Humanitarian Crisis (Afghanistan)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:31 pm on 28th February 2002.

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Photo of Ms Oona King Ms Oona King Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 4:31 pm, 28th February 2002

I should like to speak briefly and in less detail than I would have during my membership of the Select Committee on International Development throughout the previous Parliament, not least because I now spend my mornings in the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Select Committee discussing planning guidance and speed humps, on which I am now expert.

I begin with the most fundamental point, which is raised in the characteristically excellent report of the Select Committee on International Development: the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan began long before 11 September. It began in the nucleus of a failed state, and it will end only with the creation of a functioning state that has the capacity to serve its citizens and uphold the rule of law. The rule of law—in particular, international humanitarian law—is key to addressing the humanitarian disaster, not just in Afghanistan, but beyond its borders.

In assessing the current situation in the country, the Select Committee report states in paragraph 65:

"Everyone we spoke to, whether in London or Pakistan, stressed to us that the most serious barrier to humanitarian assistance has been and remains poor security."

That is pertinent. First, it is clear that more troops are necessary and that an effective security network must be established beyond Kabul.

Secondly, if Afghanistan is to be rebuilt, the west must keep its promises. We have to put our money where our mouth is. I commend the Labour Government on their support for long-term development in Afghanistan, which consists of £20 million for the new Afghanistan Interim Authority, as well as £200 million over the next five years, on top of the £40 million already given, to address the humanitarian crisis.

However, if we are discussing money and payment of what is due, we must consider the position of the United States. I should declare an interest, in that I am an American citizen. I proudly hold an American passport and I spent Christmas with my family in New York. I have the greatest sympathy with the people of New York, Washington and America and feel nothing but horror at the violence that was wreaked upon the American public and at the motives of those who were responsible.

However, the American Government's resistance to paying their way in international development is short-sighted, to put it charitably. I live in hope that 11 September may change that, not because the American Government might become converted to the soft end of security—we in the European Union take that to be our forte, as was recently outlined by Commissioner Chris Patten—but because of realpolitik. We took little notice of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan before 11 September, but realised afterwards that it was relevant to us.

DFID has identified more than 39 failed states with a couple of dozen on the urgent list or to be watched. If we are to prevent failed states from harbouring terrorist networks and imposing all manner of indecent treatment on their population, we must move urgently towards the 0.7 per cent. target of gross national product that can be directed to rebuilding those failed states and dealing with humanitarian crises such as that in Afghanistan.

It has been said before in this debate and never ceases to take my breath away that America spends only 0.1 per cent. of its GNP on overseas development assistance. In Britain, the Labour Government have made it a priority to increase our spending on overseas development assistance and we are currently spending 0.31 per cent. of GNP. However, I agree with the Select Committee's report that we should set a timetable to reach the 0.7 per cent. target. Several European countries have reached that target and it is high time that we were at the forefront of that effort, particularly as we take a leading role in responding to humanitarian crises and are rightly renowned around the world for having what many people believe is the best international development Department.