|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, as one who has put to the Minister a number of critical and, I hope, testing questions on foreign policy aspects of Iraq and the Middle East over the past few years, I join in the congratulations and thank her for the courteous, helpful and well informed way in which she has always dealt with those questions.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, ongoing security concerns mean that access to rural areas is still limited. Few assessments have yet been made of the needs of rural communities. Supplies of water in rural areas
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for her reply. Before I ask my supplementary question, I would like to add my congratulations to those of my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever and of all the others to the noble Baroness on her new position as Secretary of State for International Development. It is a true reward for her achievements and we all wish her well for the challenges that lie ahead. We also appreciate the Government recognising the importance of your Lordships' House with another Cabinet post.
According to CARE International, people in rural areas depend on a central water infrastructure to get their supplies, which they are not currently getting. At the moment, that infrastructure is working only precariously; that is due to the lack of investment and repairs. Even before the war, the infrastructure was in very bad shape and available in only some cities. Rural areas have pretty much had the last claim on whatever water there is. What plans are there to alter the centralised infrastructure of Iraq's water and sanitation systems so that rural areas have an equal claim rather than the last claim to water? That will avoid exacerbating the problems being experienced.
I said in my original Answer that it has been quite difficult to assess the problem with respect to water supplies in rural areas. Some information is coming to us from NGOs but we must examine the issue in some detail. Maintaining clean water has been a priority for us. The ICRC and others, including the UK military, have done excellent work to repair water stations and supply water by alternative means in the interim. In many parts of the country, the situation has improved. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that we must ensure that rural areas are treated as well as urban areas and are considered to be part of our overall reconstruction effort.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, as the World Health Organisation special envoy for the region, I offer warm congratulations to the new Secretary of State for International Development. I am sure that everyone in the World Health Organisation will warmly welcome her appointment. She is absolutely right about the underlying weaknesses of the water system. Is she aware that in the early 1980s Saddam Hussein cut the water infrastructure budget from 15 per cent of the agriculture budget to 5 per cent and never recovered it, in order to buy more weapons? After the Basra uprising he retailored the water supply so that those who had opposed him most fiercely got no water in the
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. She rightly said that Saddam Hussein did not, for example, repair water systems in Basra; the current difficulty with water supplies is not new. However, the situation in Baghdad was different. The noble Baroness will be aware that our military has, under the Hague and Geneva Conventions, specific responsibility with respect to immediate humanitarian assistance. That assistance will continue, pending putting in place the interim Iraqi authority.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I am delighted by my noble friend's appointment. This Question and the previous Question concern widely the health of the people of Iraq. Is the food distribution programme, which was previously run quite efficiently by the Iraqi government under the Oil for Food programme, still up and running?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I confirm that much of the food distribution programme under the Oil for Food programme is still in place and that individuals have been turning up for work. That is why the humanitarian crisis with respect to the distribution of food has not been as problematic as we had feared. That distribution process is pretty much still in place.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, has the noble Baroness seen the recent reports about the widespread damage to the desalination plants in southern Iraq, including the looting of parts of those plants? Those parts had no purpose outside those plants; they were simply being taken. Does that not call for what one might call the secondary forces of law and order? I refer to military police working with civilian police to ensure that such random looting stops as soon as possible.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I was not aware of the specific example of desalination plants although I entirely agree with the noble Lord that in terms of the overall security situation, we need the military and others. He will be pleased to know that in Basra we have some 600 police now operating. We want that to be repeated across the country.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I join in the congratulations offered to my noble friend. Will the Government seek the assistance of RedR, the Register of Engineers for Disaster Relief? It consists largely of consulting engineers and their employees and has considerable experience in dealing with water problems in disaster areas.
If noble Lords agree, the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Bill will come from the Commons tonightprobably after we have gone home, thanks to all the reforms that were recently introduced. No, it does not say that in my briefing. First Reading and Second Reading will take place tomorrow as first business. The Public Bill Office will be open to receive any amendments to that Bill from 10 a.m. tomorrow until either 5 p.m. or 30 minutes after the end of the Second Reading debate, whichever is the later.
Moved, That, if the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Bill is received from the Commons, Standing Order 47 (No two stages to be taken on one day) be dispensed with in respect of the Bill on Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th May; and that Standing Order 41 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Wednesday 14th May to allow the Bill to be taken before the Motion standing in the name of the Baroness Williams of Crosby.(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)