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Mr. Thomas: The Department for International Development (DFID) recognises that environmental assessment is critical to ensuring environmental sustainability in international development policy, planning and operations.
All DFID's development initiatives with a spend of more than £1 million are subject to environmental screening, which is also applied to projects of less than £1 million where there is a likelihood of significant environmental impacts. Where appropriate, screening is followed by a more comprehensive appraisal and assessment for policies, plans and programmes. The procedures, and guidance on the screening process, are detailed in DFID's Environment Guide (2003), which is available on the Department's public website www.dfid.gov.uk
Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how many people were employed by his Department in each of the last 12 months for which data is available; and how many and what percentage of posts were vacant in each region in each month. 
Mr. Thomas: Staff numbers are collated on a quarterly basis, and the following data relating to UK based civil servants are taken from our official returns to the Cabinet Office during the last 12 months.
|31 March 2005||560||910||460|
|30 June 2005||550||920||440|
|30 September 2005||550||870||450|
|31 December 2005||560||860||450|
|31 March 2005||990|
|30 June 2005||960|
|30 September 2005||910|
|31 December 2005||920|
Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development whether any (a) employee of his Department, (b) person engaged by his Department as a consultant and (c) paid advisor to his Department is a Member of the House of Lords; and if he will make a statement. 
No employee of or paid adviser to the Department for International Development is a Member of the House of Lords. DFID has no current high value consultancy contracts (over £100,000) with any Member of the House of Lords. Data on low value
1 Mar 2006 : Column 707W
consultancy contracts let by DFID Departments and overseas offices under delegated budgets is not held centrally. Our inquiries of delegated budget holders has identified only one such contract, in which the DFID Office in Malawi engaged a Member of the House of Lords as a consultant in 2006 to advise on penal reform.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assessment he has made of the role of remittances from abroad in assisting development and poverty reduction; what studies he has commissioned on the impact of such remittances; and how such research has influenced aid strategies. 
Recent research from Guatemala and the Philippines show that remittances reduce the level, depth and severity of poverty. Households receiving remittances were found to spend around 50 percent. more than households with no remittances.
In Bangladesh, remittances from internal migration can represent the majority of household income. Households receiving remittances have higher nutritional and health status, higher levels of educational investment, and pools of money available for emergencies.
At the level of the economy, research suggests that remittances provide valuable foreign exchange for developing countries, and strengthen the balance of payments situation. Unlike other financial flows, remittances are counter cyclical, thus alleviating macroeconomic shocks. Remittances can also provide investment capital for economic activity, contributing to economic growth. Where remittance flows are saved rather than spent, they provide a higher deposit base for the banking system, which is necessary for economic growth.
DFID has funded a number of studies and also analyses relevant research by other organisations such as the World Bank. DFID funded a study in 2003 on remittances to developing countries in general which found a positive poverty reduction role for remittances. This finding was supported by DFID studies in 2004 and 2005 in Nigeria, Ghana and Bangladesh. DFID funded a household survey in the UK amongst the Bangladeshi community last year, which explored the impact on recipients of remittances to Bangladesh. DFID has recently commissioned a wider household survey to better understand the volume and value of remittance flows from key ethnic minority communities within the UK, and their impact on respective recipient countries.
1 Mar 2006 : Column 708W
DFID also funded a study to determine the contribution of UK based diasporas to development and poverty reduction. The study noted wider benefits from remittances and other forms of assistance from diasporas and migrant communities. These benefits were in the form of relief from war and disaster and in post war reconstruction (e.g. Somalia, Sri Lanka), and in education and health. .
DFID has used this research to design aid strategies in reducing barriers to remittance flows and further enhance their developmental impact. In particular, DFID has initiated remittance country partnerships programmes with Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ghana. These partnerships include work to extend access to remittances to poorer and more rural people, encourage greater competition and lower remittance prices, and improve data. This will be achieved by working with the private sector to extend access and outreach, and working with central banks and government, to address regulatory, data, competition and consumer issues.
In terms of work in the UK, DFID has recently set up a taskforce comprising of banks and money transfer companies, in order to lower remittance prices and improve the services they provide to low income migrants. The taskforce will implement recommendations from a public/private sector working group report that DFID launched late last year.
DFID has also initiated a website (www.sendmoneyhome.org) for those wishing to send remittances to developing countries from the UK. This provides easily available comparative information on remittance prices and providers. The aim is to improve choice and stimulate competition, leading to lower prices and a better service for low income migrants.
John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps are being taken by his Department (a) to reduce the risks associated with drought and (b) to improve food security within the developing world. 
Mr. Thomas: We will publish our Disaster Risk Reduction policy in March. We are committed to give greater priority to risk reduction measures. This can include, for example, supporting the development of drought resistant crops, improving water supply and reducing dependency on rain-fed agriculture.
In addition to providing support for food relief in life threatening situations, we are tackling chronic hunger by supporting the development of national safety nets that better deliver timely, adequate and guaranteed transfers of cash and/or food to the poorest. These programmes protect livelihoods and safeguard against destitution by helping people to keep their key assetslike land and livestockthrough periods of hardship and crisis. For example, we have now provided a total of £43 million to Ethiopia's safety net. This has helped take five million people out of year-on-year emergency assistance.
We are also working with partners including the European Community and the United States to ensure that comprehensive food security strategies are
1 Mar 2006 : Column 709W
addressed in the poverty reduction strategies of various chronically food insecure countries in Africa including Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and Malawi.
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