8 reasons to value UK foreign aid

May 25, 2017

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British foreign aid saves the lives of millions of people around the world, and supports sustainable development programmes that create jobs, develop markets and help people to lift themselves out of poverty.

The UK is one of just two members of the group of seven high-income countries to meet the target of allocating 0.7 percent of its national income (GNI) to foreign aid, and it is a vital partner for Mercy Corps, who last year reached over 30 million people in more than 40 countries.

Below are eight ways that the UK Government supports Mercy Corps to bring positive and lasting change to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

1. Helping people survive devastating conflict, famine and disaster

When crisis strikes a country, we may see the most immediate devastation on our TV screens. But we will not see the incredibly complex set of challenges and obstacles such crises create for those affected, many of which have repercussions for years to come. Violence, poverty and climate change can work together so that buying a loaf of bread becomes as difficult as escaping danger.

In famine-affected South Sudan, more than one million people are on the brink of starvation amid an ongoing civil war; families there are facing a lean season with no crops to harvest and very little hope. Together with the UK Government, Mercy Corps is providing cash support to more than 30,000 people to help them survive and help stimulate the local markets.

In Iraq, Mercy Corps is one of the first responders to families affected by the conflict in Mosul and we have reached more than 10,000 vulnerable people who have suffered from the violence in the country with urgently needed cash transfers.

2. Providing access to safe, clean water

Around the world one in 10 people cannot find safe water for them and their children to drink; some 315,000 children under the age of five die every year from diseases caused by dirty water — that’s about one child every two minutes. It’s common for women and children to spend hours every day just travelling to find water, keeping kids from school and often putting girls and women in dangerous situations. Before Mercy Corps and the UK Government stepped in to help, this was the case in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo city, Goma — home to more than 750,000 residents.

Thanks to the support of the UK Government, Mercy Corps is undertaking the largest construction project in our history — rebuilding Goma’s water network to connect hundreds of thousands of residents to clean safe water. Our team has repaired and constructed miles of pipeline and built tap stands throughout the city’s neighbourhoods. Currently Mercy Corps reaches up to 160,000 people with clean water and ultimately aims to reach 1 million people.

3. Creating jobs and developing economies

Lebanon is home to the largest number of refugees per capita in the world – one in every four people in the country is a refugee. Many of them have settled in the poorest areas of Lebanon after fleeing Syria’s civil war, putting strain on the country’s already overstretched resources like jobs, shelter and public services. Together, Mercy Corps and the UK Government are providing jobs and training in the fields of solid waste management and recycling enterprises to reduce unemployment and increase income for businesses. We have helped create nine solid waste and recycling companies and we are giving specialised business and skills advice to 830 people and 46 small-and-medium enterprises to help their projects flourish.

4. Reducing conflict

In Nigeria, Mercy Corps is supported by UK Aid to help local community leaders to resolve conflicts between pastoralists (herders) and farmers. We have trained nearly a thousand local leaders, women and minority groups in negotiation and worked with 400 of the most influential leaders to effectively negotiate an end to disputes and build agreements about how to share land and common resources. In the long term these leaders and groups will be essential to longer term peace within communities, and we are doing all we can to ensure they have the skills and practices to resolve disputes peacefully. To date, 412 community-level conflicts, which had the potential to escalate to violence, have been resolved.

5. Getting women and girls into education

In the Kailali district in Nepal, girls from the Dalit and Janajati groups face a set of extremely tough obstacles in life. Girls from a low social ‘caste’ are left having to perform some of the most undesirable work in the community at the expense of schooling. Beginning in 2013, Mercy Corps began working with the UK Government to break down the cultural and financial obstacles that stood between over 9,000 young girls and a better future. We have supported their enrolment in school and given them specialised mentoring in their exams, as well as financial and career advice after they leave school to help them support themselves and achieve their goals.

6. Helping communities cope with the effects of climate change

Whether or not there’s food on the tables of millions of families in Ethiopia is dependent primarily on one thing: the weather. Home to more than 96 million people but landlocked from the sea, more than 80 percent of Ethiopians live in rural areas that are dependent on rain-fed agriculture and so especially vulnerable to drought; their crops and their livestock are the food and income they need to survive.

With two years of failed rains across East Africa, Ethiopia is struggling once again to cope with drought and 5.6 million people are in need of food aid. Supported by UK Aid, Mercy Corps is working to improve economic opportunities for farmers, promoting inclusive financial models and better market structures so that climate-vulnerable people move out of crisis and can adapt their livelihoods to cope better in the future. This programme will benefit more than 330,000 people.

7. Helping build better relationships between refugees and host communities

Jordan is home to more than 600,000 Syrian refugees who have fled war in their own country in search of safety for themselves and their children. The majority of refugees are living in towns where already stretched housing, services and natural resources are almost overwhelmed and refugees and local people are competing for the few jobs available. This is, of course, a source of stress and tension. In six towns, Mercy Corps is working to bring Syrians and Jordanians together. With the support of UK Aid we're helping increase conflict resolution skills among community leaders to address local tensions, build trust and agreement around common problems and initiate joint efforts to solve them.

8. Saving lives in conflict zones

The six-year Syria war has resulted in nine million Syrians struggling to find food to keep their families fed amid the violence and upheaval of war. As one of the largest responders to crisis, the UK has funded Mercy Corps to deliver urgent food to hundreds of thousands of people in Syria each month. We have helped keep dozens of bakeries fired-up with flour delivered to support production of this essential Syrian staple.

At a time when four countries are experiencing or are on the brink of famine and we are facing the greatest humanitarian need since World War II, foreign aid helps people recover from devastating shocks and move towards becoming secure, productive and just communities.

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