I beg to move,
That this House
has considered hunger in the East and Horn of Africa.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir James.
Order. I am not Sir James—I am Mr Gray. Unless the hon. Gentleman knows something I don’t, “Mr” is fine.
Well, that must be rectified in the near future, Mr Gray. [Laughter.] It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, especially given your family’s heritage in Glasgow North. I am grateful to all the Members who have come today and to all those who sponsored the bid at the Backbench Business Committee—not all of them are able to be present, but I am grateful for the cross-party support for the debate.
The Backbench Business Committee has granted 90 minutes for this debate. Hunger and malnutrition kill people in the east and horn of Africa at the rate of one person every 36 seconds. In the time we have for today’s debate, 150 people in the region will lose their lives because their basic right to food has been denied them for entirely preventable reasons. One of the most important things we can do today is make sure that this scandal no longer goes unnoticed.
Christian Aid’s research has found that only 23% of the UK public are aware of the hunger crisis in the horn of Africa, compared with 91% who say they are aware of the crisis in Ukraine. The presence of so many Members here today, the correspondence we have received from constituents and the discussions we have had with those who have come to see us at our surgeries or at the mass lobby in February sponsored by the right hon. Members for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), show that when members of the public do develop an awareness and understanding of the situation, they demand urgent action to deal with the acute crisis on the ground and long-term action to build resilience and prevent future crises.
Countries in the horn and east of Africa, including Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea, are entering their sixth consecutive season of below-average rainfall. The worsening food security situation also extends to Djibouti and Uganda. The World Health Organisation estimates that around 46 million people in the region currently face what the integrated food security phase classification system describes as crisis levels or worse, meaning households have
“food consumption gaps that are reflected by high or above-usual acute malnutrition”.
Within that number, many now face catastrophe or famine levels where there is
“an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs… Starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition are evident.”
I am grateful to the hon. Member for securing this debate. In February I visited Turkana county in Kenya with the Tearfund charity and I saw the devastating consequences of four years of no rain at all. To tackle the famine in 2017 the UK Government contributed £900 million. So far in the current crisis we have contributed £156 million. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to do much more?
The right hon. Member is exactly right, and I think that key theme will emerge throughout the debate.
On Friday there was a virtual roundtable of aid and development agencies that work in the region, and those of us present heard directly from representatives of Tearfund, among other aid agencies, in Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan, who described the reality of the situation on the ground. We heard from Manenji, who works with Oxfam in South Sudan, about the dead livestock that robs families and communities of their sources of income. We heard from Alec, who works with World Vision in Somalia, about the children who are losing out on education because their families have been displaced. We heard from John, who works with Action contra la Faim in Kenya, about how diseases such as cholera spread because there is inadequate sanitation. And we heard from Catherine, who works with the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, also in Kenya, who explained that some rains are arriving, but in quantities that are causing floods and damaging crops even further. Those extremes of weather are further exacerbating the situation—that was perhaps the clearest message from all those who contributed.
The hunger crisis is a climate crisis, and weather patterns have changed beyond all recognition, exactly as Sir Stephen Timms said, becoming more extreme and less predictable. All the evidence shows that that is a result of pollution and carbon emissions pumped into the atmosphere by decades of past and ongoing industrial and commercial human activity in parts of the world that are not experiencing such extremes, or at least not experiencing their devastating consequences—in other words, so-called developed, western countries. The people who are most affected by climate change are those who have done least to cause it. That is the basic principle of climate justice, which is a concept, like that of climate emergency, that the UK Government do not appear to be willing to accept, let alone embrace or act on.
Other important structural causes have led to the hunger crisis, but they are also the result of decisions and actions taken by people—often by Governments—so they can be changed by making different decisions and taking different actions. The crisis in Ukraine has led to food price inflation around the world. In the UK, we have experienced inflation rates of about 10%, which has caused great and undeniable hardship to many of our constituents and among the poorest and most vulnerable in society. On Friday, the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund told us about the effects of the inflation rate in Ethiopia, which is 30% and which affects people who are already trying to get by on the most basic of incomes and subsistence lifestyles.
Difficulties in ensuring the physical supply of grain, even grain delivered in the form of food aid, have also had a significant impact on the hunger crisis, which is why it was encouraging to hear from British International Investment about its investment in Somaliland to improve capacity at the port of Berbera.
The conflicts across the region compound the food crisis and begin to lead to a spiral, becoming both a cause and an effect of hunger. That has been particularly evident in Ethiopia in recent months. Decades of oppression in Eritrea, as we heard from Eritrea Focus, mean that information on the food security situation in that country is almost non-existent, although we can extrapolate from what is happening elsewhere. In recent days, the escalation of violence in Sudan has become a huge concern to us all, and the withdrawal of many aid agencies will simply drive more people to starvation. We must hope that the attention now being paid to what is happening in Sudan leads to long-term resolutions with respect to conflict and to food and nutrition systems.
In all this, gender is a critical factor. ActionAid has spoken of the importance of supporting women-headed households and the role that women play as key leaders in their communities, but they are also at risk of violence and exploitation; indeed, Tearfund referred in particular to child marriage, early pregnancy and prostitution. However, all those challenges are entirely the result of decisions and actions taken by individuals or Governments. There is nothing inevitable about the food crisis, and the stories we have heard, as well as the ones we are likely to hear during the debate, will demonstrate that. The crisis was entirely preventable, and it is eminently resolvable. Future crises are equally avoidable.
The UK Government and the international community need to take urgent action to respond to the acute emergency and to build resilience against further emergencies. First, the UK Government must simply up their game. The risks and dangers that were warned about when the Department for International Development was abolished and the aid budget cut are becoming a reality. As the right hon. Member for East Ham said, in 2017 the UK Government were able to provide more than £800 million to east Africa, which helped to stave off many of the worst impacts of looming famine and saved thousands of lives. There have been warnings about this crisis since 2020, but in the last financial year the UK’s contribution was just £156 million—a cut of 80% from what was made available last time round. That is completely disproportionate with respect to the overall cut in the aid budget.
I, too, visited Kenya earlier this year with Oxfam and the Coalition for Global Prosperity, and we could see the effects of famine. On the point about the finance and support for aid, does the hon. Member agree that it is about not just the amount of aid, but where it goes and how important it is that UK aid is channelled to local providers on the ground to provide emergency relief? Local organisations will have a better idea and a clearer system when it comes to where the funds should go and who actually needs them, whereas a multinational or even national organisation will not necessarily send them to the people who need them.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That becomes even more important when the budget is squeezed. A local response and grassroots knowledge are absolutely critical in responding and building infrastructure. We heard that from the agencies, and I will reflect a little on that before the end of my contribution.
I think we will all welcome the announcement by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of a high-level pledging conference in New York on
As Alexander Stafford said, how aid funds are spent makes a big difference to both immediate response and resilience building. We will all have heard from non-governmental organisations on the ground about the importance of locally led interventions and that grassroots, community-based organisations are almost always best placed to know exactly what support is needed to help people in their area.
Aid in the form of cash transfers and social security empowers and dignifies individuals, even in the most difficult circumstances. Ensuring that children can continue to go to school and receive a meal while they are at school is perhaps one of the best examples of both meeting immediate need and investing in the future. Refugees International highlighted a study by the United States Agency for International Development that demonstrates that
“a more proactive response to avert humanitarian crises could reduce the cost to international donors by 30%, whilst also protecting billions of dollars of income and assets for those most affected.”
I am delighted to see that the Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion, is with us today. The Committee’s report on food security is tagged to the debate on the Order Paper, and it recommends that the Government work to
“empower the Global Alliance for Food Security to develop international solutions to regional food security challenges.”
The report spoke particularly about the pivotal role of sustainable, smallholder farming and agriculture, undoubtedly based on exactly the kind of excellent evidence from organisations on the ground that have provided background briefing for today’s debate.
Given what is happening in Sudan, it is understandable that the Minister for Development cannot be here in person. He has taken a strong interest in this issue, and he and other Ministers have spoken about how they need and want to make the reduced aid budget as effective as possible. I think he feels the pain of many of us in Parliament and beyond who know and understand the importance of international development at the damage done to the aid budget, to the painstaking cross-party consensus built up around it and to the reputation the UK earned as a result. He might even look a little enviously at the vision outlined by the SNP for an independent Scotland, where 0.7% of GNI is a floor, not a ceiling, for aid spending. As Ministers say and we know, for now the reduced funds must be made to work smarter and harder.
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk at length about the application of the resources that are available at the moment. Does he agree that the extraction of clean, drinkable water in much of Africa is part of the problem and that more could and should be done to assist NGOs and other groups? Their expertise in that aspect would do much to transform the horn and central Africa.
Yes, absolutely. I am wearing the Scotland-Malawi tartan tie today. In Malawi, a common phrase is “water is life”, and the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for water, sanitation and hygiene, Fleur Anderson, is with us today as well. Water is absolutely crucial in all this, and even more important than access to food in some ways—a human being can survive for many days without food, but for barely any time at all without clean, safe water. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.
That goes back to how we make the limited resources we have work effectively. That is particularly difficult to do when official development assistance funds are being spent by the Home Office. If the Home Secretary does not want people to come here on small boats from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan or Somalia, rather than spend taxpayers’ money on housing people in hotels or trying to deport them to Rwanda, we should spend it wisely and effectively on avoiding conflicts and ensuring that there is food security in the first place. People would then perhaps be less likely to flee their home countries. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
There was wide cross-party support for this debate to be granted time by the Backbench Business Committee, and that is evident from the number of Members present and the interventions so far. Many of those hoping to contribute have had the privilege of visiting countries in the horn of Africa in recent months, and I look forward to hearing their testimonies. We all represent constituents who are passionate about achieving global justice and ending hunger—entirely preventable, totally unnecessary hunger—once and for all. Action is needed now, otherwise we will be back here again. The costs in terms of money and, more importantly, human lives will only be higher.
I remind hon. Members that we have 40 minutes and eight speakers. Taking roughly five minutes each would be a courtesy. I call Sir Gavin Williamson.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate Patrick Grady on securing this debate on an incredibly important issue. Sadly, in terms of how much it has been talked about, this is largely a silent tragedy from the west’s perspective, but it is a tragedy that we could all see coming. I will direct most of my comments towards the horn of Africa, Somaliland and Somalia. This time last year, it was already clear, after numerous years without the rainfall that was hoped for and expected, that the coming year would be critical. We did not see the quantity of rain required, and the consequences affected many people.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North rightly touched on the war in Ukraine, which has had an enormous and devastating impact on so many of these countries, and he talked about the impact on prices for people living in them. The statistics from Somaliland and Somalia show that, as of October 2022, the price of a kilogram of rice had more than doubled, from 75 cents to $2. Similarly, the price of three litres of cooking oil rose from $4.50 to $9. That has an impact on every single person right across Somaliland, Somalia and all the other countries in east Africa.
The response is not just about what we can do to facilitate more grain coming from Ukraine into the horn of Africa; it is also about the direct help that we can totally control. That is about delivering aid and support into those countries today. I understand that the Department has difficult choices, and I think everyone here would totally endorse the support it is giving to Ukraine and would encourage the Government to continue that, but this cannot be an either/or decision. People need help and support in Somaliland, Somalia, Kenya and so many other areas.
We see real challenges with aid being channelled through Mogadishu, rather than going directly into Hargeisa. As has touched on that, there are amazing port facilities in Berbera that can be used as a base to deliver aid across east Africa and the horn of Africa. British Government recognition of Somaliland, and making sure that the aid goes directly to the people of Somaliland, rather than being used as a political tool by Somalia, would certainly be of great assistance to the millions of people in Somaliland and to those hundreds of thousands of people who are facing real hunger and real challenges. The hon. Member for Glasgow North was right that more needs to be done, with urgency and immediacy.
In 2011 and 2017, Britain rightly took the lead. We created the framework that enabled other countries and nations to rally behind us and support people in dire need. Although good work is ongoing, the scale and urgency need to be stepped up. We need to be there.
We are the penholder in Somalia and Somaliland. We are recognised across the world as a nation that can make a difference, as we did in the crises of 2011 and 2017. Now is the time to step up again, which means more resources, more leadership and taking the bull by the horns to really drive the issue forward.
For a relatively small increase in support, we can save hundreds of thousands of lives. I think all our constituents want Britain to be the country that leads and demonstrates our ability to make a difference and to save lives. I encourage the Minister to take that message and, most importantly, to take action to do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I thank Patrick Grady for securing this important debate. I refer Members to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group for water, sanitation and hygiene.
I lived in Kenya for four years, and I know that the connections between this country and east Africa go very deep. I hardly meet any group of people without finding someone with an east Africa connection.
British people care, enormously, which is shown by the huge, generous support for recent aid requests, the strength of feeling about suffering and the feeling that British people want to help. But the east Africa food crisis has gone relatively unreported, and is not being raised as much as it should be, and so I am grateful that we are holding this debate.
This is the worst humanitarian crisis in 40 years. More than 50 million people have been pushed to acute food insecurity, and a person dies every six seconds in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya—it is hard to get our heads around these figures, and the desperation. This is a perfect storm of climate change, with five successive rainy season failures and a likely sixth one, right now; conflict; disease outbreaks; the cost of living crisis; a reduction in aid; and countries saddled with unpayable levels of debt. Undoubtedly, it is political decisions that have led to this crisis.
About 22.7 million people across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia face high levels of food insecurity—desperate hunger—compared with 18.6 million last August. That is an increase of 4 million people in the past six months, which shows how severe the drought has been.
The crisis is chronically underfunded—the overall funding requirements stand at about $5.1 billion for Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia—and that underfunding is unsustainable. Implementing partners are having to stop projects and suspend or reduce lifesaving programmes due to underfunding at this critical time.
As always, women and girls are affected the most—they are on the frontline. They suffer higher risks of malnutrition and violence, and there is increased child and forced marriage.
Verity is an aid worker from CAFOD, who reported from a recent visit to northern Kenya:
“Returning from Marsabit, the situation is desperate and deteriorating. I was shocked by the scale of livestock deaths, asset loss and clear desperation of communities. I was struck by the huge numbers of dead animals—mostly camels;
the cattle are long gone. The landscape and roadsides are littered with carcasses, some are skeletons, some have fallen only hours before. The condition of any remaining animals is extremely poor…
There is no grazing—the assessments rate the availability of pasture in Marsabit as ‘extreme’—in many places it looks like the surface of the moon. Endless rock and dust—not a blade of grass… In towns there is no land available so groups are scattered, there is little water and little assistance. The households we spoke to had driven away their last remaining camels into the bush as they knew they would die and they would not be able to move the bodies if they died near the homestead. People are dignified but desperate…you can sense fear. People are talking of death.”
Aid agencies have for months been calling for the UK to increase aid to the region by £70 million, but this has not happened. Where is our aid money going instead? It has been drastically cut, skewed towards trade and spent on propping up the failing Home Office. The International Development Committee’s recent report, “Aid spending in the UK”, was very illuminating. For a start, the facts about aid spending were hard to find. The Committee found that it was not transparent and that recent answers from the Minister were “wilfully opaque”. The report said:
“The proportion of aid spent in the UK has drastically increased in recent years, while programmes supporting people in the world’s poorest countries were cut”,
which goes to the heart of this matter. The report also said:
“In 2021, the most recent year for which data are available, the Government spent more than £1 billion of the aid budget on in-country refugee costs” in the UK, including hotels.
It is a crazy situation. There are fantastic young people—from Ethiopia, for example—travelling here who did not want to leave their country, but the money is being spent on hotel costs, instead of on helping them to stay in Ethiopia and support their own country, which is where they want to be. Save the Children has estimated that the cost of spending in the UK could be as high a £4.5 billion in 2022-23, accounting for one third of the entire aid budget. It is just extraordinary. Water and sanitation programmes have been cut by 80%, which does not match what British people want their aid to be spent on. In the last financial year, the UK pledged only £156 million to the crisis, which is less than a fifth of the £861 million provided in 2017-18.
To conclude, I ask the Minister to urgently commit to release already-pledged funding, to invest in and support communities and primary healthcare, to cut the debt, to transform the UK’s agriculture portfolio towards local, diverse food systems, to fund water and sanitation projects as an emergency response, and to introduce clear targets to increase funds reaching local organisations, rather than just through multilateral organisations. The climate emergency is very real. I hope that both the media and Ministers are listening to this debate today, and that urgent action will be taken to save lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under you again, Mr Gray. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I thank Patrick Grady for securing this important debate.
It is sometimes argued that the public can focus on only one crisis at a time. I do not share that cynicism, but with the horrors of a European war now beamed into our homes on a daily basis, and energy and food prices stretching the resources of many households, the temptation—even among the most conscientious of world citizens—is to turn one’s eyes away from the suffering of the wider world. Events, however, do not stop when we refuse to look at them. Among their other merits, debates such as this serve to push back against forces of apathy, and they help us to challenge criticisms of aid as being indulgent, misdirected and ineffective.
Sadly, crises of drought, famine and conflict are too prevalent across east Africa and the horn of Africa. I will focus my comments on Ethiopia, which has significant influence as one of the largest countries in the region, but also because it holds much of east Africa’s water resource, including the dam at the source of the Blue Nile, which flows into Egypt. Ethiopia also holds a unique position among its peers, in part through never having been colonised.
Alongside parliamentary colleagues, including Ms Qaisar, I recently had the privilege of witnessing the excellent work of UNICEF and Ethiopian state and volunteer health workers in the southern region of Borena as they worked to fight malnutrition and its accompanying complications. We had discussions with national and regional Government officials and politicians, and also with recipients of the aid and relief: mothers with their infants, and community elders. I will, if I may, make three points about comments we heard about aid directed towards the country. They spoke of three ways of directing aid, with the first and preferred one being bilateral direct aid. That in particular could be used for capacity building in the country.
The approach to healthcare is community based, partly owing to circumstance and challenging terrain but also because of distance and a lack of infrastructure. That can be contrasted with our model of healthcare delivery, and we could learn something from a focus on primary aid and primary healthcare as an investment rather than a cost in terms of spending. The approach taken also—again, partly through circumstance and necessity—assumes a degree of personal responsibility. Agency is encouraged in the education provided in basic things such as hygiene and nutrition. We met some people who use a simple piece of paper to measure the circumference of an infant’s upper arm, which indicates the state of the child’s nutrition, and empower mothers to act on that and seek aid when necessary.
The second aid model spoken of was multilateral direct aid, which is what Gavi seeks to use. That again allows aid to be directed by the nation to where it can build capacity and strengthen systems and public service infrastructure. The third model discussed was implementation aid. The importance of its palliative relief was acknowledged by those we spoke to, but they were clear that it fails in leaving any legacy after it has been delivered. We saw some of the powerful benefits of that aid, but they were clear that the principal benefits to the nation lie not just in palliative relief for five missed rainy seasons and the consequences of the drought and famine that have followed but specifically in building up the necessary robust health infrastructure alongside that.
I have emphasised the importance of Ethiopia’s geopolitical relations with other members of the region. Ethiopia, as a leader in the region, and given its resources, is key to unlocking wider benefits in the region and bringing relief. These events call us to think bigger and drive us to be better. Bigger and better should also be our response to the questions asked of the UK and its international aid and relief efforts.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your guidance, Mr Gray. I offer huge congratulations to Patrick Grady on securing the debate, which is so timely. This issue is not getting the coverage it needs, so I am grateful for him giving it this exposure.
In the past five years, global food insecurity has worsened due to covid-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, inflation, extreme weather and armed conflicts. Tragically, that list is not exhaustive. Global food insecurity has culminated in a growing global hunger crisis. In particular, people living in east Africa are experiencing ever more severe levels of hunger. According to the World Health Organisation, 48 million people face crisis levels of food insecurity, 6 million people face emergency levels and 130,000 people face catastrophic—the highest—levels.
The scale of the challenge is immense. It is important that we remember that famine is not a one-off event. Hunger shocks cumulate. Communities become less capable of coping with the shocks, and the likelihood of famine increases. Hunger causes malnourishment and excess deaths. It allows infectious diseases such as measles, cholera and covid-19 to flourish, especially among children. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are particularly vulnerable, with almost one million of them in the region experiencing severe malnourishment. In addition, 5.1 million girls and boys are suffering from acute malnutrition. Children affected by hunger grow up stunted or wasted. Hunger has lifelong developmental impacts.
We know that hunger disproportionately affects women and girls. The International Development Committee heard that
“girls are eating less and girls are eating last”.
The hunger crisis has caused an increase in gender-based violence, including domestic violence and sexual harassment. Negative coping strategies are causing girls to be subjected to forced and early marriage.
East Africa has been particularly hit as the horn of Africa is suffering its worst drought for 40 years after five failed rainy seasons. The region relies extensively on rain-fed crops, meaning that the drought has devastated agricultural production, and 9.5 million livestock animals have already died across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, taking futures away. Food prices have reached unsustainable levels in east Africa, and much of that has been driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine is a major grain producer and exporter, from which Somalia typically imports 90% of its grain. I welcome the Black sea deal, agreed last July, which allows exports from Ukraine to resume, but the uncertainty of grain shipments continues to contribute to the hunger crisis.
Conflict in east Africa threatens food insecurity further. We have all seen the violence that erupted in Sudan 11 days ago. I am really grateful for today’s ceasefire, and I hope it leads to a lasting solution. Before the conflict began, 16 million people needed humanitarian aid, and now the violence is exacerbating shortages of medicine, food and water. The World Food Programme has been forced to pause its operations after three of its employees died in the conflict.
The hunger crisis did not occur out of the blue. Multiple organisations, including the United Nations, began to warn last year about the worrying humanitarian situation in the region. Frustratingly, there can be much human suffering and many deaths before famine is declared. In 2011, 260,000 died in Somalia due to famine, but 130,000 had already died before the famine was officially declared.
The International Development Committee sounded the alarm in July last year in its report on food insecurity. Following our oral evidence session, we wrote to the FCDO to ask it to commit emergency funding to the region to meet the humanitarian challenge, to support the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal to raise funds to combat the approaching famine in the horn of Africa, and to match a proportion of the donations made. Despite those warnings, it failed to act. To prevent a famine in east Africa in 2017, the UK gave £861 million of humanitarian aid to the region, with Somalia alone receiving £282 million. In this financial year, the UK has committed only £156 million for the whole of east Africa, and I do not know whether that commitment has been fulfilled or whether it is still a pledge.
NGOs have noted that east Africa has received neither the attention nor the funding it requires, but money alone is not enough. The UK can use its position as a global leader to encourage others to act. We should use our position on the UK-led G7 famine prevention and hunger crisis compact, the G7 Global Alliance for Food Security and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme to persuade other countries to come together to prevent famine through humanitarian aid. Will the Minister please give an indication of the UK’s intention at the forthcoming pledging conference for the region?
I thank Patrick Grady for raising these issues and setting the scene so very well. He is a man of passion and understanding, and it is a real joy to sit alongside him in this debate. He and I often support each other in these types of debates.
I remember quite well the first time that I saw advertisements in the 1980s that showed children in Africa literally starving. It does not seem that long ago. My heart ached as I looked at my boys—I thank God that we were able to provide for them. I am always aware that there are people in the world who have literally nothing.
I am sad to say that many children are still starving. I am now a grandfather, and I feel that familiar tug in my heart today. I support many charities that have food programmes and operations in numerous countries in the horn of Africa, and they are stretched to capacity. They tell me that they are finding it very difficult to cope. Following five consecutive seasons of below-average rainfall, the horn of Africa is facing its longest drought in four decades. That is compounded by years of conflict and instability, the impact of climate change, covid-19—my goodness!—and rising food prices due to the war in Ukraine. Millions in the horn of Africa face acute hunger, and Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have been particularly affected.
In its most recent review of the horn of Africa, published on
Although famine has not been officially declared in the horn of Africa, with projections of a sixth consecutive below-average rainy season, the famine early warning systems network has estimated that the horn of Africa, especially Somalia, will face a famine in 2023—right now, as we sit in Westminster Hall, that is a reality. With this knowledge comes responsibility. I have absolute confidence that the Minister is aware of this House’s responsibility to do the right thing and increase not simply food aid, but ascertain how best we can channel projects to help families to become sustainable.
Like every other speaker, the hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case to make sure that properly targeted resources reach the places they are so desperately needed. Does he agree that the international response, in terms of both resources and resolving the conflicts behind this crisis, has been too slow and indecisive? It really does need a fresh start to ensure that the political conflicts that underlie all this are addressed urgently and effectively.
I certainly do agree, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point. When the hon. Member for Glasgow North gave his introduction, he emphasised that very point, as others have as well. They are right: decisive action needs to be taken by the Minister and our Government. I am ever mindful that our Government and Ministers have been active, but we do require more incisiveness.
Some of my churches back home have been involved with a project where they were able to buy a pair of chickens, two pigs, two goats—small things, Mr Gray, but things that can really change a family’s life—with the idea that a family can breed those animals and live sustainably by selling the offspring. In the Upper Waiting Hall yesterday, and probably today, there was an exhibition on Yemen—one of the examples shown is that very project, which enables a family to be sustainable. The churches in my constituency of Strangford do that very thing.
On that point, will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the many hundreds of church and faith groups that do the type of thing he has outlined? Some do it on a small, localised scale, while others, through Tearfund and other organisations, do so on a significant, regional basis. Does he agree that that tribute is well deserved and should be supported by Government?
I totally agree with that. I conclude by urging the Minister to take on board the opinions of long-term NGOs that have been working in communities for years and understand what works and what does not. Some 500 humanitarian organisations have swiftly responded to reports of the evolving drought. The issues are clear. They have provided humanitarian assistance in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, reaching 56%, 36% and 85% of the target populations in those countries respectively. We need to work in partnership with NGOs that have experience and passion for their people. I believe that we can and must do more. I urge the Minister to increase our engagement with those NGOs. They know the stories on the ground, and those must be built upon.
I congratulate Patrick Grady on securing this debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the friends of CAFOD, I appreciate immensely the opportunity to discuss this issue today. It is a topic that we must shout about, because we stand on the precipice of an unprecedented sixth consecutive failed rainy season.
The lethal combination of the global cost of living crisis, local conflict and climate change-induced drought has led to a humanitarian disaster. We have heard the figures mentioned a number of times, but standing in this Chamber today, we really cannot comprehend that one person is likely to die every 36 seconds in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya because of acute food insecurity. The UN predicts that half a million children are at immediate risk of death because of catastrophic hunger.
This is a humanitarian crisis that could have been avoided. In 2011, when famine was last declared in Somalia, the UN said that the warning signs of famine must never again be ignored, but the reality is that those warning signs, which we were told would be acted on, are being ignored once again.
Last year, the UK gave just one fifth of the aid provided to east Africa during the previous hunger crisis in 2017-18. The action then helped to prevent the spread of famine and undoubtedly saved lives, yet last week we heard that the aid budget for east and central African countries is being cut by a further £25 million in 2023-24. There are already 3.3 million internally displaced people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia as a direct result of the current crisis. As it persists, more people will look to take that treacherous journey north and will risk falling into the hands of people smugglers. Water scarcity is linked to around 10% of the global rise in migration, and global migration from drought and famine is also set to rise, which means that it is not just the lives of those directly affected and who are making these perilous journeys that will become less secure, but our whole world.
That is why the decision to spend three times more international aid in Britain than across the entire continent of Africa is baffling. In practice, that translates to the propping up of our ailing asylum system. Close to 30% of the money spent under Britain’s overseas aid budget goes on projects here in the UK. We are spending increasing amounts of money dealing with the consequences of global insecurity, rather than targeting those precious resources on the causes. The international aid budget has also been cut for the past three years, which is a short-sighted approach.
I want also to focus on what more can be done. Next month’s horn of Africa conference, which is being co-convened by the UK, offers us a real opportunity to advocate practical, targeted measures to make a meaningful, long-term difference to the region. As other hon. Members have mentioned, the aid must be targeted at local, resilient food systems. Local aid organisations know the needs in their areas best, and empowering them directly with international aid is a win not just in the short term but in the long term. We can also use the UK’s £11.6 billion international climate fund to ensure sustainable, resilient food systems that are better equipped to support local people, as climate change is also being caused by the global north.
Countries in east Africa are saddled with unpayable debts. The G20 debt service suspension is still hampered by the predominance of private creditors that are able to hold out from suspending debt. The UK is well positioned to help: 90% of affected countries’ bonds are governed by English law. There is more that we can do to enable these countries to focus their precious, scarce resources on relieving hunger rather than paying unpayable debt.
This crisis has not sprung out of the blue. It has been a long, slow-developing catastrophe, and the Government must make up time by sticking to their previous commitments and spending their aid—our aid—wisely. If once again the rains do not come, more people will die. It is that simple. In this cold, hard reality, the urgency of this cry must be heard.
I join others in congratulating Patrick Grady on his excellent opening contribution.
The number of people affected by this crisis is truly staggering, and there is no doubt that the world, the UK included, needs to do more, but this is also a glimpse of a hellish future if we do not do more, as a world, to tackle poverty, conflict and climate change. This is a vision of what is to come.
Clearly, the cut in the aid budget and the fact that so much of it is being spent on refugees here in the UK means that the UK is doing less to assist. All of us who feel passionate about the UK’s international development efforts need to ask ourselves why, given the high point of 2005 with the Make Poverty History campaign, when our postbags and email inboxes were overflowing, so few people said anything when the aid budget was cut by the Government. I am the former International Development Secretary, and I got fewer than 10 emails.
If we are honest, we need to ask ourselves how we are going to remake the case— remake the argument—for countries to play their part in tackling the three great scourges of our time. Clearly, having a civil war is a really bad way to advance the interests of a country. One only has to look at Sudan today, South Sudan previously and the Sudanese civil war before that—three civil wars in the space of 35 years—to see that it leads to people fleeing, insecurity and poverty.
If that is not bad enough, human-made climate change is having the greatest impact of all and will wreak enormous damage on people’s lives if we do not do something about it. The truth is that we know what needs to be done; we just need to get on with it faster than we have been managing so far. I pay tribute to President Biden. For many years we criticised the United States of America for not doing enough, and then suddenly he came along with the Inflation Reduction Act. The initial response from some people was to complain and whinge and say it is not fair. I would tell them to not complain but emulate, because this is the future if we are going to tackle climate change.
My final point, which others have touched on, is that if we do not tackle climate change, the movement of people around the world will be on a scale that we have never before witnessed. Even during the Syria conflict, Lebanon’s population increased by 25%. That is the equivalent of 16 million people coming to Britain. Just pause and dwell on that prospect. I met climate refugees many years ago on a visit, as it happens, to Kenya, where people had moved because it stopped raining in the village where they lived. The fundamental truth is that human beings will not stay where they were born and brought up either to die of thirst or to drown as sea levels rise. They are going to be on the move, and the scale of movement will be enormous.
No wall, fence or immigration policy will prevent that movement. It is in our self-interest, in the true sense of the word, to do everything we can as a nation to help people in other parts of the world to be able to grow up, raise a family, live a healthy life, and be educated, safe and secure, wherever they happen to be. That is the argument as to why the United Kingdom should be doing more.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I thank Patrick Grady for securing this hugely important debate. I declare that I took part in a cross-party visit to Kenya in January, and the details are in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
As we have heard from the powerful contributions this morning, the horn of Africa has experienced one of the longest and most severe droughts on record. Some 46 million people in the region urgently need food assistance, and more than 16.2 million people cannot access sufficient water. Those numbers are absolutely staggering. The persistent droughts and severe flooding are the result of climate change, and the cause of mass displacement and loss of life. The situation has been compounded by the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine, which caused prices for wheat, oil and fuel to skyrocket, rising by 300% in March 2022. Some 4.5 million people are now refugees as a result of the crisis, and 12.7 million are internally displaced. The drought has damaged people’s ability to grow crops, raise livestock and buy food, and 9.5 million livestock have died across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia alone. It is catastrophic.
In January of this year I joined a cross-party delegation that visited Marsabit, Kenya, where the crisis is rapidly increasing in severity. I would like to place on the record my thanks to CAFOD and everybody involved in that tremendous visit. Kenya declared a national disaster in September 2021 because of the drought, and UN figures estimate that the number of people affected by drought-driven hunger has increased from 1.4 million to 4.1 million in the last year. The fifth successive below-average rainy season has resulted in below-average crop production, poor livestock conditions and higher exposure to livestock diseases. I saw all of that when I went there. In turn, it has led to the loss of livelihoods and assets, and has increased food insecurity and malnutrition.
The drought has also had a devastating impact on children’s learning. Thousands of pupils have had to drop out of school due to the impact of food insecurity and climate-induced displacement. I will never forget the sights I witnessed, nor the magnificent fortitude of the people I met in Marsabit: the mothers who were distraught about how the crisis was threatening the education and futures of their children; the camels dying on the side of the road due to the unprecedented drought; and the communities decimated, with their standard of living disappearing before their eyes because of the loss of livestock.
I also saw how investment in people—in this case, water wells supplied by CAFOD—can transform and help the pastoralists to survive the drought and ensure they remain a key part of the future of Kenya, where they make up a fifth of the country. If Kenya loses those people and livestock, it poses an existential threat to the social and economic fortunes of the country and, indeed, of Africa.
As Action Against Hunger said in its briefing for this debate, in reality, millions of people are facing hunger and malnutrition and are losing their livelihoods due to a lack of political will to act. That includes the political will of this Government. I close my contribution by asking the Minister why the £156 million of funding committed by the UK in 2022-23 was only 20% of the amount committed to the region in 2017. Given the severity of the crisis we see before our eyes, I press the Minister to urgently increase funding now, for all the reasons that have been spoken so eloquently about today. Crucially, the Minister must ensure that the funding reaches local-led initiatives that have local knowledge and understand the short and long-term needs of the community. That is absolutely vital.
Furthermore, will the Minister commit to reinstating the aid budget to 0.7% of GDP as soon as possible? In addition to that immediate support, I urge the Minister to consult representatives from across the region to discuss what is needed to prepare for the future crisis, as well as long-term resilience building programmes, including climate adaptation, which is crucial for everybody.
Regarding the climate emergency, I am deeply concerned that the UK Government are yet to show the ambition required to avoid worsening catastrophic climate impacts. There needs to be an immediate change in direction to deliver on reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The UK must deliver additional funding for loss and damages caused by our contribution to the climate emergency.
The crisis across east Africa is now of immense proportions. As Action Against Hunger has said, famine is not a singular event but the result of a series of shocks that accumulate over time. With each shock, communities become less able to cope and another famine becomes more likely to occur. The UK need to provide immediate support as part of the urgent humanitarian response, as well as long-term support to prevent future crises and climate-driven displacement and that builds resilience in communities. I urge the Government to act with urgency.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I draw Member’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, which will be updated shortly to reflect my recent attendance on a cross-party delegation to Ethiopia. I congratulate my hon. Friend Patrick Grady on securing this vital debate. Alongside the hon. Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), he set out that this is a crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Communities in the east and the horn of Africa are currently facing the worst climate-induced drought in 40 years. It is an evolving crisis that is shaping up to be worse than the drought that hit the region in 2010-11. I echo the comments made by the Opposition that the UK Government must take immediate action to increase the amount that they are providing in aid to the area.
As Catherine McKinnell has already stated, the region of east Africa and the horn of Africa has experienced the deadly combination of climate change, conflict and a global cost of living crisis. It is estimated by the international organisation Action Against Hunger that every 36 seconds one person in east Africa dies as a result of acute food insecurity. Five consecutive years of below-average rain means that the horn of Africa has experienced its longest and most severe drought in recent history.
Despite contributing just 0.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are experiencing the brunt of a climate crisis that is worsening each year. As Sir Gavin Williamson said, the situation is exacerbated by global factors, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine, as Somalia is heavily reliant on Ukrainian grain imports, which make up 90% of its supply.
Tragically, all too often we have witnessed the devastating impact of drought in the region. In 2010 and 2011, a drought claimed the lives of 260,000 people, half of whom were under the age of five. Sadly, we now face a crisis that is expected to be significantly worse, yet the support available is much less than in previous years. It is imperative that we take action now to provide critical assistance and support to those affected by the crisis, to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe of even greater magnitude.
As various Members have said, the continual cuts to humanitarian funding by the Conservative Government have left the UK ill-prepared to provide much-needed support to the region. In 2017, it faced the potential risk of famine. At that point, the UK provided £861 million in humanitarian aid, which undoubtedly saved thousands of lives; yet in 2022, the UK committed just £156 million to the region, which was 80% less than five years earlier. Despite our being aware of the potential for famine in the region since 2020, there has been no increased financial response from the UK.
I agree with Hilary Benn that countries must consider their international aid response. The UK must do better when responding to such crises. The Conservative Government must immediately return to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid. Crucially, this funding should not come from shifting money around but by increasing the overall pot of funding available.
Although providing funding to address the immediate crisis is crucial, we must also look to the future and consider how to establish longer-term initiatives. The UK Government should follow the lead of the EU, New Zealand and the Scottish Government by establishing a loss and damage fund for those impacted by climate change. Somalia is the second most vulnerable country to the impact of climate change and would benefit from such a fund. By taking proactive measures, we can address the root cause of the crisis and help to build resilience to changing climate.
In its latest report, Plan International found that the causes and consequences of food insecurity are closely entwined with gender, particularly the gendered access to food, gender-based violence and the impact on education, as well as the impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The reality is that when food is scarce, girls and women bear the brunt—by eating less, eating last and eating the least nutritious foods. In this hunger crisis, women’s nutritional needs take a back seat to those of boys and men, particularly within households, putting women and girls at a higher risk of malnutrition.
The hunger crisis extends further than access to proper nutrition; it also has a detrimental effect on the levels of violence against women and girls. Plan International reports that incidences of rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriages rise in countries affected by a hunger crisis. It outlined that women are more vulnerable at water collection points and during the long journey there, with water shortages forcing them to travel—sometimes through the night—to water stations, putting them at greater risk of violence. The combination of extreme hunger and entrenched power imbalances creates the conditions for sexual exploitation of those simply trying to obtain food.
Additionally, the problem of early forced marriage has only been exacerbated by the hunger crisis. Girls are more likely to be married off to reduce the burden on families, or to allow their family to receive a dowry payment as a source of income. Early marriage can have a knock-on effect on girls’ education, whether it is withdrawn early or simply not seen as a priority. That issue was raised by Sarah Champion, who chairs the International Development Committee.
Just last month, I had the privilege of joining a cross-party delegation of MPs who travelled to Ethiopia with UNICEF. As Robin Millar has said, we were there to learn more about how UNICEF is working to reach and treat malnourished children. A worldwide organisation, UNICEF provides roughly 80% of the world’s ready-to-use therapeutic food, which is a highly nutritious and effective peanut paste that is used to treat severe acute malnutrition.
The image of a mother carrying her severely malnourished child and feeding peanut paste to the child will never leave my brain. It is seared into my memory, because as soon as the child got the pack of peanut paste, they absolutely devoured it and could not get enough of it. That image will never leave me, and since returning home I have been making a conscious effort to change my eating habits to ensure that I try not to waste so much food.
The UNICEF staff out there were fantastic, especially Stanley, the UNICEF chief of nutrition in Ethiopia. He explained to us the impact of malnutrition on families, children and young mothers. In a camp, we spoke to one family. The mother had nine children, and her husband had gone back to his home area to try to build their lives up again. UNICEF staff gave nutrition packs to the family, but at the back of my mind was a thought that astounded me: the mum had brought forward one malnourished child who had been given a nutrition pack, but when she returned to her home area she would surely be sharing the packs among all the other children. In reality, there was not so much help for the child, who would get better only very slowly.
The UK has historically been a leader on international aid budgets. Although the Tory Government have scaled back their support, they can still help. Will the Minister commit himself to providing £70 million, as UNICEF has asked, for the child nutrition fund over the next 12 months? That funding would help to reach 1 million children through the early prevention, detection and treatment of severe acute malnutrition.
While I was in Ethiopia, I also visited the Dubluk internally displaced persons camp in the Borena zone. The site accommodates people who have been displaced internally by the drought. It can host 50,000 people. When we visited, there were about 15,000 there. However, across the Borena zone, as is the case in east Africa and the horn of Africa, the food security situation is worsening. Ethiopia is severely impacted by drought, and a lack of animal feed has meant that much of the livestock in the country has died. In turn, that has made food more expensive.
We had the opportunity to speak to some village elders. During our conversations, I asked what they wanted. They said that they are farmers, and that they wish to have the means to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Depletion of livelihood income due to the prolonged drought has led to a drastic deterioration of the nutritional status of the vulnerable population, so will the Minister explain whether there are specific routes for aid funding for people who wish to rebuild their lives?
The overwhelming support from Members across the House on this issue demonstrates the gravity of the situation in east Africa and the horn of Africa, but words alone are not enough. We must back our words with action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I thank Patrick Grady for securing the debate. All of us here will recognise that the debate is sorely overdue. In parts of east Africa, people are desperate following almost three years of severe drought: 22 million people are in acute food insecurity, 16 million have inadequate access to water and almost 10 million livestock animals have died. Those numbers are simply staggering. Some 5.1 million children are acutely malnourished. Their health has been severely weakened and they are vulnerable to disease. Many, should they survive, will experience lifelong impacts owing to stunting. The UN has estimated that, in Somalia alone, 43,000 people died because of hunger last year. More than half were children under the age of five.
We are now in the middle of the sixth rainy season since the drought began, and the limited rainfall so far is not enough. Recovery will take many years, so we need to look at extended support and partnerships to build resilience for when the rains inevitably fail in future. We must remember that the impact of food insecurity is not limited to hunger.
Zala had to drop out of school. Her parents could not afford to continue feeding her and her younger siblings. Things got worse and it seemed obvious that Zala would have to marry an adult man simply to survive. That would have put her at risk of early and unwanted pregnancies and all the dangers of giving birth as a child. It would have trapped her in a cycle of powerlessness and poverty.
Thankfully, a small intervention provided Zala with the means to put food on the table. She now has a future to look forward to, but other girls in the same village were not so lucky—girls whose much older husbands treat them as lifelong, unpaid servants; girls who are not allowed to leave the house; girls with bruises all over their bodies; girls who simply have no hope left. That is what food insecurity can mean.
I want to approach today’s debate country by country, because each country is different and needs targeted and sustainable solutions. I want to start with Sudan because the humanitarian consequences of the conflict are simply dire. Within Sudan, as we know, hospitals are being attacked. Supplies are being looted, including from humanitarian stocks, and people are running out of the basics. Even before the conflict began, Sudan had a hunger crisis that was linked to flooding and the political deadlock caused by the 2021 coup. Can the Minister say what plans are being made to respond to the forced displacement that we will see across the borders? That will obviously include South Sudan, where the humanitarian situation is already truly appalling.
In reality, conflict in South Sudan has never stopped, with frequent intercommunal and political violence and the use of atrocities, including mass rape as a weapon of war. Aid workers are killed with awful frequency. We see that in Sudan, too. I pay tribute to the brave aid workers killed in the past week and those who are still struggling to get aid to the most needy in the most desperate situations.
In South Sudan, repeated serious flooding destroys roads and clogs rivers, making humanitarian access really difficult. The floodwaters are mostly generated not by local rainfall but by rains hundreds of miles upstream. In many areas, crops can be destroyed by drought and by flooding—too much water and too little—almost side by side. Conflict, corruption, flooding and drought combined mean that an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year.
This is a bitter irony. From the conversations that I have had, the agricultural potential of South Sudan is massive. If there was sustained peace, and investment in irrigation and water management systems to safely distribute and conserve the Nile waters, food security could significantly increase. There would be no need for the people to be dependent on food aid or vulnerable to such recurring crises. Can the Minister tell us what approach he is taking to enable greater humanitarian access and sustained improvements in food security in South Sudan?
In Ethiopia, as we know, people face severe challenges in different areas of the country. In Tigray, although humanitarian access has significantly improved, it remains limited in more outlying areas. In parts of Oromia, hunger continues to be exacerbated by terrible conflict. Across the eastern regional states, the situation is similar to that in Somalia and north-eastern Kenya, with a brutal drought destroying livelihoods on a vast scale.
As we have heard, the hunger crisis is most intense in Somalia, where the Government’s efforts to combat al-Shabaab risk being totally undermined, if they cannot secure benefits for the people in recaptured areas. Even Kenya, a middle-income country, is struggling. Last month, I heard from a Kenyan NGO leader, who set out a truly dire picture. Even where women and girls are able to remain in their communities, they are having to walk all day for clean water, from 5 am to 6 pm.
As colleagues have already said, we need to recognise that this crisis is being exacerbated by climate heating. Last year, the Met Office published a climate risk report for the east African region, which says that in rural lowland areas, temperatures
“are already reaching the upper limits of human habitability”.
The paradox is that the average rainfall could increase over coming decades. There is more than enough water for the societies of east Africa to develop, but there will be more frequent heavy rainfall events, and more variability in rainfall from one year to the next. Without drastic improvements in water management, that will simply mean more deadly flooding, more soil erosion, more contamination of drinking water, and more deadly droughts.
I know the Government are playing a supporting role around access to climate finance for adaptation, and the new loss and damage mechanism. I hope the Minister will say more about how we can make those systems really work for the worst affected east African states because, frankly, the bureaucracy involved is insurmountable for many. I firmly believe that we need to think about resilience and development, not just about humanitarian aid, but this current crisis is far from over, and the continued support for nutrition, health and livelihoods is essential.
We now have confirmation of UK support for a pledging conference, which is sorely needed. Funding was forthcoming last year, primarily from the US, as we have heard, but stakeholders desperately need commitments for the next period. We know that, thanks to uncontrolled Home Office spending, the ODA budget for east and central Africa is set to fall yet again. Our pledge is now set to be £390 million for the entire, massive region. During 2017, the Government provided £861 million, which was just to the countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan.
I know that the Government will advocate strongly for others to step up, but frankly we need to step up too. We need to support real solutions in partnership, working with the countries and communities most affected. We need to stop writing a blank cheque out of the ODA budget to prop up our failing asylum system. Otherwise, we will fail to play our part and fail to support the peoples of east Africa, just when they need our solidarity the most.
It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance this morning. Mr Gray. I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, who has a previous ministerial engagement.
I sincerely thank Patrick Grady for securing this important debate. I also thank right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House, who spoke most eloquently and thoughtfully, including my right hon. Friend Sir Gavin Williamson, Fleur Anderson, my hon. Friend Robin Millar, the hon. Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), Hilary Benn, and the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar), and for West Ham (Ms Brown).
I should start by mentioning the very grave situation in Sudan. Colleagues will have listened to the statement in the Chamber yesterday by the Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. It is clear to everyone that that appalling violence is bringing great suffering. We welcome the fragile ceasefire, and of course our thoughts are with those involved in the evacuation effort that was announced this morning. We wish them Godspeed. As has been laid out eloquently this morning, the conflict has placed the entire country in jeopardy. Nearly 6 million people in Sudan need life-saving aid, and the ongoing violence and outrageous attacks on relief workers have brought humanitarian operations to a standstill. Regretfully, many humanitarian agencies have therefore had to evacuate their personnel.
Clearly, information is limited. At least 427 people have been killed and 3,700 have been injured. Prices of essential items are very sharply increasing, and 11 health facilities are under attack. The situation is dire and we are entirely focused on it. Humanitarian access will clearly depend on the fragile peace holding, and the full resolve and determination of the Department is focused on that. My right hon. Friend the Minister will keep colleagues updated as we move through the difficult days ahead.
I turn to the subject of this debate. The situation in east Africa represents the largest humanitarian crisis in the world right now, and it is magnified by climate change, as eloquently laid out by the hon. Member for Glasgow North and the right hon. Member for Leeds Central. It is also driven by conflict in the African continent and aggravated by Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. The scale of the crisis is truly shocking: more than 72 million people will require humanitarian assistance in 2023. As we have heard, in the past 24 months, food insecurity and malnutrition rates have soared. Millions are now in crisis and hundreds of thousands of people, a great many of them children, are at imminent risk of famine.
Of course, climate change and conflict have converged in east Africa with deadly consequences. The war in Tigray, the threat of al-Shabaab in Somalia and the deadly ongoing violence in South Sudan and Sudan have placed millions in grave danger. Armed groups continue to act with impunity, and women and girls are bearing the brunt, as they often do.
After the fifth consecutive failed rains, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are experiencing the worst drought for 40 years, and the March to May rains are unlikely to provide the respite needed. That will further deepen the crisis. Millions have been displaced, livelihoods have been destroyed, and the resilience of communities has been eroded. At the same time, South Sudan has faced the worst flooding in its history, which has displaced vulnerable communities and left millions in need of assistance. As climate events become more severe and frequent, the most vulnerable communities are the hardest hit.
I turn to the UK’s action. The UK Government of course recognise the scale of the crisis, and we applaud the tireless efforts of the brave and dedicate humanitarian staff working in extremely challenging and hazardous conditions. We are committed to alleviating suffering, and we are playing a leading role in the international humanitarian response. We met our commitment last financial year to providing at least £156 million of humanitarian aid across east Africa. That aid has provided millions of people with life-saving assistance, including access to clean water and treatment for severely malnourished children, and emergency medical care, including specialist care for women who have experienced gender-based violence.
UK aid is providing hope across the region and is making a difference. As my right hon. Friend the Minister set out in a written statement on
My cogs are whirring pretty slowly this morning. The Minister said that £300 million was going to east Africa. Is that for humanitarian aid? I know that British International Investment is investing capital money in Kenya, so I hope that he is talking about humanitarian aid, not the general aid going to the region.
The hon. Lady asks a very good question. The breakdown of our commitment to east Africa will be announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for development and Africa. As she would expect, I will not pre-empt his announcement, but he will make that clear at the pledging conference on
East Africa contains some of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, as has been eloquently described this morning, but they receive a tiny proportion of global climate finance, which could deliver the adaptation they need to build long-term resilience. We want to change that, so that countries can withstand the increasing challenges that climate change brings. Alongside that, we will meet our global pledge to commit up to £11.6 billion of UK climate finance between 2021 and 2026. The UK is also working with the UN and its members to ensure that response operations are as effective and efficient as possible.
The severity of the crisis is very clear. It has been eloquently described this morning, and the situation is at risk of getting worse. The Government understand that, and we are focused on it in the Department. Our humanitarian support to east Africa is providing millions of people with essential services, and we will continue to work with partners to save lives and build resilience for the future. While the current context is bleak, the UK is committed to addressing the long-term drivers of vulnerability and suffering, so that communities across east Africa can realise their potential and reap the benefits of stability and development.
I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. It has been incredibly encouraging to hear cross-party consensus on the action that needs to be taken. I will not list everyone who spoke, because the Minister just did that, but I am extremely grateful for both the interventions and the speeches that have been made.
I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Qaisar on her appointment as the SNP’s international development spokesperson, a role that I held from 2015 to 2017. As she says, it never really leaves you, which is one of the reasons why we are here today.
A few key themes emerge from the debate, which I hope the Minister will continue to reflect on. The first is the action that is needed at the pledging conference, which has to include an upscaling of the aid that has been committed. That means that there has to be a move away from spending ODA money in the United Kingdom. Of course refugees and asylum seekers who arrive here need to be supported, but that should not be at the expense of our response to the poorest and most vulnerable people elsewhere in the world. The importance of focusing on women and girls, who are otherwise left eating less, eating last and eating the least nutritious food, came through very clearly as well.
The whole crisis in east Africa was completely avoidable and totally preventable. There is a need for resilience for the future, and this debate has drawn attention to the current situation. We must continue to keep this issue at the front of the Government and wider public’s mind. We hear from constituents about it, and Hilary Benn is absolutely right to say that we have to rebuild the consensus that existed in 2005.
I note that the Chamber is filling up for the next debate, which is to be led by Steve Brine and is on universal infant free school meals. Imagine if free school meals were truly universal—for every single child on this planet, not just in this country. If it is good enough for children in this country, it should be good enough for children in every single country in the world. That really would bring about an end to food insecurity, and it would provide a more stable basis for future development. I wish Members taking part in that debate all the best, and I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in this one.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered hunger in the East and Horn of Africa.