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Poverty and Terrorism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:37 pm on 27th February 2002.

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Photo of Lord Stone of Blackheath Lord Stone of Blackheath Labour 5:37 pm, 27th February 2002

My Lords, I believe that the debate will show that there are links between poverty over there—wherever "there" is—and terrorism over here. But there are those who believe that, because of that link, we should do more over there for our own good and to protect ourselves. I hope that the debate shows a closer link and a different motivation for our concern.

I returned only yesterday from Ecuador. The level of absolute poverty there has just risen from 35 per cent to 70 per cent. The links between poverty and terrorism there are obvious, immediate and local. I met Jennifer on Sunday. She is four-and-a-half years old. She had been kept in a cardboard kennel in a back yard until last Thursday by adults who were not her parents. She had been hit so hard that it broke her jaw. She had lost most of the sight in one eye and one ear was badly affected. She had also been sexually abused. Her story is not uncommon, and I believe that that is the terrorism which is linked to poverty.

But I have come to report positively for this debate. I saw at first hand the type of work that wins over the hearts and minds of those who find themselves confronting extreme poverty and other difficulties. In Santo Domingo de los Colorados, the group of five people whom I accompanied, four of whom were British, went to help Orphaids, an organisation which helps children of parents with HIV or AIDS. John and Brenda Hart work for that NGO, running a project which provides a local home for such children just before or after their parents' death. The children receive bereavement counselling and the security of knowing that they will have a family and a safe home after their parents die. The parents have the comfort of being able to die knowing that their children will be safe in the future. I am sure that your Lordships will be pleased to know that the British Government will be supporting that project.

On a wider scale, since our trip, which was linked with Orphaids, PLAN International, a child-centred community development organisation, is now working in Ecuador with more than 70,000 families, with 3,400 local volunteers in seven localities, to help communities to improve the lives of their children. There are tangible results. The children now have access to better education, health and water, all thanks to partnerships between their parents and their local communities, local governments and NGOs. Over 100,000 people in Britain contribute to that work. Our own Department for International Development is also making a difference, supporting a very important child rights programme, giving children a voice and changing adult behaviour on issues such as abuse and child labour.

I also visited the indigenous Colorados Indians, who, with help, are improving their own society. They invited me to their meeting house, where they were discussing alternatives to the traditional hereditary method of finding their leaders. They asked for my views. They also said that their priorities for their community are education, health, crime and economy. I asked them, "What about transport?", and they said that they did not have much. They asked whether I could help them to find a couple of vehicles. I said I would ask.

Ecuador is not a country that experiences much international terrorism. It is certainly not a country that sponsors state terrorism. However, I believe that there is little room for complacency. Ecuadorians living in the border provinces, in Esmeraldas and Carchi, have experienced years of extreme poverty. Until recently they have received little help from either the central government or the international community. Some of their people are now forced to work in cocoa plantations across the border in Colombia, where the cocaine production business is run by terrorist organisations such as FARC, ELN and AUC. Those organisations began over 30 years ago as extreme left or right-wing movements fighting poverty. That is the fertile ground in which terrorist groups can recruit new members.

Our targeted help at the right time is exactly what is needed to reverse that type of situation. But in my view that work is best done altruistically, concerned with the violence and terror that is perpetrated on their children, rather than as an afterthought for our own self-preservation. I want to report to your Lordships' House that in Ecuador I saw wonderful British people doing just that.

My hope is that this debate will help those who live in extreme poverty in Ecuador and elsewhere to continue to receive the help that they need and I hope that we decide to increase resources in the future for their sake and not for ours.