Today the International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt announced a new package of support for the United Nations’ Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), warning that 2018 could be the bleakest year since 1945, and pointing to UK aid successes this year in averting two famines.
In an op-ed for the Sunday Times she highlights the humanitarian crises in 2017 and describes how she saw first-hand the scale of Britain’s response. Ms Mordaunt said DFID “embodies our country’s collective compassion”.
Her comments are also included in coverage today in the Sunday Mirror, Sun on Sunday, Independent, Sunday Express, Sunday Telegraph and Press Association.
The full op-ed is below.
The United Nations called 2017 the worst year for humanitarian crises since 1945. From east Africa to Yemen and from Burma to the Caribbean, famines and conflict, military persecution and hurricanes caused unprecedented human misery.
When we see such suffering, we instinctively want to help. Collectively, our taxes enable the British government to respond. Individually, we support Disasters Emergency Committee appeals and others such as the Sunday Times Christmas appeal this year to help Rohingya refugees fleeing Burma. Hundreds of small community groups across this country add further to these funds.
We are big-hearted, open-minded and far-sighted — qualities that define a great nation. The Department for International Development (DfID) embodies our country’s collective compassion. We know that stopping disease at its point of origin, for instance, saves money as well as lives, and protects us all in the long-term. But we also know that the strength of our humanity is measured not by the strongest, of which we are one, but by the weakest, of which there are many.
In my first few weeks at DfID I have witnessed first-hand the scale of Britain’s humanitarian response. Last month I met a young mother, one of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have arrived at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh since August. Yasmin had fled Burma with her new-born baby, after her village was burnt down and her brother was murdered. On their journey they were thrown over the side of a smuggler’s boat so Mohammed’s crying didn’t alert Burmese soldiers. They arrived in the giant camp only for him to contract cholera from the filthy water he was nearly drowned in.
Everyone in that camp had been through unimaginable trauma to get there. They witnessed their children being burnt alive; their teenage daughters begging for mercy were abducted, raped and murdered; and their families were systematically slaughtered.
I watched the British people save the lives of Yasmin and Mohammed. Simple as that. Through UK aid we gave them food, water, shelter and healthcare.
In the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean those who made it through the ordeal described their despair to me. In Dominica they thought the world had forgotten them. And then they heard the thud of HMS Ocean’s helicopters beating through the eerie silence. In the British Virgin Islands they saw our resourceful, reassuring Royal Marines and civil unrest in the wake of the storm’s devastation was avoided.
It was British diplomacy, as part of a wider international effort, that helped open the Hodeidah port in Yemen earlier this month – a lifeline for millions in desperate need. British people are on the ground, delivering life-saving supplies of food, vaccines and medicines. Without those efforts, the international community estimated a further 150,000 Yemeni children would have died by the spring. It is our international rescue teams that provide world-leading expertise, and the DfID’s humanitarian team that is always the first on the ground in the wake of crisis and chaos.
In 2017 the UK helped avert famines in northeast Nigeria and Somalia by providing food, medical supplies and clean water, saving thousands of lives. When famine was declared in South Sudan at the beginning of the year, we provided emergency food and water for more than 500,000 people. The UK continues to be at the forefront of the international response to the Syria crisis, helping millions of people caught up in the war or living as refugees.
While 2017 was a year of harrowing humanitarian crises, the truth is 2018 could be even bleaker. The UN believes more people than ever will need assistance in the next year. It forecast in a report this month that 136m people in 26 countries will need humanitarian aid in 2018, and conflict will be the biggest single factor driving that need. That’s why we’re planning to make an additional £21m immediately available to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to respond quickly to evolving disasters in 2018.
But we need to do something else, too. If we want to meet the challenges ahead, Britain must show further leadership to reform the global humanitarian system. We must ensure that every pound, dollar, euro and yen raised delivers more. We must make our delivery and decision-making structures more efficient and effective. As the UK government’s humanitarian lead, that will be one of my priorities. We owe it to those who make that humanitarian help possible: the British people.
And we owe it to those we seek to help. As 2018 starts, the work goes on: a couple of days ago I dispatched a UK medical team to Yasmin and Mohammed’s camp. Its first task in the new year will be to halt the spread of diphtheria. I believe Yasmin will never forget what we have given her. If you could see the look in her eyes you would know that the British people have given her more than just the basics of life. We gave her a chance. We gave her hope. We didn’t do this for short-term political advantage or economic gain. We did it because that’s how a great nation behaves.