‘No Man is an Island’
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
Extracts from – MEDITATION XVII – Devotions upon Emergent Occasions – John Donne
The announcement by the United Kingdom Government to reduce international aid from £14.5bn (about $20bn) last year to £10bn this year ($14bn) because of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, has major implications. The Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the UK Government will reduce its aid expenditure as a proportion of national income, and therefore decrease aid expenditure from 0.7% to 0.5% based on the UK’s GNI.
Yet, such a decision that could be catastrophic in terms of geopolitics and the world’s need to achieve its sustainable development targets, is hardly getting a mention in the press, and certainly nothing like the attention of the Prime Minister’s flat decorations in Downing Street.
For the past year, the Peace Foundation has been working with a partner organisation, the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Peace, to develop a ground-breaking programme that would see techniques we have developed in conflict resolution and preventing extreme violence; deployed across Lebanon.
We have spent hours, sleepless nights in fact, and years, building the relationships and trust, credentials, and credibility to undertake this work. The UK Aid funding application took days, weeks, months to complete and is hugely involved and the cost of the process is huge. We are not alone, there are numerous similar projects in development, using the UK’s strong global position to provide solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.
The decision to cut UK international aid has wiped out the programme. Following such a huge effort, the letter from the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) consisted of a few sentences. This one brought the bad news: “Unfortunately, we are having to make reductions in our programmes, including UK Aid Direct. The funding available to UK Aid Direct has been significantly reduced and we have had to make the difficult decision to not progress with UK Aid Direct Round 5 of the programme, which means your application for a grant will not be progressed.”
For us, it is not game over, as, even if our Government does not support our programme, we will try and seek help from others such as opening talks with the US State Department and the European Commission. For others, the decision is terrible. Two UN agencies announced huge funding cuts of more than 80%.
The UN Population Fund, which now calls itself the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, said it had been informed that its flagship family planning program was being cut from £154m ($211m) to around £23m ($32m). In addition, it said £12m ($17m) is being cut from its core operating funds. UNAIDS, which unites the work of 11 UN organisations trying to reduce HIV infections and deaths to zero, said its funding for 2021 was reduced from £15m ($21 million) in 2020 to £2.5m ($3.5m) for 2021.
There is a fact – violence and extremism will not go away, and like a virus, it does not respect borders, and we must invest globally to mitigate the risk. Covid 19 did not start in the UK yet it has taken us apart. It is similar with the vaccine, whilst we will all be heading off to the pub, all happily jabbed, the makeshift funeral pyres on the streets in India and a virus running out of control many thousands of miles away is a major risk to all of us, and a salutary waring, as variants travel.
It is similar if you allow other geopolitical matters to be unaddressed. We need long term investment, and our programme would have created a great deal of benefit in Lebanon and the UK, it would mitigate risk, improve security AND save money by supporting our economy.
Of course, this reduction in aid will play well to certain parts of the ‘galleries.’ The charity begins at home, control our borders contingent and, right leaning press will shed few tears for any reduction in foreign aid. The use of ‘taxpayer money’ on international development remains controversial.
Research shows that support for aid in the UK has remained relatively stable despite the long shadow of austerity and criticism. In France, support has risen sharply. Germany has maintained a high level of support throughout. Even in the US, support has grown slightly, perhaps with proponents of foreign aid mobilised into action by a politically divisive presidency (source – University of Birmingham).
The truth for an organisation, like the Peace Foundation, trying to create a long-term sustainable future, the withdrawal of this funding and lack of this work is bad news for the UK and our position in the world. In the medium to the long term, it will cost the UK more. The irony that the public health and economic meltdown of a pandemic spawned out of a crisis on the other side of the globe, leads us away from playing a part in creating a secure world, is not lost on us.
One can only hope that our refreshed search outside the UK to gain support for the vital work we propose in Lebanon will not go unheeded and that we can then deliver a programme with sustainable benefits and perhaps show the FCDO that we must reinstate investment as soon as possible.
The Creating Resilient Foundations for Peace Programme was a national, three-year intergroup civic capacity building programme working with people and community-based organisations, trained, and supported to carry out their own initiatives, engage in dialogue with policymakers, and adapt lessons from other conflict situations in order to strengthen institutions through accountability and build peace.
It was jointly designed by the Peace Foundation, Warrington UK and the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Peace based in Beirut, Lebanon.
My thanks goes to Jon Nicholas our senior programme adviser and Rabieh Kays in Lebanon.