Sub-Saharan Africa (Aid)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:16 pm on 23rd May 1986.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury 12:16 pm, 23rd May 1986

The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) for introducing this debate. He showed his great knowledge and commitment to the subject. The same is true for my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). My hon. Friends have contributed enormously to our understanding of Africa 's problems. The House and others should be grateful to them for what they have done.

This is a timely debate. We have the great Sport Aid activity over the weekend. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will meet the Sudanese athlete, Omar Khalifa, as part of Sport Aid's series of fund-raising events for African relief. The Race Against Time is a kind of prelude to next week's special session of the United Nations on Africa's economic problems. I welcome this opportunity to say something about our actions and policies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East rightly stressed the need for wise policies to tackle the problems of agriculture and population. We have to face the fact that, in the two decades before the drought smote east Africa, total food production increased but per capita food production fell by perhaps 20 per cent. A growing number of Africans are therefore seriously under-nourished.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe spoke movingly about the plight of African people. Governments have all too often followed policies which have inhibited and discouraged farmers through resettlement, ill-judged villagisation or unrealistic pricing and over-controlled marketing of agricultural produce.

There is also the problem of population growth. Having more mouths to feed puts ever increasing pressure on agriculture and other sectors, and per capita incomes must dwindle. Some African countries have population growth rates of 4 per cent. a year, so that the population doubles every 17 or 18 years. There is large-scale migration from rural to urban areas. Governments therefore come under inescapable pressure to ensure supplies of low-priced food in the towns and are therefore rather reluctant to implement proper food production and pricing policies. The Government have substantially increased aid to population-related activities in recent years, from £1 million in 1977 to £12 million a year now. That is a great improvement.

There are also problems of soil erosion, deforestation and the advance of the desert, partly as a result of climatic change but magnified by the pressure of growing population on marginal land which is often poorly farmed. Meanwhile, nomads are pushed into land that cannot support their animals, and this leads to deforestation as bushes and trees are cut down for firewood or to create farmland. They are significant factors in what is happening.

As my hon. Friends said, the crisis in Africa has deeply affected people throughout the world, awakening a new public awareness of the problems facing that continent and awakening a great desire to help to overcome them. I add my tribute to Band Aid and the other voluntary agencies for the immense work that they have undertaken. I also pay tribute to the ordinary citizens of Britain who have given on such an unprecedented scale. I understand that Band Aid and Live Aid have so far spent £26 million on famine relief. That is a notable achievement alongside that of the other voluntary arganisations.

The British Government's contribution to famine relief has been substantial—about £190 million through the bilateral programme and our share of European Community expenditure in the past two years. We responded swiftly to the urgent need for assistance to help the victims of famine in Ethiopia, Sudan and other drought-affected countries in Africa. Much of this aid, both bilateral and through the European Community, has been given in close co-operation with international agencies and voluntary organisations. In 1984, the Government allocated bilaterally and through the European Community, £81·4 million for drought relief in Africa. In 1985, this fugure rose to £96·5 million. In the first three months of 1986, we committed a further £27 million. We are ready to continue provide assistance towards famine relief where it is needed.

At the same time, the European Community has played an increasingly effective role. It was slow to get its emergency procedures going, and I pressed hard for improvement. But once under way it has delivered substantial quantities of grain and other supplies and worked hard in the difficult area of transport, providing among other things a notable and insufficiently noticed airlift operation in the Sudan last summer which did good work.

On this year's food aid requirements, as the House knows, most of the countries in Africa which suffered drought and famine in 1985 have had a much improved harvest. Many of them have produced surpluses of grain. However, some substantial needs for emergency food aid persist, notably in Ethiopia and Mozambique; and other countries, notably Sudan, need external assistance to deliver surpluses from one part of their territory to another.

In 1986, the British Government are delivering 37,000 tonnes of wheat to Ethiopia, in close co-operation with the world food programme. This includes 6,500 tonnes due to be loaded in Hull next month. In Mozambique the world food programme is completing delivery of 14,500 tonnes of maize which the Government have purchased in Zimbabwe. We shall continue to watch needs as they arise. The Community is providing substantial quantities of products.

As I have said before in the House, food aid is a double-edged weapon. Even in an exceptional year like 1985, only about 10 per cent. of Community food aid expenditure went to help victims of famine. During the British Presidency of the Community in the second half of 1986, we intend to work hard for reforms in the EC food aid programme designed to make it more responsive to the needs of developing countries. It is not easy to use food aid to promote agricultural and economic development; but it can be done. Next week's meeting of the governing body of the World Food Programme in Rome will be asked to approve the allocation of a further $76 million during the next three years to food for work projects in Ethiopia designed to rehabilitate forest, grazing and agricultural lands devastated by drought. This work will be based on the experience accumulated in similar schemes in recent years. A world food programme evaluation concludes that in general they have gone relatively well. But there is no doubt that the sheer size of the conservation problem, especially the need to control the grazing of livestock and the implications for the water table, still needs much attention.

Rehabilitation work after the 1985 famine has also been a special focus of attention by the European Community. The Development Council of November 1985 approved proposals to spend about £70 million from the European development funds in rehabilitation work in the eight countries most seriously affected by famine. Nearly all of this has been committed to specific projects; this, too, will be discussed at next November's Development Council.

In the longer term, the third Lomé Convention, which came into force on 1 May, will provide greatly increased aid resources during the next five years for the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East said, Ethiopia and Sudan present us with special difficulties. There is a self-evident need for assistance to victims of famine in Ethiopia. We have given food, vehicles, spare parts and equipment to improve port handling facilities and we have helped in many other ways. We are also helping in Ethiopia by paying for some of the monitors working under the world food programme.

We are also concerned with rehabilitation after the famine. I informed the House last November that we had allocated £3 million to help with such rehabilitation in Ethiopia. Some of this has been spent on seeds and hand tools. An ODA team is in Ethiopia at the moment identifying other uses for these aid funds. They are talking with the Ethiopians about how we can best help.

However, although we provide our share of Community long-term development assistance, we do not feel able to offer the Ethiopians any bilateral assistance with longer-term development, apart from some technical cooperation. This is partly because of the factors mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East—the programmes of resettlement and villagisation, which continue to cause us great anxiety. Under the recent resettlement programme, about 600,000 people have been moved, we believe, from the northern provinces of Ethiopia to the south and west of the country. There have been many reports of force being used and families being split up.

On several occasions I have expressed our concern to the Ethiopian Government and did so to the United Nations Co-ordinator in Addis Ababa, Mr. Michael Priestly, when he called on me in London earlier this year. Those expressions of concern by Britain and several other countries have been an important factor behind recent statements by the Ethiopian authorities that the resettlement programme has been brought temporarily to a halt.

I recognise that the longer-term effects of population growth and the degradation of the environment may make it necessary for some people to be moved from one part of the country to another. But such moves need to be well prepared. They need to be carried out with proper consideration and respect for all the people concerned. Above all, resettlement must be on a voluntary basis.

It is important to make sure that there will be sufficient land with adequate rainfull in the chosen resettlement areas. Transport must be adequate. I have seen for myself Ethiopians being herded for resettlement on to Russian Antonovs and have heard of the horrifying conditions experienced by some of those who have made those journeys. It is important that families should be kept together. All those matters must concern us.

However, the villagisation programme causes us even greater concern. Last month the Ethiopian Government released figures showing that nearly 3 million people have already been relocated. Villagisation involves the relocation of a scattered rural population in newly constructed villages, usually located close to existing roads. The reasons given for the policy are that the move will facilitate rural development and the provision of social services.

However, there are clear dangers that any benefits gained will be more than offset by the losses to production caused by the time and effort involved in covering the distances between the new villages and the farm lands. We understand that in some areas people have been moved at particularly inappropriate times in the farming calendar and harvest yields reduced in consequence.

There is also the fear among many that the speed with which this exercise has been carried out, and the life style forced on people in the new villages, means that its purpose is to give the Ethiopian Government the means to exercise a tighter control over the rural population. Thousands of people have fled, some to refugee camps in Somalia. Many of these refugees allege that corruption has been used in implementing the villagisation programme, homes have been burnt and livestock confiscated.

Both those policies, but especially villagisation, cause us serious problems when it comes to considering what we can do in the longer term in Ethiopia, substantial though our shorter-term contribution unquestionably has been and is today.

There are also daunting problems in the Sudan. Much of western Sudan suffered further drought in 1985, and a major relief effort is now taking place. Much of the south is affected by renewed civil war. Sudan's economic and financial difficulties are immense, including external debts exceeding $9 billion. The task of longer-term development, in what is the largest country in Africa, remains a complex and formidable one.

We are concentrating our support for the relief effort this year on the distribution of food supplies in the remote region of Darfur in western Sudan. Logistical problems there were had last year. We have provided £6 million for the distribution of food in the west, which is being undertaken on our behalf by the Save the Children Fund. It is too early to judge whether all the targets have been met, but it is working hard and recent reports have been encouraging.

The Sudan also needs a great deal of longer-term development and there we are actively involved. As my hon. Friends will know, our emphasis nowadays is particularly on rural development projects of exactly the kind that are needed to deal with the situation there. My hon. Friends have seen some of the projects and I hope that they will agree that what we are doing is extremely worth while.

In the background, we must hope that Sudan's return to democracy, which we welcome, will lead to some solution of Sudan's enormous problems, especially the problem of the south, because at the moment it is making development in that part of the country difficult.

Let me deal in the remaining minutes with the special session of the United Nations General Assembly. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I will both be attending that special session. At the Tokyo summit we joined with our partners in recognising that the needs of Africa should be accorded high priority. That is reflected in the care with which we are preparing for the special session. The session will give us a real chance for a detailed analysis of the nature of the long-term problems besetting Africa. A wide convergence of views already exists. My hope is that that will provide the opportunity for agreement at the session on what needs to be done. The United Kingdom Government will certainly be working for a positive outcome.

A major theme emerging from the papers produced by the African countries is the concept of development as a partnership. We welcome this. The African countries, as sovereign states — which, of course, they are — have made it clear that they have the prime responsibility for their own development and perhaps for their own shortcomings. But we on our side must also play our part.

I welcome the fact that in a number of African countries the difficult process of policy reform is getting under way. Difficult political decisions have to be made as we all know. Those who make those difficult decisions, often working in conjunction with the IMF, the World Bank and other donors, can count on our support. The work must be done. The economies of those countries must be strengthened and helped to carry out the structural adjustment that is necessary if they are to get away from the burden of debt.

It will be the commitment of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and myself to do all that we can to see that the conference in New York is a success and that it justifies the hopes that have been placed on it by so many people across the world.