The UK Government’s decision to reduce its funding for humanitarian mine action by 80 per cent is a catastrophic collapse in support that will harm the lives of vulnerable people across the world and do immeasurable harm to Britain’s global standing.
The cuts will see the UK’s previous three-year mine action funding of nearly £125m drop to just £25m for the next three years. People in South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Iraq, Lebanon and Vietnam will no longer receive any UK support for their efforts to rid communities of the peril of landmines and other remnants of war.
The impact of these cuts on conflict-affected communities will be devastating. Landmines and unexploded bombs affect 60 million people in the world today, with 15 people killed or injured by these indiscriminate weapons every day. UK aid for mine clearance means children can go back to school safely, communities can grow crops on their land, and families can return to their homes.
It is particularly shocking that the Government is withdrawing all support for South Sudan, where conflict and famine are at the epicentre of a growing humanitarian emergency and where landmine clearance can contribute to food security and political stability.
We are also deeply concerned at the impact on Zimbabwe, where the withdrawal of UK support will fatally undermine that country’s efforts to become landmine free by 2025. To cut all funding to Zimbabwe seems especially unjust in light of the fact that it was Zimbabwean deminers who helped the UK to make the Falkland Islands landmine-free just a year ago.
In addition, UK support to countries such as Angola, Laos and Cambodia has been dramatically reduced. Angola will receive no UK funding next year, when the world will mark the 25th anniversary of the day that Diana walked through a minefield in that country to raise awareness of the issue.
The UK government has previously been a global leader in mine clearance, as one of the founding signatories on the Mine Ban Treaty, and just three years ago Prince Harry and then DFiD Secretary of State Priti Patel launched an increased UK commitment to help fund countries to become landmine free.
Cutting support to countries affected by cluster munition contamination seems especially short-sighted just a month after the UK took on the Presidency of the Convention on Cluster Munitions — which commits states to never use, produce, stockpile or transfer cluster munitions. The UK has indicated they will be using this Presidency to persuade more countries to sign up to the treaty and work with existing signatories on fulfilling their treaty obligations.
In a further sign of foreign policy and development spend incoherence the countries the UK has cut funding to are precisely those which are diplomatic priorities for its presidency.
We’re today calling on the UK government to ensure that these cuts are reversed so the UK can continue its work as a global leader ensuring that vulnerable communities around the world can live a life free of the scourge of landmines.
This is precisely the time when the Government should be stepping up — not stepping back — and continuing its support to the millions of people afflicted by poverty, inequality and war.