East Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:55 pm on 7th April 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 7:55 pm, 7th April 2003

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Freeman for initiating so eloquently this special debate on aid to East Africa and add my respect for the Minister for all the work that she does.

Perhaps I may begin by turning to the situation in Ethiopia. In December, the UN launched a joint appeal with the Ethiopian Government to call for humanitarian assistance in 2003. This was in response to reports that the recent rains had ended and that there was a growing need for food.

According to recent figures provided by DfID, 5.9 million people in Ethiopia were in need of food provided under the UN's World Food Programme in January 2002. By December of that year, the figure had doubled with 11.3 million people being identified and a further 3 million people at risk. This rapid increase is an example of how quickly widespread drought can impact on a highly vulnerable population.

My noble friend Lord Freeman, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, all referred to the important role that the British Government have played in providing humanitarian support. In Ethiopia alone, £17.3 million has been provided bilaterally for humanitarian assistance during 2002 and an additional £15 million has been pledged for the early part of 2003.

We on this side of the House hope that the contribution that Britain is making to support the humanitarian crisis in East Africa will encourage others to act. However, my noble friend Lord Freeman is correct to focus the attention of the House on the efficient deployment of any aid that we provide. Therefore it is vital that with any humanitarian crisis, the situation is constantly monitored as it unfolds so that any assistance given is not only timely but is also the most appropriate to the country's needs.

What systems have the Government put in place to ensure that food is distributed efficiently in order to reach those most in need at the time they need it? I hope that the Government will continue to keep the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia under review and involve international and non-governmental organisations in this monitoring. In the case of Ethiopia, what measures have the Government taken to maintain in-country dialogue on the humanitarian situation between the Ethiopian Government, other donors and non-governmental organisations?

As I have outlined, the provision of food is vital to the short-term relief of the humanitarian crisis in the region. However, while it is important that we respond to the short-term humanitarian crisis, it is important, too, that we examine opportunities to provide longer-term solutions to the situation without forgetting to find ways of reducing the risk of future humanitarian disasters.

It is with regard to that that I turn to the situation in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where the need for humanitarian assistance also exists. At this stage it would be remiss of me if I did not mention one of the finest organisations in this field. My noble friend Lord Freeman mentioned the importance of aid efficiency in East Africa. The Aga Khan Development Network, known as the AKDN, is one of the major contributors and does the most outstanding work in that area.

The AKDN comprises private development agencies to improve living conditions and opportunities in East Africa and other specific regions of the developing world. It has individual mandates that range from health, education, and the built environment to rural development, infrastructure and the promotion of private sector enterprise. It works in close partnership with governments, DfID, NGOs, private sector institutions, communities and individuals, maintaining always the strictest neutrality and remaining independent of all political allegiances. Its education services provide schooling of quality to over 10,000 students in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, from the pre-primary through to the secondary level. The Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development is supporting those efforts. The Aga Khan University has also established campuses in those three countries.

Kenya has extremely high levels of poverty with over half of the population living below the poverty line. The situation is worsened by the spread of HIV/AIDS, as we have heard, which continues to pose a major threat to the development of the country. However, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, we can take some comfort from recent political developments with their election results providing an important opportunity to achieve reform in Kenya.

With regard to aid accompanied by reform and education, I ask your Lordships' indulgence as I mention education yet again and especially the importance of education for women. I feel that the lack of education is one of the major roots of nearly all these problems. Education offers one of the best hopes for lifting many in the region out of poverty. We on this side of the House back the Government in their support of the new Kenyan administration to drive forward policies on poverty reduction, including their commitment to provide free primary education and to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

We also recognise, however, that humanitarian assistance and good governance alone may not be sufficient to tackle some of the deeper-rooted causes of poverty in the region. The heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, has been described by the inspired president of the World Bank, Mr James Wolfensohn. He said:

"This is a breakthrough . . . It deals with debt in a comprehensive way to give countries the possibility of existing from unsustainable debt. It is very good news for the poor of the world".

HIPC is aimed at bringing about a reduction in the debts of some of the poorest countries. Noble Lords on all sides have recognised the damaging effects of unsustainable debt on efforts to reduce poverty in these countries and therefore the importance of providing access to the HIPC scheme for heavily indebted countries.

In January, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, stated that many countries that have been through the scheme are still in a position of unsustainable debt. I ask the Minister whether it is still the case that 15 countries have not even reached their decision point. In other words, a third of heavily indebted poor countries have received no debt relief under the initiative. I further ask whether the Minister agrees that there must be a radical revision of the terms of the initiative, so that more countries can qualify for debt relief in 2003.

Finally, I turn to the political situation in the region as a whole. Corruption has long played a role in diverting resources away from those most in need of aid. In the past we have often heard reports of large quantities of donated food being siphoned off by corrupt administrations and either stockpiled or sold off. I ask the Minister what measures we have in place to ensure that any aid that we send to the region reaches those for whom it was intended? Equally, so much of the humanitarian crisis in East Africa over the past decade has been exacerbated by conflict in the region which has considerably reduced access to water, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Freeman, the ability to grow crops and increased competition for already scarce resources.

In 1984 a state of civil war existed in Ethiopia that significantly impeded the ability of the international community to direct available resources to relief. I hope therefore that noble Lords will support the view that the best way to tackle famine across Africa is by the international community looking forward and working with African countries to end the cycle of corruption, economic stagnation, war and all the problems with water that condemn so many Africans to poverty and famine.