UK aid cuts of 42% will leave some 70,000 people without health services and 100,000 without water in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee settlement, ahead of the deadly cyclone season, the foreign minister warned. for Asia.
A private letter sent to him last week by a group of aid agencies working in the area comes ahead of a vote on Monday designed to force ministers to guarantee they will restore UK aid to 0.7% of income. gross domestic next year.
The government faces the dilemma of trying to block the Conservative-led rebellion in the week Britain chairs the G7, or backing down.
Boris Johnson still believes that the aid cuts are politically popular and that the rebels, led by former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell and former Prime Minister Theresa May, are disconnected.
But the growing impact of a second year of cuts makes it more likely that Johnson will side with the majority opinion within the Foreign Office and announce that aid will be restored to 0.7% next year.
The letter to Asia Minister Nigel Adams on the plight of refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, most of whom have fled the brutal Myanmar regime, underscores the impact of UK aid cuts in sensitive areas .
The letter reads: “The 42% cuts represent a staggering reduction in light of the government’s statements and the current reality facing those at Cox’s Bazar. After the publication of the integrated review, NGOs were assured that Bangladesh was an important part of the ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’. Just last year, when the UK co-sponsored a world conference to mobilize resources, the Foreign Secretary urged the world ‘not to turn away from the’ suffering ‘of the Rohingya. “
The letter says the cuts are likely to have two main impacts. “First, it will significantly undermine efforts to address humanitarian needs in Cox’s Bazar. While risks to refugees have been on the rise, funding for the response has declined since last year when key sectors prioritized by the UK, including water and sanitation, gender-based violence (GBV), housing and education were 80-92% underfunded. ”.
The second impact is likely to be felt through an increase in Covid infections in the camps, the letter says.
On Sunday, Johnson called for everyone to get vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of next year, but no refugees in Cox’s Bazar have been vaccinated.
While there has not been a major outbreak so far, the letter says that “the security situation in the camps has drastically deteriorated, access to education and livelihoods remains severely limited, risking a lost generation of children. , while the evidence indicates that cases of gender violence are increasing. This year has also seen a 300% increase in fires destroying the homes of tens of thousands of refugees. In response, increasing numbers of people are turning to smugglers and risking their lives to get out of the camps. “
The UK, a former colonial power in Myanmar, is the second-largest donor contributing £ 321 million to the response since 2017, but the sudden and unpredictable nature of the Foreign Office cuts has left agencies unable to respond. to plan. The letter, sent Thursday, says that “a foreign ministry aid partner reports that planned and existing projects targeting approximately 50,000 Rohingya refugees and members of the host community have been canceled.”
Funding for projects that support children with disabilities to access education and other services are not renewed, undermining a key pillar of the UK’s disability inclusion strategy.
Targets for cutting UK aid, broadly agreed in January, are based on now overly pessimistic forecasts about the size of the economy this year, the rebels say, meaning more than £ 1bn is being levied. in additional cuts than required. The OECD forecasts, acclaimed by the Treasury, say that UK growth this year will be above 7% and not the 5.1% forecast in March.