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4. Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): What action her Department is taking in co-operation with other Government Departments to promote an end to war in Sudan. [6114]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Excluding a gap of perhaps 10 years, the war in Sudan has been fought almost continuously since its independence in 1956. It has caused the loss of 2 million to 3 million lives, the displacement of millions of people and deepening suffering and poverty across Sudan, particularly in the south. The people of Sudan desperately need a peace agreement that brings justice and development to all parts of Sudan. The recent lifting of UN sanctions provides an opportunity for progress. The Government are working to energise a greater international effort to achieve that peace agreement.

Mr. Savidge: I agree with the Secretary of State that the lifting of UN sanctions offers a real window of opportunity. Does she agree that both sides must show a real readiness for compromise if we are to achieve a settlement, which is essential if we are to offer the genuine hope of poverty reduction and development for all the people of Sudan?

Clare Short: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In certain countries such as Sudan, some of those who lead the fighting live comfortably while the people rot and suffer. There have been calls for Sharia law across the territory, which is unacceptable given that half the people are not Muslims. It must be possible to respect each other's religion—to respect an Islamic north and a Christian and animist south. There must be progress, and it is in the interests of everyone, in both parts of Sudan, that we achieve peace. Now is the time for increased international effort, and I have some hope that we can make progress. Sudan is a heavily indebted poor country. If it could achieve peace, it could get debt relief, and we could get the development programme going and ensure that the oil revenues are used for the benefit of the people.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): What representations have the Government made to the Government of Sudan on the recent increase in the bombing

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of Bahr el Ghazal, which was the famine area in 1997? What effect does she think the bombing will have on the delivery of aid to that region?

Clare Short: We make constant representations to the Government of Sudan and there has been some progress. Obviously, we want the bombing to be reduced and, indeed, ended in Sudan, as in many other parts of the world, especially Afghanistan. The Government of Sudan have co-operated in the current response to the worldwide terrorist attacks. The US Government recently appointed a special representative to try to drive forward progress. There is a real chance of progress in Sudan, and we must all work hard to ensure that that takes place.

Maternal Deaths

5. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): What steps are being taken to reduce maternal deaths in less developed countries. [6115]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): More than 500,000 women die each year during childbirth in developing countries, where maternal mortality rates are up to 100 times higher than in western Europe.

We have invested more than £1 billion since 1997 in helping to provide better health care overall, including for pregnant women. That makes a real difference in reducing deaths. We have significant maternal health programmes in Malawi, Nepal, Kenya, Pakistan and Bolivia. We also support the World Health Organisation's "Make Pregnancy Safer" initiative.

Ms Drown: Is my hon Friend aware that 30,000 of those maternal deaths, and the deaths of 200,000 babies every year, occur because of tetanus acquired at birth? Often it is the infected blade that cuts through the umbilical cord that condemns the mother or baby to death, even though an inexpensive vaccine is available that would prevent that. Will my hon. Friend work with the United Nations Children's Fund—UNICEF—to explore ways of ending these wholly unnecessary deaths?

Hilary Benn: I know that my hon. Friend takes a particular interest in this subject, and we welcome the work that UNICEF is doing on immunisation in general and neo-natal tetanus in particular. One contribution is improving the overall level of health care so that knowledge is spread, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently approved a £35 million contribution to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation initiative, which is working closely with UNICEF to immunise more people against tetanus and other diseases.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): High levels of maternal death account for lowered life expectancy among women, which in Afghanistan is as low as 38.7 years. That is due in no small part to the lack of medical care, but also to the repression of women under the Taliban.

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What work has the Department done to help women in Afghanistan, and what steps is it taking to press for their better treatment?

Hilary Benn: I welcome the hon. Lady to her first International Development questions and wish her every success in the post.

In recent years, the United Kingdom has contributed some £32 million in support to the people of Afghanistan to address the problem that she raised and others. As she will be only too well aware, the situation in Afghanistan is extremely difficult. The Secretary of State will make a statement shortly. We must make progress so that we can restore good governance to Afghanistan, because only when we reach that point will we be in a position to try to deal with the issues that the hon. Lady raised.

Mrs. Spelman: The Minister mentioned good governance. The vision of the new Government of Afghanistan that the Foreign Secretary presented yesterday made no mention of women. What representations have the Department made to ensure that the new Government of Afghanistan better represents women?

Hilary Benn: The representation of women in the new Afghanistan will be crucial. One of the biggest problems that that country faces in its future development is the fact that half the next generation have not been educated for the past five or six years. The single most useful intervention that could be made in the future of Afghanistan is to ensure that the next generation of girls gets into school, because, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, that can lead to all sorts of benefits in respect of development and, ultimately, the participation of women in society more broadly.


6. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): If she will make a statement on her Department's work in Nigeria. [6116]

Hilary Benn: Nigeria has suffered a long period of economic, social and political disruption under a series of military Governments, and poverty is widespread. So far, reform has been disappointing, but we are committed to long-term support so that the country can fulfil its considerable potential. DFID is working at federal level to support economic reform, the reduction of poverty and strengthening of the justice system, and at local level, with four states, to show how reform can deliver practical benefits to the poor. We also continue to support the fight against HIV-AIDS.

Linda Gilroy: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will know that I and a number of members of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visited Nigeria this summer. We came away with a strong and clear understanding of Nigeria's pivotal importance to Africa's future welfare. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that he will keep a close eye on the Department's programme in Nigeria, especially in light of the regrettable incidents of recent days and weeks?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Nigeria has one fifth of the continent's population. About 70 per cent. of the country's population live on less than a

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dollar a day, so progress in Nigeria will be crucial to Africa's chances of meeting the millennium development goals.

My hon. Friend will know from her recent visit that Nigeria has great natural resources. It has enormous potential if it can put the past behind it and seize the opportunity that now presents itself. The House will also be aware that a dozen leaders of African states met in Abuja formally to launch the new African initiative, which we greatly welcome.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): I read in a newspaper this morning that there is talk of a Marshall aid plan for Africa. Is that a possibility, or is it just pie in the sky?

Hilary Benn: The initiative that the leaders of Africa have taken in establishing the new African initiative is a very welcome development. It is a recognition, from within the continent, that Africa needs to take control of the process involved in dealing with the issues of good governance and the other matters that hon. Members raised in earlier questions. The international community's responsibility is to make sure that, by helping to improve health care and education, we play our part in supporting those Governments as they reform and tackle the questions of governance. That will lead to the sort of regeneration in Africa that I think the whole House wants.

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