalised".

The international aid charity is calling on ministers to restore the aid budget and "cancel the debt of countries whose people are in jeopardy".

Jennifer Larbie, Christian Aid's head of campaigns and UK

advocacy says there's no "if's or buts" and insists the UK's aid budget must be restored.

"The UK has a historic and moral responsibility for ending extreme poverty. We must not accept the false choice between responding to poverty at home and fulfilling our responsibilities to the vulnerable women and girls around the world."



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