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Drought (East Africa)

3. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): What steps his Department is taking to assist drought victims in east Africa. [61827]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): This is the worst drought in east Africa for more than a decade, with potentially devastating consequences. We have been responding for several months and the priorities now are water, food and supplementary feeding for malnourished children. Our contribution so far stands at £35.9 million, which makes us the second biggest bilateral donor after the United States of America.

Mr. Love: Sadly, we have been here before. Not only does the horn of Africa suffer from drought, as my right hon. Friend indicated, but even in good times people do not have the level of income that prevents them from going hungry. Will my right hon. Friend say how he sees us dealing with some of the longer-term problems so that we address both the drought and the lack of income for many people living in the horn of Africa?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our first practical and moral obligation is to make sure that people do not die, which is why we are making those efforts, in particular in Kenya, where we are most worried about the situation, but also in southern Ethiopia and southern Somalia, where access is extremely difficult. Many people live on the margins year in and year out, and it does not take much to tip them over the edge, so as well as providing assistance, we need to look at ways in which we can help people to get established again. That is why we have been pioneering the safety nets programme in southern Ethiopia, which I saw for myself when I was there just under two months ago, whereby we give cash as well as food, because although most of the cash is spent on food, some of it can be saved; for example, to buy back the plough that had to be sold, to buy fertiliser or seeds, or clothes for the children. When I talked to farmers in the region, I realised the difference the programme was making to their lives. The international community needs to do both to enable people to cope.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): Could the Secretary of State tell us what money has been released from the central emergency response fund for the crisis in east Africa? Given the extent of that and other crises,
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what efforts are being made to persuade donor countries other than the UK to build up to the CERF target of $500 million?

Hilary Benn: First, I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position as the Liberal spokesperson. As she will have discovered already, it is a wonderful job and a privilege to speak on these matters, and I wish her well in her post.

CERF has already given $13.5 million in response to the crisis, and we hope that it will provide $30 million in total to start with. I was present in New York for the launch of CERF, and to see 36 countries, including some that had not committed to the fund before, contributing $257 million, which is the total that we have got so far, was very gratifying. The fund has already proven its worth by responding immediately to the crisis, and we are doing all that we can, as well as playing our part by being a generous donor, to encourage other donors around the world to understand the nature of the crisis in the horn of Africa and to contribute accordingly.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is aware of my concern about east Africa, particularly in relation to Kenya, that development assistance ends up going through different organisations either to the Kenyan Government or to be blocked by the Kenyan Government. What is my right hon. Friend's Department doing to ensure that funds that are intended for the poorest people in that country are not blocked by a corrupt Government?

Hilary Benn: In relation to humanitarian assistance in Kenya, we are working through UN agencies and non-governmental organisations. They are tried and trusted partners, and we know that the money will go to the people who are intended to benefit from it. As for our broader development assistance, as my hon. Friend will be aware, we do not give direct budget support in Kenya, precisely because of the risks of corruption. We provide support to the education system, where, because of a change that the Government have made, money goes direct from the central budget to the budget of individual schools and the allocations are written on blackboards outside the schools, so that parents can see where the money has gone. In relation to the global fund, there is still some further work to do, and it is a subject that my hon. Friend and I have discussed before.


4. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [61828]

5. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [61829]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The humanitarian situation in Darfur has stabilised, owing to the massive relief effort, but it is still fragile. Security, especially in west Darfur, has got worse in recent months, which is hampering relief efforts. There
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is a danger that the improvements made in 2005 will be reversed. The UK remains at the forefront of efforts to provide humanitarian assistance. We are the second biggest donor, and we are providing considerable support to the African Union mission. At the peace talks in Abuja, we are pressing for a political solution that will allow people to return home and rebuild their lives.

Mr. Mackay: As the United Nations describes the western region of Darfur as having the worst humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world at present, should we not all hold our heads in shame because we have not done more to ensure security in that area? Much as I would welcome the African Union playing the principal role in Darfur, was it not unrealistic not to have given it more assistance earlier?

Hilary Benn: If any hon. Member was one of the 1.8 million people living in the refugee camps who tonight, as last night and tomorrow night, must stay there because they cannot go home, he or she may well be inclined to share the view that the right hon. Gentleman expresses. This is a test for the international community, and the fact is that the world has not done enough to protect the people of Darfur. The African Union mission went in to provide support. We were the first country in the world to provide it with help. I committed a further £20 million when I was in Darfur a month ago, and I hope that, as on other issues that we have discussed today, other countries will play their part, but I came to the view some time ago that the only long-term solution was for the United Nations to take over the mission. That is why we have pressed so hard for that to happen, and why I welcome the peace and security council's decision to carry on with planning. I hope that the Government of Sudan will co-operate with that.

Tony Baldry: With ethnic cleansing, upwards of 180,000 people murdered, 1.8 million men, women and children wretchedly displaced in camps, the security situation deteriorating and the Janjaweed still armed and active, the main responsibility for that tragic situation lies with the Government of Sudan. What is the UN sanctions committee doing? What is the UN Security Council doing to make it clear to those in Khartoum that, simply because they have oil, they cannot continue to behave like political pariahs with impunity?

Hilary Benn: I share the hon. Gentleman's frustration. As he will be aware, we pressed very hard as the United Kingdom for the sanctions committee to be established. Not every member of the Security Council was keen to do that, as we and one or two other countries were. It has now been working for a number of months, and a second report has just been produced. I hope that a conclusion will now be found, because where evidence exists that individuals—whether the rebels or representatives of the Government of Sudan, including the military—have done things in breach of commitments that they have entered into, it is essential that the international community demonstrates that we meant to take action when we set up the sanctions committee and that people begin to see that there is a price to pay as individuals if they fail to do the things that they promised to do.
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Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that in the talks in Abuja significant progress has been made with regard to both power sharing and wealth sharing, but the issue of security is the sticking point. Is there not a strong case for him, with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, to put significant pressure on those Governments who are against the United Nations coming into Sudan? Unless those Governments change their minds, progress will be somewhat slower than we all want.

Hilary Benn: I know that my hon. Friend, as chair of the all-party group on Sudan, takes a close interest in all these matters and I agree with him. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was, of course, in Abuja just over a month ago to do precisely that. We have been working very hard to persuade those in the African Union who have reservations—it is principally the Government of Sudan; frankly, I have to say, because they lack insight into their condition—and who are responsible for what has been going on for the past three years. However, I welcome the fact that the peace and security council agreed to carry on with planning. It is important that that planning takes place so that a transfer to the United Nations can happen as quickly as possible.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): May I draw the House's attention to the fact that the Government's response to the International Development Committee's report "Darfur: the killing continues" is published tomorrow? I welcome that, but will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, if we are to get security and normality back into Darfur—meaning getting people back on the land—we need not just the African Union, but the United Nations and the Government of Sudan to work together to achieve that. In that context, does he not agree that it was perhaps inappropriate to give comfort to Salah Abdullah Gosh, the head of intelligence in Sudan, by granting a visa for medical treatment in this country, and that the Sudanese Government should know that, until they solve this problem, they are not welcome anywhere?

Hilary Benn: The decision was taken for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman refers to. The visa was granted because of a medical condition. I do not see any incompatibility between that decision, on an individual case, for reasons of medical need, and being absolutely clear, as we have been as a Government, about what the Government of Sudan now need to do to bring the crisis to an end.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be a long-term solution in Darfur only when all parties are willing to negotiate seriously? Is he also aware that that has not happened in the past? What is his assessment of the situation at the moment? Are all parties, including the rebels, negotiating seriously?

Hilary Benn: The talks in Abuja have been going on for two years and they have not reached an agreement. The rebels bear part of the responsibility for not having engaged in those talks with the seriousness that the situation demands. I welcome the fact that, following my discussions in Khartoum a month ago, the
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Government of Sudan said that they would bring forward new proposals for those negotiations. What the world now wants to see and, above all, what people in Darfur want to see, is those talks reaching a conclusion so that a deal can be done.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Following the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1663 last Friday and the deteriorating humanitarian situation building up on the Chad-Sudan border, does the Secretary of State accept that it is critically important that we beef up the logistical capacity of the African Union forces stationed there, if the international community's much-vaunted adoption last year of the responsibility to protect is to have any real meaning at all?

Hilary Benn: I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. That is why Britain is committing a further £20 million to support the AU mission and why we have already provided logistical assistance—we have provided getting on for 900 vehicles to give the AU mission greater capacity to get around in Darfur—and why I still hope that the African Union will be able to find further troops in the interim, before the United Nations comes in.

Mr. Mitchell: Is the House not right to be restless and angry at the languid approach that the various Sudanese parties are taking towards the peace talks in Abuja, which are now in their seventh round? Will the Secretary of State ensure that the British Government's considerable clout and authority, through their involvement and concern at what is happening in Darfur, are used to put the maximum pressure on all the parties engaged in Abuja to speed up the talks?

Hilary Benn: Once again I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did precisely that when he went to Abuja to say, in effect, "We're running out of patience." We have since seen a greater intensity in negotiations, but, in the end, it is only the rebels and the Government of Sudan who can reach a deal. It is vital that the whole of the international community—not just the British Government—makes it clear to those who are negotiating in Abuja that they now have to do a deal because it is the only way in which the 1.8 million people who will tonight once again be in those camps can go home, which is what they want.

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