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11 Dec 2002 : Column 240—continued

Israel/Palestine (Poverty)

3. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): What recent assessment she has made of how many people are living in poverty in the west bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. [84687]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): The deteriorating humanitarian situation affecting the Palestinian people is leading to a rapid growth of poverty, and the situation is getting worse day

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by day. Some 22.5 per cent. of Palestinian children in the west bank and Gaza are suffering from malnutrition. We and the European Commission have increased humanitarian aid, but the cause of the crisis is political and requires a political solution.

Dr. Starkey : I agree with the Secretary of State that ultimately the solution has to be political, but in the meantime ordinary people are suffering and, as she has outlined, they are suffering greatly. I have been told by World Vision, a charity whose projects in the west bank I have visited in the past, that it believes that the major need of the Palestinian people is work and income generation, not food aid. What is my right hon. Friend's Department doing to create jobs in the occupied territories, given the continuing Israeli policies of closures, curfews and roadblocks?

Clare Short: My Department is probably the best development organisation in the world, but we cannot work miracles. The closures mean that people cannot get to work; it is impossible for people to work when they cannot physically move about. Some 1.8 million people are dependent on food aid—food aid is not a good thing, but it is better than starvation. The levels of hunger in Gaza are as bad as those in Congo and Zimbabwe. We are engaged and are doing everything in our power, but without some political easing that allows the Palestinian people to move about and get back to work, I am afraid that it will continue to get worse.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): The situation is dire, as the Secretary of State says. However, does she not think it extraordinary that Prime Minister Sharon should ask the United Nations to address the humanitarian crisis in the west bank and Gaza? I have with me the report of the special envoy. The situation is due not to natural disasters or famine but, as the right hon. Lady says, to a failure of the peace process and the destruction of the Palestinian economy by Israel. Will she and her colleagues in Europe please impress on Israel that it should be addressing the humanitarian crisis, not the international community?

Clare Short: The whole House is agreed that for the sake of the people of Israel and the Palestinian people, we must as rapidly as possible reach the two-state solution—the establishment of the Palestinian state, with enough international presence to make sure that the suicide bombings and the rest come to an end. That will be good for everybody in the region. The attempts by the quartet to put in place a road map to final status have been delayed by the Israeli elections. People across the world should focus on the problem until the elections take place and move forward on the peace process thereafter, for the sake of both peoples.

Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester): Is my right hon. Friend aware of Oxfam's recent report entitled XForgotten Villages"? It spells out in graphic terms the devastating impact that the Israeli Government's closure policy is having on poor Palestinian farmers who cannot harvest their olives or get their water tankers

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through the checkpoints. Does she agree that if the closure policy is not stopped, we will have a real humanitarian disaster in the west bank?

Clare Short: I am afraid that we already have a humanitarian disaster. The situations in Zimbabwe and Congo are horrendous. It is now as bad for the children of Palestinians, who were until recently living at middle-income levels, as it is in those two countries. We have a humanitarian disaster, and the closures, which mean that people cannot work, are at the root of it. I am not familiar with the report but I am familiar with the situation. We are doing all that we can to improve humanitarian support, but we cannot arrive at a solution in that way—there has to be political progress.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): The United Nations has been providing help to Palestine since 1948 through its Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, but it is short of funds for its programme of aid to refugees in the west bank and Gaza strip. Does the Secretary of State accept that any conflict in the region will affect the capacity of UNRWA to meet humanitarian needs in Palestine? What contingency plans have been made for the Palestinian people in the event of a war in Iraq?

Clare Short: The hon. Lady is right: because of the closures and the growing dependency of so many of the population of Gaza who are technically refugees, the need for UNRWA support has grown and UK support for UNRWA has increased considerably. I have written to several Ministers in other countries to point out that they are not funding UNRWA as they have done in the past, so the agency is underfunded at present.

We are making plans for contingencies of all kinds, including optimistic scenarios, in Iraq. However, some of those contingencies will bring devastating problems to all the people of the middle east—let us all try to avoid having to live with one of those.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): My right hon. Friend will be aware of a World Bank report published earlier this year, which stated that gross national product in the west bank would need to grow by 6.7 per cent. to level the poorest people out of poverty. How integral to that is stabilisation in the region and the creation of a Palestinian state?

Clare Short: I do not know exactly what the shrinkage in the economy has been, but it has been massive and rapid due to the political situation. If we could achieve political progress, of course there would be rapid economic growth. There is a lot to do, but there is a high number of educated Palestinians. Currently, the economy is dependent on people being able to move around to get jobs, so an easing of the political situation would lift the economy considerably. That is what we must try to achieve.

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Zimbabwe (Food Aid)

4. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What steps her Department is taking to ensure free and fair distribution of food aid in Zimbabwe. [84688]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Two thirds of the food requirements in Zimbabwe are being provided by the Government of Zimbabwe to populations either able to afford to buy food or eligible for supplementary feeding programmes. There is strong evidence that those supplies are being manipulated for political reasons.

The UN appeal is separate and provides for those who are destitute. That food is being distributed according to need, and we are ensuring that it is not politically manipulated: but the UN appeal is only 50 per cent. funded and therefore many people are facing starvation.

Sir Nicholas Winterton : I greatly admire the right hon. Lady's integrity, forthrightness and courage—[Hon. Members: XHear, hear."]—in saying what she believes to be right. In the light of the facts that the Government of Mr. Mugabe are clearly denying opponents food and are using food to win elections, that Matabele women who go into hospital to have children are being sterilised and that brutal force is being used against anyone who stands up against Mr. Mugabe, will the right hon. Lady join me in urging the Government to bring down that African Milosevic who is destroying his country?

Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman; the situation in Zimbabwe is an absolute disaster. Of the 15.5 million people in need of food in southern Africa, 6.5 million are in Zimbabwe. One in three adults in Zimbabwe are infected with HIV. The economy is destroyed, an election has been stolen, and there is brutalism and misuse of humanitarian aid. I really fear that there will be a disaster such as we have never seen in our lifetime, with the lack of food, the political situation and HIV all playing into each other. I expect that that will bring an end to that awful regime. In the meantime, however, we must do all that we can to keep food flowing for the innocent people whose lives are being destroyed by that terrible regime.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): To underline what my right hon. Friend has just said, the message from the townships in Harare, in Zimbabwe, is that the position is extremely critical and getting worse all the time. They believe that there will be serious problems within the next six months if action is not taken. They believe that the UK and South Africa in particular must do something to end the present situation to ensure that food gets to the people in Zimbabwe who need it so desperately—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber.

Clare Short: I share the view that we are facing a disaster. The United Kingdom is making the second biggest contribution to the appeal. I am currently scraping through my Department to try to find more resources, and I have also written to other

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Governments. I am afraid that the shadow of Mugabe is preventing Governments from responding to the humanitarian appeal, so the people are being punished twice. The United Kingdom is taking a leading role in the humanitarian effort, and we will continue to do everything in our power to help.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): ZANU-PF's organising secretary, Didymus Mutasa, has stated that Zimbabwe would be better off with only 6 million people—the half, not surprisingly, that supports his party's aims. Given that selective starvation of the people seems to be official Zimbabwean Government policy, does the Secretary of State believe that the United States Government were right to warn last month of the need for intrusive measures to ensure that the food gets to all those who need it?

Clare Short: I saw the statement in the press that was attributed to Didymus Mutasa. If he said anything like that, it is an absolute outrage. To welcome the death of nearly half the people in a country is completely unforgivable—no one should forgive him. I am aware also from the press that the US has implied the need for some enforced provision of food, but I am not aware of any action to follow up that statement. The situation is extremely complicated. We are doing all in our power, and the World Food Programme is doing a splendid job. There are petrol shortages in the country on top of everything else, and the unwillingness to accept genetically modified food unless it is milled outside the country is a further complication. I do not think that the proposals to use force in that situation would help us, but I am open to any serious suggestion that will. Most particularly, the WFP needs more resources just to keep people fed.


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