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Next-Generation Aid

03/10/2017 16:45

The UK needs to bring its arms policy into line with its humanitarian principles.

The devastation caused to the British Virgin Islands by Hurricane Irma has triggered another debate on Britain's aid budget. This latest spat follows on the heels of the vigorous campaigns against the 0.7% aid target during the 2017 General Election. Yet the cross-party consensus on aid has held firm. With that consensus comes an opportunity for genuinely constructive discussion on how to ensure UK aid is spent as well as it possibly can be so that it makes the biggest possible impact over the course of this Parliament.

An issue of immediate concern is the dramatic increase in UK aid spent by departments other than the Department for International Development (DFID) - anticipated to hit 30% by 2020. In a new report entitled Next Generation Aid we at Save the Children argue that aid should be more joined-up across government, transparent and accountable to both taxpayers and recipients, and laser-focused on programmes that can inspire transformational change to children's lives and their futures.

One particularly egregious example of a non-joined-up approach is the UK's attitude to Yemen. There is a glaring inconsistency between arming Saudi Arabia, which in turn is waging a devastating conflict that is destroying millions of Yemeni lives, while also disbursing UK aid in order to respond to the massive and entirely predictable humanitarian needs that have arisen as a consequence.

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Yemen is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis. With access to the country hugely restricted for the international media, forcing the BBC to travel by ship to get in recently, the full scale of what is happening remains in the shadows. Yet the suffering is staggering. 20.7 million people in Yemen, including 11.3 million children, are currently in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Cholera is rampant and manmade famine perilously close. It is, put simply, as bad as it gets.

Almost 100 years ago, Save the Children's founder Eglantyne Jebb said that "every generation of children offers mankind the possibility of rebuilding his ruin of a world". Sadly British bombs are playing a significant role in creating the ruins of Yemen. The UK has approved £3.8 billion of arms licences to Saudi Arabia, the leader of a multinational coalition in Yemen, since the conflict escalated in March 2015. Exports include Paveway IV missiles and Typhoon fighter jets.
All parties in Yemen have been responsible for grave violations against children, but airstrikes by the Saudi-led Coalition are the leading cause of child deaths and injuries according to the United Nations. More than 4,000 children have been killed or maimed by all sides in the conflict since March 2015.

The UK should not undermine its humanitarian response in countries such as Yemen - including undermining investments of UK aid in assisting those populations in need - by exporting arms which contribute to increased rates of poverty and more civilian casualties. Suspending such sales is also in line with the will of the British public, as a new poll by Yougov for Save the Children revealed in September.

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The UK government can and must take further steps to ensure that humanitarian considerations are given far greater weight in decisions around the granting of arms export licenses in future. An immediate change would be to give DFID a more powerful role in the process and be formally represented in the Export Controls Joint Unit (ECJU). Having a humanitarian voice present at the table of these decisions would help avoid the stark inconsistency we currently see in terms of Britain's policies towards Yemen.

As the UK prepares to redefine its global brand in light of Brexit, our greatest export should be hope and the kind of life-saving support that our aid provides, not the trail of destruction, shattered schools, hospitals and lives that our weapons are contributing to in Yemen.

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