Africa: Drought and Famine

– in the House of Lords at 11:29 am on 16th February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 11:29 am, 16th February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What their response is to the assessment by the World Food Programme of the drought and famine facing 6.5 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought for a decade. My right honourable friend Hilary Benn visited the region last month and saw at first hand what was happening. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of international efforts to respond. DfID has committed £19.3 million to the immediate relief effort. We are also working to tackle the underlying causes of the persistent food crises affecting the region.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her reply. Will she and her colleagues do their utmost—I am sure that they will—to ensure that food, water and medical care reach the affected people with the minimum possible delay, given that some of these people are living in very remote areas?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, yes. The crisis is not just about food but about water and health services. Malnutrition rates are high, and urgent action is required to ensure that help reaches those in the greatest need. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that that happens, and we will try to ensure that other donors come on board.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, am I wrong to be surprised that Eritrea is not included in the list of countries in the Question? Can the noble Baroness tell me what the drought and famine situation is in Eritrea?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the problem affects the whole of the Horn of Africa. On 25 January, my right honourable friend made a Written Statement on the drought, which I repeated in this House on the same day. The situation in Eritrea is difficult to establish because the Government there have stopped a number of NGOs working in that country, so the data that we have are very poor. But we will continue to do all that we can to find out what is happening. Many NGOs cannot leave Asmara, but we will continue to press the Government of Eritrea on the matter.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour

My Lords, do the Government agree that there is a good deal of understanding among governments and scientists of when the famines in Africa will come along but that the problem, as I saw when in I was in Africa in November, is that information is not being disseminated adequately to the local level? Could the Government learn something from India, which has an astonishing system of getting information to villages using the Internet and so on? It really is important to get the information to the local level.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. We have been monitoring the situation in the Horn of Africa over many months—indeed, over the past couple of years. Information gets down to the local areas in some countries much more quickly than it does in others. We will certainly look at the example of India to see whether we can learn anything from that.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Defence, Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development

My Lords, what resources and support have the Government given to the UN's 2006 humanitarian appeal since its launch by Kofi Annan in November last year? I understand that Somalia is one of the target countries.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, we have responded to that UN appeal, not just in relation to Somalia but in relation to other countries as well. I understand that Tanzania has recently launched its own appeal, and we will be looking at ways of responding to that. I have to say to the House that, although we, with the United States and the European Union, are at the forefront of the response to this emergency, we have to persuade other donors to come on board.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs

My Lords, I applaud the efforts that are being made by DfID to help the international agencies to cope with the immediate effects of this appalling drought, but does the noble Baroness agree that we need a long-term strategy to cope with permanent changes in the climate of the region, which are shown by all the computer models to be going in the direction of higher temperatures and lower rainfalls? Can the noble Baroness tell me, in particular, whether the matter came up at the Met Office's conference earlier this month on avoiding dangerous climate change? Does she not think that we should now talk about coping with dangerous climate change and developing long-term strategies for this region on how to cope with much drier conditions?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is right: we need to look at longer-term solutions, and that is precisely why we are supporting the Productive Safety Nets programme in Ethiopia. With respect to the Met Office conference, I cannot answer that question, but if I can find the answer I shall of course write to the noble Lord.

It is important to say to the House that, even when there are good rains in this part of the African continent, millions go hungry. They are chronically hungry because of poverty, so we need to look at the underlying causes of that as well. People have no jobs. They are not able to farm effectively because they have no land and no labour. They may be sick because of HIV/AIDS, or they may be disabled. We have to consider all those issues as well as the implications of climate change.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say what kind of commitment has been made by the World Food Programme? What kind of tonnage has been promised, to whom and by what time? Will there be continuous monitoring of whether those goals have been reached and accountability in that regard?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I have the data on how much has been promised, and perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness with that information. Monitoring is particularly important, given the allegations, for example, of corruption in Kenya. All the programmes are monitored carefully to ensure that the resources are getting to the people who need them. There is also a problem with access in some areas; for example, in Ethiopia. We know that we have to press the Government of Ethiopia to ensure that the food aid gets to the people who require it.

Photo of Lord Maxton Lord Maxton Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in the long term—it would be the long term—one way of dealing with droughts of this nature would be to carry out urgent research into genetically modified crops that could grow in much more arid areas than is the case at present?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, that is right. In the past, we have funded research into the value added to some crops by, for example, additional vitamins in rice, and we will continue to look at ways in which we can support that research activity.