UK aid charities warn of famine as Covid hits poorer nations

A coalition of UK aid agencies warned Monday that the Covid-19 pandemic is worsening the “dire humanitarian” crisis in fragile states and raising the risk of famine, including in Yemen.

Parts of Yemen and South Sudan are already on the brink of famine, while Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk, driven by the pandemic’s economic impact, the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) said in a new report.

The warning came as the United Nations appealed at an online conference Monday for $3.85 billion (4.45 billion euros) to prevent large-scale famine in Yemen.

The DEC report covered also Somalia and Syria, and the plight of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar sheltering in camps in Bangladesh. 

“People living in places made perilous by conflict, violence and climate disasters are coping with the coronavirus pandemic as best they can, but the odds are stacked against them,” DEC chief executive Saleh Saeed said.

“The knock-on effects of the pandemic have crippled economies, making the world’s poorest people even poorer,” he added.

“Without continued support, many lives will be lost — not just from Covid-19 itself, but from the economic impact of the virus.”

The DEC groups together 14 British charities for crisis appeals, including the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children. 

But while it appealed for support from richer donors, Britain’s Conservative government in November said it was cutting roughly £4 billion($5.6 billion) from its own aid budget amid the pandemic.

Andrew Mitchell, a Conservative former international development secretary, said slashing the UK aid budget in Yemen would “continue the slow, agonising and obscene process of starving to death” for millions of people.

As this month’s chair of the UN Security Council, Britain “holds the pen” on issues in Yemen and large cuts would be “very serious indeed”, he told BBC radio.