"The world has never needed us more"
by Zoë Abrams, former executive director of strategy, advocacy and communications
Last updated 4 August 2023
"As leaders of the world's major democracies meet for the G7 summit in Cornwall, the British government has a critical opportunity to prove Global Britain's position as a leading force for good in the world."
The truth is - the world has never needed us more.
With a successful domestic vaccination effort well underway, many in the UK may be filled with a degree of optimism about the coming months. Unfortunately this has created the false perception that we are reaching the end of this devastating pandemic. The truth is far from it.
At a global level, transmission and newly detected cases are at the highest level seen since the beginning of the pandemic. A tragic loss of three million deaths and counting.
Covid-19 has also accelerated suffering in some of the humanitarian contexts already most in need after years of conflict, poverty and the impacts of climate change.
We are in the midst of an escalating hunger crisis in West Africa and the Sahel, with the situation deteriorating rapidly in Yemen, South Sudan and parts of Nigeria.
At a time when the world has never had as much food, hunger now affects more people every single day.
At least 174 million people across the planet experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity.
The UK government has faced criticism for its plan to reduce the foreign aid budget at a time when lower income countries, are and will, continue to be hit the hardest.
As the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, we see the life-saving impact that the UK’s 0.7% aid budget has had. The UK must be a leader in addressing the extreme economic, social and sustainable development consequences that are happening now and pose a real risk of reversing decades of development progress.
It’s critical we protect humanitarian assistance to those most in need, in line with humanitarian principles and International Humanitarian Law
But there are grounds for optimism. Our Government has already proven the might of its convening power. For the first time in the history of the G7, hunger as a humanitarian priority was on the table as the UK hosted a Summit of Foreign Ministers in May.
A historic famine prevention commitment was made and as part of it, leaders called for better respect of International Humanitarian Law and principled humanitarian action, protection and access and greater accountability. This was a remarkable step and the UK government should be applauded for its role in shaping and securing this agreement. It now needs to turn these commitments into action.
Come the weekend, the Prime Minister has stated his intention to use our influencing power to unite leading democracies to help the world fight and build back from Covid-19 and create a prosperous, greener future. With the G7 countries holding 70% of the world’s humanitarian budget, the stakes are high.
Global vaccine equity is the greatest immediate challenge, with low-income countries having received just 0.2% of the 700 million vaccine doses administered globally by April. Funding is critical. The Red Cross, as the world’s largest humanitarian network, is playing its part in making sure vaccines reach the ‘last mile’, to remote and at risk communities. But a global commitment is needed to address the sheer scale of the challenge.
With the UK hosting COP26 just five months from now, the pressure is also on to secure necessary financial commitments on climate change. Not only does the UK government need to build global momentum to exceed the $100 billion climate finance target set for the summit; it also needs to ensure money is on the table for ‘climate adaptation’ assistance, targeted to help the most vulnerable communities affected by the crisis.
The Red Cross sees the devastating impact climate change is already having on people’s lives, with climate-related weather disasters impacting 1.7 billion in the past decade.
Extreme flooding and storms are responsible for destroying homes, crops and livelihoods. It accounts for far more people being displaced than conflicts. To put it bluntly - COP26 simply cannot fail.
Britain has built its reputation since World War Two on its proud tradition of humanitarianism. Having faced criticism for a reduction in overseas aid, the stage is set for this Government to show that the UK is as committed as ever to playing a positive, powerful role for good in the world.
Securing actionable promises on vaccine equity and climate change adaptation is a moral imperative. The G7 commitments matter. And the action to deliver them does even more.
- Coronavirus around the world: the new epicentre
- Hunger in the Sahel: in pictures
- Our approach to tackling crises: "we must protect the most vulnerable"
Donate to our Global Coronavirus Appeal
Coronavirus is spreading in the world's most vulnerable communities, with the safety of millions at stake. Please help the Red Cross continue our vital work and help the most vulnerable people in society.DONATE