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Ethiopia

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

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25.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the famine in Ethiopia.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the famine in Ethiopia and future United Kingdom Government plans for aid and assistance.

Several million Ethiopians remain at risk. Relief supplies are reaching many of those in need but distribution and other problems persist. Pledges of food aid to Ethiopia for 1985 total more than 1 million tonnes. We shall continue to provide emergency and food relief. both directly and through the European Community.

What part in total has Britain played in bringing about any improvement, how great is the remaining need, and what more can we do?

In recent months we have made a significant contribution to Ethiopia amounting to some £34 million. We have provided food aid, the RAF Hercules detachments, trucks, other transport and other supplies. We have also met our share of the substantial European Community contribution. The needs remain considerable, and we intend to play our part for the remainder of this year.

Is it not obvious that the problem in Ethiopia is not one of insufficient food—because there are ample supplies, at least until the end of this year—but of distribution? In commending both public and private contributions from the United Kingdom to that unfortunate country, is it not a matter for condemnation of the Ethiopian authorities that they cannot distribute the food? In many cases they have inhibited other countries which have offered to distribute that food to the people who need it.

My hon. Friend is broadly right. The overall quantities pledged to Ethiopia look as though they should be enough for this year, but there are serious problems about internal distribution. In our view the Ethiopian Government need to fulfil their promise of nearly 4,000 vehicles for relief and rescue operations on food movements. We also believe that too great a share of their resources are at present going on resettlement.

Is the Minister aware that there are many lessons to be learnt from the handling of the famine in Ethiopia? Will he assure the House that those lessons will be appreciated by all the aid donors, the multinational organisations and volunteer agencies, in order to be ready for the next famine in another African country?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have thought hard about what has been happening in Ethiopia and Sudan. Tragic though the experience is, I am sure that we shall learn from it.

The Minister will be aware that the problem in Ethiopia also relates to refugees in Sudan, whom the House debated earlier. The problem relates to debt. Recently we have seen a fall of the Government in Sudan largely because of the debt crisis. What advice has the Minister given the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will attend a joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank about this issue later this month, to ensure that meeting Africa's needs is a priority issue and that there is a debt write-off or, at least, a grant funding of some of the debts so that those countries can tackle the appalling drought problem?

The debt problem in Sudan is a different matter from the famine in Ethiopia, to which the question relates. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be thinking hard about how to handle debts in the meetings which take place in Washington this month. No one doubts the importance of that, although, as I have already said, one of the positive features of our aid programme in Africa is that for poor countries aid takes the form of a grant and, therefore, does not generate debts.