Iraq (Humanitarian Aid)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:18 pm on 7 April 2010.

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Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development 4:18, 7 April 2010

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Keith Hill on securing this debate. I pay tribute to his work in the House over a number of years. It would be remiss of me not to record the breadth of his contribution.

My right hon. Friend has been a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, an Assistant Government Whip, an Under-Secretary of State at the DETR, deputy Chief Whip, and Minister of State at the Office of Deputy Prime Minister. Then, as my hon. Friend Eric Joyce said, he was PPS to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. On a personal level, my right hon. Friend was Minister when I tabled a Back-Bench amendment to what became the Transport Act 2000; he kindly accepted it, to great plaudits in my local newspaper. He found fame in my local newspaper for meeting a colleague of mine while surfing; his exploits surfing on the beaches of Cornwall have also been noted.

As one of the observers of the elections in northern Iraq a month ago, my right hon. Friend speaks with some authority about the transformation that has taken place. I respect and value his comments-and, indeed, those of other Members who contributed to the debate. It is worth pausing for a moment to reflect on how far Iraq, its Government and its people have come since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. External debt is down from 326 per cent. of GDP in 2005 to 68 per cent. in 2009, Government investment increased six-fold between 2005 and 2008, and in 2005, Iraq held its first democratic election. None the less, as Members have noted, more than 20 years of conflict and neglect have taken their toll. Iraq remains a poor country; nearly a quarter of its people live in poverty, and thousands more have left in search of better prospects for themselves and their families.

The UK Government have been staunch allies to Iraq, contributing some £744 million to reconstruction efforts. The Department for International Development has played a key role, disbursing more than £500 million, nearly £200 million of which in humanitarian assistance. DFID has channelled its humanitarian funding through international organisations such as the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross, which are best placed to help the most vulnerable in Iraq. Money on its own, however, is not a measure of success. It is important to look at the outputs and what has been achieved with that money. So far, our money has brought 2 billion litres of safe drinking water to deprived households, schools and hospitals. It has helped to rebuild more than 1,000 schools, to provide food on an ongoing basis to around 1 million displaced and vulnerable people and to repair more than 4,000 emergency shelters for displaced Iraqis.

UK aid, together with that of the wider international community, is working. The number of refugees returning to Iraq is increasing, albeit slowly, and the number of registered refugees has dropped. Food insecurity, a good indicator of real impact, has dropped by 12 per cent. Although humanitarian aid is important, it is only the first step in any sustainable development programme. That is why we have focused our attention on helping Iraq to rebuild its own capacity. Given Iraq's economic potential, our priority is to help it manage its economy and financial resources more effectively while creating the right environment for investment. Through lending our practical expertise to the Iraqi equivalent of the Cabinet Office, for example, we have helped to smooth preparations for the transition of government.

Physical infrastructure is also vital to a country's long-term growth, so we have provided nearly £100 million to secure or improve power and water supplies to more than 1 million Iraqis. Understandably, a lot of our early work focused on Basra, and our efforts were often delivered in partnership with the UK military. More widely, we have worked on a number of large-scale projects to improve water and power supply. Overall, international efforts have yielded very real benefits for ordinary people. To take just one example, where people once had an average of four to eight hours of electricity available per day, they now have more than 15 hours of supply.

In the long-term, however, the Iraqi Government must take a more active role, both in maintaining existing infrastructure and by investing in new supply. DFID has been working with the relevant Government institutions in Iraq to train and support them in taking the lead in ongoing reconstruction and development. Ultimately, Iraq's future will depend on its people and on their ability to revitalise the country's economy. Alongside its humanitarian and reconstruction support, DFID has also developed a small business finance programme that will provide some 1,000 loans, a quarter of them to women. The programme has already paid out more than $1 million.

We have also secured work placements for more than 200 young people as part of our youth employment pilot programme; another 200 are currently undertaking training before starting their placement. We are working with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to develop a programme that can be rolled out across the whole country, because we want lasting change in Iraq. DFID's role in future will focus on engaging with others. For example, we could work with Iraq's Ministry of Finance in matters of public financial management; the Ministry of Labour in youth employment; the British Council in tertiary education; the UN in humanitarian assistance or the World Bank in Iraqi policy and programmes.

Iraq is a country with enormous potential. Confidence in its economy is growing and security is improving. The real challenges now lie in helping its people to manage their resources so they can deliver better public services and generate growth while at the same time making political processes more effective on the ground. We can only meet such challenges by working in partnership with other donors, the wider international community and, most importantly, with the people of Iraq itself.