• Sunday, Dec 05, 2021
  • Last Update : 05:54 pm

UK aid cuts a gut punch, says Brac’s Asif Saleh

  • Published at 01:16 pm June 15th, 2021
Brac school
File photo: With the UK’s support, Brac ran the largest non-formal school program in Bangladesh from which around 12 million children have graduated Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The development organization describes the move as "catastrophic"

Development organization Brac has dubbed the UK government's funding cuts to it as a "gut punch" after a successful 10-year £450m partnership.

It will leave hundreds of thousands of girls without an education, millions of women and girls without access to family planning, and hundreds of thousands of people in extreme poverty without support, Brac Executive Director Asif Saleh told The Guardian.

His remarks followed an announcement on Friday that the UK would spend an extra £430m on girls' education in 90 countries over the next five years.

Evidence submitted by Brac to the international development committee's investigation into the aid cuts described the withdrawal of support as "catastrophic" for the tens of thousands in Bangladesh who live on under a dollar a day.

Saleh told the newspaper that the dramatic fall is completely unexpected.

"It's like a gut punch. We did not anticipate it would be a complete withdrawal from the partnership. From a commitment of £200m over five years to absolutely nothing – it's a mistake," he said.

The announcement, made at the G7 summit, prompted accusations of hypocrisy.

Sarah Brown, chair of global children's charity Theirworld, called the funding a "drop in the ocean" compared to the scale of the global education crisis and in the face of "savage cuts to the international aid budget," according to The Guardian report.

About 16 million Bangladeshis have slipped into extreme poverty since the pandemic, and the World Bank estimates an additional 150 million people globally will be in extreme poverty by 2021 because of the pandemic.

With the UK’s support, Brac ran the largest non-formal school program in Bangladesh from which around 12 million children have graduated.

A world-renowned program, the "graduation model," was also developed with the help of British support. It has lifted two million households out of extreme poverty in Bangladesh and is used in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Honduras, and Peru.

While he expected a cut, Saleh said Brac's alignment with the government's stated priorities – girls' education, poverty reduction and addressing the climate crisis – made him hope some of it would continue, says The Guardian report.

Save the Children estimate the aid cuts in education between 2019-20 and 2021-22 to be 36%, from £821m to £528m. Humanitarian assistance and water and sanitation will be reduced by an estimated 45% and 47% respectively.

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) withdrawal from Brac strategic partnership arrangement (SPA) will mean a "dramatic scaling down" of programs running since 2011.

The SPA has helped 110 million people in Bangladesh, with four million children enrolled in its schools that actively seek girls and children with disabilities.

'Betrayal'

The development organization’s programs have also been cut in other countries, according to Saleh.

"There have been programs that have been shut down in 90 days’ notice," he told the newspaper.

"We are trying to fill the gaps. Our health program is continuing because of Covid. Our ultra-poor graduation program, our education program, is being scaled down. I'm having to make tough calls. When I'm not being able to start schools, when I'm having to stop programs to reduce child marriage, to those people, it will be seen as a betrayal," The Guardian report quoted him saying.

Saleh said FCDO officials in Bangladesh had made the case for "phase 3" of the partnership, with additional funding from Australia and Canada. But last month, Saleh was told nothing would be available for 2021-22.

Rachel Glennerster, the chief economist for FCDO, considered the Brac model a "best buy" in terms of development, according to a report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, in 2018.

The report found that consultation with partners "confirms progress in achieving results that align with UK priorities, at scale, in the right places and to the right target groups."

Saleh said: "The UK has given support to a global organization that has delivered and provided transparency. 

"To take it away so abruptly sends the wrong message. The UK should not abandon the amazing reputation it has built as a global development powerhouse. Britain has been a great friend. This needed a thoughtful response. These are people's lives," he added.

Leadership educator and social entrepreneur Ejaj Ahmad said: “FCDO and Manusher Jonno Foundation were a major funder for our youth leadership development work, but the abrupt termination of contract without any consultation is a major blow to our work."

"Some 52% of Bangladesh’s population is below 25 and to see FCDO fully withdraw from the youth development theme is disappointing," added Ejaj, also the founder of Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center.

The Guardian said it approached the FCDO for comment but it was unable to respond in time for publication.

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