Why a return to 0.7 needs to include action on conflict.
By Chris Loughran, Senior Policy Advisor at The HALO Trust & CFID Advisory Council Member
Conservative rebels are pushing hard to secure a return to UK’s 0.7% aid spend. That’s obviously the right thing to do – slashing the aid budget by a third in the middle of a global health pandemic was not. But going back to 0.7 also needs to involve a close look at what was missed out before the cuts.
Conflict is probably the clearest example of an area that has been neglected by the UK aid budget. The UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) report for 2019/20 recorded only a fraction of the bilateral budget having been spent on Civilian Peace-Building, Conflict Prevention and Resolution.
So it is good news that the Foreign Secretary has included conflict within his aid priorities. But at the moment this is just words. It needs to be turned into a funded strategy that draws on the best of British expertise, including expert NGOs like The HALO Trust.
A new 0.7% should see action on conflict properly prioritised. Not just on paper, but with a strategy that is fit for purpose and with a budget to deliver it.
The humanitarian case for taking action on conflict speaks for itself and it reflects UK values. A decade after the hope of the Arab Spring, the conflict in Syria is now in its tenth year. That decade has claimed more than 400,000 lives through indiscriminate bombing, starvation and chemical attacks. Millions have been displaced, with consequences for neighbours and the domestic politics of Europe.
To the south, the war in Yemen has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and brought the country to the brink of famine. The UN reports four million people uprooted from their homes and 20 million in dire need of assistance. But the economic and strategic case is also straightforward.
Conflict costs the global economy nearly 15 trillion dollars a year. It is the largest cause of population displacement and creates a multi-billion dollar burden through humanitarian appeals. Meanwhile, the World Bank estimates that two thirds of the world’s poor will live in proximity to conflict by 2030. Unless cycles of conflict are broken, gains in poverty reduction, gender equality and eradicating hunger and malnutrition will be undone.
Taking action now to prevent and resolve conflict is one of the most important actions the UK can take abroad to safeguard its investment of billions of UK taxpayers’ money.
Of course there are good reasons to be cautious after the interventionism that characterised the 2000s. But the decade that followed showed that risk aversion and keeping a distance doesn’t work either. Others – many of whom don’t share our values – are more than happy to occupy the space. There needs to be a new approach.
What we now need instead is a comprehensive conflict strategy that combines our excellent diplomatic service and position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with defence engagement and smart use of UK aid and expertise. That, after all, is what we were promised when the new Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office was formed.
Fortunately, this has public support. Recent Coalition for Global Prosperity polling showed that 80% of new Conservative voters in ‘red wall’ seats felt that helping the world’s poorest is the right thing to do. And in Conservative-Liberal Democrat marginal seats, 86% of those polled think aid helps the UK achieve its foreign policy objectives, with 84% feeling it sets us apart from other nations.
So the humanitarian, economic and strategic case is clear. The electorate supports it. And NGOs like HALO want to work with the government to support a new conflict strategy that is fit for purpose. It feels like all that is missing is a government that wants to take us up on the offer.