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4.7 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I shall not speak for too long, as not much time is left for all the hon. Members who wish to contribute. However, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her Department on their efforts to address the problem of poverty in the world, as well as on the informative report that they have produced. I am pleased to be able to contribute to today's debate as a member of the Select Committee on International Development.

Successes or failures are perhaps harder to quantify in international development than in the work of any other Department, as they depend on so many factors beyond the Department's control. However, the Department has invested huge sums of money in many of the world's poor and developing countries to tackle the issues of education, health and poverty.

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Mention has been made of India. I come from India, and retain an interest in it. It is a huge country, with enormous resources. The money being given to India is being used properly to reduce poverty, and I do not agree with my Select Committee colleague the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that the Government should not consider supplying arms to the country.

Results in reducing poverty across the globe cannot be achieved by one Department in one country. They can be achieved only through partnerships between developed and developing nations, and between Governments and their peoples. Events in the past year have shown that we live in an increasingly integrated world where suffering cannot be ignored, even if it is far away. Failure to address poverty and disenchantment in a single country can have repercussions across the globe.

The Department for International Development has clearly worked hard in the past 12 months and there are a number of achievements with which it should be pleased. One is in the area of sustainable development, which the Brundtland commission defined as

The topic is particularly relevant this year as countries prepare for a United Nations summit on the issue in Johannesburg in September. I am pleased with the conclusions reached through the Department's work with the OECD Development Assistance Committee and the UN that good poverty reduction strategies should contain the elements necessary for strategic planning for sustainable development. Unfortunately, as was pointed out in a report published last December by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, progress towards the goals laid out in Rio de Janeiro at the conference on environment and development has been slower than expected. Indeed, the report suggests that in some respects, conditions are worse than they were 10 years ago.

I am not pleased with the attitude of the present United States Administration, who have shown a disregard for environmental concerns. As the United States is the major power of the industrialised world—and also the largest consumer of resources—I would have expected better leadership from it.

The poor quality of many people's living environment results in the deaths of millions each year. To take just one example, the World Health Organisation estimates that about 2.1 million people—the vast majority of whom live in developing countries—die annually from indoor air pollution. One reason for the continuing problems is undoubtedly the failure of many developing nations—and developed nations, for that matter—to integrate sustainable development fully into Government policy. Instead, it is often treated as a stand-alone issue and passed to a separate environmental department. We need to work with developing countries to ensure that sustainable development is treated seriously by all sectors of government.

Another area that DFID has addressed, and which seems particularly appropriate to mention today, on Africa malaria day, is disease. Several hundred million people annually continue to be infected with malaria, which

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results in nearly 300 million clinical cases and 1 million deaths a year. The deterioration in health structures, migration, poverty and the emergence of drug-resistant parasites has meant that the problem is actually getting worse in some countries.

It is estimated that economic growth in African countries where the disease is endemic has been slowed by up to 1.3 per cent. this year. I am pleased, therefore, that the UK played a leading role last year in securing a commitment from the G8 countries to a global fund to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The Department has also tried to address the dreadful problem of HIV/AIDS. Last year it published its strategy for its contribution to tackling the disease, which has a devastating effect on people in many countries. I have been to countries in Africa with a parliamentary delegation, and we saw the devastating effects of the disease on the lives of many people—on their life expectancy, current development and future well-being.

During the 1990s, life expectancy declined by 6.3 years in the nine countries hardest hit, and there are currently about 36 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS. The situation is exacerbated by two factors. The first is the refusal of many leaders—often for cultural or political reasons—to accept that there is a problem. One example of that, I am afraid, is India, where officials have frequently played down the problem. Similarly, South Africa's president has also failed to accept the international consensus on HIV/AIDS.

It is noteworthy that in the 1980s, when HIV hit Thailand, its Government prepared an aggressive campaign to provide information to the groups most at risk. Thailand spends more than 60 cents per person on HIV, whereas India spends a little less than 6 cents. Mr. Sarkar of the United Nations AIDS programme for south Asia has expressed his concern that the epidemic in India has not peaked and is unlikely to stabilise, because of a lack of education and intervention.

The second problem is the slightly simplistic approach taken by many to the problem. I believe that the message about HIV has been hampered by the focus on drugs patents, specifically for drugs to treat the disease. It is a simple fact that even if the drugs were provided free, Governments could not afford to distribute them, especially in a country the size of India. Also, the drugs must be taken properly. Some have to be refrigerated, which is often not possible, some have to be taken at certain times, and some with eight glasses of fresh water a day and at regular intervals. Some drugs can make people very ill.

For those reasons, many sufferers cannot continue their course of drugs; they start taking them and then stop. Starting and stopping is particularly dangerous, because it allows HIV the opportunity to adapt and become resistant, thus making many current treatments useless in the future. A recent study in San Francisco, with all its medical sophistication and experience, has predicted that by 2005 nearly half of all HIV patients in the city will no longer respond to their current treatment.

The emphasis on drugs in developing countries has shifted attention away from prevention and has left ill-informed populations with the impression that there is a cure—in which case, why should they change their habits? It is important to educate people. It is essential that DFID works with Governments around the world to

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address the issue, and that heads of state in developing nations recognise the problem and take the necessary action. Failure to do so will be nothing short of devastating.

The Department appears to have achieved much in the past year; we should not forget the untying of aid. It is encouraging to note that peer review of the Department by the OECD Development Assistance Committee has welcomed many of the changes made since 1997. It says that the UK's approach demonstrates the value that bilateral aid agencies can add through contributions to international policy debates and by monitoring the implementation of international undertakings.

We can achieve a great deal and make a real difference to people's lives if we work together. We cannot do it on our own. The report is good, and we must continue to consider the problems faced by the international community.

4.20 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra), my colleague on the International Development Committee. As he knows, I share his concern about the impact of AIDS on the developing world. I am glad that he raised it.

During the past four years, as a member of the Committee, I have had the good fortune—usually—to visit many countries in Africa, including, among others, Rwanda, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Swaziland. Over the past nine months, I have visited Eritrea, to see mine clearance; Congo, with the all-party group on the great lakes region and genocide prevention; and Ghana and Nigeria, with the Select Committee. Only two weeks ago, I visited Sudan, with the all-party group led by my colleague, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson).

I want to talk specifically about African development and to concentrate on the Congo, Sudan and Nigeria. I recommend to everyone in the House, and to those who accuse us of swanning off around the world, that they do not include any of those countries on their list of holiday destinations. I want to examine how the situation in those countries can shed light on NEPAD—the New Partnership for Africa's Development—and whether it supports President Mbeki's proclamation of the African renaissance that he wants to see in the new millennium.

I visited the Congo last August. Congolese people described the country as the heart of Africa. Many people will know of Joseph Conrad's powerful story, "Heart of Darkness", which was set in the Congo. As the Secretary of State mentioned, the country is the same size as western Europe. During the past three years, it has experienced an appalling civil war. That followed the ghastly legacy of Mobutu, which dates back to the cold war, Lumumba and the Belgian colonisation and all that involved.

The country is divided into three areas: the west is controlled from Kinshasa by the Kabila regime; the north-east is ruled by a client government of Uganda; while the south-east is controlled by a client government of Rwanda. None of those ruling groups has any legitimacy. The idea that Kabila should be president of the Congo because his adopted father—murdered a few

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years ago in suspicious circumstances—was the president lacks credibility; it certainly has no democratic legitimacy.

As many people know, the Rwandans and the Ugandans have legitimate security concerns in the Congo, as well as some less legitimate interests in mineral exploitation. We were told that about 800 sq km of virgin rain forest has been logged out in the area where the Ugandan army is operating. I do not know whether that is true.

In addition, the Zimbabweans appear to be looting diamonds in the south of the country. There were Angolans and Namibians in the country, but I am not certain whether they have pulled out. There are about 4,000 UN troops in the country—not a tremendous presence in a country the size of western Europe.

There is a list of problems. For example, there is an obvious absence of any form of education or health system in large parts of the country. There is grinding poverty and starvation. There are many internally displaced people, with all the difficulties that that entails. More than 2.5 million people have died during the past three years, because of the war and from starvation.

The country is fertile, however. It is rich in minerals and there is fantastic rain forest, which is a resource and a joy, yet there are dreadful problems and the situation does not appear to be improving. As a member of an African NGO said to us: "How beats the heart of Africa?" Not well.

Ten days ago I was in Sudan. Geographically, it is the biggest country in Africa. The south, which we visited, is fertile and the country has oil revenues, but a civil war has raged there for 35 of the past 46 years. About 2 million people have died during the past 19 years. There are 4 million internally displaced people. Slavery is practised by the Baggara—tribes on horseback. That is unbelievable in the 21st century. In the south, the Baggara have been acting as militia for the Government, and they may still be doing so.

There is a northern Government, based in Khartoum, who can be described briefly as a Muslim, Arab Government although the definition is not quite that simple. They have declared a jihad on their own people in the south, who are, in essence, black Africans whose religion is Christian or animist. In both the south and the north, there is appalling poverty; we saw only a tiny bit of it in a week, but we heard of worse things. In the south, I saw poverty such as I have never seen—it was extremely striking. Operation Lifeline Sudan will cost about $160 million this year. Thrown into that melting pot is the fact that between 1991 and 1996, Sudan was the home of Osama bin Laden, with all that that entailed.

The third country that I want to consider is Nigeria. It has the largest population in Africa: between one in four and one in five black Africans live there. The population is about 125 million, and one estimate is that it will probably grow to 141 million by the end of the decade. Corruption is endemic. As the Secretary of State acknowledged, two thirds of the population live in appalling poverty on less than a dollar a day, in an oil-rich country. The revenue from oil alone is $18 billion a year.

The rate of infection from HIV is about 5.8 per cent., yet 95 per cent. of the population use no form of contraception at all. As we left Abuja airport—which is something else—we saw that Abacha's photograph was

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still displayed. Abacha was so evil that the Select Committee has interviewed representatives of the Nigerian Government, who have demanded the return of the stolen money from UK banks. General Babangida—for many years the military dictator—continues to live in Nigeria in great luxury.

We met the independent commission on corrupt practices—a charming retired judge and his team. I am sure that they are well-meaning. They boasted that during the past six years they had indicted six people, two of whom were border policemen who had accepted a bribe from American travellers who wanted to enter the country. This was the same country where a former military dictator was living in enormous luxury with money looted from his country.

We passed through many checkpoints. At one, I saw a lorry driver throwing money to the police. Later that day, in Kaduna, I accosted a senator and asked him about the incident. He said that the lorry driver was probably just being nice.

Our consideration of NEPAD should start in the heart of Africa, in the largest country, and in the country with the largest population. Yesterday, the Select Committee interviewed representatives from the UNHCR, who pointed out that NEPAD made no mention of refugees and internationally displaced people. The UNHCR provided us with a document that stated:

That is a matter of concern as there are so many displaced people around Africa owing to the conflicts there.

NEPAD is of course about development, but it identifies two priorities—peace and security, and governance—as conditions for sustainable development, with all that the two concepts entail. That is sensible, and I am sure that all hon. Members wish NEPAD well. However, action is required, not words, and we need to see evidence of good results, not just statements of good intent.

I am sure that the Secretary of State and her Department would largely agree with what I am saying—generally they have been doing a pretty good job on this and on other matters—so I am not raising a partisan issue. I support the Government in their efforts. I was particularly encouraged by the Secretary of State's comments about looking at the windows for peace in Sudan, Congo and Angola. I am delighted by her optimism, but not 100 per cent. convinced.

We must ask what, if anything, can be done. It is not easy, and none of us would pretend that it is; I certainly do not claim to have solutions. Nevertheless, it is worth considering what can be done in Congo. I saw the Rwandan ambassador yesterday; I think that she is a good person. There is a great security problem in Rwanda. Those hon. Members who have visited the country with the Select Committee on International Development—two or three of those present have done so—know of the awful genocide and what the Interahamwe, who are now in Congo, meant for the Rwandan people.

The international community must ask much more loudly what Zimbabwe is doing in the Congo and what role it is playing in the civil war, financially or otherwise.

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The Lusaka accords can work—they have a great deal of support—but more pressure must be applied to make them work and to bring about proper inter-Congolese dialogue, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), but seems to have stalled. The international community can help, but it must speak with one voice. When our Belgian counterparts held the presidency of the Commission last year, they tried to broker a deal that recognised the Kabila regime as that which governed the whole of Congo. On what grounds—le fils de papa? It is not good enough, and I appeal to the Government to do yet more.

On Sudan, I applaud the Government. The Secretary of State's visit in January this year, the appointment of former ambassador Goulty as her special representative, and the work of the United States in appointing Senator Danforth, were positive developments, but more is needed. I did not leave Sudan terribly encouraged by what I had seen. IGAD—the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—has the basis of an agreement, but it needs further pressure and support from us, from America, from the United Nations and from countries such as Egypt. Egypt views Sudan as part of what would have been called, during the cold war, its sphere of influence. It is for the Sudanese to determine what happens in Sudan, not for the Egyptians. I commend the Government for what they have done in Sudan, but urge them to do more.

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