Malawi

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd January 2003.

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

More than 2 million people in Malawi are currently in need of food aid, and that figure will rise to 3.25 million—a third of the population—between now and March, after which the 2003 harvest will begin. So far, the rains have been good, thank heavens. My Department's emergency assistance to help Malawi in its current crisis so far totals £34 million. I should say that the aid comes from my Department and British taxpayers, and I hope that they are proud of that.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does she share my concern that President Muluzi's priority seems to be constitutional change to allow him to get a third term in office rather than to address the problem of HIV/AIDS and the food crisis? What can we do to ensure that Malawi does not see the same political interference in aid distribution that we have seen next door in Zimbabwe?

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

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the campaign for the third term which took place as the crisis was developing. It is not for the UK Government to tell Malawi what to do, but we have said that if such a constitutional change is to be made, surely there should be a full and thorough discussion in which all the people of Malawi are allowed to express their view. Since then, work with the Government of Malawi, the UN institutions and ourselves has gone well, and the present organisation for keeping people fed is good. There is no prospect of behaviour like that witnessed in Zimbabwe, but Malawi is in very bad shape, and reconstruction to the point at which it does not have recurrent crises will take considerable time and requires much more reform.

Photo of Mr Iain Luke Mr Iain Luke Labour, Dundee East

I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in welcoming the restoration of much of Malawi's grain reserves, which were sold off by the Government—the root cause of the famine conditions in the country. I am sure that she will join me also in congratulating the many charitable organisations, such as TearFund, which are doing a power of work in Malawi to counter the worst effects of the famine.

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

My hon. Friend is right that the grain reserve was sold off just before the crisis. It is untrue that that was done under pressure from the IMF—that is a false story. It appears that money was corruptly misplaced, and there are inquiries into that. I agree that charities are doing useful work, but so are the United Nations and the British taxpayer. I hope people understand that charities are at the end of the distribution mechanism. The biggest contribution is from taxpayers, and non-governmental organisations help to deliver at the end of the process. Without taxpayers, we would not get through crises like this. Charitable donations are welcome, but the people of Britain should be proud of what they do through their taxes as well.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

It is good news that the Government have been able to give so much money for food aid to Malawi. The other aspect of the situation there is the terrible scourge of HIV/AIDS, with 1 million orphans already. Does the Secretary of State agree that the international community must make a qualitative response to the huge number of AIDS orphans in Africa? Countries such as Malawi simply do not have the sustainable capacity to respond to the needs of their own orphans—[Interruption.]

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

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It was difficult to hear the question, even on the Front Bench. Tony Baldry was right—the problem concerns not just Malawi, but the whole southern African drought and is complicated by the position in Zimbabwe and Zambia on genetically modified crops. It is deepened by high levels of HIV infection, which has affected one third of the population. People become sick quickly, so they cannot get back to farming and there are more orphans. Recovering from this crisis will be extremely difficult—there has not been one like it before and, with HIV and all the other factors, it will take a long time to recover from it.