With the country’s humanitarian response to disaster still on donor life support together with other sectors, the United Kingdom (UK) government’s decision to cut aid threatens lives of Malawians and signals the end of typical tales of hope as told in Mary Alimanda from Nsanje.
An eight-month pregnant Alimanda was saved from the jaws of callous death after flood water spilled into her house in February 2015.
She hurriedly woke up her four children and they scampered with her to a nearby tree and, as the water rose around her, she struggled to climb into its branches.
Clinging to the trunk, Alimanda shouted into the darkness for help until a rescuer arrived by canoe. She and her children were later ferried to safety before finding shelter at Marka Camp in the district.
As was the case with most of the 162 000 displaced people, including 5 000 pregnant women, the ravaging floods swept away her crops and livestock and also washed away roads, leaving her community helpless.
With the country reportedly losing 5.3 percent (about K430 billion) of its gross domestic product (GDP) to natural disasters each year, government’s response and recovery planned budget of K2.4 billion then was not enough to meet Amanda and others’ needs for survival.
It was the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) support, through the United Kingdom (UK) Government’s humanitarian assistance, that enabled Alimanda to receive reproductive health kits, including medicines, equipment and supplies to support safe deliveries.
Clean delivery kits were also made available to health staff and visibly pregnant women–including Alimanda, whose friends used the kit to help her deliver. The delivery kits contain a sterile plastic sheet, gloves, soap and other basic, but lifesaving supplies.
But with British lawmakers voting on July 13 this year to support a contentious cut to UK’s foreign aid budget, several lives are at risk while many more might be thrown into the abyss of abject poverty.
The aid cut, which effectively ended the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) on aid “until certain fiscal conditions are met,” also puts the country at the mercy of costly humanitarian crises, including hunger and disease.
Beneficiary NGOs left in the cold
Soon after the UK Government’s decision to cut aid was announced, various international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in Malawi described it as “catastrophic”, a “death sentence,” and a “disaster” for vulnerable communities globally.
For example, it is reported that the UK has slashed funding to UN Women by almost 60 percent from 12.5 million pounds to only five million pounds for 2021.
In Malawi, among others, UN Women, through its Women’s Empowerment Programme, ensures that women and girls enjoy their full rights and contribute to, and benefit from, socio-economic and political development.
Through its Gender and Governance Programme, the organisation is also supporting increasing civic understanding of gender equality and women’s leadership in Malawi.
Besides, UN Women, Malawi is also working to ensure rural women and youth have increased access to productive resources, practices and technologies to engage in climate smart agriculture.
The UK aid cut will also see the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) suffering a 60 percent cut in core funding from 40 million pounds to 16 million pounds this year, according to international media statistics.
Over the years, Unicef has been helping Malawi meet its commitment to respect, protect and fulfill children’s rights in line with international conventions and standards.
Unicef’s core funding has over the past decade contributed to some of the biggest advances reducing, under-five child deaths while also increasing immunisation, and overall averting two to three million deaths per year.
In a press statement issued by Unicef headquarters in New York in June 2021, but made available to Nation on Sunday by the local office, Unicef said it remained deeply concerned by the UK Government’s decision to reduce funding to the organisation.
It said Unicef depends on such resources to sustain humanitarian and development programmes for millions of children around the world, helping it to reach them before, during and after crises.
Reads the Unicef statement: “Any cuts to these vital funds will have serious consequences for the most vulnerable children, especially now that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a global spike in the number of those in need of essential education, protection, health and water services… It is too soon to know the full impact that UK funding cuts will have on Unicef programmes, but early indications paint an alarming picture.”
Similarly, UNDP will also see its budget cut by 60 percent to 22 million pounds from 55 million pounds.
In a written response, UN resident coordinator Maria Jose Torres said the UN appreciates UK’s significant contribution and hopes it will be sustained in 2022 and over the coming years increased to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Malawi.
Said Torres: “The UN team in Malawi has taken note of the UK Government’s decision to reduce its foreign aid from 0.7 percent of its GNI to 0.5 percent of GNI.
“Following this development, the UN system is closely coordinating with relevant stakeholders, including the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office [FCDO], to ensure critical interventions are not disrupted and hard-won development gains are not eroded.”
In a separate interview, UNFPA resident representative for Malawi Young Hong expressed worry that the funding cut may trigger a boom in unplanned pregnancies among young girls and women.
“The funding cut by the FCDO means Malawi will have 50 percent less family planning commodities available by 2022. The unmet need for family planning will likely double from 18 to 36 percent, which may trigger an increase in unplanned pregnancies among adolescents and women,” she said.
Hong said if, with normal supply, Malawi is adding approximately half a million babies annually, 50 percent less family planning supplies will undoubtedly have a serious impact on the population.
“In light of the funding cut, UNFPA continues to seek solutions to mitigate negative impacts together with the FCDO and other development partners,” she added.
‘Do not abandon poor
Malawian women, girls’
Banja La Mtsogolo (BLM), a local non-profit organisation that provides family planning, sexual and reproductive health care and allied health services, is also worried about the UK aid cut.
The organisation, which was established in 1987 to address the country’s high maternal deaths and unsafe abortion rates while combating HIV and Aids and poor sexual health, pleads with the UK to “reconsider the decision”.
In a written response, BLM’s advocacy and communications manager Simeon Thodi said overpopulation causes hunger and other problems in developing countries, stressing that uncontrolled fertility leads to poverty.
He said: “The ability to access and use family planning can influence outcomes ranging from health and education to women’s empowerment. Family planning helps women time and space their pregnancies, so they can bear children.
“This lowers the number of unintended and high-risk pregnancies and reduces women’s exposure to pregnancy-related risks. In turn, this clearly lowers the rate of maternal deaths and ensures that women and girls remain healthy to pursue their dreams and ambitions.”
Between 2019 and 2020, statistics show that UKAid supported over 25 million women and girls globally to use modern methods of contraception.
As such, it is feared that the significant loss in funding will mean substantial reductions to sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes globally, with the closure of services, disruption to contraceptive supplies and programmes. And BLM subscribes to the same fears.
“The country could experience up to 192 000 unintended pregnancies and 434 000 unsafe abortions following this disruption of contraceptive supplies and programmes,” said Thodi.
In Malawi, statistics show that for every 100 pregnancies, 53 are unintended. Recent studies elsewhere also show that for every $1 spent on family planning services, taxpayers save an estimated $4.02 in pregnancy-related costs.
Domestically, a recent study found that meeting just half of the unmet need for modern contraception would result in a net saving of $5.5 million (about K4.5 billion) and fulfilling all unmet needs would save $11.0 million (about K9 billion).
Undoing years of
progress in Malawi
In an interview this week, international development expert Peter Yakobe said the UK decision to trim aid to poorest countries “will undo years of progress in curbing poverty in Malawi”.
He said most of the British aid to Malawi funds the education and health sectors, fearing that such aid cuts could put many Malawians at risk of avoidable deaths and decrease the quality of education.
Said Yakobe: “The aid cut will also lead to loss of jobs for many Malawians since many British-funded organisations will be affected. It will be a major drawback in the British Government’s work of alleviating poverty.
“However, this also calls for organisations to embrace a social enterprise model where they can be making investments and use the profits for social impact programmes. As a result, such aid cuts won’t have huge effects in the future. Days of 100 percent donor dependence are gone.”
But sounding optimistic, Treasury spokesperson Williams Banda, in a written response, says the reduction will likely be rescinded if certain conditions would be met.
He said: “We are aware that, globally, the UK has pledged to allocate a certain proportion of the budget to Overseas Development Assistance. We hope that they will honour that pledge.
“With this cut in aid, Malawi will adjust its programming to take into account this reduction either by stopping those programmes altogether or by finding other partners to support the programmes.”
Prior to voting, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak warned that rejecting the proposal meant increased taxation in the UK or reduced public spending in that country.
UK’s controversial cut this year alone amounts to 4 billion pounds ($5.5 billion), but Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the change as temporary, stating that aid would be restored to 0.7 percent of national income “as soon as circumstances allow”.
The $5.5 billion aid cut for 2021 alone is an equivalent of half the size of the Malawi economy, whose nominal value is currently estimated at $10.9 billion.