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Written Ministerial Statements

Tuesday 24 January 2006



The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I visited Ethiopia on 18 January and met Prime Minister Meles, leaders of the Opposition, family members of detainees and international NGOs in Addis Ababa. I expressed our deep concern over recent political events and told the Prime Minister that the UK will not at present provide general budget support to Ethiopia under current circumstances. This is because the provision of budget support is based upon shared commitments between partners, one of which is upholding human rights. Recent political events represent a breach of trust.

All donors who have been giving budget support have now reached the same conclusion to withhold this form of support in the current circumstances and wrote to the Minister of Finance in December of last year to explain the decision.

However, the UK remains committed to supporting poor people in Ethiopia in their fight against poverty. Ethiopia is desperately poor and already receives less aid per head than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. It would be wrong therefore to reduce our aid programme, and thereby punish the poor in Ethiopia for recent political events in the country.

We are therefore working with other donors and the Government to try to design a new mechanism for providing funds in a more transparent and accountable way. This is so that basic services such as health, education and water can continue to be provided throughout the country and that we can be sure that aid is reaching those in need. We are also looking at providing additional assistance to the Productive Safety Nets Programme. This is a programme which the UK is already supporting and which, as I was able to see for myself in Ethiopia, is enabling the poorest to earn or receive small amounts of money to invest in assets like clothes, chicken and goats and for communities to improve their conditions, for example by building roads, water springs and classrooms.

Southern Africa

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Since my statement of 8 December, the number of people assessed to be at risk of food shortages in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland has remained at around 11.4 million.

The Scale of the Problem

Rains started late across the region. During the past few weeks, however, very heavy rains have flooded parts of Malawi and Mozambique, leading to loss of lives, crops and homes. The Governments of Malawi
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and Mozambique do not think that additional emergency assistance is needed at the moment. But we are monitoring the situation closely, especially in Mozambique, as the cyclone season approaches and the risk of further flooding increases.

The period between January and the end of March/April, when harvests start to come in and the price of staple food crops begins to fall, is particularly difficult. At the moment, food shortages are worst in Zimbabwe, southern Malawi, and southern Mozambique.

The breakdown by country is as follows:

Zimbabwe: The national assessment was formally released on 17 November and indicates that 2.88 million people will face food shortages, assuming stable maize prices. However, maize prices have risen significantly and, while hyperinflation in Zimbabwe makes it difficult to assess affordability, it is possible that as many as 5 million people face food shortages. Despite this, widespread starvation is unlikely. Recent nutritional data shows that malnutrition is below emergency levels. The underlying causes of food shortages are a combination of erratic rains, HIV/AIDS and bad governance. WFP has expanded operations in the country, helped by a £10.5 million contribution from DFID. They are providing rations to 3.4 million vulnerable people during the peak months until the harvest comes in at the end of March. In addition, approximately 1 million schoolchildren, orphans and people affected by HIV/AIDS are benefiting from supplementary feeding programmes. WFP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Zimbabwe on 1 December which guarantees WFP and their implementing partners humanitarian access and freedom from political interference in their operations. Only a few minor attempts to politically interfere with the food aid operation have been reported. These have been dealt with appropriately.

The UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, recently visited Zimbabwe. He urged the Government to allow NGOs free access to assist the affected population. It is regrettable that the Zimbabwe Government continue to delay and obstruct UN Agencies in their attempts to provide shelter to displaced people. Despite these problems, the UN and NGOs continue to operate relief programmes reaching 40,000 affected households, including those affected by HIV and AIDS, providing food, blankets, medical care and other essential items. DFID's most recent commitments are helping tackle problems of overcrowding and access to basic services for the worst affected people in urban areas.

Malawi: The numbers at risk of experiencing some food shortages before the next harvest has not changed since my last statement. Around 4.9 million people are affected. The Government and WFP are implementing a coordinated emergency response across affected areas of the country. We are supporting these efforts. Plans are in place to reach all of those facing food shortages in the period leading up to the harvest in March/April 2006. Total aid pledged so far to the Government and to WFP's humanitarian operation is $116 million.

Zambia: The numbers of people in Zambia facing food shortages before the next harvest in March/April remains at around 1.4 million people. Most of them live in the Southern, Western and Eastern Provinces of the
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country. The Government have appealed for assistance and have declared a national disaster. WFP, the Government of Zambia and an NGO consortium are leading the response. Priority concerns over the next few weeks are in ensuring that food aid reaches those most in need—supplies have been limited due to transport bottlenecks—and that the nutritional situation does not deteriorate.

Mozambique: A total of about 800,000 people face some degree of food shortage until the end of April. WFP continues to scale up its distribution of food aid and plans to feed 75 per cent. of the worst affected populations between now and the end of the hunger season. The cereals pipeline is healthy until the end of April. Flooding has affected parts of central and southern districts of the country. Although this has not yet increased the numbers of people who face food shortages, further flooding and cyclones could increase the numbers in need of assistance. A national contingency plan is in operation to monitor flooding risks.

Lesotho: Assessments in Lesotho have not changed. About 440,000 people could face food shortages until the end of March. WFP have adequate supplies until the end of April. Commercial imports of maize from South Africa have been good this year and these have helped to keep prices stable. The Government of Lesotho are responding through safety nets, including a recently introduced pension for those over 70 years of age. With support from DFID and FAO, implementing partners are promoting seeds distribution and livestock programmes in the worst affected areas.

Swaziland: Assessments in Swaziland have also not changed. About 225,000 people could face food shortages until the end of the hunger season. As in Lesotho, other responses to chronic hunger, apart from food aid, are being encouraged. These include providing seeds and fertiliser to poorer households. Late rains in Swaziland have created problems for the maize crop, which is planted earlier in the year. The Ministry of Agriculture and co-operatives will undertake a rapid assessment at the end of the month to check the latest situation. We will closely monitor the situation through our links to the VAC system.

What are the UK Government doing?

In response to this crisis, the UK Government have now allocated over £65 million in humanitarian assistance for the region this year. Some of this has been channelled through UN agencies and some has gone through Governments or NGOs. The breakdown of our commitments so far this year is as follows:

Zimbabwe: £40 million covering relief programmes for up to 3 million people provided through non-Government channels, including contributions to WFP and HIV/AIDS programmes. DFID has also committed over £1 million in response to the Government of Zimbabwe's forced clearance of unauthorised dwellings earlier this year, under Operation Murambatsvina ("Clean Up"), which displaced or destroyed the livelihoods of 700,000 people.

Malawi: DFID has contributed £19.7 million (equivalent to US$35 million) or about 30 per cent. of total food needs. This makes DFID the largest contributor to the relief effort this year. Our support has been used largely to purchase food for distribution in
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affected districts in the centre and northern areas of the country. It has also provided logistical support, and money for seeds and other inputs. It has also allowed for an expansion of nutritional programmes across the country. Planning for the emergency began in March with help from early pledges from the UK.

Zambia: DFID has provided a range of assistance to help people facing food shortages this year. We have given £2.43 million to WFP for food aid programmes to cover the needs of approximately 150,000 people. In addition, we have also provided £1 million to Oxfam for a programme of cash transfers to provide emergency relief to approximately 81,000 people in need. We have also provided £500,000 for emergency seed distribution to 20,000 vulnerable households. To stem the risk of worsening malnutrition in Zambia, we are providing £500,000 for nutrition programmes, targeting vulnerable groups.

Mozambique: We have already provided £235,000 to provide seeds to drought-affected farmers, using the Ministry of Agriculture's drought mitigation plan. WFP's cereals pipeline is currently healthy until the end of the hunger season. We are working with WFP to see how we can help fill funding gaps in the vegetable, oil and pulses pipelines between now and the end of the hunger season. This will improve the protein content of rations distributed by WFP. We are also carefully monitoring flooding and cyclone risks.

Lesotho: We have provided FAO with £350,000 for distribution of seeds, fertilisers and small-scale livestock interventions for affected households in Lesotho.

Swaziland: We have provided £300,000 for distribution of seeds and fertilisers to help vulnerable households. In both Lesotho and Swaziland, we have supported programmes that help diversify production towards more drought-resistant crops.

I am once more urging EU partners to review their response to current needs in the region and to co-ordinate closely with the UN in the international community's response. I also urge them to consider support for strengthened early warning systems and better vulnerability assessments in the region. Improvements in this are needed to ensure better responses to hunger.

The Wider Challenge

As I said in my last statement, we must address the high levels of chronic hunger in southern Africa more effectively and take action to reduce the risk of repeated crises affecting the region.

In addition to the short-term responses I have outlined, and as we have done in previous years, DFID will work with SADC as part of a wider effort to improve vulnerability assessment and analysis in the region. This is needed to improve the effectiveness of our response to hunger. We will be providing funds to allow the VAC system in southern Africa to undertake further needs assessments later this year.
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