Why 2016 is the year to leap, not shuffle, towards gender equality

left to right, Katie Berrington, Karen Gould, Emily Berrington

Katie Berrington, Karen Gould & Emily Berrington

By Emily and Katie Berrington

Despite being the year that the United States may be set to welcome its first female president; the first year that Saudi Arabia’s female residents will live under municipal governments that they were able to vote in; and the year that more than 90 countries answered the UN Women’s call to “Step It Up For Gender Equality”; 2016 has not been an easy year to be a woman in many parts of the world. Far from it, in fact. Headlines of progression for women’s rights are scarce and a quick scan of the top news stories over the last two months confirms that we have a long way to go before equality is achieved – approximately 117 years according to the World Economic Forum, based on indicators of health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. Even more worrying, this estimate increased by 38 years between 2014 and 2015, due to a slowdown in the rate of progress.

But it is not just about the figures – so far this year has seen women suffering disproportionately in conflict zones around the world, with groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram using sexual violence as a weapon of war and suppressing women’s rights in areas under their control. Many fleeing war torn homes report assault, exploitation and harassment on their journey to safety (Amnesty International, 2016) with little protection or security being provided to those at risk. The battle against Female Genital Mutilation rages on, with an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing it every year (WHO, 2016). Human trafficking remains an international issue – the most common form being sexual exploitation and victims predominantly being female. And, although women may have been given the vote locally (still not nationally) in Saudi Arabia, they continue to face sanctions, such as the lack of freedom to drive to the polling station, which render a historical development less of a leap and more of a shuffle in the right direction.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to address the enormous forces working against women’s rights and preventing true gender equality. It is a chance to petition governments, to challenge, to campaign, to take action. It is also a time to celebrate, to reflect on the achievements that have been made and to salute the fantastic work that is being done, as well as to recognise how much further there is to go. The headlines are bleak, but they are not ineradicable.

This International Women’s Day we will be celebrating some of the many women who have inspired us – in the opportunities we have had and the choices we have made. Our mum, who made being a feminist the norm and led by example in encouraging us to expect and strive for parity in both our personal and professional lives. Harriet Harman, who Emily was lucky enough to see being honoured at last year’s Labour Women’s Conference for bringing what had previously been seen as “women’s issues” – childcare, for instance – to parliament. She was often mocked or ignored and we are grateful that she refused to concede. Finally, Malala Yousafzai, whose courage in the face of unspeakable adversity and dedication to advocate girls’ right to education worldwide drives progress forward, and to whom we give the closing words. “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

Let’s all raise up our voices, in whatever ways we can, this year.

Better off in – how the EU supports the fight against poverty

LKSBy Laura Kyrke-Smith, Chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development – @laurakyrkesmith

Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where what happens in other parts of the world has an impact on our lives. The Government’s ability to protect people from terrorism here is affected by its ability to stop people becoming terrorists elsewhere. Their ability to limit immigration here is affected by weak economies that drive migration elsewhere. The cost of food in our supermarkets depends on whether farmers elsewhere have a good or bad year.

Meanwhile across the world, governments, with the exception of a few rogue outliers, have recognised that the way to tackle shared challenges is more cooperation not less. Last year, the Chinese joined governments from across the world at the Paris climate summit, spotting an opportunity to get pollution levels down in Beijing. The US Government worked through a coalition of states to bring a nuclear Iran to the negotiating table, knowing it couldn’t do it alone. Last month, high-level delegates from seventy countries met in London, recognising only shared action would lead to better aid for the victims of the conflict in Syria.

By accident more than design, the EU got ahead of the game a long time ago. A club formed to build peace and prosperity among its own members became their most effective means for doing exactly this elsewhere in the world. And in turn, beyond the most hopeful imaginings of its founders, the club has become a leading source of power and influence globally.

Whether or not the EU is any good at international development, and whether Britain’s membership of the EU enhances its ability to do international development, is not going to sway the average undecided voter in the June referendum. But the EU’s role in international development has been an important part of its growing soft power in the world – and to date the British government and British aid organisations have only benefitted from this fact.

The EU is one of the world’s most generous aid donors. The development and humanitarian assistance provided by the EU scores highly in rankings of transparency and accountability. The fact that funding from member states is pooled allows it to go further and wider, and to be used more efficiently. The assistance provided becomes the living embodiment of proud European values across the world – stability, democracy and human dignity. Values which, while not exclusively European of course, are nurtured by Europe’s support for them.

For Britain, which delivers 10% of its development spending through the EU, membership delivers value for money. It gives us reach into countries where we have no presence of our own but vital security interests, such as parts of West Africa affected by violence and climate fragility. It enhances our ability to support countries and tackle issues where British aid alone wouldn’t make enough difference, for example the humanitarian crisis in Syria and support for those who have had to flee. In 2014, the last year for which statistics are available, the EU delivered more humanitarian assistance inside Syria than anywhere else in the world.

Beyond delivery of aid, being inside the EU amplifies Britain’s voice and influence in the world on issues from trade to climate change, from democracy to human rights. Britain earns respect within the EU for being a generous donor, giving Britain an ability to shape the work that the EU does, through its collective power, to tackle these issues in the world.

As a Labour movement, fairness and equality are in our DNA, and we should embrace any opportunity to advance these values at home and abroad. The EU gives us the opportunity to do precisely this, as a champion of international development and an institution better at doing it than most. Leaving the EU would likely reduce both the impact of our aid and our ability to make a difference to the lives of the world’s poorest people, be it through fairer trade or tackling climate change, the effects of which are most often felt by the poor.

But it’s not just about international development. Leaving the EU makes it harder to influence all the global debates and decisions that affect us. Cooperation is tough, and often the EU gives us a head start. Think again of the cooperation that was required to secure a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, or the cooperation that will be required to end the conflict in Syria – first and foremost a tragedy for the Syrian people, but not without implications for Britain.

And that’s the bottom line: Even if undecided voters don’t care about our values, and don’t see EU membership as a route to advancing them, self-interest should kick in. Being part of the EU boosts Britain’s standing as a global power, and gives the British Government more power to affect global decisions and actions that directly impact the everyday lives of British people.

This piece originally featured on the Labour Movement for Europe website HERE

Watch out for any budgetary backtracking on aid commitments

Supporters of international development should watch this week’s budget announcement very carefully. Overseas aid and the role of DFID are not usually at the forefront of a Chancellor’s mind when delivering a budget – personal taxation, welfare and big capital spending projects tend to get all the attention. But just because the budget is usually domestically focused doesn’t mean that Wednesday’s announcement won’t have a big impact on Britain’s progress towards tackling global economic injustice. As is so often the case, what is missing from the Chancellor’s announcement could tell us as much as what is included about where the Coalition’s priorities lie.

The first, and most obvious, signal of the government’s intention towards international development will be whether overseas aid (a sub-set of DFID’s budget) remains ring-fenced from spending cuts alongside areas like the NHS. To date Cameron and Osborne have held firm against backbenchers, donors and even (so it is said) their own DFID minister against slashing the relatively small proportion of UK GDP spent on aid. However, the Chancellor is clearly under pressure to appease a growing chorus of disapproval over the ring-fencing of specific budgets. Recently Cameron has ducked the opportunity to back a Labour proposal to enforce the commitment to spend 0.7% in law. Given that several of last year’s budget announcements were reversed soon after the omnishambles, nothing should be taken for granted. Even with the aid ring-fence in place it must not be forgotten that Labour’s previous commitment to bring to UK up to 0.7% – which we hope will be met in this budget – now represents a far smaller level of aid spending in absolute terms given the Coalition’s inability to restore economic growth after 3 years in office. Some of the world’s poorest people are now paying a price for the government’s economic policy.

There are other ways that UK’s international aid commitment could be watered down. The second area to watch out for is whether DIFD spending is stretched to cover peacekeeping activities normally covered by the MoD. Last month Cameron hinted that aid spending should be diverted into the ‘conflict pool’ – something the Labour Campaign for International Development has covered previously. Such diversion of aid spending obviously takes away funds from other projects and reduces the impact of DFID at a time when it has already come under heavy cuts that impact its effectiveness. Of equal concern is the fact that mixing up development and peace-keeping spending undermines Britain’s leading role on international development by militarising our overseas aid. Therefore whilst the ring-fencing commitment may be met in nominal terms there is the risk that there may be less to this than meets the eye.

Finally, it will be a missed opportunity if this budget does not at least hint at long-term vision for the UK’s geo-political and economic role. This is, after all, not only a year in which Britain will chair the G8 but also a year in which David Cameron will lead the effort to design the next generation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Rather than just talking about Britain’s role on the world’s stage the Chancellor could set a real level of ambition about what the world economy could look like beyond 2015, when the current MDGs expire. A short-term re-hash of austerity economics from this budget, without a thought to Britain’s place in the world would represent a tragically missed opportunity.

It would be ungenerous to the Chancellor to assume the worst before he has delivered his budget statement. The government has at least kept up the commitment to 0.7% so far which is to be welcomed. However under a Labour government, the UK’s hard won reputation for leadership on international development involved not just a commitment from the DFID Secretary but also a firm basis in the UK’s economic policy, something that can only come from the Chancellor. With this in mind of us watching Wednesday’s budget who believe in development will be very careful to read between the lines.

Charlie Samuda is LCID’s Vice Chair, Communications and Campaigning

Cameron may be breaking OECD aid rules to placate Tory backbenchers

As posted on Left Foot Forward.

The Labour Campaign for International Development warned before the 2010 election that there was a risk the Conservatives would divert the aid budget away from poverty reduction and towards national security.

RAF-C17 Transport AircraftToday’s news that hundreds of millions of pounds may be diverted to peacekeeping defence operations in bid toplacate backbenchers proves those warnings right.

And it wasn’t just us – before the election Save the Children told Left Foot Forward that they were:

“Very concerned that the Conservatives’ security spokesperson…left open the possibility of significant aid funds being diverted into stabilisation units.”

If Cameron is to do this he may end up breaking the rules laid down by the OECD and indeed our own International Development Act of 2002 in the process.

As LCID’s Honorary Co-President Glenys Kinnock said this morning:

“The Development Assistance Committee of OECD guidelines are very clear on what qualifies as aid – hope PM has read them.”

No 10 said the aid budget could be ‘used to fund military spending in three areas; security, demobilisation and peacekeeping‘.

Yet the OECD guidelines explicitly state that the enforcement aspects of peacekeeping are not reportable as ODA:

Military aid: No military equipment or services are reportable as ODA. Anti-terrorism activities are also excluded.

Peacekeeping: Most peacekeeping expenditures are excluded in line with the exclusion of military costs. ”

The 2002 International Development Act is also explicit in its requirement that British aid be spend on poverty reduction alone.

As Patrick Watt, Save the Children’s director of development, told the Guardian in 2010;

“What is the real driver of aid allocation? Is it poverty, is it need and the ability to use money effectively or is it the agenda of the National Security Council? We do need to have a balanced approach to aid allocation that reflects the principles of the 2002 International Development Act which stipulates that all aid should be for poverty reduction.”

Indeed DFID’s own website states;

“The 2002 Act is drafted in such a way that a policy such as ‘tied aid’ (and the Aid and Trade Provision), in which assistance is given for the purpose of promoting UK trade or for other commercial or political reasons, would now be challengeable in the courts.”

LCID does not object to the coalition’s decision to focus 30% of the aid budget on the world’s most fragile states. But we object strongly to any attempt to raid the aid budget to make up for the cuts the Government have made our armed forces.

Charlie Samuda is LCID’s Vice Chair, Communications and Campaigning

Labour’s Mark Hendrick Seeks Legal Commitment to 0.7%

Labour MP Mark Hendrick has used a private members bill to propose a binding legal commitment to ensure that 0.7% of UK GDP is spent on international aid. Writing to David Cameron this week he called for the Prime Minister to strongly support the measure, given concerns that the bill would fail to gain sufficient parliamentary time. In the letter dated 14th Feb three Labour MPs, Mark Hendrick, Martin Horwood & Jeremy Lefroy called on the Conservatives in parliament to back the bill which puts a previous commitment to ring fence the aid spending target into law:

‘…we would ask you to throw your full weight behind the Private Members’ Bill. As you know, there was a cross party pledge to introduce the 0.7% target at the last General Election, which was included in the Coalition programme and is underpinned by a moral commitment to help the poorest people in the world…’ – the Labour MPs’ letter to Cameron

The 0.7% commitment remains an important milestone internationally, and it is right that Britain should lead the way among G8 countries in fulfilling that commitment to keeping up spending on development. However a commitment to 0.7% is not a panacea. To begin with, as has been has been said on this blog before, the Coalition’s failure to restore meaningful economic growth in the 3 years since the election inevitably means that the existing aid spending commitment, whilst ring fenced, is an effective cut since it is 0.7% of a smaller GDP total. As well as focusing on the absolute level of spending LCID believes that aid could and should be made more effective (in line with international agreements at Paris, Accra and Busan). Despite repeatedly talking about aid effectiveness the Conservative record at DFID has seen cuts to DFID staff that have crippled the department’s ability to innovate or to lead the way on reforms to aid delivery and effectiveness, as they have done in the past.

‘I think that 0.7 percent of our gross national income, I don’t believe that is too high a price to pay for trying to save lives.’ – David Cameron speaking at a press conference in May 2011

Nonetheless Mark Hendrick’s private members bill is an important step towards cementing a lasting UK commitment to international development. Labour hopes that the bill will move to Committee stage on March 1st but if not the Prime Minister should use the Queen’s Speech in May to include the commitment into the government’s agenda for the next parliamentary session.

Cameron has stood up to his party on ring-fencing 0.7% before. Let’s hope the Prime Minister remains true to his word and gives his full support to the bill.

There must be cross-party commitment to passing the 0.7% international aid bill

First published on Left Foot Forward

Today presents a rare opportunity to ensure a commitment made in the election manifestos of all three parties and the coalition agreement is honoured – the pledge to enshrine the UK’s spending of 0.7% of gross national income into law.

Labour and Co-operative MP Mark Hendrick has tabled a Private Member’s Bill on the issue, which is due a second reading, but will fall unless there is enough parliamentary time to debate it.

Unfortunately, there is not normally enough time to debate more than two Private Member’s Bills.

With this bill third on the list, the sponsors of the first two bills would have to agree to curb the time spent debating their own bills – or agree to drop one – if the 0.7% bill were to have any chance of being discussed.

After the partisan bickering of the past week over the Libor rate, the Conservatives have an excellent opportunity to give time to an issue on which, for once, we all agree on.

One of the two Conservative MPs whose bills are ahead of Hendrick’s is Richard Harrington, and as a committed member of the International Select Committee there will surely be few keener to see this bill pass than he.

Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell has claimed that only limited parliamentary time has prevent this law from being passed already. We at the Labour Campaign for International Development and the wider development movement, have taken those reassurances in good faith – and the time has come for that faith to be honoured.

Harrington and Mitchell should work together both to ensure there is enough time for the bill to be debated and that Conservative MPs vote it through.

If they do not it will only serve to undermine confidence in this government’s commitment to reach the 0.7% target. Whilst the headline promise remains welcome, there are increasing reasons to be concerned.

First, rather than increase DFID’s budget steadily to the target, the government announced in 2010 it would freeze spending for the first two years, essentially withholding £2.2bn that could have been spent vaccinating children, training teachers and providing life-saving ARVs.

Then in the Autumn Statement last year it was announced that because GNI projections are likely to be lower than previously forecast, 0.7% will equate to less money and so the budget is to be reduced further. But GNI is not down because of an act of God – it is down because the governments’ austerity policies are failing and are choking off growth.

Effectively a £1.2bn cut to the aid budget it made their promise “not to balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest people” look rather hollow.

And then in May the government’s own 0.7% bill was omitted from the Queen’s speech and DFID’s revised business plan pushed by the target for delivery of this legislation was March 2015 – meaning that the passing of Hendrick’s Private Member’s Bill is the only way which the Conservatives can avoid breaking their election promise.

With all of this happening against a backdrop of fierce opposition from backbench Conservative MPs and the right-wing press, it’s no wonder the development sector is getting worried.

Yet as things stand there has been no public campaigning by charities to support the passing of the Private Member’s Bill today. Charities do not think they can back the bill because it does not have MPs from different parties co-sponsoring the bill (both Alison McGovern and Michael McCann are Labour MPs on the International Development Select Committee).

Whilst this would have been preferable, charities are making the wrong judgement and a poor strategic decision. There have been many times when charities across all sectors in the UK and abroad have supported individual MPs, senators or governments to push through bills that advance their causes. But in any case surely there is no better example of cross party consensus than a promise that was in all three parties manifestos?

Mark Hendrick MP even offered to use the government’s draft bill as the basis for his own. Charities worried about losing access by being critical of the government need not be – any public campaigning or lobbying could be framed positively as a chance for the Government to deliver on their own promise.

The last Labour government provided strong leadership on development most notably in the  historic aid and debt deals agreed at the G8 in 2005. Pushing this 0.7% bill is an important part of continuing that leadership in opposition.

But because development is more than just aid, we welcome shadow secretary of state Ivan Lewis MP calling for new global covenant that focuses on tackling inequality. And welcome too that Labour’s treasury team have been seeking amendments on government finance bills affecting commodity speculation and tax avoidance by UK companies abroad.

Andrew Mitchell likes to claim there is ‘not a Labour, Conservative or Liberal policy, but a British policy on international development.’ We strongly disagree. But on this issue at least, today is an opportunity to help deliver (possibly the only) promise that was in all three manifestos – and wider and more vocal support is urgently needed if that promise it to be kept.

Labour respond to the Queen’s Speech

Ivan Lewis MP and Baroness Kinnock respond strongly to the government’s omission of legalisation to enshrine the UK’s commitment to reach 0.7% aid.

Ivan said;

The Government’s failure to include the 0.7% aid commitment in legislation in the first Queen’s Speech breached a clear Tory manifesto commitment and a key element of the coalition agreement. Their failure to include it in this second Queen’s Speech is not only a broken promise, but represents something far more significant—a Prime Minister weakened by the omnishambles of recent months with no authority to change his party and a Chancellor pandering to the right, always with an eye to the succession. Development policy should not be used as a dividing line for internal ideological battles in the Tory party; it is too important for that. Will the Secretary of State now confirm when the Government will bring forward the legislation and whether there will be full Government support and co-operation for any private Member’s Bill that seeks to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in law?

And Glenys told the House of Lords;

Andrew Mitchell said not long ago “On the whole politicians should do what they say they are going to do” and he confirmed that legislation would take the 0.7% commitment “beyond doubt”. I agree with him. So let’s do it.

You can read Ivan’s speech in full here and Glenys’ remarks here.

What part will private funding play in the future of overseas development?

LCID Executive Committee member Charlie Samuda reviews a recent event “The New Architecture of Aid: The Role of Private Capital” organised by Article 25.

Private funding and donations from governments to private companies forms an increasing percentage of the total flow of aid to developing economies. The consequence of this, and how to adapt to this new reality, was the theme of a recent debate hosted by Article 25. But it is clear that all political parties need to challenge their existing view of the role played by the public and private sector when it comes to international development.

Article 25 is an organisation that supports secure and safe housing in the developing world though architecture and construction expertise. The theme of the ‘Architecture of Aid’ was however, a broader debate on what part the ‘pro-poor private sector’ can play in an aid landscape previously dominated by government-to-government funding. Despite a broad topic and a diverse set of panelists (an architect, a philanthropic fund manager, an academic and an NGO policy manager) it was interesting to see consensus emerge around both the opportunities and limitations of privately funded aid.

The dynamic of development assistance is increasingly shaped by funding from private sources to communities instead of the post-Bretton Woods model of donations by states and their agencies to governments. Under the Coalition, for example, half of the UK’s aid to India is now channeled through private companies. But it is not accurate to talk about private funding displacing its state equivalent. The level of funding from remittances from overseas communities back to their families dwarfs that of funding from philanthropy according to the World Bank. According to the OECD’s estimate less than 20% of aid from their member countries is directed towards the private sector.

Nonetheless it is clearly the case that private sources of aid are growing rapidly and are in many cases adding real value to their recipients. To take just one example the Acumen Fund began supporting a small Tanzanian textiles firm that was looking to expand domestic production of anti-malarial bed nets – the company now has 15% of the global market. In cases such as this the private sector has two advantages over public agencies. First, because it is generally better funded than the state it can afford to fail, learn from mistakes then recover.

It is what the Acumen Fund calls ‘patient capital’ – it expects a return on investment eventually but not in the short term. Second, private sector organisations contribute skills and expertise that are often more valuable than the initial funding.
Examples cited by the panel included architecture charities sharing their construction techniques and ex-financial services professionals providing post-investment support to developing country start-ups.

It is, perhaps to be expected that the gains of funding and expertise can come at the expense of democratic accountability when the private sector is involved. But more surprising is the limited extent to which the effectiveness of private sector aid has been measured.

Governments often claim, for example, that directing overseas aid to private companies boosts local employment however according to Alison Holder at Save the Children the evidence for this is limited; the link between donations and employment is often assumed but rarely proven. The preponderance of large companies rather smaller enterprises (SMEs) as a source of private capital for aid can also present problems. On a global level over 80% of aid to pro-poor firms goes to large organisations rather than the smaller employers where possibilities of a trickle-down effect are greater.

The lesson for political parties from this is clear – lazy assumptions about ‘private sector efficiency vs. public sector sluggishness’ or ‘good government sponsored aid vs. bad private sector aid’ do not hold when it comes to funding development. Given the Coalition’s focus on ‘outcomes’ at DFID, their reliance on the untested nature of private sector funding looks as if they have taken this decision uncritically. There is a difference that should be recognised between the private sector as a source of aid and private sector as a deliverer of aid and care should be taken that the aid model is appropriate for the circumstances.

Labour needs to recognise the power of private funding to complement, rather than replace, government spending on international development. But this recognition should sit alongside a healthy scrutiny of what private agencies are delivering as a result of their government support – for example when we say they create jobs in developing countries the question needs to be asked what kind of employment and for who, and in what conditions?

It is equally clear, however, that private sources of aid can bring assistance that couldn’t be achieved through public channels alone not least because of the non-material benefits that these organisations bring (such as technical expertise). Automatically treating the private sector as an unwelcome partner in international development is therefore not a sensible strategy from any party.

In short the balance between supporting public and private aid can be achieved by recognising that private capital is at its most useful when it gets closest to grassroots organisations in the communities it is trying to help or when channeled through SMEs. Whilst there is work to be done on measuring the longer term sustainability of this new aspect to the international aid landscape it is clear that the trend can certainly be a positive one.

Ivan Lewis responds to IDC Report

Ivan Lewis MP, Shadow International Development Secretary, responding to the International Development Select Committee’s report on Working Effectively in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States: DRC and Rwanda Commission published today, said:

“The International Development Select Committee’s report highlights serious concerns regarding the Government’s approach to fragile and conflict states. It raises valid questions about the way in which aid is allocated between states, the rationale on which this is based and which activities are eligible for reporting as Official Development Assistance (ODA).

It is also important, particularly following the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 2011 report on DfID’s approach to Anti-Corruption, that DfID is upfront regarding the corruption risks involved when operating in fragile and conflict states. Specifically the Select Committee report also highlights the level of violence against women and girls in the DRC. Major-General Cammaert, former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the eastern Congo, has previously said that “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.” This is a horrifying reflection on the situation for women and girls and any credible DfID results framework would specifically address this.”

“We fully support the decision to prioritise UK aid spending in fragile and conflict-affected states but with the UK spending 30% of its ODA in these states by 2015, it is crucial that this expenditure is delivered with a coordinated and strategic approach and maximum transparency.

I hope that Andrew Mitchell will use this opportunity to address the questions raised in the report and clarify his Department’s policy towards conflict and fragile states. It is important that UK aid is targeted towards those that need it the most and are the hardest to reach, but in these difficult financial times we also have a particular responsibility to strengthen public confidence and support.”

Over on Left Foot Forward, Marta Foresti from the ODI suggests that ‘In practice political aid conditionality often does not work‘ arguing that ‘there is simply no way to enforce a one-size-fits-all mechanism that establishes minimum standards or thresholds for acceptable human rights performance’.

Ivan Lewis on reports that aid agencies have been banned from operating inside Somalia

Ivan Lewis has commented on reports that international aid agencies have been banned from operating inside Somalia.

The news that some UN and international aid agencies have been banned from operating inside Somalia is extremely concerning.

I am relieved by reports that staff are safe at the moment but it is undoubtedly a distressing situation for them, and their families, to be in.

Organisations operating out in Somalia are playing a hugely important role. A recent UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs situation report stated ‘the number of people facing imminent starvation has been reduced from 750,000 to 250,000. However, these improvements will only be sustained if the current level of assistance continues, and areas may fall back into famine if humanitarian activities are interrupted or reduced.’ Increased insecurity will disrupt access to the areas where people are in most need of assistance.

This year the Horn of Africa has experienced one of the worst droughts in sixty years. It has devastated cattle and crops, destroyed livelihoods and created a flood of refugees. A famine has taken hold causing tens of thousands of people to die and threatening thousands more with starvation.

There are concerns that the situation will deteriorate over the next few months due to high levels of malnutrition, a likely increase in food prices and the spread of diseases. By removing this humanitarian lifeline Al-Shabaab is placing the lives of hundreds of thousands at risk. The UK Government should use all its powers to help these aid agencies to get back into Somalia.