UK guilty of ‘dereliction of duty’ in turning its back on tens of millions struggling to survive global hunger crisis

Urgent G7 action needed to tax wealthiest companies’ excess profits to make sure everyone has enough to eat

UK aid to countries where millions are teetering on the brink of famine is barely a third of the amount given just three years ago, Oxfam said today as it called on the G7 to take urgent action to deliver on its promises to tackle global hunger made at last year’s summit chaired by Boris Johnson.

G7 leaders meet again in Schloss Elmau, Germany, this week (26-28 June) amid a worsening global hunger crisis which is hitting countries already struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic and rising inequality. The crisis is being exacerbated by climate change and disruptions to global food supply caused by the war in Ukraine.

There is currently a $37 billion global shortfall in the money promised for humanitarian appeals with large parts of East Africa, West Africa, the Middle East and Latin America suffering rapid increases in the number of hungry people. The UN appeal for Somalia – where seven million people are suffering crisis levels of hunger – is just 27 per cent funded. By contrast the Ukraine appeal is 73 per cent funded.

Deep cuts to the UK aid budget mean that in 2021-2, UK aid to the four East African countries hit hardest by hunger – Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan – was just £288 million, only around a third of the £861m provided in 2017-8 during the region’s last major hunger crisis.

Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are experiencing the worst drought in 40 years – the first ever to be declared a level 3 emergency by the World Health Organization. South Sudan is suffering a fifth year of severe flooding. Across the four countries, 28 million people are facing severe hunger.

Oxfam called on leaders to provide additional humanitarian aid for hundreds of millions of people around the globe who are unable to feed themselves and their families and have seen their livelihoods, crops and water sources destroyed. The G7 also need to double the amount of aid they provide for agriculture, food security and nutrition, amounting to an additional $14bn per year, it said. Governments which could not find this money from existing budgets should be looking to raise additional revenue from companies who are making excess profits.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, said: “It is only 12 months since Boris Johnson and his fellow G7 leaders promised to prevent famine, yet today they are sitting on their hands while tens of millions of people face the very real threat of starvation.

“The UK’s failure to step up and help people in East Africa and around the world who don’t have enough to eat is not just a broken promise, it is a dereliction of duty. Britain will not gain influence on the global stage by turning its back on those in most need.

“Instead, the Government should be looking to raise additional revenue to help people around the world – including those in the UK – who have been hit hard by rising food and energy prices. Ministers’ decision to impose a windfall tax on the excess profits of energy companies is not enough but shows what can be done when the political will is there.”

The timely international response helped avert widespread famine in East Africa five years ago, yet the UK has so far announced only £72 million for 2022-3 and is still yet to provide aid allocations for the four countries.

But aid to the region risks being squeezed further as the Government prioritises support for Ukraine and investments it believes will further the UK’s short-term national interest as set out in the International Development Strategy published last month.

G7 Foreign, Development and Agricultural ministers committed to help low-income countries and strengthen long term resilience of agriculture and food systems as part of a new initiative called the “Global Alliance for Food Security”.

Global food prices have spiked to record highs, making ideal conditions for speculation in opaque financial markets, and worsened by the war in Ukraine. Some of the countries that have dangerously high levels of dependency upon Ukrainian and Russian grain exports are already facing famine-like conditions.

As an example of the scale of additional money that could be raised, Oxfam estimates that a 90 per cent windfall tax on the G7’s 330 largest corporations could generate almost $430 billion in new revenue. This money would be enough to fully fund the donor shortfalls for all existing humanitarian appeals and a 10-year plan to end hunger, while also raising enough for a one-off payment of over $3,000 to the poorest 10 per cent of the G7 to help cover the rising cost of living.

The escalating climate crisis is having negative consequences, especially for vulnerable communities in lower-income countries. Emissions are rising, yet the targets offered by countries under the Paris Agreement to cut emissions to keep warming below the critical 1.5°C threshold are insufficient.

Developed countries, including the G7, continue to miss their goal to provide the annual $100bn in climate finance for mitigation and adaptation in lower income countries, as promised back in 2009. The G7 should commit to deliver on the goal set by COP26 to double their provision of adaptation financing by 2025 – to strengthen long-term resilience and address climate-induced hunger and clarify how the G7 countries will contribute to achieving this goal.

Developing countries’ ability to respond to rising hunger is being further hampered by debt. In 2022 the debt servicing for the world’s poorest countries is estimated to be $43 billion. In 2021, debt servicing for low-income countries was 71 per cent higher than spending on healthcare, education and social protection combined. Oxfam urged the G7 to immediately cancel 2022 and 2023 debt payments for all the low and middle-income countries that require it.