Kenya (Drought and Famine)

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 27 January 2010.

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Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 11:00, 27 January 2010

It is a privilege to serve once again under your erudite chairmanship, Dr. McCrea, as per usual. I am delighted to have secured an Adjournment debate on an international topic that has been important for a considerable time.

As the developed world changes we see economies decline and then recover. Many of the emerging economies and markets in the near and far east attempt to play catch-up with the developing world. But in the context of those changing economies on a global scale there is one persistent problem, in a geographical sense, for more than 1 billion people: that is, the continent of Africa. Kenya has a population of some 40 million, a quarter of whom are under nine years of age. So it is a significant, populous country yet it has a young population.

Every international political leader of standing in the past 30 years has given, at some point in their tenure, a statement or repeated statements on their determination to help resolve the problems that afflict much of the African continent, but unfortunately the reality is that as they leave office many international statesmen and stateswomen find that those problems are similar to when they entered office.

Drought, famine and corruption are three debilitating reasons for Africa's awful dilemma, and they afflict Kenya as much as any other country. Despite all the aid and assistance offered it seems to many on the outside that things do not change. Yet there is hope. I have been to Kenya and other parts of Africa. Tribute needs to be paid, and repaid, to the many volunteers, missionaries and charities that are involved in delivering help and hope to the people of Kenya. In north Kenya I witnessed at first hand some excellent work being carried out by missionaries, who for many years have toiled without reward to deliver assistance to the people there.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on the important subject of the difficulties in Africa. I wonder whether he agrees with me on this point. I speak to a lot of charitable organisations that I deal with and one message comes across frequently: although a lot of good work is being done by missionaries and organisations in Africa on irrigation and other projects, there is a real need for further education within the population in South Africa, especially in the rural areas-the extreme areas-to maintain irrigation and help people to help themselves. Although we put a lot of finances in, and it is good and right to do so, there needs to be more self-control and more education to maintain such projects.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I thank my hon. Friend for his timely intervention. When I was in the northern part of Kenya, such was the level of deprivation that a new school being built by one church group was the major building work in the entire region of north Kenya. Yet that was a commitment addressing a need at local level. I concur with my hon. Friend.

In the east Africa region some 23 million people are at severe risk because of the reduction in rainfall in recent years. The average rainfall used to be 200 mm between March and May but last year in that region it was 40 mm-a reduction of some 80 per cent. on average rainfall that was already low.

A charity entitled Excellent Development does phenomenal work in Kenya. It does superb work constructing sand dams, which are a comparatively cheap and ancient system, where the water retention properties of sand are used to help grow bananas, tomatoes and beans. They cost about £8,000 to construct, making them relatively cheap. A sand dam is a reinforced concrete wall built across seasonal river beds. A pipe is built into the dam, going 20 metres upstream, and over one to three seasons the dam fills up with between 2 million and 10 million litres of water. The sand, which filters water through the pipe built into the dam, delivers a clean, reliable water supply for up to 1,200 people. These dams can last for approximately 50 years and they deliver a clean water supply for approximately £7 per head of the population. Some 200 dams have been built by Excellent Development in the past eight years in Kenya, which means that approximately 250,000 people are able to access a clean water supply as a result of a cost-effective measure by a charity that deserves the praise that is heaped upon it.

This type of innovative forward thinking can, if replicated in other parts of Kenya and across the African continent, offer hope to millions of people who otherwise would have none. Offering people ownership of the benefits of many of these projects on an anti-corruption basis can also help remove the stigma that has attached itself to some of the aid efforts of the past in Africa.

Simon Maddrell, who is the originator of Excellent Development and is originally from the Isle of Man, and Joshua Mukusya, who is described as a charismatic Kenyan agriculturist, pioneered the sand dam technology in Kenya to help impoverished communities. Between them they have delivered considerable assistance to more than 250,000 in Kenya. Simon Maddrell's original applications for charity work were turned down several times, but he decided-I have much sympathy with his decision-that if he could not join them he would beat them. He set up his own charity.

I should also like to mention the work of Dr. Rene Haller, who is from Switzerland. Dr. Haller started experimenting with different trees to see if any would put down roots into the dry, rocky terrain in northern Kenya. The casuarina tree, whose seeds were washed up on Kenyan shores when Krakatoa erupted in the 1860s, was thought to be the best candidate. It produces nutrients in nodules on its roots and so is self-sustaining.

Haller set up a charity and managed to establish many different business enterprises supported by rehabilitated land, both employing and providing food for hundreds of local people. He managed to demonstrate the value of conservation-for example, by showing farmers the benefits of tree planting in preserving water for irrigation. Another activity complements dam-building projects. To prevent the freshwater pools from becoming breeding grounds for mosquitoes, fish have been introduced and the fish eat the mosquito larvae. The fish are also a rich source of protein for the community and they fertilise the water, which makes it even better for feeding the crops. Any surplus fish are sold, providing much-needed income for local communities.

I and my party have supported successive Governments in their endeavours, through international aid agencies, to help in Kenya and throughout Africa, but I hope that the Minister today can offer the prospect of additional help to projects such as those that I have outlined, whereby a difference can be made on a local and regional basis. I am talking not just about a difference in per capita spend in Kenya, but about a difference that is seen on the ground, at very local level, and that individuals there report as a positive step, a renewal step, a regenerating step. I am talking about steps that provide them and future generations with the wherewithal to regenerate that part of Africa.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 11:11, 27 January 2010

I join Mr. Campbell in welcoming the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship, Dr. McCrea. I do not think that I have had that privilege before now. I also, in the usual way, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and on the way in which he introduced the topic. I welcome, too, the interest of his party colleague, David Simpson, in the debate. I join both hon. Members in paying tribute to the considerable number of charities, aid agencies and individuals who make it their life's work to serve people less fortunate than themselves on the continent of Africa, and in particular today, to those working in Kenya.

In a debate such as this, it is worth noting that although many of the countries in Africa still face considerable challenges, there has been considerable progress across the continent. One thinks of the considerable numbers of children who are now in school, the rising economic growth and extra jobs that are being created-notwithstanding the impacts of the current global recession-and the fact that less conflict is taking place in Africa now than probably at any time in the last 30 years, albeit there are still considerable challenges.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Transport), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

May I rectify an omission? I also thank those people involved in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, who have made a considerable contribution to the work in Kenya and other parts of Africa. I omitted to mention that in my speech and I thank the Minister for giving way to allow me to do so now.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the contribution of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which does very good and important work-work that is appreciated by politicians and parliamentarians across the globe, but particularly in a number of Commonwealth countries.

The hon. Gentleman rightly drew the attention of the House to the issues relating to drought, famine, corruption and good governance. Those issues would challenge any state, but they are challenging Kenya in particular at the moment. He is right to highlight the fact that for millions of people living in Kenya, hunger is a harsh reality. In 2009, an estimated 3.8 million Kenyans needed emergency food aid, hence the importance of today's debate.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that the real problem is not that there is no food available in Kenya, but that food is available only at a price that puts it beyond the reach of most people, particularly those living in remote or marginalised areas. There are a number of reasons for that. As the hon. Gentleman said, last year's drought had far-reaching consequences for Kenyan farmers, for other food producers and for people in Kenya more generally. El Niño rains were expected from October to December, but many areas experienced a shortfall of rain. It is a cruel irony that although rain is now falling in Kenya, it is falling at a rate that has caused harmful flooding in many areas in the past week alone. All that means that Kenyans are likely to suffer even more hunger this year than they did last year, and that is why the work of the charities that the hon. Gentleman described is so important.

The second barrier to affordable food has been the post-election violence that has blighted some areas. As a result of tensions and conflict, pastoralists in north and east Kenya have had difficulty accessing land and water sources. The fear of violence also means that even those who did manage to produce food face problems supplying it to their usual markets.

The third challenge has been the massive rise in food prices. The hon. Gentleman will probably remember that food prices across the world rose steeply in 2008 in line with rising oil prices. Although global prices fell later, Kenyan prices remained high last year, with maize costing about double the average global rate. That was in part due to high transport costs, but according to research recently carried out by the World Bank, domestic prices in Kenya also reflect subsidies that the Kenyan Government have offered to maize producers. By subsidising producers who sell maize to the National Cereals and Produce Board, the Government have, in effect, kept maize prices high. In addition, although the subsidies were meant to be part of the response to the food shortage, the reality is that only a minority of large farmers benefited, leaving the impoverished majority even worse off. Indeed, according to the same research, half of all maize revenues are enjoyed by just 2 per cent. of farmers.

Those, then, are some of the underlying causes of the shortage of affordable food in Kenya. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to trying to tackle these challenges and to giving help to those who need it immediately. Let me set out how we have responded. First, on humanitarian aid, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in October that we would provide £39 million of extra funding to tackle the food crisis across the horn of Africa, bringing Britain's total new commitments for 2009 to £83 million. As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, the horn covers a number of countries beyond northern Kenya, but Kenya certainly benefited.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that Ethiopia must remain our priority, given the sheer number of people in need. In 2009 alone, however, our direct humanitarian support for Kenya reached nearly £15 million. That money is helping to provide a full emergency food ration for up to 220,000 people for three months, treatment for more than 25,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition, clean water for 200,000 households and vaccination against measles for 400,000 children.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow Spokesperson (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Will the Minister outline how the Government are helping to prevent aid-whether food, water or medical supplies-from being sold on the black market? What are they doing to tackle corruption?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The hon. Gentleman's intervention is extremely timely, because I was moving on to reassure the House that the money we give Kenya is channelled through reputable agencies with a sound track record of aid delivery and good financial management, which the Department has worked with in several humanitarian emergencies. We have audited them regularly and are confident in their ability to get aid to those at the sharp end who need it the most. We believe that humanitarian aid should be focused on those groups where the needs are greatest, rather than spreading larger amounts of assistance more thinly.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Department for International Development, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, published a White Paper on development last July. In that White Paper we made clear our commitment to ensure that agriculture and food security will be given the highest international attention. We have as a result also lobbied other Governments to do more in Kenya. The announcement that we made on additional funding has helped to put pressure on others to do more to help the people of Kenya. My ministerial colleagues and I have approached our international counterparts and I have written personally to Development Ministers of all major donor countries to alert them to the famine in the horn.

We have tried to lead the international response to the difficulties that the people of Kenya face, and to do so by example. In 2009, the UK was the third biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance to Kenya, after the US and Japan. In addition, the UK accounted for 17 per cent. of the $41 million committed by the European Community Humanitarian Office, and more than 15 per cent. of the $30 million committed by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund. The aid provided by the UK and others has brought some stability and has meant that food has been available, at least in the short term. The challenge is to avoid the same situation happening year after year.

That brings me to our second area of activity: helping Kenya to become self-sufficient so that it no longer needs to depend on humanitarian aid. We know that cash can have greater long-term benefits than food aid because it allows people more flexibility in the way that they organise their lives and incomes. We are providing £122 million over 10 years to improve the livelihoods of the poorest Kenyans, particularly in the drought-prone arid lands. Much of that is going through a hunger safety net programme, which provides cash to 90,000 poor rural households. A very rough equivalent would be the social security system of the UK. The fledgling programme is the start of a similar system in Kenya. Additional funding from the Kenyan Government, the World Bank and UNICEF extends that to another 120,000 households. In total, that means that more than 1 million of the poorest Kenyans will receive support in the form of cash rather than food aid.

We are also putting money into new crop and livestock insurance products to help poor households manage the risks posed by extreme weather events; we are trying to support people in looking after themselves for tomorrow, rather than just in dealing with the immediate situation. We have also just started working with the Ministry for Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands on a programme of longer-term support that will reduce dependence on humanitarian assistance. We plan to commit up to £15 million to that programme.

Thirdly, we have increased the frequency and intensity of our discussions with the Government of Kenya. Last year the Kenyan Government allocated more of their own resources to dealing with the consequences of drought than ever before. Frankly, they could do still more. Kenya has substantial domestic resources and should be perfectly able to prioritise the plight of its most vulnerable citizens. We shall continue to take every opportunity we can to make that point. We have also encouraged the Kenyan Government to develop their own longer-term strategy. We are working with Ministers and officials in Kenya to help them to appreciate the economic consequences of climate change, which is clearly an increasing factor in some of the difficulties that the people of Kenya face. It is particularly important that they are able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by new climate finance, including the resources committed at Copenhagen. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for East Londonderry will agree that a lasting solution to food insecurity does not lie in humanitarian aid, however crucial it might be in the short term, and that the Department needs to focus on not only the immediate humanitarian needs of the people of Kenya, but how to help them to avoid a repeat of the present situation in the longer term.

The hon. Gentleman specifically asked whether we could give further support to particular charities and he described the work of charities with which he is familiar. We have a strong programme of support for civil society; indeed, the Secretary of State increased that support last July, at the time of the White Paper. I do not know whether the organisations that the hon. Gentleman mentioned have had discussions with the Department, but if he wants to write to me or to bring some of their representatives to see me, I would be happy to listen to any presentations and to point people to potential sources of funding for work with the Department. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I can give no guarantees to him or the House, because we clearly need to do our audit checks. In principle, however, I would be happy to meet him and the organisations concerned, if he thinks that that would be useful.

Perhaps the last point that I should make is that we are seeing a disaster of the magnitude of that in Haiti every year internationally. At the same time, however, we are regularly seeing continuing emergencies of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has brought to the attention of the House. The international system is having to deal with the reality that a growing number of people need humanitarian assistance, some for relatively short periods, others for much longer. There continues to be a question as to whether the international humanitarian system is tooled up, for want of a better phrase, to cope with the expected increase in the numbers needing humanitarian assistance. As the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions only last week, we need to keep our eye on that particular issue. DFID and I as a Minister in the Department are continuing to put considerable time and energy into the issue.

I hope that I have done justice to the issues that the hon. Members for East Londonderry and for Upper Bann have raised. I repeat that I am happy to meet the hon. Member for East Londonderry and colleagues in the charitable sector with whom he has worked. I hope that people-perhaps in Kenya-will reflect on the issues that we have discussed and on whether they can do more to tackle the long-term challenges that Kenya faces.

Sitting suspended.