Climate Change and Sustainable Development

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 5th December 2002.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee 2:30 pm, 5th December 2002

I was in the Chamber and took careful note of what the Minister said because I was anxious not to misrepresent her. If she cares to re-read what she said in Hansard, I think that she will find that she referred to the figure of 5.9 million and said that the Government were waiting for further reports from the field about what is happening. Either DFID agrees with the World Food Programme or it does not, and I shall refer later to other examples of how it seems to me that the Secretary of State and the WFP are not speaking in a similar way.

I suggest that Ministers read an analysis of the 1985 Ethiopian famine recently published by IDS, which observes how

"the early warning system adequately picked up the problem, but failed to mobilise the kind of response needed to avert a disaster, in short, because donor agencies were sceptical about the needs figures."

Why are Ministers now being sceptical? On whom does DFID rely in order to feel confident that fewer than 6 million people are threatened by famine? Why is DFID failing to recognise in its country assistance plan for Ethiopia the WFP's estimates for the African crisis?

My concern is that I am not confident that DFID fully grasps the colossal scale of the famine facing much of Africa. Judith Lewis made it clear that her calculations account for all factors. DFID does not. However, it is not only Judith Lewis from whom the Select Committee has heard recently. James Morris, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, recently met members of the Select Committee. I kept a careful note of what he said. He observed that there is

"a disaster unfolding, with 14 million people in the Horn of Africa, and 14 million in Southern Africa needing food aid. This could not be sustained by the World Food Programme."

In a press release issued on the same day, 28 October—just a few weeks ago—James Morris said:

"These figures are large and dramatic and the international community should take notice...unless we come to grips with this problem very soon, we face the real possibility of facing a devastating wave of human suffering and death early next year."

He went on to comment that

"while modern society is not prepared to tolerate the face of mass hunger, agencies like the World Food Programme—as well as hundreds of highly effective NGOs—are finding it increasingly difficult to find the resources to respond adequately to the growing number of emergencies.

Dependent on voluntary contributions WFP and NGOs are caught between the rising needs of millions of hungry people and government budgets that are already stretched and contending with a global economic slowdown."

James Morris concluded, somewhat alarmingly:

"The sad truth is that as things stand the humanitarian system faces the prospect of being completely overwhelmed. It is clear that business as usual is insufficient to address the rising humanitarian crisis we confront."

Nothing that I have heard from the Government or that has been reflected in the media seems to tackle adequately the concern of UN agencies such as the World Food Programme, which is that

"the humanitarian system faces the prospect of being completely overwhelmed."

Is DFID's estimate of those at risk of starvation lower because it believes that many people are dying of HIV/AIDS rather than food shortages? The two are interlocked: hunger helps to beget HIV/AIDS, and HIV/AIDS helps to beget hunger. The WFP believes that the first fight against HIV/AIDS is about food and, likewise, it wants to distribute food to HIV sufferers foremost.