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17 Mar 2003 : Column 507W—continued

Wood (Fuel)

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the environmental impact of (a) burning wood as a fuel and (b) increasing the use of wood as fuel. [101292]

Alun Michael: Burning of wood from sustainably managed forests for energy production does not contribute to the UK's carbon dioxide emissions as the gas released through combustion will be absorbed by new tree growth. Wood combustion does contribute to the UK's emissions of methane and nitrousoxide. These gases have a global warming potential, but even when this is taken into account, the overall impact, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy input, is unlikely to exceed 15 per cent. of the impact of fossil fuel combustion for wood burnt domestically in open grates, or 5 per cent.of the impact of fossil fuel combustion for wood burnt in combustion plant.

Emissions associated with the management, harvesting and transportation of wood are small relative to total energy content of the wood. Nevertheless minimising transportation distances and improving the

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efficiency of transportation should be included as factors in the evaluation of proposals for new wood fuel developments.

The combustion of wood, as opposed to coal or oil, produces low emissions of sulphur dioxide as wood has a lower sulphur content. Wood also tends to be burnt at lower temperatures than coal or oil which, in general, results in lower emissions of oxides of nitrogen compared to those from other fuels. Burning wood can also produce small amounts of benzene, particles, lead and polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons. Estimates of emissions of the main air pollutants from domestic and industrial wood combustion, compared with the UK totals, are set out in the Appendix.

Depending on the soil in which the biomass is grown, wood can contain heavy metals which on burning are retained in the ash. Inefficient burning can leave some carbon in the ash therefore polyaromatic hydrocarbons must also be considered. If concentration thresholds for either are exceeded, ash should be disposed of in a controlled manner. However a recent compilation of data on UK wood suggests that heavy metal concentration in ash will not constitute a hazard to human health or the environment. Since ash contains a range of important nutrients there is the possibility of returning it as a fertiliser to forests.

An overall assessment of the emissions impact from an increase in the use of wood as fuel depends on the fuel it replaces, the efficiency of the combustion systems and the abatement technology used.

Greater use of wood fuel can assist in limiting CO2 emissions, and other emissions can be minimised by maximising the efficiency of the combustion process, and by installing appropriate abatement control. Increases in the use of wood will be largely based on efficient and environmentally friendly systems

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developed to meet stringent emission standards. Grant schemes introduced recently to encourage greater use of biomass specify highly efficient combustion and abatement systems.

Additional markets for wood will encourage more active management of forests which in turn will

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encourage their regeneration whilst improving structural diversity and biodiversity.

Appendix estimates of emissions of main air pollutants from domestic and industrial wood combustion compared with UK total (National Atmospheric Emission Inventory 2000):

PollutantUnitDomesticIndustrialNational totalDomestic as percentage of national totalIndustrial as percentage of national total
Carbon monoxideKilotonne89.35.234,1702.140.125
Nitrogen oxidesKilotonnes0.6502.381,5100.040.157
Particles (PMio)Kilotonnes7.110.3261724.130.189
Sulphur dioxideKilotonnes0.03330.02741,17000.002
Volatile organic compoundsKilotonne4.870.5941,6800.290.035
Nitrous oxideKilotonne0.03490.05111410.020.036


Afghan Refugees

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment her Department has made of the number of Afghan refugees in (a) Pakistan and (b) Iran; and what financial support she is giving to each group. [102741]

Clare Short: The numbers of refugees still in exile fluctuate constantly. At the beginning of this year, UNHCR estimated that two million refugees remained in Iran and 1.5 million in Pakistan.

DFID is supporting refugee programmes through various UN agencies and NGOs. Overall we have contributed over £5.8 million for refugee programmes administered by UNHCR and a further £1 million to a variety of other agencies also involved in refugee assistance.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on levels of (a) malnutrition and (b) violence against women among Afghan refugees in refugee camps in (i) Pakistan and (ii) Iran. [102743]

Clare Short: Neither DFID nor its implementing partners that assist refugees (UNHCR, WFP, ICRC) have specific information on malnutrition or levels of violence in refugee camps.

WFP estimates that over 50 per cent. of children under five in Afghanistan are chronically malnourished while acute malnutrition affects less than 10 per cent. of the population. I have just approved a further £700,000 for WFP's operations in Afghanistan that include food assistance to vulnerable people still in camps.

We have contributed £5.8 million this financial year to UNHCR's programmes for refugees in Pakistan and Iran. These include a component for monitoring of camps, protection officers and funding for legal aid for vulnerable people including women.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment her Department has made of the number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan; and what support she is providing for them. [102742]

Clare Short: According to UNHCR reports there are still around 700,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan. The continuing drought in the South is I understand, causing further displacement.

During 2002, international agencies helped over 250,000 IDPs to return home. And a further 200,000 are estimated to have returned home on their own. In the current financial year we have contributed £5.8 million to UNHCR's programmes for IDPs and returnees, including £1.8 million this month. The continuing challenge in Afghanistan is to help meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable people, whilst building Government capacity for sustainable reconstruction. We remain fully committed to these ends.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what discussions her Department has had with leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo regarding allowing the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo unlimited access to (a) areas and (b) evidence for its investigations. [103114]

Clare Short: The Government have made repeated calls for all parties in the DRC to allow free access to MONUC to fulfil its mandate. We have interceded with different authorities on a number of specific occasions to support the work of MONUC in humanitarian and peace-keeping operations. This has included pressing the Forces Armees Congolaises (FAC) to allow inspectors access to military airports; the Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Democratie-Goma (RCD-G) to allow humanitarian access to the conflict afflicted Haut Plateau; and the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) to assist investigation into alleged human rights abuses committed by its forces. We continue to

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press all parties to facilitate MONUC's access to all areas of the DRC and to co-operate fully with its investigations.

Drugs Re-selling

Mr. Key: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment her Department has made of re-selling low-priced drugs from the developing world back to the developed world; and what steps are being taken to address this issue. [103085]

Clare Short: The high cost of drugs is a key barrier to poor people's ability to access essential medicines. The pharmaceutical industry, in partnership with the international community and donor governments, provide some medicines at preferential prices to the developing world. The Government have been working with partners to make a major advance towards the widespread and sustainable access to medicines to the world's poor, including through pharmaceutical companies providing medicines for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria at close to the cost of manufacture. However there is a risk that such medicines can be diverted and sold by 'middle men' back to developed country markets where they can be sold at a higher price. The extent of this problem can vary. Last year one company reported that roughly 25 per cent. of its preferentially priced AIDS medicines were diverted back to the EU.

Our High Level Working Group on increasing Access to Essential Medicines examined ways of minimising the problem. In the long-term, strengthening developing country health systems will better equip countries to minimise product leakage. DFID has committed over £1.5 billion since 1997 to health systems strengthening in poorer countries. Other strategies to minimise diversion include, developing distinctive packaging and labelling of preferentially priced medicines, and implementing customs regulations in wealthier markets which prohibit re- importation. The European Union is currently discussing a regulation which would include such measures.

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