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Zimbabwe (Food Aid)

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 11th December 2002.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 2:30 pm, 11th December 2002

What steps her Department is taking to ensure free and fair distribution of food aid in Zimbabwe.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

Two thirds of the food requirements in Zimbabwe are being provided by the Government of Zimbabwe to populations either able to afford to buy food or eligible for supplementary feeding programmes. There is strong evidence that those supplies are being manipulated for political reasons.

The UN appeal is separate and provides for those who are destitute. That food is being distributed according to need, and we are ensuring that it is not politically manipulated: but the UN appeal is only 50 per cent. funded and therefore many people are facing starvation.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I greatly admire the right hon. Lady's integrity, forthrightness and courage—[Hon. Members: XHear, hear."]—in saying what she believes to be right. In the light of the facts that the Government of Mr. Mugabe are clearly denying opponents food and are using food to win elections, that Matabele women who go into hospital to have children are being sterilised and that brutal force is being used against anyone who stands up against Mr. Mugabe, will the right hon. Lady join me in urging the Government to bring down that African Milosevic who is destroying his country?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I agree with the hon. Gentleman; the situation in Zimbabwe is an absolute disaster. Of the 15.5 million people in need of food in southern Africa, 6.5 million are in Zimbabwe. One in three adults in Zimbabwe are infected with HIV. The economy is destroyed, an election has been stolen, and there is brutalism and misuse of humanitarian aid. I really fear that there will be a disaster such as we have never seen in our lifetime, with the lack of food, the political situation and HIV all playing into each other. I expect that that will bring an end to that awful regime. In the meantime, however, we must do all that we can to keep food flowing for the innocent people whose lives are being destroyed by that terrible regime.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

To underline what my right hon. Friend has just said, the message from the townships in Harare, in Zimbabwe, is that the position is extremely critical and getting worse all the time. They believe that there will be serious problems within the next six months if action is not taken. They believe that the UK and South Africa in particular must do something to end the present situation to ensure that food gets to the people in Zimbabwe who need it so desperately—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I share the view that we are facing a disaster. The United Kingdom is making the second biggest contribution to the appeal. I am currently scraping through my Department to try to find more resources, and I have also written to other Governments. I am afraid that the shadow of Mugabe is preventing Governments from responding to the humanitarian appeal, so the people are being punished twice. The United Kingdom is taking a leading role in the humanitarian effort, and we will continue to do everything in our power to help.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

ZANU-PF's organising secretary, Didymus Mutasa, has stated that Zimbabwe would be better off with only 6 million people—the half, not surprisingly, that supports his party's aims. Given that selective starvation of the people seems to be official Zimbabwean Government policy, does the Secretary of State believe that the United States Government were right to warn last month of the need for intrusive measures to ensure that the food gets to all those who need it?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I saw the statement in the press that was attributed to Didymus Mutasa. If he said anything like that, it is an absolute outrage. To welcome the death of nearly half the people in a country is completely unforgivable—no one should forgive him. I am aware also from the press that the US has implied the need for some enforced provision of food, but I am not aware of any action to follow up that statement. The situation is extremely complicated. We are doing all in our power, and the World Food Programme is doing a splendid job. There are petrol shortages in the country on top of everything else, and the unwillingness to accept genetically modified food unless it is milled outside the country is a further complication. I do not think that the proposals to use force in that situation would help us, but I am open to any serious suggestion that will. Most particularly, the WFP needs more resources just to keep people fed.