Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. My point is a slightly different one. I do not want to hog this but somehow one has a feeling that the media and the world have not quite taken on board just how serious the crisis is. Quite understandably, a lot of attention has been focused on Iraq and some other areas and very little detailed attention has been given to the crisis that is unfolding in Africa.
  (Ms Lewis) Absolutely, and I think many times we see in the media they take a very cynical view about Africa, but you have been there, you have seen the suffering and where people start in a crisis and they are so vulnerable and any shock causes mass suffering and that is where we are. I do think that we have seen a fair degree of coverage and interest in Southern Africa. Many of the high-level visits have continued to bring some attention to the situation. We have a good international media in South Africa that we continue to send out. We try to let them see what is going on, but it is just not enough and the UN's recent study shows that the crises that have the "CNN" factor are the ones that are resourced. That is one of the things we are struggling against when we are talking about Afghanistan, Palestine, North Korea and the Horn. Those are the type of challenges that the international community has to grapple with.

Mr Battle

  61. To go back to the immediate food crisis and how we can move from this year's food crisis in which originally, apart from the acetate that HIV/AIDS has laid over it, there was a question of whether it was drought or capacity? On the last day of the last visit (we were there in October) we were out in the fields and it was starting to rain. I was visiting a seed store but they had not sufficient seeds and they could not afford fertiliser. I was left wondering, knowing that a year ago there was no rain and we were sending in food aid, yes, about distributing seeds and getting people fertiliser so they can plant in time for the rain that is coming now so there is not a crisis next year. How has that been addressed? Certainly in Malawi it did not look too bright.
  (Ms Lewis) The only country that really made a good faith effort was Zambia where we have seen a good bit of input seeds and fertilisers to the most vulnerable. The funding has just been abysmal for the FAO part of the appeal. Zambia is the only country that received what they were looking for in terms of seeds and tools. James Morris, in conjunction with Mr Diouf, sent out a letter to the international community to help us with this, but the response has not been what it needs to be. Zimbabwe did in fact have some seeds available. Unfortunately, the poor farmers could not afford the seeds nor the fertilisers.

  62. To be fair, the seed store was supported by our own DFID, and they were giving out starter packs of seeds and fertiliser all packaged so the people could put them in the soil and get on with it. Whose responsibility would it be to organise a full-scale replanting programme to get ahead of the game with even the possibility of two crops per year rather than just one? Who is addressing that within your organisation?
  (Ms Lewis) This would fall under the Food and Agricultural Organisation's mandate working with the ministry of agriculture to do that. Certainly we have been trying to track a little bit about the winter cropping in Malawi, the alternative crops, not just the maize but cassava, and we are trying to figure out how to have surveillance so that we can monitor the input for the food balance sheet in Malawi. I understand that the starter pack programme in Malawi was certainly much more healthy and aggressive for this year than last year. It is certainly supported by DFID and is much more aggressive this year, which I think was certainly needed.

  63. But it is the scale of what is needed.
  (Ms Lewis) That is right.

  64. Is there a time-line then for planting? We vaguely hope the rain will come every year and rather than lurching from one food aid crisis to another, it would be a disaster if this time next year we are talking about not drought but the lack the of planting that caused hunger. Can we work backwards and say in two years' time we will make sure everybody has got seeds and fertiliser?
  (Ms Lewis) Absolutely. One of the things the FAO is now doing is considering sending more senior technical experts to the region. They will be part of the Regional Inter-Agency Support Unit there in Johannesburg with us, and I think that is going to help all of us be very strategic in our thinking and looking to the future. Clearly the mandate right now is to save lives but if we are not going to be in the same position next year, the next year and the next year we have got to be very strategic in looking to the future.

  65. Will there be a proper connection between what you are doing and the FAO are doing because at the ground floor level how do you stop a person whose family is pretty hungry and on the verge of dying from starvation from eating the seeds they are given to plant? You need to lay down the seeds and food together.
  (Ms Lewis) That is right. We are working much more closely with FAO in terms of seed protection. This is where the food and the seeds go to the villages at the same time. The monitors are there to explain to people, "This grain is for eating, these grains are for planting." We are working to increase that. It also cuts down on logistics costs and on the amount of staff time involved if we go at the same time. We are working with our partners on the ground to do that. We are going to enhance that collaboration and co-ordination with FAO. FAO is also looking to work with UNICEF through the schools for nutrition awareness, planting gardens at community level, those types of interventions. I am encouraged. I think FAO is going to be much more engaged and involved than they have been in the past.

John Barrett

  66. A number of the Committee who were in Malawi were seriously concerned over issues relating to the sale of the Strategic Grain Reserve, the potential for corruption and the governance in Malawi. Obviously in Zimbabwe there were very serious questions over governance there. What can the World Food Programme do to ensure that the food aid is not used by recipient governments as a tool and therefore becomes part of the problem, because they are then given another strong tool to influence within the country and to hold down opponents by denying them that aid? If the government in a country is part of the problem, is the supplying of food aid to that government strengthening their hand and making the problem worse? What can be done about this?
  (Ms Lewis) The World Food Programme has been very clear in terms of our strategy in any country. We provide food assistance to the most vulnerable. Vulnerable people do not necessarily have politics, if you will, and when we do not have enough resources we have to guarantee that the food gets to the most vulnerable. We have been very clear with the government of Zimbabwe from the very beginning and part of our negotiations with starting an office again in Zimbabwe was this issue of independence, that we would work with our implementing partners on the ground to work with the local authorities to determine vulnerability. We have issued a zero tolerance policy and we have had about a dozen instances where there has been some type of disruption or an attempt to influence the food that is being distributed. We have either stopped what we were doing or we have not started the assistance. We continue to reinforce that. We have had instances where we have asked the government to go with us to investigate where you have these armed combatants running around trying to influence what is going on. We have been very clear and we will not deviate from that policy. Our NGOs have been empowered to take those decisions on the ground should there be any type of influence. James Morris and President Mugabe have talked on five or six occasions since the World Food Summit face to face about this issue. We absolutely do not have enough food to do what needs to be done, let alone to have outside influences trying to impact on what we are doing.


  67. There is an article in today's Independent, I think, with a photograph suggesting that in certain parts of Zimbabwe unless you were a supporter of Zanu PF you simply did not get food. There was a photograph of a malnourished man and a whole village, village communities who had said they had supported the MDC and unless they could produce a party card they did not get any food aid. When you see press reports like that, what actually happens on the ground? Do your team go and investigate that and check up on what is happening?
  (Ms Lewis) First of all, let me clarify what we are seeing. The amount of food assistance that has actually been channelled through the World Food Programme and that has actually been delivered in Zimbabwe is just under 100,000 tonnes of food since March. The amount of commercial imports that the government has been able to produce and move into the country is over 600,000 tonnes of food. What many people and journalists are confusing is the GMB, the Grain Marketing Board, and their attempts to influence food output. We cannot control how they use their food but if you look at the difference and the controls that the UN and our implementing partners take at ground level compared to the government's ability to move around this 600,000 tonnes, that is where the discrepancy comes in. However, if there is an instance where there are issues raised the resident co-ordinator's office follows up. The donors are very keen that we establish a monitoring surveillance unit to follow up on these instances so that we can come back and try to track and also try to influence the government. Every time we have gone back to a government with a serious incident we have found that they have in fact taken an interest in this, they have gone with us, and even the minister went to the Insiza incident to look at the situation. I think the UN will be stepping up their monitoring and surveillance of these types of instances.

Hugh Bayley

  68. In another paper today, in The Times, Didymus Mutasa, the administrative secretary of Zanu PF, is reported to have said really quite an alarming thing. Zimbabwe has a population of 12 million people and he is quoted by The Times as saying "We would better off with only 6 million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle. We do not want all these extra people". Will the World Food Programme raise that with the government of Zimbabwe and ask what on earth does he mean?
  (Ms Lewis) Absolutely.

  69. And let us know what their response is[1].

  (Ms Lewis) I think this would be better raised by the Secretary General of the United Nations. I have not seen that. That is one of the most horrifying statements. I am shocked, I am speechless.

  70. I was shocked but you are on the front line. You cannot deliver what you need to do to people who are starving in Zimbabwe—
  (Ms Lewis) Absolutely not.

  71.—if you have people in the government, or close to the government, in the ruling party, whose view is that you should let people starve.
  (Ms Lewis) That is unconscionable, absolutely unconscionable.


  72. Maybe we might write to the Zimbabwean High Commissioner in London and ask on behalf of this Government was that said, is it a true and accurate statement and what does it mean. Can I ask a straight forward factual question? What information is available about the commercial imports into Southern Africa and private trading between Southern African countries? How useful and reliable is this information for WFP planning purposes? How do restrictions on commercial imports and private trading impact upon the humanitarian response and WFP's work in particular?
  (Ms Lewis) Clearly we are able to track the commercial imports because we can work with the traders, we can work with the transporters, we can work with the people in the ports to know what is expected. According to the latest estimates there is still about a 900,000 tonne shortfall which does not take out the surplus in Malawi, there is about 300,000 tonnes eventually that will be in Malawi. This is 900,000 tonnes in the other five countries that we are still trying to grapple with. That is fairly easy to track. The informal markets are much more difficult to track across the borders. There is traffic between Zambia and Tanzania, there still is some movement there, and from Northern Mozambique into Malawi, there is always a very strong, healthy, informal traffic there. We just do not have enough people and the network is not strong enough to get our arms around that. In terms of planning, I think what we have done is to build scenarios based on what we think we realistically can deliver based on resources, based on our implementing partners' abilities to deliver. When you put it in that perspective in terms of what the World Food Programme is tyring to do overall compared to the needs, we just have to continue to track it and continue to raise it with governments in terms of how the commercial imports are going to impact on food security.

Mr Colman

  73. Ms Lewis, can I start by thanking you and your colleagues for the tremendous work that you are doing and please go on doing it. The second thing is to say is you will have seen that a number of us are peeling off to go to the floor of the House because of the Iraq debate which is about to start. Can I pick up this whole concept under international law of people having the right to food and that states have the obligation to ensure that their citizens have adequate food to ensure their freedom from hunger. What do you think about the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the statement that was made at the General Assembly that "Anyone dying from hunger was dying from murder"? Who do you think is accountable for ensuring that people's rights to food are respected, protected and fulfilled?
  (Ms Lewis) I think that is a very delicate issue when you are talking about human rights and national sovereignty. Part of the crux of his discussion was around the GM discussion. Clearly the World Food Programme, our colleagues in FAO and at the World Health Organisation, have a joint statement in terms of health and the implications of GM. The unanswered question still has to do with potential damages to the environment. I think at the end of the day governments have to be accountable for the decisions that they take. This GM question is very contentious and it has certainly not made delivering assistance any easier, particularly in Zambia. We have to continue to work with the governments, to give as much scientific evidence as possible. I think many statements, such as that of the Special Rapporteur, are based on disinformation, lack of information, and not enough information. I think we still have an obligation to do more on that side as we continue to talk about GM.

  74. I was of course expecting to go on to discuss Zambia, and I will do so. May I again pay tribute to your staff in country in Zambia. In my two visits there I was very impressed with the work you are doing and mystified at the decision of the Government of Zambia not to accept milled GM maize. My colleague quoted a newspaper article from last Thursday and it was a quite extraordinary article in terms of the justification that was given by the Zambian scientists in terms of the information they received from this country from a number of sources. You may wish to give us a rebuttal in a separate paper in terms of that article in the Daily Telegraph last Thursday[2]. What are the consequences of the Government of Zambia's decision not to accept GM food for Zambia for the region and how far have you got in terms of being able to procure non-GM food?

  (Ms Lewis) First of all, I should flag up that not only are they not accepting non-GM grain, they have refused corn soya blend which is essential for supplementary and therapeutic uses because it is soya-bean based. They also have declined US oil because it is a soya-based oil, so none of the resources from the United States Government have been accepted for Zambia. As you rightly point out, the stress and strain of trying to secure non-GM goes on. We are spending all of our cash resources that are not tied. The total Japanese pledge, the Dutch pledge, part of the EU recent contributions has gone to buy white maize in South Africa.

  75. But some 80 per cent of the maize in South Africa is GM maize.
  (Ms Lewis) That is absolutely correct and now they are even requiring that we have tests done on the white maize so the time delay that is involved is staggering. The other issue is we cannot get export licences from the Government of Zambia to move out the GM food which is in country. We could have as much as a 14-day delay on getting the import of the food that they have already accepted that is non-GM. It is mind boggling.

  76. Could I ask if you would update your web site regularly to post people as to what the true situation is in Zambia. The reports on that are extremely worrying. What do you feel the lessons are that the World Food Programme can learn from the Zambian GM issue? When a sovereign government chooses not to accept GM food, does it surrender its citizens' right to food? I would hope not, but what is the situation?
  (Ms Lewis) That seems to be the situation particularly in Zambia but even in Zimbabwe the fact that they have agreed to accept milled GM is not enough. We had found that the capacity to mill inside Zimbabwe was much more efficient than southern Africa's extraction rates. We were getting a 93 per cent extraction rate from Bulawayo. We milled 10,000 tonnes there. When some of the ministers found out that we had in fact transported the GM to Bulawayo they told us we absolutely could not do that any more so the wonderful efficiency that was going on in Zimbabwe has been limited because the cabinet has taken the decision not to let us transit the GM. So these kinds of decisions defy the thinking from the humanitarian community and how we can do more with—

  77. And the lessons you are learning?
  (Ms Lewis) The lesson we are learning is that we have to have a good, sound, solid discussion about GM and the commodities that are available before we go into humanitarian situations in terms of what governments will and will not receive. We have to be very clear with our cash donors that we are going to need more cash in the future. We cannot depend on 50 per cent of commodities come from the United States Government, so we have to do a lot more effort and energy in discussions up-front before we get into a humanitarian situation.


  78. That sounds like another letter, this time to the Zambian High Commissioner putting these matters. Then we can advise him to ask his government to comment and report back before we produce our report on what his government's line of take is. Your last point really about not being able to have 50 per cent of food in kind from the United States raises this issue: the most recent UN-OCHA consolidated inter-agency appeal for 2003 is asking for the equivalent of US $3 billion. These are now becoming very large appeals and they have characteristics of being ad hoc appeals each year. Have we now not got to the situation whereby the international community is going to have to accept that there is going to be a need each year for a certain amount of humanitarian aid and each year regardless there should be a baseline pledge that could be topped up as necessary, or carried over miraculously if there was a year when there was not a need? This present hand-to-mouth situation whereby you have to go out on appeal, you then get pledges, pledges have to be turned into commitments, commitments have to be turned into to food aid, food aid has got to be got to the place, means you are always chasing your tail, are you not?
  (Ms Lewis) That is right. Certainly that would facilitate planning and also the immediate response and you are absolutely right, so many times we are running to catch up. Certainly this is a very interesting concept. Would your Government be interested in having these discussions?

  79. We will have to ask in our report. Fortunately, we do not have to have the responsibility of speaking for Her Majesty's Government on this Committee. It is a matter for colleagues, but I suspect when we come to the writing of our report it will be one of the matters that we will want to look at. Just whilst I am on this subject, frequently this Committee is talking about responses of the international community and we have the United States and we have the European Union and we have individual members of the European Union like the United Kingdom and we have one or two others such as Japan, but the world has many more countries than that. So how about other countries in the Security Council, what sort of contribution can you get either in cash or kind from Russia or China? What contribution do you get in cash and kind from rich countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries? It seems we have a situation whereby we have got a very small number of countries that seem to be carrying a disproportionate burden in this.
  (Ms Lewis) For this particular crisis we have had about 35 donors. The problem is that you get $50,000 from Andorra. One of the things that James Morris has focused on is the non-traditional donors. He is very keen to engage other donors. He was recently in Russia where they had pledged I forget how many tonnes of food, but this was the first time ever. The million tonnes of wheat from India as a recipient country, which is also giving for Afghanistan, is a non-traditional approach. The only issue for non-traditional donors, particularly for food in kind, for example the South African pledge of 100,000 tonnes, is how do we resource the cash to move that food and the accompanying costs that go with that? These are things he is looking very carefully at in how we can work with our cash donors to help us encourage non-traditional donors to become involved. He is looking at this very, very closely. Getting back to the Southern Africa crisis, what we are seeing is there is a lot of interest, the problem is that the contributions tend to be much much smaller than from your big donors.

1   Footnote to come? Back

2   Footnote to come? Back

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