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AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

3. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to mobilise international action to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. [164503]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The Department for International Development provides significant resources through its bilateral programmes to combat AIDS, TB and malaria. We also work with a number of health partnerships, including the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and

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malaria, to improve the international effort in fighting those diseases and to ensure that resources are used effectively and directed to the poorest. We will use the opportunity of our presidencies of the G8 and of the EU in 2005 to push for greater international action to tackle those terrible diseases of poverty.

Tony Lloyd: My right hon. Friend knows as well as I do that these three killers, along with poverty, are devastating huge parts of the globe, particularly Africa. They do not simply take lives and destroy families; they also destroy economies and whole societies. Does he accept that it is in our own national self-interest to mobilise international effort to a level that we have not yet seen? If we do not take such action, we in Europe and north America will just as surely inherit the problems caused by that social and economic dislocation as Africa and other parts of the poor world will in their own right.

Hilary Benn: I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. We have both a moral and a practical duty to do all that we can to fight these three terrible diseases. One million people die in Africa each year from malaria; 90 per cent. of them are children under the age of five. TB kills 2 million people a year, and we all know the terrible statistics of the HIV/AIDS crisis. One of the instruments that we have is the global fund, into which the UK is putting $280 million up to 2008. We also need to ensure that all this international effort is used in the most effective way to support developing country Governments in tackling the scourge of those epidemics.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The Secretary of State will recognise that one of the worst cultural effects of the tragedy of AIDS is the creation, in societies in which abandoned children have been unknown, of extended families and communities that can no longer cope with the number of orphaned children that they are left to look after. Will he note the work done by agencies such as World Vision, which are trying to draw more attention to that problem, and indicate how the international community can help tackle the cultural and practical crisis caused by the number of orphaned children?

Hilary Benn: That is a serious and growing problem, not only for the generation of grandparents who are having to look after a generation of grandchildren because the generation in between is dying out. When there are not grandparents to care for the children who have been orphaned, the responsibility falls on others in the community. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the international community needs to do more. That is one of the questions that the new strategy on fighting HIV/AIDS that I intend to publish during the summer will address.


4. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): What support his Department is giving to the development of sustainable forestry in Cameroon. [164504]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The Department for International Development's support

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for sustainable forestry in Cameroon will be channelled through the Cameroon Government's five-year forest and environment sector programme. The programme will help to improve the Cameroon Government's capacity for sustainable forest management, increase community involvement in the management of forests, help to achieve more sustainable use of natural resources, and help to improve management of wildlife resources and conservation. In addition, we are encouraging the Cameroon Government to develop a voluntary partnership agreement with the European Union to support reforms and prevent illegal exports of timber.

Mr. Chaytor : Does my hon. Friend accept that the rain forest in Cameroon has exceptional if not unique qualities, both in terms of its biodiversity and its capacity to serve as a carbon sink to alleviate the effects of climate change? Does he agree that, although logging may bring a short-term economic benefit, the long-term economic benefit to Cameroon lies in the development of ecotourism in the rain forest? Will he ensure that his officials advise the Cameroon Government on these issues and the potential for the development of ecotourism?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right that the tropical rain forest in Cameroon is a unique natural resource, but we should not concentrate only on the Cameroonian tropical rain forest. We need to recognise that it is part of a wider rain forest across the Congo basin. My hon. Friend may be aware of the initiative that was launched at the world summit on sustainable development to support forest conservation in the Congo basin forest partnership. One objective of that programme will be to support the development of ecotourism. Our programme of work to develop the capacity of the Cameroonian Government will help to support that objective.


5. Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): If he will make a statement on action being taken in response to the food crisis in Zimbabwe. [164505]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Up to 8 million Zimbabweans face food shortages prior to the harvest in April this year. The United Nations World Food Programme is the principal distributor of food aid in Zimbabwe and is targeting more than 4 million beneficiaries. DFID pledged £5 million to the WFP for food relief in Zimbabwe in October 2003. In addition, we are providing supplementary feeding through international and Zimbabwean non-governmental organisations for approximately 1 million beneficiaries—[Interruption.] Those include households affected by HIV/AIDS, malnourished children under five, school children, displaced farm workers and other vulnerable groups. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to come to order. It is unfair to those Members who are speaking.

Mr. Breed : I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will be aware of newspaper reports

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indicating that food aid is now being channelled through charities and businesses that are allies of Mr. Mugabe. I understand that he has an official investigation under way, but can he tell the House what steps he is taking with his European colleagues to ensure that conditions specifying that EU food aid must not be used by the Zimbabwean Government for political purposes are enforced?

Hilary Benn: We have discussed this in the House on a number of occasions, but I repeat what I have said before: we will not tolerate political interference with the food aid distributed by the World Food Programme and non-governmental organisations. It is very tightly controlled and monitored. That is separate from what happens to food aid distributed by the grain marketing board, which is controlled by the Zimbabwe Government.

As I have told the House before, if there is any evidence of examples of interference with the aid that we are distributing, I should be grateful if Members would bring it to my attention immediately. I shall then arrange for it to be investigated, because we have a clear and strong policy. We simply will not tolerate such interference.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): I am pleased that my right hon. Friend reiterated his firm opposition to the use of food aid for political purposes. May I urge him to be much stronger in ensuring that clarity surrounds food distribution?

The biggest tragedy of Zimbabwe, however, is that a very fertile African country cannot feed itself because it is no longer producing food. Will my right hon. Friend engage in talks with colleagues in the United Nations about increasing Zimbabwe's own food production?

Hilary Benn: There are 1,600 distribution sites where international food aid is given out. In January, four minor incidents were reported to us, all of which I understand have been resolved. But my hon. Friend is right: the tragedy of Zimbabwe lies in the fact that 25 years ago it not only fed itself, but contributed to the feeding of the rest of Africa. The present situation is a clear sign of the extent of the mismanagement of the country, and the tragedy that has been brought about by President Mugabe's rule. Now the country cannot feed itself, and that will not change until there is political change there.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Following his two earlier answers, will the Secretary of State recognise that it is Mugabe who is behind both the food shortages and the attacks on distribution centres in opposition areas? When will the Government acknowledge that quiet diplomacy has failed, and it is time to put pressure on neighbouring states—most of which are recipients of British aid—to put pressure themselves on Mugabe to stop this?

Hilary Benn: I agree with the first part of what the hon. Gentleman said, but I do not accept the premise on which he based the second part. I do not think that our diplomacy has been quiet. As he knows, EU sanctions on leading members of the regime were extended. In a very public discussion at the Commonwealth Heads of

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Government meeting in Abuja in December, we stood firm in supporting Zimbabwe's continued suspension from the Commonwealth, and that was eventually agreed. However, I share his view that it would be nice to hear more from other voices in Africa about what is going on in Zimbabwe. I commend Archbishop Tutu, for example, for speaking out against it—and he too has urged other Africans to follow suit.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend says, the main problem in Zimbabwe is self-inflicted and a result of the government of President Mugabe. Will he assure the ordinary people of that tragic country that we will do everything possible to ensure that they do not starve as a result of Mugabe's appalling regime?

Hilary Benn: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. That is why we have so far invested £65 million in the provision of food and other humanitarian aid for the people of Zimbabwe and that is why we continue to run HIV/AIDS and other health programmes in the country. The fact that the people of a country happen to have a rotten Government does not mean that the international community should abandon them.

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