Ethiopia - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:47 pm on 4th April 2022.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, from north to south, is grave and is worsening. This year, nearly 30 million people throughout the country will require life-saving aid. In the northern regions, conflict has affected more than 9 million people, including 5.2 million people in Tigray, where humanitarian access is negligible. Deteriorating drought conditions in southern and eastern regions are impacting nearly 7 million people.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee, Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee

My Lords, can my noble friend update the House specifically on the significant increase in the cost of delivering and buying food aid for Ethiopia, as a result of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine—a country that has been a significant exporter of both wheat and pulses to Ethiopia via the humanitarian aid system? Can my noble friend say what work is being done with international friends in order to ensure that food can still survive that huge increase in costs? I understand, for example, that the UN World Food Programme says that it will be over $600 million short over the next six months as a result of these problems.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Since November 2020, the UK has allocated more than £86 million in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, but this was in advance of the situation in Ukraine—and it is not just conflict zones that are being impacted. This morning, I had a meeting with the Tunisian ambassador, who outlined the challenge being felt by the economy of Tunisia, and indeed economies across the world, because of the situation in Ukraine. Ukraine’s own Foreign Minister said, “We were the bread basket for so much of the world and now we are having to ask for support ourselves”.

In answer to my noble friend’s second question, we have been working very closely with international partners, particularly the World Food Programme. My noble friend will be aware that, over the weekend, a humanitarian convoy finally reached Tigray for the first time. This is the first time that this has happened and that overland access has been possible in nearly four months. We will continue to ensure that resourcing, including food aid, is prioritised.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, is there not a grave danger that, under the cover of darkness provided by the situation in Ukraine, the world could forget what is happening in Tigray? For 17 months there has been a conflict there, which, as the noble Lord has said, has led to the mass starvation of almost 7 million people, where blockades have been used to starve people to death and where rape has been used as a weapon of war. Does the Minister agree that these are war crimes and that his own department should be collecting the evidence? Will he give an assurance that we will bring to justice those who are responsible for these heinous crimes?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point I can give the assurance that we will do all that we can to bring these perpetrators to account, irrespective of where the conflict is, and Tigray is no exception. We have been in the region working with key partners—including, for example, experts on gathering information directly from survivors of sexual violence—to ensure that we can start building the evidence base. As the noble Lord is aware, in Ukraine we are working very closely with the ICC. But I can give the more general assurance that, notwithstanding Ukraine, we are not taking our eye off the ball. We welcome the recent inroads and indeed the truce called in Yemen, and, as the noble Lord knows, we have stood firm in our contribution to the people of Afghanistan through again endorsing £280 million in the next financial year in support for the people of Afghanistan.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

Does the Minister not agree that were it not for the crisis in Ukraine, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and in the rest of Ethiopia, with the famine and drought, would be at the forefront of world consideration today? Does he also agree that the perhaps the only glimmer of hope in this tragic situation is the initiative of the AU and the ceasefire? Is that ceasefire holding, and how can we build on the initiative?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly points out, the humanitarian ceasefire came into being on 26 March. As I said in my earlier response to my noble friend Lady Anelay, we have now seen the impact of that in that we have seen all the regions, including the authorities in Ethiopia, in Afar and Tigray, respecting that humanitarian ceasefire and allowing aid to get through to the people who need it most. I accept the point that the noble Lord makes about Ukraine but I hope I have provided a degree of reassurance that we are keeping focused not just on Ukraine but on other humanitarian situations across the world.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Minister knows that I was recently in neighbouring Sudan, where there are very many people in desperate need who have fled Tigray. Given the increased need for humanitarian assistance and in the context of the brief window of the ceasefire, will he please give an assurance that not one penny of extra assistance to Ukraine, which is justified, will be diverted from humanitarian assistance elsewhere? According to the FCDO website this afternoon, UK development support for Ethiopia in 2021 was £342 million but that is due to fall to just £40.5 million in 2023. Is it not unconscionable, given the additional need that is supported for Ethiopia, that there will be an 88% decrease in UK support, and will the Minister please put in place emergency procedures to see this reversed?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as the noble Lord himself acknowledges, humanitarian crises and human suffering cannot be prioritised in any shape or form, and I assure him that our officials and the ministerial team are all very seized of the situation across the globe. While we remain focused on the situation in Ukraine and the abhorrent crimes which are taking place—indeed, we have a Private Notice Question on that today—we nevertheless remain focused on supporting those who are most in need, and retain commitments in support of Yemen and to address the crisis in Ethiopia, particularly in support of Tigray, and, as I said earlier, in places such as Afghanistan.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative

My Lords, to help alleviate the humanitarian situation in landlocked Ethiopia, the port of Berbera in Somaliland is important—I am grateful that the UK Government are working to build up that port. After the destruction in war of Hargeisa in Somaliland some 30 years ago, there was a devastating fire there last weekend. I am grateful for the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary’s tweets but what practical help has the FCDO given, and will it give, to rebuild Hargeisa?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work within Somaliland; I know that he visited the region recently. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made public statements in this respect and we are assessing the impact of this fire and the damage it has done to infrastructure. We also recognise, as my noble friend said, the importance of access through that particular point.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I welcome the Minister’s response to the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, particularly the news about a convoy getting through, but the WFP has told us that funding shortages have forced ration cuts for some 4 million people, including over 700,000 refugees. Can the Minister reassure us today, in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we will maintain the level of support and funding for this crisis, which will get worse, and that we will work with allies to ensure that the funding shortfall is met?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we are looking at all elements of funding over a three-year period. The situation in Ukraine has meant that we are reviewing all our funding support but, as I have indicated, we have stood by our commitment to the people of Afghanistan. That is the right way to move forward. On the specific issue of Ethiopia, as I have indicated, the humanitarian convoy reached Tigray, but of those 20 trucks, just under half the contents, including fuel and humanitarian aid, came directly through British support. Tigray, and the wider situation in Ethiopia, is an important priority, and once I have the full details of our funding package, I will share them with noble Lords.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

Somalia and Somaliland have been mentioned. Is the Minister aware that those two countries share a common three-letter code designation? I do not know whether it is in the Minister’s brief but when he is at the UN, he may wish to draw attention to that point, because there is a difference between the two areas. Is he in discussion with the Horn of Africa peace initiative of the African Union? If he is, can he say how that is going and what the union can do to help with the process?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we are working very closely with the African Union. As the noble Viscount may be aware, we have a special envoy to the Horn of Africa who is looking at the situation strategically, not just how we can promote all our interests but specifically how we can support the work of the African Union, complementing what we are doing bilaterally and through the UN.