Food Security and Famine Prevention (Africa)

Part of Backbench Business — [31st Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 15th September 2011.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth 2:55 pm, 15th September 2011

I am pleased to be able to participate in this afternoon’s debate. I know that quite a few Members still wish to speak, as we were a bit later starting this debate than we might have been, so in the hope that everyone who has waited so patiently will have an opportunity to make a few remarks, I will cut down my comments and therefore not get to the aspects of my speech relating to food security and our united belief that prevention is better than cure.

I wish to associate myself with the comments made by all those who have paid tribute to the voluntary organisations that are doing such fantastic work. I also wish to reflect on some of the things that the Government could learn from the current humanitarian crisis and on how we might improve our response in future. I wish to pay tribute to ShelterBox, a great Cornish charity set up by a group of Rotarians, that provides humanitarian aid. It does so mostly in the form of shelter, but it also enables people to cook food and ensures a good supply of clean water through its boxes. It was set up in 2000 and has responded to more than 140 disasters in more than 70 countries. This voluntary organisation relies totally on individual donations and does not receive any funding from the Disasters Emergency Committee appeals.

The ShelterBox team that is currently in east Africa went out there in July. ShelterBox response teams are made up of highly trained volunteers, and they have been working with people from the UK, Australia, Canada, the USA, France, New Zealand and Germany. So far, they have been able to assist more than 8,600 families, contributing more than £2.2 million-worth of aid. They have been doing that in the refugee camps in Ethiopia, as well as in Somalia. They often undertake such work in extremely difficult circumstances, at great risk to themselves, and it is important that we pay great and fulsome tribute to all those volunteers.

In Kenya alone, ShelterBox boxes have assisted 7,000 families and in the Dadaab refugee camp approximately 1,000 people a day are being helped, with 100 to 150 tents put up daily. The teams are working with a great number of organisations from all over the world and with local people, who are assisting with putting up the tents. The people in the teams wanted me to say to the Government that they have really noticed the improvements that have been made—the much better co-ordination among the non-governmental organisations and the various supranational organisations on the ground—which are making their life much easier. However, they are able to address only a fraction of the need.

Other hon. Members have set out how much more needs to be done. On 15 August, Adrian Edwards, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman, said:

“As well as needing food and water, these new arrivals urgently need proper shelter, medical help and other basic services”.

The UNHCR estimated that another 45,000 tents were needed, which brings me on to the recommendations that I would like the Government to consider.

I welcomed the humanitarian emergency response review carried out by Lord Ashdown and published in March. I remind my hon. Friends that the aim of the review was to deliver the maximum possible benefit to those affected by disasters while at the same time delivering value for money for the UK taxpayer. I also welcome the Government’s response for two particular reasons: first, they recognised the important role of independent charities and the value of their role in disasters emergency relief; and, secondly, they made a commitment to set up a rapid response facility to pre-approve high performing UK charities and to enable them to do more of what they do so well.

At the time, the Government announced that there would be a consultation on the rapid response facility. I hope that while the consultation is going on the Government will learn from the excellent work of ShelterBox. A key message the charity has given to me is that, despite the fact that we are all going to work and redouble our efforts to prevent problems, disasters in the world are increasing as a result of climate change and other issues. It is important that we should be able to build up reserves so that when disaster strikes we can quickly get aid to where it is needed. Of course, tents take time to be manufactured, and it is important that the Government should enable organisations such as ShelterBox to manufacture its very specialist tents, which can provide so much important shelter and comfort.

I hope that the consultation can be speeded up and the recommendations implemented so that more UK charities, such as ShelterBox, can provide desperately needed help and do what they do best. Although charity begins at home, it does not end there. I urge the Government to do all they can to enable this great little Cornish charity to carry on making its substantial contribution.