July 19, 2023
British aid to Burma has been cut by 51% this financial year, and by 70% since the financial year 2020-2021, according to newly published Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office accounts.
This comes during a time when Burma is suffering its worst human rights and humanitarian crisis ever, after the attempted military coup on 1 February 2021.
“Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is cutting aid to Burma at a time when more people than ever are in desperate need of assistance,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director at Burma Campaign UK. “Aid to Burma should be increased, not cut, and more aid needs to go to local civil society so British aid reaches people in areas not under Burmese military control.”
British aid to Burma has been cut from £61.9 million last year, to £30.1 million in this financial year. Previous government records show that the aid to Burma in 2020 was just over £103 million. This means that aid has been cut by 70% from 2020 to 2023-2024.
These cuts in aid to Burma come after the government’s 82% cuts in aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who fled genocide in Burma.
The British government has previously tried to disguise the overall cuts in aid to Burma by highlighting statistics for humanitarian aid, rather than overall aid to Burma. Funding for any development aid programmes discontinued after the attempted coup began should have been reallocated towards the dramatic increase in humanitarian needs but was not. Even before the coup Burma Campaign UK had been campaigning for a higher proportion of UK aid to be spent on the humanitarian emergencies in the country. In 2018 DFID was spending three times as much on economic development and governance as on humanitarian aid.
The humanitarian crisis in Burma has been created as the Burmese military desperately tries to consolidate an attempted coup in February 2021. It has met unprecedented resistance and is losing control of parts of the country. In response, it has launched indiscriminate attacks using airstrikes and long-range artillery.
The British government has so far failed to sanction supplies of aviation fuel to Burma, despite five British companies, UK P&I, Steamship Mutual, Britannia P&I, North Standard and Shipowners’ Club, being involved in the supply chain of aviation fuel deliveries. Without aviation fuel, the jets can’t fly and if they can’t fly, they can’t bomb.
The British government had previously led the implementation of sanctions on sources of revenue and arms but there have been no new sanctions in almost four months and major sources of revenue, such as gas, state-owned banks and rare earth minerals have yet to be sanctioned. The slow plodding pace of sanctions has meant the military has been able to generate revenue to fund arms purchases. The EU has sanctioned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and the US has sanctioned state-owned banks.
It is not just the cuts in aid to Burma which are alarming, but also the way in which aid is given. Most of the people forced to flee attacks by the Burmese military are in areas not under the control of the military and where UN and other agencies don’t operate. For most, the only way to reach them is through local civil society organisations, but the British government and other donors provide relatively little aid to them, and apply so many conditions and so much bureaucracy and red tape that local organisations can’t access funds.
“James Cleverly is moving too slowly to cut off sources of revenue and weapons to the Burmese military and is now cutting aid to the people attacked by those weapons,” said Anna Roberts. “Arguing that the British government has also cut life-saving aid to other countries is not a defence justifying these cuts, it’s a disgrace.”