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UNA-UK’s response to UK funding cut to Yemen

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UNA-UK’s response to UK funding cut to Yemen

On 1 March 2021 the UK announced it would be donating £87 million in aid to Yemen, less than half the funding donated in 2020-2021. This alarming announcement comes after warnings that Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen in decades. 

The high-level pledging event, hosted by the governments of Sweden and Switzerland and the UN, raised a total US $1.6 billion - a fraction of the $4 billion the UN has said would be necessary. This is deeply concerning as the UN’s outgoing Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) Mark Lowcock has stressed the full amount was critical to prevent “mass famine”. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has since warned that cutting aid was a death sentence - 50,000 Yemenis are already experiencing famine-like conditions and more than 16 million people are expected to go hungry this year.

The decreased funding pledge follows the UK’s announcement that it is cutting its aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%. In January 2021 the FCDO said that the UK is playing a leading role in the relief effort, citing the previous year’s donation. The cut also comes weeks after reports that the UK has authorised £1.4 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia since arms exports resumed in July 2020. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition intervening in Yemen which, according to the UN, has been responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in the conflict.  

UNA-UK is deeply concerned by this latest development, and recently highlighted that the UK’s ongoing conduct in Yemen has demonstrated the urgent need for a merit-based process in appointing the new ERC, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a role informally “ringfenced” for a British national. 

UNA-UK firmly believes that all appointments to senior positions in the UN system should be on merit, and not reserved for any one country, but if the UK wanted to ensure the best opportunity for a Briton to be appointed then the Government must end its complicity in the devastating conflict in Yemen and halt arms sales to all parties of the conflict. The announcement of a 60% cut in UK aid is likely to have diminished the chances that a Briton will continue to occupy one of the most important roles in the UN system. 

Speaking in Parliament, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said that the £87 million represented "the floor not the ceiling". We urge the UK to rapidly rise up from the floor and pledge additional funding to the relief effort in Yemen. It would not be appropriate for the UK to hold the promise or threat of further funding over the head of the United Nations while the position of Emergency Relief Coordinator is being decided. While we have no doubt that this is not the UK's intention we therefore urge the UK to urgently provide clarity as to its funding commitments with respect to Yemen.


Photo: Food distribution in Yemen, Taiz (Qahira district), February 2016. Credit: WFP/Ahmed Basha