Southern Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:14 pm on 19 February 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 7:14, 19 February 2003

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for introducing what has been a characteristically well-informed and constructive debate. His commitment to these issues is well known in this House.

I shall start, if I may, by saying that I do not entirely agree with noble Lords who have said that the interest in Africa is declining and that the issue is falling off our agenda. We have been working hard to ensure that issues of concern to Africa remain at the top of the G8 agenda, as they will be at the June summit in Evian. We continue to work to bring about peace and security. We saw major improvements in Angola last year. We saw an agreement signed with respect to the DRC in December 2002. That conflict drew in seven other countries in the region. We are now working to put in place a transitional government in the DRC. That will have enormous implications for development on the continent. We are seeing some movement in the peace process in Sudan. On education, we have seen the World Bank put in place a fast-tracking facility to help some countries to meet the millennium development goals. This type of debate is important in maintaining that interest.

In September 2000, the United Nations Millennium Assembly agreed a set of targets to improve the condition in which the vast majority of the people of this planet live. While in Europe and North America we can spend an average of 75 dollars per day on food and shelter, 1.6 billion people in other parts of the world survive on the equivalent of less than one dollar a day. Life expectancy in 13 countries has fallen below 45 years while it continues to increase above 70 years in developed countries. Some 60 per cent of African children do not have access to even basic education. The AIDS pandemic, which many noble Lords mentioned, is posing a widespread and fundamental threat to human development.

The millennium development goals build on work done over the past 10 years to analyse the priority issues that the world needs to tackle to reduce poverty in the world. They are quantified targets covering education, health, income, water and sanitation and the environment. The deadlines are realistic—although we need the political will to achieve them—and reflect the extensive knowledge that we now have about what works and what does not work in development. The Government's 1997 White Paper, with its focus on the elimination of world poverty, set out our policy absolutely clearly. We talked in that document about the need to achieve what were then called the international development targets. Therefore, the Government have been committed to these issues since we first came into power.

I should like to put the debate in context. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that southern Africa is a diverse region. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, spoke of the dire situation in Africa. Although two of the countries, Malawi and Mozambique, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, are among the 12 poorest countries in the world, another three, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, are among the most prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, noted, South Africa itself has a GDP three times as big as its 13 neighbours in the Southern African Development Community put together. A few countries have had long periods of political stability, but most have suffered from conflict ranging from civil war to repression and difficult transitions to democracy. Some are shining examples of the progress that can be made; others have not yet completed that journey.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, spoke of the importance of food security, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, of the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa. More than 14 million people have needed help from the international community. In Zimbabwe, more than half the population is receiving food aid. The UK alone is providing food for almost 1.5 million children there every day. The international response to the crisis has prevented famine and kept thousands alive through the present hungry season in the region. I tell the noble Lord that we are now confident that we should be able to maintain adequate supplies until the harvest in April.

The combination of poor governance, high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and less predictable weather patterns could send the region into a downward spiral from which it would be hard to recover. That would obviously damage all our efforts, particularly those of the people in the countries concerned, to improve their lives and to achieve the goals we have for their development.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned Malawi and the sale of the grain reserve. It is not true that the IMF told the government to sell their grain reserves. The suggested level of reserves for Malawi is 60,000 tonnes and the reserves had reached 250,000 tonnes, so donors and the government agreed that some of those reserves could be sold. In the process of sale, all the reserves were sold and the anti-corruption bureau has investigated those sales and a further independent audit is under way. The situation went wrong between the agreement made between donors and the government and the sale itself. We have been supporting major input programmes, for example, seeds. That has successfully led to a second winter maize crop.

In addition to the humanitarian crisis, the region faces some specific development challenges. About 36 million people, one-third of the total regional population, live on less than a dollar a day for all their needs. Growth rates are not yet high enough to lift enough people out of poverty and to meet the goal of halving the proportion of people living in abject poverty by 2015.

There is better progress in ensuring universal basic education, but some countries, such as Mozambique, are slipping back. Healthcare services are skeletal and worsening in too many cases and it will be difficult to meet the targets for reducing child mortality and improving maternal health in many of the countries of the region. That point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.

As many noble Lords have commented, the agenda is made immeasurably more difficult by HIV/AIDS. Infection rates in southern Africa are the highest in the world: at or above 20 per cent in seven of the countries, and as high as 36 per cent in Botswana. That compares with an average infection rate of less than 9 per cent for all of sub-Saharan Africa, and just over 1 per cent for the world as a whole.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, spoke of the cost of HIV/AIDS for the region. The impact will be immense. Life expectancy is falling rapidly. In Botswana, life expectancy would have been 71 but is now just over 40. If infection rates continue as they are, by 2010 it is likely to be just 29. Unlike most other epidemics, those affected are not the weakest and most infirm but the strongest and those most needed for the economic development of the countries in southern Africa. There will be significant falls in GDP because of the loss of contributions from those who are incapacitated or who have died from HIV/AIDS, and because of the extra burden that others will need to bear. Progress against all of the millennium development goals will be set back. The ability of those countries to provide basic education is being hit. Last year in Zambia 1,400 teachers died of AIDS. In Zimbabwe, there are now about 3,000 AIDS-related deaths per week, many of those the health workers most needed to tackle the disease.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is right to say that the number of AIDS orphans is rising. UK Government assistance on HIV/AIDS is taking place in a number of areas. Noble Lords will know that we have worked tirelessly in a number of areas. We have contributed over 200 million dollars over five years to the global health fund. Part of our bilateral agreements with countries like Uganda, South Africa and Mozambique includes raising awareness and working with the leadership on HIV/AIDS issues. In Uganda prevalence rates have been brought down from 14 per cent to 8 per cent. We are working hard to improve the health sector and to build capacity which is absolutely critical if drugs like anti-retrovirals, for example, are to work. We are contributing to work to find a vaccine through the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development chaired a working party that looked at access to medicines last year. We are now seeking support from our G8 and other colleagues to take recommendations forward on that work. We are also working in the area of reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases. Until we move from a humanitarian to a bilateral programme in Angola we shall not be conducting specific work on HIV/AIDS although we contribute through international mechanisms. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, is absolutely right about the link between education and health. Uganda has nearly trebled the number of children in primary schools and it is one of the countries that has managed to bring down the infection rate of HIV/AIDS.

Enrolment in Malawi has increased by 70 per cent and DfID has doubled its spending on basic education, health and water in Africa since 1997. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chan, about the importance of partnership and of sharing a model of good practice.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about our policies. The FCO, DfID and the British Council have a joint management policy to assist locally engaged members of staff affected by HIV/AIDS. I shall happily write to the noble Lord with more details of that policy. However, it does not extend to our partner organisations.

This year, we shall be developing an Africa-wide strategy on HIV/AIDS: focusing on the prevention of new infections with emphasis on young people, high risk groups and mother-to-child transmission; mitigating impact, treatment and care, especially for orphans and vulnerable children; and promoting political advocacy and strategies for poor governance in countries in conflict.

The scale of such challenges could lead to despair, but we can reverse the downward trend: we can cut poverty; we can increase life expectancy; and we can rebuild communities. To do that we must be strategic in our approach. We must back the efforts of the countries themselves in terms of sustainable development, we must learn from past experience, and we must be prepared for long-term engagement. Our starting point is the universal commitment to the MDGs, but we also recognise the crucial role of the state and the private sector in promoting social and economic development, as well as the importance of good political and economic governance.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke about aid effectiveness. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has worked tirelessly to improve the effectiveness of our aid and has worked with others on a clear reform agenda in regard to aid effectiveness. More effective use of aid means moving away from funding a proliferation of projects to backing poverty reduction strategies drawn up by developing countries themselves.

Reform agendas drawn up locally are more successful than those imposed from outside. We need to work with those governments committed to reform and committed to putting money into social sectors like health and education. We look more at building the capacity of local institutions to deliver services and to respond to the needs of the poor. That means putting finances directly into government budgets so helping to fund rapid improvements in health, education, water and other services that contribute to poverty reduction. We are working on developing long-term development partnerships in a number of countries in Africa and working to develop multi-donor facilities in others.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, spoke of the need to encourage growth. I agree with him about the need for macro-economic stability, retention of savings in country and other issues, including clearer definitions of property rights and enforcement of contracts, all of which are about creating the right kind of enabling environment to attract investment.

My noble friend Lord Desai compared development in Asia, where MDGs are likely to be met, with Africa where in many areas development is going backwards. My noble friend touched on issues of corruption and conflict in an area where 20 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa's population live in countries where there is conflict or where conflict is ending. He also mentioned the importance of rural development and made a powerful argument for reform of the EU common agricultural policy. Noble Lords will be aware that the UK has been at the forefront of calls for the reform of the common agricultural policy.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lady Whitaker all mentioned the importance of trade which is an essential building block for development. It must be a key engine of growth for developing countries, with agricultural trade of central importance. The Government's objective in Doha, and through the WTO, is to secure significant liberalisation of trade in agriculture. Halving protectionist measures by both developed and developing countries could result in gains for developing countries of 150 billion dollars per year. That is three times present levels of aid.

Conditionality was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lord Lea. Conditionality in the form of "one-size-fits-all" prescriptions imposed on developing countries is gone from our agenda. Our focus is on developing relationships between donors and African countries based on mutual accountability. But conditions agreed between us that reflect the international consensus on what works in development are still crucial. They allow donors to account for their contributions; they allow people in developing countries to hold their own governments to account in tackling poverty; and they hold developing country governments accountable for their own commitment to reform. At the core of NePAD—the New Partnership for Africa's Development—is the concept of peer review. I accept that NePAD requires greater participation. That is something I am sure will grow as the NePAD concept becomes known across the continent. I shall write to my noble friend Lady Whitaker on the Cotonou Agreement as time is short.

Another part of our strategy concerns the G8 Africa Action Plan. The G8 plan sets out specific G8 actions in a number of areas which will help Africa's development. At the next G8 summit in France—I assure my noble friend Lord Lea that President Chirac has made Africa a priority—we shall be considering water, transparency and access to medicines as well as monitoring implementation of the action plan. Noble Lords will wish to know that the UK is the only G8 country to have published a national action plan setting out the steps we intend to take to meet our commitments in the Africa action plan.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the recent proposal by the Chancellor and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development for an international finance facility. The aim of the proposal is to provide additional financing to help to meet the millennium development goals. It would seek to raise the amount of development assistance from just over 50 billion dollars a year today to 100 billion dollars a year in the years to 2015 by establishing a bond facility financed by long-term commitments of aid. The Government are discussing that proposal with other donors because we need to bring others on board.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and my noble friend Lord Sawyer mentioned South Africa. The stark inequality that is apartheid's legacy has left us with two South Africas. One has levels of poverty on a par with the poorest African countries; the other has levels of prosperity the envy of developed countries. Skills and sophisticated organisational management will be central to South Africa's efforts to bridge that divide. Continued economic competitiveness is vital as South African businesses bring in previously excluded communities. Effective public administration is essential in refocusing South Africa's public services to reach the majority of people excluded in the past. I welcome the work that Investors In People is doing to contribute to that process. I say to my noble friend that I worked with the South African Department of Labour in 1995 on issues of employment equity which also links in to the issues related to Investors In People.

Before I conclude I say a few brief words on the heavily indebted poor countries initiative. I agree that donors and the international financial institutions need to look further at debt sustainability. It is clear that some beneficiary countries of HIPC have already been hit by falling commodity prices pushing them back into unsustainable levels of debt. I also agree that we must maintain the link between debt relief and the millennium development goals. The UK Government will again take a leading role in pressing for an outcome that delivers benefits for poor countries. At last year's G8 meeting, an additional 1 billion dollars was agreed to help those countries reaching HIPC completion point with unsustainable levels of debt.

In conclusion, the millennium development goals agreed by the entire international community two years ago give us a positive agenda which all governments are accountable for. Southern Africa faces huge challenges in meeting these goals, not least because of the levels of HIV/AIDS in the region. But it also has huge resources and, in many of the countries, strong leadership. The Government, along with other donors, have developed a strategic, long-term approach to support this and other regions. With that support, I believe that southern Africa could make real progress in cutting poverty, increasing growth and turning around the prospects for poor communities in their countries. Progress in southern Africa would boost prospects for all of Africa and help to push Africa back on track towards meeting the millennium development goals—something that we should all like to see made a reality.