What impact will the cuts in UK aid to Bangladesh have?

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File Photo: With support from the UK, Brac ran the largest non-formal school program in Bangladesh, which has graduated around 12 million children Syed Zakir Hossain / Dhaka Tribune

Social development goals may need to be revised, and NGOs are looking for alternative sources of funding

The UK government’s decision to cut foreign aid funding to deal with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic will seriously hamper social development activities in Bangladesh, experts and representatives from leading NGOs said.

Initiatives to support the ultra-poor, educate and empower women would all suffer from the budget cuts, they added.

According to the British High Commission in Bangladesh, the British government has decided to temporarily achieve an Official Development Assistance (ODA) target of 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) instead of the original 0.7% for 2021. The move is expected to save the UK Treasury Department about £ 4 billion.

The UK government has pledged to return to 0.7% as soon as budgetary permits and will remain the third largest development aid donor in the G7 this year in terms of GNI, the UK High Commission said.

In addition, the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) recently pulled out of a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with Brac, which provided dedicated flexible funding of £ 223 million from April 2016 to March 2021.

Social development goals are being revised

Commenting on the cuts, Brac Executive Director Asif Saleh said: “The UK government funding for 2020 was a core strategic funding for all of Brac’s programs and the amount was approximately £ 29 million. We currently have no obligation for the future.

“We have minimized short-term disruptions this year, but we need to reduce some of our goals for supporting the ultra-poor, education and work to empower women.

“We are also looking into how we can do some consolidation and maintain some of the most effective components of our interventions and reshape our work and collaborate with others,” Saleh told the Dhaka Tribune.


Also read: British aid cuts a blow to the heart, says Asif Saleh from Brac


Regarding the FCDO’s withdrawal from the SPA, he said, “We knew there had to be some cuts after the pandemic, but a full withdrawal was unexpected.”

Professor Kazi Maruful Islam, Department of Development Studies at Dhaka University, said, “Such a decision to cut funding during the pandemic will hamper initiatives by NGOs to address extreme poverty, child marriage, human trafficking, child labor, gender equality or livelihood programs to prevent.

“When social development interventions by NGOs are hindered, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on poverty, health and livelihoods will be met at a snail’s pace,” he added.

Social activist Khushi Kabri said: “The UK government has suddenly decided to cut massive funding, which is unexpected. Such large cuts should be made gradually or it could hamper and undo the hard work that has been done. “

What could be lost?

Support from the UK government has helped run many programs in Bangladesh, including the largest non-formal school program, which has graduated around 12 million children. The SPA with Brac has helped 110 million people, with four million children enrolled in schools that actively engage in the education of girls and children with disabilities.

A world-famous program, the “Graduation Model”, was also developed with British support. It has lifted two million households in Bangladesh from extreme poverty and is used in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Honduras and Peru.

The British government has also supported the government of Bangladesh and the UN agencies operating in the country through the FCDO. Many programs to save the ultra-poor, to prevent child marriages, and to ensure sexual and reproductive health may be limited or stopped due to the cuts in FCDO funds.

Save the Children estimates the cuts in education to be 36% between 2019-20 and 2021-22, from £ 821 million to £ 528 million. Humanitarian aid and water and sanitation will be reduced by an estimated 45% and 47% respectively.

“We are discussing bilateral educational agreements, but they are much smaller than before,” said Brac Executive Director Asif Saleh.

“We are working to mobilize additional resources and hope that the government of Bangladesh will step in to support the work to alleviate poverty, improve education and health and end violence against women.

“The entire NGO sector will be severely affected by the FCDO cuts,” he added.

Britain plans to redesign programs

A spokesman for the UK High Commission in Bangladesh said: “We will adapt our programs to the changing needs of Bangladesh as it prepares for completion of LDC status.”

The programs focus on seven priorities: climate and biodiversity, global health security, girls’ education, humanitarian preparedness and response, science and technology, open societies and conflict resolution, and economic development and trade.

The spokesman said: “The UK will also maintain its contributions to multilateral partners and global funds. This will provide substantial funding for Bangladesh through the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the IMF, the UN funds and agencies, and various sector-specific or philanthropic organizations.

“We will continue to work closely with the Government of Bangladesh and our partner organizations to ensure that the UK’s ODA contributions reach those in greatest need,” he added.



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