Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  1. Good morning. Thank you very much for coming and giving evidence this morning. As you know, most of the Committee have recently been in Malawi. Some of us, through the World Food Programme, have been in Afghanistan, and I was in Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago. I think it would be fair to put on the record that wherever we went there was strong praise for the work of DFID, whether it be from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the President of Afghanistan or from people in Malawi. DFID is not on the rack on this occasion! I think many of our interlocutors, including Jim Morris of the World Food Programme whom we saw yesterday, said very often DFID is in the lead on being helpful. There are a number of issues which I think are causing us concern; can I start off with two of them which cause me concern. We saw Jim Morris yesterday and he left us with a press release concerning the Horn of Africa in which he says, "... if this month's rains stop early, up to 14 million people there [in Ethiopia] will require urgent assistance ... These figures are large and dramatic and the international community should take notice ... The situation in the Horn of Africa is not unique. In southern Africa drought is also the prime cause of hunger which is now threatening an estimated 14.4 million people". Taking these two together, that is 28 million people in Africa. "Most of these crises are related to erratic weather patterns". Then he goes on to the bit which I see as a policy issue: "The World Food Programme .. are finding it increasingly difficult to find the resources to respond adequately to the growing number of emergencies. Dependent on voluntary contributions, WFP and NGOs are caught between the rising needs of millions of hungry people and government budgets that are already stretched and contending with a global economic slowdown. The sad truth is that as things stand the humanitarian system faces the prospect of being completely overwhelmed". What struck me when I was in Malawi, and other places, is that we have this system with WFP whereby, whenever there is a crisis, firstly the country itself has to put up its hands and say, "We are in difficulties", and that sometimes, for all sorts of reasons, takes time; and then WFP has to go scratching around getting pledges and then turning those pledges into commitments, and then actually turning those commitments into hard grain, moving it through the pipeline and sorting out logistical things like the Nacala railway and all that kind of stuff. Do we not need to move to a system whereby the international community works on the basis that WFP each year is going to require some base funding, so that WFP can actually have a much faster start to responding to these crises—rather than being dependent, as it is, on this very much hand-to-mouth funding it has at the present moment?

  (Mr Winter) Chairman, firstly, I ought to say I cover Central and Southern Africa operationally and not our relations with WFP more generally. I can only give a very general answer. I think that your description of the way in which we have had to find resources for Southern Africa matches the reality very well. WFP does have access to a certain amount of revolving funds within the UN system, in order to kick-start its operations. It may well be that if we get to the point where WFP are feeling they are going to be faced, year after year, with very large emergencies that we do need to move to some kind of more predictable funding basis. In terms of the management of this operation, I think we would all have found it easier if WFP had had access to those resources, yes.

  2. My second concern (which if Mr Stegmann had been here he could have dealt with because he covers the whole of Africa) relates to Ethiopia but applies equally to Malawi. When talking to EU officials in Addis I was concerned they were saying that, notwithstanding whether there is a drought, the situation now is that there are more people each year in need of food-help in Ethiopia simply because whenever you have a drought or difficulties everyone sells up their livelihood, their livestock, their assets, whatever they have, and therefore when the next problem comes they have no coping mechanisms left whatsoever. Indeed, the EU put out a report which says, "... many households slowly falling into destitution ... As a consequence, coping mechanisms have lost their effectiveness and even small downturns in production translate into major shocks for large numbers of rural livelihoods ... food aid only fulfils one of its three objectives: saving lives (the other two being saving assets and improving nutrition), and it doesn't do it that well ... emergency food aid has a limited usefulness in addressing structural problems at the basis of the recurrent crises in Ethiopia. Asset depletion over the long term continues unabated and, under the current scheme of things, donors would be facing a caseload of 20 million food insecure people by 2015, a clearly unsustainable situation... [there is] the need for a long-term structural approach to food security". It is understandable, of course, that politicians, envoys, everyone, are concerned about the immediate crisis, but one does not get a sense of sufficient attention being given on how does one get people away from the crisis, back into long-term food security. Going back to the UN family—I can understand the World Food Programme has responsibility for shifting huge quantities of metric tonnes, and they are doing that logistical first aid job; but I have not had a sense in my travels (and other colleagues may have a different view on this) of other parts of the UN family helping with the long-term food security. Years ago the FAO was one of the stars of the UN firmament . My impression now is that the FAO, apart from a few seed banks, is not really there as a key player, helping countries with agricultural diversification. I just welcome your thoughts, both in Southern Africa and elsewhere, on how we get away from this annual humanitarian crisis, of press releases of 14 million people food insecure in the Horn and 14 million in Southern Africa? How do we get away from that back into some kind of long-term food security?
  (Mr Winter) Let me try and answer that in relation to Malawi. You are right that depletion of assets at the households level, as we said in our memorandum, is a matter of intense concern. The absolute shortages of food in Southern Africa have not been enormous this year, and yet they have put many more people into a vulnerable situation because of the cumulative effects of years of neglect of the agricultural sector, the effects of HIV/AIDS on families, and then, of course, climatic problems as well. In Malawi we have been trying to address this to some extent through the Safety Nets Programme, which you will have had an opportunity to discuss with some of our staff in Malawi, and that is an attempt to ensure that people do not fall below a certain level of food insecurity, either by providing targeted agricultural inputs, public works programmes, or feeding programmes for particular target groups. We are, of course, increasingly working through the country's own poverty reduction strategies. One of the striking things that comes out when you start looking at the causes of household food insecurity is that it is not always to do with agricultural inputs, although that is obviously very important. In Malawi one of the things that really impacts on the ability of households to produce food is security in rural areas, because households are not able to keep livestock, which is one of the things we are trying to address through our access to justice project. We are trying to approach it from a number of angles. Within poverty reduction strategies, however, if you ask me whether food security has an adequate profile I would have to say, "No". That is one of the areas where, certainly in Malawi and Zambia, we want to work with governments to improve. Work is already underway in Malawi with a number of donors and with UN agencies and government working together on food security strategies. On the UN, I would share your views certainly in our region that FAO has not been there leading the thinking. In fact, of the UN family, I would guess that the World Bank and the IMF, if you include them, probably have much more impact on food security than the specialised agencies. We are very conscious of the need, particularly in light of the experience of the last year, to work in a much more coherent way with the World Bank and the IMF. We are concerned, as you know, that there has been a rather ad hoc approach both to dealing with the short-term needs and how that translates into longer term development.

Chris McCafferty

  3. We are aware that in the last year DFID has put about 68 million into Southern Africa, into humanitarian assistance; and another 17.5 million is DFID's share of the EU contribution; quite a lot of money. We have also established a Humanitarian Crisis Unit in Johannesburg. Could you tell us a little bit about the organisational mechanisms. How do DFID country offices relate to the DFID regional office? How do they both relate to the DFID London office?
  (Mr Winter) Firstly, I would say I was based in Harare until August, so up until very recently there was not a London corner to this, except insofar as we had CHAD back-up—and I will come back to that in a moment. We have taken a view, since the middle of 2001 when it became clear there would be problems, that since the problems were so deeply rooted in governance and economic and agricultural policy within the countries, since they were so closely related to the dialogue that we had and continue to have with the government of these countries, and that the relationships we needed in order to make progress on these issues were the ones that were held within the county offices, that our response would be led by the country offices. I think we have tried to work it so that, where a response is clearly appropriate at country level, the country office has worked it up with whatever partner, and has the delegated authority to approve it. Because there is clearly a regional angle, we have sought to back-up our country offices by having Mr Hansell as our full-time Food Security Adviser in Harare. We have had throughout this crisis, at least since the beginning of 2002, professional back-up from our Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Department (CHAD). We decided in early September—because, as we expected, needs were increasing, the possibility of it going badly wrong had increased, and because there was a call from the media and from bodies such as your Committee quite properly for considerably greater amounts of information—that we ought to up the CHAD support to our country offices. That was the origin of the setting up of the Unit in Johannesburg. We still run the relief operation very much from the region, from the country offices as a focal point, but with increased back-up from the Unit. They have recently done a further round of country assessments which we are sharing openly with all our NGO partners, which are pinpointing things which the country office ought to be doing in order to both put in a more effective bilateral response and to get the international system working better.

  4. You have mentioned CHAD and the Crisis Unit. How do you feel that that will improve DFID coordination with other donors?
  (Mr Winter) The CHAD Unit is in Johannesburg, which is the nerve centre of the UN operation. The World Food Programme Director there has a mandate from Mr Morris as the UN's Special Envoy for Crisis to cover the whole emergency for the UN system. What it does in country I think is to give a better picture of needs, to be able to share with other people who do not have this resource in the region. I believe it is only we and the Americans who have this specialised unit within the regions of response.

  5. Did the DFID country office request CHAD's assistance when it saw the situation developing?
  (Mr Winter) I decided, as the Regional Manager, that we needed CHAD's support, yes.

  6. Given the current situation in Zimbabwe, which we are all very aware of, is it possible for DFID to work effectively?
  (Mr Winter) The impact we can have in Zimbabwe is obviously limited. There is no transparent flow of information about needs. There is no regular dialogue with governments, such as there is in Malawi. We have very poor information about what government is bringing in itself. We have very poor information about what it is doing with the food it brings in. We have very poor information about the rural works programmes, with which we know Zimbabwe did very well in the past, the food for work programmes. What we are able to do is work within the space that the UN negotiates for international agencies. Within that I think I can say we are being quite effective. We have a bilateral programme with a number of NGO partners, which is providing both supplementary and general feeding. We are quite confident that that is getting to the people who are targeted and it is well targeted. We are contributing to the WFP programme, which we believe is making an impact on food shortages. However, as you know, there are considerable political problems in meeting the needs of some vulnerable groups, particularly farm workers. We are having to work around a number of obstacles put in the way of the international relief effort.

  7. We have heard that President Mugabe has, from time to time, prevented food getting to certain groups of people, particularly those he suspects are opposition supporters and voted against his presidency. In your view, is that the case? Is it making it particularly difficult to get food to those groups?
  (Mr Winter) We certainly see the same reports as you do and it is clear that food aid is being used as a political weapon. It is obvious that when there is a by-election, for example, the deliveries of the Grain Marketing Board go up in the relevant constituency. We have also heard that it is very difficult to be able to buy food or to be able to get on to the list of recipients for food for work projects if you are known to be a member of, or a supporter of, the opposition.
  (Mr Hansell) I should make it clear that most of our bilateral support is supplementary feeding mainly for large numbers of children. We have, as Mr Winter indicated, been doing general feeding in particular areas, such as Binga and Nyaminyami. Binga, as you have probably heard, has recently been a problem where Save the Children have been prevented from delivering food; a general ration to all people in that district; it is not selection; it is not targeting; it is food for everybody. That area did actually vote for the opposition in the last general election; and, therefore, one of the reasons the government has prevented Save the Children from getting there is that they are seen to be feeding opposition members.

  8. Do you feel that the uncertainty about Zimbabwe affects planning for projects in other countries?
  (Mr Winter) Do you have any particular projects in mind?

  9. No, just the countries in the region.
  (Mr Winter) It certainly creates a great deal of uncertainty for the humanitarian relief effort as a whole, because Zimbabwe is such a large part of the problem—half the people who need support are Zimbabweans. Because we cannot see our way clear through to next March, there are still big holes in the food requirements. Because Zimbabwe is a very important transit corridor for commodities going through to Malawi and Zambia, you have to raise questions about how safe it is to put food through Zimbabwe. In the sense that in most years since independence you would have expected that Zimbabwe would be part of the solution and not part of the problem, it does make planning much more difficult. Supply routes are that much greater into Malawi and Zambia.

Mr Battle

  10. Could I just pick up on looking at the whole region. We were there in Malawi trying to address the whole region and we met people from the High Commission and people from Zimbabwe, as well as people from Southern Africa; and we met with the European Union team and they had just come back to Malawi from South Africa and we were a bit surprised they had not actually met with the CHADL—the Crisis Liaison Unit in Southern Africa for the whole of the region. It seemed to me the EU was happening; there was great work that DFID had done, and there was not a word of criticism of DFID, they were praised as leaders; but is there sufficient coordination? Should the EU not liaise a bit more closely with the Crisis Unit in Johannesburg? Can we help do that in any way? Otherwise we are going to have crisis units sparking off countering crisis units, and we have not got a regional grip.
  (Mr Winter) One of the reasons for having Mr Holden and his team in Johannesburg is that they do make contact with passing teams, and their position in Johannesburg means that they normally know when these people are coming through. They obviously do not meet each and every team. On the EU I would say that they are suffering a problem of human resources in the region, which has certainly affected their ability to analyse and respond. That partly explains why it is not always obvious that they have consulted everybody before they do what they do.

  11. The people were there and I was surprised they had not met with them to try and do a bit of coordination or compare notes?
  (Mr Winter) We can follow that up and find out why they did not make contact.
  (Mr Holden) I think the person you are talking about flew in and flew out. It is a question of a lot of assessment missions, or a lot of missions coming through Johannesburg, and it is very difficult to know when they are arriving, when they are leaving and whether your diaries can match. There is an important issue you do raise in relation to the coordination. It is something, we agree, does need to be strengthened. It is something we are trying to do, and is part of the role of my team in Johannesburg, to try and help that happen with the UN.

Tony Worthington

  12. Can I ask about the early warning system with regard to this crisis. This seems to have been one which people stumbled across, although NGOs were warning, I think, from August 2001, and then the government denied that there was a crisis. It seemed like the warning systems or the alerts were not working all that well. Do you agree with that?
  (Mr Winter) The way you put the problem, I assume you are referring to Malawi specifically?

  Tony Worthington: Yes.
  (Mr Winter) I think it was clear in July and August last year that there was going to be a problem up until March 2002, and then with the failure of the current harvest that rolled on into 2002-03 marketing year. One of the very useful papers put before your Committee by a group of academics led by Professor Kydd[4]1 talks about information on crops, information from rural areas and information on prices; and we did indeed have all of those in August and September of last year. Of course, as you know, at the time they did conflict. There was a certain amount of evidence from crop assessments that the situation was better than it turned out to be. Where we had information from rural areas we had specific proposals put to us by NGOs who were working in those areas, and we did try to respond. If you are asking whether this fed through into a coherent response by government and the international community—clearly it did not. As we have said in our memorandum, a lot of the discussion with government in the last quarter of last year was clouded by the problem of what had happened to the national food reserve. We did not get a very clear steer from government. Not having a clear steer from government is not an excuse for inaction. As I say, we were responding to localised emergencies through NGO partners.

  13. What action have you taken to improve the situation? What I brought back was: we are there for a long time.
  (Mr Winter) Indeed, we are; and one of the working groups being convened by government to consider food security more generally is on early warning systems. I think the experts would agree that early warning systems are not a matter of rocket science.

  14. Why did we cut the Starter Packs programme?
  (Mr Winter) That is going back a year.

  15. It is after warnings about the problem being considerable. I just do not understand. We distributed to 1.5 million households in 2000-01 and then we cut that in 2001-02 to one million households, and I cannot see the rationale for that?
  (Mr Winter) We were trying to move from a universal Starter Packs programme to something that would be more consistent with the national safety nets programme, of which this was going to form a part. With hindsight, no doubt we would not have reduced the programme as fast last year. Nevertheless, it still made a substantial contribution to the harvest this year.

  16. That indicates the information system was wrong, does it not? It is not really with hindsight; it is because you did not have foresight.
  (Mr Winter) We did not have the information at the time.

  17. What is being done to improve that?
  (Mr Winter) We are trying to persuade government to put much more effort into—


  18. Just for the record, there is quite a lot of reference to "government". I think it might be helpful if we can talk about either "the government of Malawi" or "the UK Government". I am sure you are not trying to persuade the Secretary of State of whatever you are about to say!
  (Mr Winter) We are trying to take the lessons from last year and to persuade the government of Malawi to put much more effort into collating and translating into policy the information that is received on food security. The phasing down or scaling down of the Starter Packs programme was done with the agreement of the government in Malawi. This year we have responded by putting it back up again. This is obviously not a very satisfactory way of doing it. It is a stop/go series of inputs. We would like to move much more rapidly than has been possible with the government of Malawi towards the consistent safety net strategy.

Tony Worthington

  19. The problem I have with this whole area is that this is all about crisis, and about response to crisis. It is the absence of agricultural policy that disturbs me. Here we have a country rapidly growing in population, subsistence economy, ever-more depleted land; it is inevitable it will be short of food, absolutely inevitable, but we do not have an irrigation policy; the country does not have a land policy; the cost of importing fertiliser is exorbitant, and I think needs looking at. There are problems marketing the right kinds of seeds. We do not get a briefing from DFID that has any kind of strategic element to it. The World Bank has not got that; the government has not got it; and yet it just screams out that this country is going to be in deep problems forever unless there is strategic thinking. Is that right?
  (Mr Winter) I think you are right. One of the criticisms that we have of the poverty reduction strategy in Malawi is that the sections that deal with agricultural policy are very technical. They involve the improvement of extension service, the introduction of new technologies, all of which may be necessary but certainly not sufficient for turning round agricultural production.


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