UK Aid (Sudan)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:41 am on 23rd October 2007.

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Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, International Development 11:41 am, 23rd October 2007

Sudan is cursed by some of the worst afflictions to which states can fall victim. There is not one problem, but a mixture. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong there. I congratulate Mr. Clarke on securing this important debate. With the continuing problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus of the media has drifted away from Sudan, but the House cannot afford to let events elsewhere, however serious, push into the margins the humanitarian disaster that continues to deteriorate day after day in that country.

Before looking at UK aid to Sudan and what could or should be done by the UK Government and taxpayers to help those who are suffering, it is worth taking a minute to consider what the problems are, so as to understand how better to deal with them. To say that the situation is the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet is no exaggeration. What has caused the problem? Religious and ethnic tensions have existed between many tribes and communities, going back well into the past. Even before Gordon of Khartoum was there in the 1870s and 1880s, there was conflict in Darfur, a region that today is a byword for everything for which UK aid is urgently needed: poverty, malnutrition, lack of water and basic sanitation, and a desperate need for health care. Aid is needed to help to deal with infant mortality and to assist refugees within and outside its borders.

"Displaced people" is a phrase that we often hear to describe those who have lost everything but who remain in their own country. It does not sound too bad, but there are few things that could be worse, for those displaced people are often hungry, homeless, malnourished and suffering from a variety of illnesses that leave many too weak to survive. The scale of the problem is well documented. The chairman of the all-party group on Sudan, Mr. Drew, has been very eloquent in detailing the problems.

Climate change is one of the problems from which Sudan suffers that give rise to its need for a huge amount of aid. With the change in global weather patterns, farmers' and pastoralists' traditional land use is also changing, and in some areas it has developed into a battle for survival. We have heard about oil revenues. With the discovery and exploitation of oil, in what is for many a desperately poor country, there is money to fuel conflicts but not enough to feed the hungry. Corruption, as I have said before, and poor governance, are at the heart of the problem in Sudan. I am in no doubt that the Sudanese Government, who should be part of the solution, are in fact a major part of the problem. Arms are another problem. There are simply too many weapons available to too many people. Knowing that an automatic machine gun is required to protect their herd of animals makes potential killers of many farmers. There is also evidence of a flow of second-hand arms from neighbouring countries. Those are some of the factors that our aid, and the people in the front line, are struggling to cope with.

In a debate on UK aid and the Sudan, it is crucial at the outset to pay tribute to the dedication of aid workers and those with the task of delivering our aid on the ground. They risk their lives daily and some have already paid the ultimate price. The international community owes them a great debt. At a sitting of the Select Committee on International Development some time ago, during evidence from Save the Children, the execution of two of its workers was graphically described. More recently, others who have gone to help have also lost their lives. I want also to pay tribute to the work of the former Secretary of State for International Development, the current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He worked hard and was often to be heard responding to debates such as this in this Chamber.

Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has known only 11 years of peace. Given that peace is a basic necessity for development and infrastructure building, the scale of the challenge for the people of Sudan and Darfur is considerable. Development will never succeed without good governance and peace. As hon. Members outlined, Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with its per capita income languishing at the bottom of international tables. When the most recent millennium development goals report for Sudan was published in 2005, it painted a grim picture of South Sudan's progress towards the MDGs. Decades of marginalisation, conflict and insecurity, and lack of access to basic social services, have undermined livelihoods, increased levels of poverty, reduced opportunities and led to high rates of malnutrition. Two years on, in spite of many false dawns, all of those problems remain.

My hon. Friends and I strongly support the work of DFID in Sudan and Darfur. Sudan has rightly been a focus for the Department and its efforts. No one could fault the Government on their commitment to Sudan. Huge amounts of money are flowing into the country, including the south, as well as Darfur. However, unless tangible benefits are forthcoming, frustration will grow. Increasingly, there are questions about how much of the money is making its way through to the ground and to the refugees who need it most.

As to the comprehensive peace agreement, to talk about aid delivery in Sudan we must first talk about the conditions affecting peace there. Along with other hon. Members who are here, I was among those who welcomed the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement as a major breakthrough. However, despite all our hopes, less than two years on implementation is lagging. We are concerned that the international community has disengaged to a degree from getting it back on track. Any progress in Sudan will be hamstrung from the start if we cannot get the CPA to work. The Government rightly stress benchmarks and compliance as the key to sustainable peace in Darfur. They now need to do the same for South Sudan. Benchmarks are in place, but international bodies and Governments are not putting enough pressure on the parties concerned to ensure that they are met.

Transparency in the handling of oil revenues is also a vital component of the CPA. There are currently too many unanswered questions about exactly where much of the oil revenue is going. I am afraid that too little of it is apparently being pushed into basic service provision. I would appreciate the Minister's thoughts on the lack of transparency and on his Department's assessment of the scale of the problem with oil revenues.

Although the Government of Sudan need to do more to meet their commitments to the CPA, they are not the only ones: $5 billion was pledged at the 2005 donor conference, and yet only about $150m has been channelled through the Government or to implementing agencies. That is frankly not good enough, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the UK Government are doing to put pressure on other countries to live up to their promises. As the hon. Member for Stroud said, Sudan has become something of a laboratory for funding mechanisms. We must look at whether those are working. Donors have set up a number of pooled funding mechanisms, including the multi-donor trust fund, the basic services fund and the common humanitarian fund. However, none has to date adequately dealt with the immediate humanitarian and short-term recovery funding that is needed in South Sudan.

Hon. Members will be aware that 70 per cent. of donor funding to the south is channelled through the MDTF, which is administered by the World Bank. However, the MDTF was not designed to meet immediate recovery needs, and I know from speaking to NGO representatives that in their experience the fund has been far from perfect, with recipients experiencing severe delays, confusion and frustration. Similarly, channelling funding through South Sudan's Ministries has also been very slow. I have real concerns that the Government of South Sudan simply do not have the capacity to channel so much centrally driven funding through the MDTF.

The DFID-instigated basic services fund was designed to plug a time-limited gap until the MDTF money was paid. However, two and a half years down the line, the BSF is the only major fund that NGOs, which are the main services providers in most cases, can tap into effectively. I commend DFID for setting up the BSF and for committing £17 million to it but, simply, it is not enough to cover the dearth of basic services in South Sudan. What plans are in place for funding NGOs in future?

The common humanitarian fund, which was set up to address humanitarian relief throughout Sudan, is overstretched. The fund is administered by the United Nations Development Programme, and UN agencies and NGOs tap into it for both humanitarian and early development purposes, but their requests overwhelm it—only two thirds of requests currently receive funding. Funding shortfalls and delays carry a considerable cost for intended beneficiaries, and such costs outweigh any efficiency savings gained from pooling resources. Clearly, there are problems with the current approach. What assessment has the Department made about where we go from here? We must recognise that a significant increase in funding is likely to be necessary in the future to provide basic services as long as the MDTF continues to struggle.

Sudan is a prime example of a country in which conflict has destroyed the education system and rid children of a chance to go to school. There has been a severe shortage of aid funding and teachers since the conflict began. For many, learning takes place under trees or in thatched huts. When I was in Sudan, I witnessed first hand massive classes taking place outdoors under the burning midday sun. There was no running water for the children, and they had hardly any learning materials at their disposal. The result is that fewer finish primary school, especially girls. I commend the work of Save the Children for highlighting that injustice. For Sudan to progress, education provision must be adequately funded, in particular in South Sudan, which must avoid producing a generation of illiterate youths. Although enrolment has increased in recent years, three quarters of children have no access to education. In that regard, marginalisation of girls and young women has serious implications because it reduces women's opportunities to participate in all levels of government and civil society. I would appreciate it if the Minister would comment on that. Is he aware of how much the South Sudan Government spend on education compared with defence? Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will, like me, have seen reports that defence spending has reached a high percentage of GDP, and education spending might be suffering in comparison.

On health, one child in four dies before the age of five, and the lifetime risk of a woman dying in pregnancy or childbirth is one in nine. That is an outcome not only of poverty and insecurity, but of inadequate health services. There is currently only one doctor for every 100,000 people, primary care facilities lack drugs and equipment, and there is virtually no obstetric emergency care. Those problems are compounded by the fact that fewer than one third of the population have access to safe drinking water, and by the prevailing poor hygiene and sanitation practices.

I have seen the great work that Médecins sans Frontières does on the front line. I shall not forget hearing about what young nurses deal with on a daily basis in both the south of Sudan and in the Darfur refugee camps. A significant amount of aid has gone to support them and they do a magnificent job—many of us are stunned and impressed by their work.

The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill mentioned that some bigwigs fly to use UK hospitals. Does the Minister know what is going on and will he say what the Government's policy is on that?

Annotations

Dennis Ambler
Posted on 26 Oct 2007 1:50 pm (Report this annotation)

Climate change: Would that be "The climate change at [10,500 years ago] which turned most of the [3.8 million square mile] large Sahara into a savannah-type environment happened within a few hundred years only, certainly within less than 500 years," said study team member Stefan Kroepelin of the University of Cologne in Germany.

or would it be the climate change of 7,300 to 5,500 years ago: "Retreating monsoonal rains initiate desiccation in the Egyptian Sahara, prompting humans to move to remaining habitable niches in Sudanese Sahara. The end of the rains and return of desert conditions throughout the Sahara after 5,500 coincides with population return to the Nile Valley and the beginning of pharaonic society."