politics / public policy

the humanitarian withdrawal

I have recently been to Cambodia and was shocked by the history of its civil war – which I have never even heard of before visiting. Out of 7 million people living in Cambodia in the 1970s before the civil war began, almost 2 million people have been killed during the rule of Khmer Rouge and its leader Pol Pot between 1975 and 79. Almost a third of a country. How is such massacre even possible? Why did it take so long to intervene, and even then, where were our ‘global leaders’ so eager to bring peace and democracy globally (especially in countries, surprisingly enough, brimming with resources)?

It is true that Cambodian tragedy took place almost half a century ago, and our globe was not as well-connected back then as it is now. The governments, not even mentioning ordinary people, did not have half the access to information we do now. We do, and so what? No one seems to care anyway – we’re too busy being our rich Western selves. Suffering in Africa has been going on for decades now, with reports highlighting that in Somalia alone there has been no rain in the last two years, affecting 6 million people in this very moment, and with 60,000 predicted to die out of famine this year alone – in the best case scenario. In Syria, 11 million people – which constitutes for almost half of the country pre-war population – either died or fled the country since the civil war began six years ago.

And yet, the two of the most influential countries in the world and the two biggest contributors to the UN humanitarian appeal have recently announced they will slash their funding. Why?

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in 2017 alone, $22.2 billion is needed to provide enough assistance to help over 90 million people who are facing life-threatening circumstances. Meanwhile, Prime Minister May when pressed during a press conference a few days ago hinted that the British overseas aid will be decreased from its present 0.7% of the GDP. One might hear arguments about economic decline within the UK and the much needed austerity, however that didn’t stop Mrs May from announcing in November last year that the UK will decrease its corporate tax rates to the lowest level among the 20 wealthiest economies globally – including the US after taking into the account President Trump’s pledge of bringing it lower than 15% during the presidential run.

Mr Trump has not been silent about the lack of importance international aid carries to both him and the US either. In his proposed budget announced last month, foreign aid is slashed, with the funds redirected to be spent on military. Maybe (not) intentionally, Mr Trump is sending a very clear message – we will not help but we will attack instead, which is seen by many as a much needed move after President Obama’s lack of decisive military action in the Middle East. However, the recent bombings of the Syrian air base, justified by Mr Trump’s apparent emphatic reaction to pictures of babies killed in a chemical weapon attack, will not help save children – if anything, it will kill even more in result.

This, of course, is not the whole picture. The UK is experiencing an economic slowdown and so the country needs to encourage investment, and the US might have regained its political hegemony and prevented another chemical attack by decisively reacting to an unjustifiable tragedy.

But seeing Mrs May argue that the UK cannot afford to fund international aid seems a little bit less valid after taking her little corporate-friendly promise into account when there could be other ways to boost the British economy – increasing the minimum wage nationwide, for example. And if President Trump really wants to help Syrian children, maybe apart from the military support he should consider giving people in the midst of war help they genuinely need – food and shelter, not bombs and bans.

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