Horn of Africa

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 19th July 2011.

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Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham 11:30 am, 19th July 2011

What recent assessment he has made of the political and security situation in the horn of Africa.

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I visited the horn of Africa earlier this month. The security situation in Somalia remains a major concern. Piracy continues to present a significant threat. South Sudan’s independence is welcome, but agreement still needs to be reached on a comprehensive peace. The current drought in the horn of Africa is a serious humanitarian crisis affecting some 10 million people. We are working to prevent a crisis becoming a catastrophe, including helping to feed 1.3 million people facing starvation in Ethiopia.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. I sincerely hope that the massive movements of people do not aggravate a humanitarian disaster through increased international political tension. The UN World Food Programme says that changing weather patterns have led to

“an almost constant state of food insecurity” in the region. What forward planning is his Department preparing to respond to the increased likelihood of future flashpoints such as this, caused in part by climate change?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The agencies state that the food insecurity situation in the region is the most serious in the world today. We are doing a great deal. My right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary was there at the weekend and announced a further £52 million of aid. We are the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to this region in the world, after the United States. On the longer-term issues, we are one of the foremost countries in the world in putting climate change at the heart of foreign policy considerations, and this is one of the reasons for that. The Department for International Development will give consideration to other longer-term measures that now need to be taken.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour, Ilford South

The Foreign Secretary referred to the situation in Somalia. What is his assessment of the role of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militia, with which it seems that the aid agencies and the Governments are having to co-operate at some level to get assistance through to starving people? What does this mean for the long term?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Of course, al-Shabaab’s role is entirely negative in Somalia, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates. It is good that AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—has made some good progress in recent months to secure Mogadishu. There is now a new Prime Minister of the transitional federal Government. I met him on my recent visit to Kenya and have encouraged him in his work. Al-Shabaab has a very negative role. It has previously refused assistance into the area, and that has probably made the situation even worse and driven more people out of Somalia into camps on the Kenyan border that now cannot take more people. It has indicated more recently that it will accept help from the agencies, which are now considering how to approach that.

Photo of Stephen Mosley Stephen Mosley Conservative, City of Chester

The whole House will be extremely concerned about the food crisis currently affecting the horn of Africa. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that the UK should take a leading role, but that we must also encourage our international partners to take a more active role?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Yes, absolutely. That is really a matter for my colleagues at the Department for International Development. Our strong commitment to put 0.7% of gross national income towards development aid helps us to find the necessary funds to help in this situation. I hope that other nations around the world will be encouraged, emboldened and inspired by the British example, and that some may even be shamed by it.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Let me stress our support for the Government’s response to the famine in Somalia and the creation of South Sudan. However, I urge the Foreign Secretary not to take his eye off the ball over piracy off the horn of Africa. Last year, some 60 cruise liners visited Mombasa; this year, just one. That has had devastating effects on its tourism industry. Seafarers around the world are considering boycotting the area. Over the summer, will the Government show more urgency in tackling this menace and in getting the international community to step up its action?

Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We will continue to show a great deal of urgency. We are, of course, at the forefront of the EU’s counter-piracy operation. We provide its operational commander and headquarters. We have contributed £5 million to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which will allow pirates to serve custodial sentences in Somalia. Royal Navy ships have robust rules of engagement. We are examining what can be done to change the balance of risk to make it more risky to be a pirate off Somalia. I am anxious to do that and we are talking to our international partners about it. We are also giving a lot of attention to the political situation in Somalia and supporting the work of the transitional federal institutions.