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Mrs. Chalker : I am sure that the best way to send food to the people who need it is through the NGOs. They have good experience and seem to be the best channel. Resources sent through them and other international agencies seem to assist people. We are working on that.

Mr. Harris : As an hon. Member who represented you, Mr. Speaker, at the opening session of the national assembly in Addis Ababa, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no hope for Ethiopia unless and until the wretched civil war is brought to an end? Will she give an assurance that the Goverment will continue to play their part along with other powers to bring about a settlement and, in particular, to pursuade Russia, which probably holds the key, to bring the utmost pressure to bear on the Mengistu regime?

Mrs. Chalker : We are already doing that. We shall continue to do everything necessary through every channel open to us to persuade the parties to the conflict to end it.

Mr. Michael Welsh : I agree with the Minister that the war is causing starvation. If the war ceased, we could get

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food to millions of dying people. Some children in Ethiopia die even before they reach the age of one. Something must be done. Does the Minister agree that, even though an open-roads policy is not possible at present because of the fighting, we must continue to seek such a policy so that even if the war continues we can get food to the people? Has she considered the supply and use of lorries? Is she aware that Tigre is short of lorries to take food from A to B? Will she consider whether aid is needed to help provide lorries?

Mrs. Chalker : It is likely that the additional £2 million that I announced last week, bringing our total aid this year to £13 million, will be used for urgent transport requirements. As the hon. Gentleman knows well, one has only to hold in one's arms a small child who is just skin and bone to know how bad the position is.

Miss Emma Nicholson : Does my right hon. Friend recall that 60 per cent. of the fertile land in Ethiopia is not under production and that the gross domestic product of all the sub-Saharan African countries is equivalent only to that of Belgium? Does she agree that we must for ever continue to try to help the unfortunate people in those countries and not seek the immediate solutions that some Opposition Members believe exist?

Mrs. Chalker : My hon. Friend is right to refer to the need for sustainable development. We must put in place agricultural schemes that can produce food for the future on a long-term basis. Until the conflict is brought to an end we have little chance of moving ahead with any agricultural scheme in Ethiopia. Only in countries which are prepared to undertake considerable agricultural production can we povercome future famine.

Mr. Lofthouse : Does the Minister know whether President Bush discussed this matter with President Gorbachev last weekend?

Mrs. Chalker : I regret that I do not know, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I raised the matter with two Assistant Secretaries of State in the State Department in Washington on Thursday before they left, together with the President, for Malta. I believe that the message may well have got through.

Mr. Baldry : As former chairman of the Anglo-Ethiopian Society, may I tell my right hon. Friend that no one who has any knowledge of Ethiopia could dissent from her analysis? May I support the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and others who have said that there are two tragedies in Ethiopia the famine and the civil war? Will my right hon. Friend do what she can to support the NGOs' efforts to get food aid to the various areas of Ethiopia in the knowledge that it is not only the Ethiopian Government but others who have used food aid as a political and military weapon in the past? May I inform my right hon. Friend how sad some of us were that some NGOs were taking her to task? In fairness, in recent months she and the Government have been making considerable efforts to help Ethiopia.

Mrs. Chalker : Food aid should never be used as a weapon of war. Regrettably it often is. It is remarkable that we saw a letter from Save The Children Fund last week when the discussion which led to a whole series of new actions took place in the office of the director of Save The Children Fund in October.

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Mrs. Clwyd : May I say how pleased I am that the Minister is back, as the whole of last week I was trying to get a Government statement on this important issue?

Does the Minister accept that as we speak people are dying in Ethiopia? Will she explain why, despite being repeatedly warned by the aid agencies of this potential danger back in July, it took last week's dramatic television pictures to propel the Government into giving a paltry £2 million in food aid, which is only 1 per cent. of the total food aid required? While we accept that it must be right to attempt through international pressure to persuade the Ethiopian Government to open up roads to rebel-held areas, does the right hon. Lady accept that meantime, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said, there must be co-operation with the two local organisations that can effectively and quickly distribute the food to the people in need?

Mrs. Chalker : If I had not been in Washington last week for talks with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the State Department, I would not have

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got through to a number of people whom the hon. Lady's hon. Friends keep asking me to contact. We are concerned that people, especially small children, are dying. It was not in July that we started action. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), worked continually when he was at the ODA to get the right preparations taken should the crops fail, as they were known to have failed after the September rains were known to have failed. It did not take a Michael Buerk film to bring the Department into action. I have been in action since the first day I arrived at the ODA and my right hon. Friend before me.

The hon. Lady may think that £2 million is paltry. I made it clear that that was on top of nearly £11 million which we have already given this year. Since the beginning of 1987 we have spent some £54 million and since the beginning of 1984 £139 million in direct aid to Ethiopia. We shall ensure that assistance in this terrible disaster goes through the NGOs and that the food and transport that are required will be available to the people who need it so badly.

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