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Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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If he will make a statement on humanitarian aid to Ethiopia. [118378]

The humanitarian situation in Ethiopia continues to cause serious concern, with 12.5 million people affected. High levels of malnutrition are reported in parts of the southern, Afar and Somali regions because of problems with the allocation and targeting of aid, and limited capacity to deliver medical supplies and food to those in need. DFID has provided £48.3 million since the start of 2002, and we are now focusing effort on improving delivery of support on the ground.

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position.

I do not want to emulate the language of Sir Bob Geldof, but is it not appalling that 14 million people are suffering from drought, 12.5 million need food support and 2 million have HIV/AIDS? Apart from the immediate support that we can offer, is there not a need to deal with the structural problems of Ethiopia, which means providing fair prices for its principal commodity, coffee, and fair access to the markets of the west? What are the Government doing to achieve that?

The hon. Gentleman is right about the situation in Ethiopia, although it needs to be said that, despite the serious concern about the situation there, we have not seen a repetition of the famine of 1984. Despite the difficulties that there have existed until now in getting support in, particularly from the European Union, which was an issue that Bob Geldof raised, that aid is now going in, although there are problems with supplementary feeding for those who are suffering from acute malnutrition.

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is a perennial problem in Ethiopia and, as well as dealing with the immediate humanitarian need, all of us must focus our efforts on trying to solve the longer-term problem. The Department is trying to do that through its programme in Ethiopia, but the hon. Gentleman is right that the biggest single step that we could take to help poor people in poor countries is to open trade, particularly agricultural trade. That is why the talks in Cancun in September will be so important.

I welcome my hon. Friend back to DFID.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Department on their contribution to the present crisis in Ethiopia but will he and his colleagues seek to influence the European Union towards preparing a strategy for long-term sustainable development, so that the problems in Ethiopia do not simply recur?

That is part of the programme that we are seeking to undertake. All donors who are working with the Government of Ethiopia have a responsibility to deal not just with the short-term but with the long-term problems. That will require a concerted effort. As I say, it is central feature of DFID's country assistance plan for Ethiopia, which was published in March.

I congratulate the Government on the aid that they have provided to Ethiopia, but when I spoke to the Ethiopian ambassador just a few minutes ago, he told me that about 30 per cent. of the aid that has been pledged across the world has not yet reached Ethiopia. Will the Minister do what he can to speed up the delivery of that aid to Ethiopia? He is right to talk about achieving food security on a long-term basis in Ethiopia but, as he will appreciate, that country has a problem not of water shortage but of water management: irrigation systems are essential if it is to avoid famine.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, water management is a key issue for the future of the country. I assure him that we will continue to keep a very close eye on that and to ensure that the aid that has been promised is delivered. According to the World Food Programme, food needs for the remainder of 2003 are about 90 per cent. Covered, if all the pledges are confirmed—that is the crucial point. That is why we need to maintain the pressure. We will look to other countries to help to cover the remaining gap. The UK has provided the £48 million to which I referred earlier.

I visited coffee farmers in Ethiopia a few weeks ago. The collapse in commodity prices has had an enormous impact on them and their livelihoods. It is true—I hope that the Minister will be able to do much more—that the target has not been reached; there is a 30 per cent. shortfall. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do his best to ensure that not just this country but the international partners reach that target. Will he assure me that water management will become a key aspect of the Government's policy in Ethiopia because, as the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said, it is a question not of water shortage but of what is done with the water that is already there?

Indeed, and it is precisely for the reason that my hon. Friend outlines that a significant part of DFID's programme is devoted, so far as water management is concerned, to making sure that countries have in place the structures and systems to manage water effectively. It is a question of making supply available in parts of a country where there are difficulties, but in the long term it is even more important to ensure that Governments have the structures and systems in place to provide and maintain water, to replenish the system and to ensure that investment continues to be made in wells and other supply methods that have been put in place so that the problem can be dealt with in the long term.

It is my pleasure, on behalf of the official Opposition, to welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the Department for his first Question Time since his rebirth there; I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) will have more to say about that later, if the opportunity arises.

On humanitarian aid in Ethiopia, does the Minister recall the words of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in Africa at the end of May? He said:
"The EU undoubtedly has to do better on the delivery front."
The Minister has been reminded of the words of Bob Geldof, who described the response of the EU as "pathetic and appalling". But does he remember that Bob Geldof was then slapped down by Glenys Kinnock, who speaks for Labour on international development in the European Parliament, for being "unhelpful and misinformed"? Who does the Minister think is correct: the Chief Secretary and Bob Geldof, or Mrs. Kinnock? And will he assure the House that the food supplies that are so desperately needed by the 12 million starving Ethiopians will reach them, and quickly?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words on my appointment. I am not sure that the conversation between those esteemed individuals is one with which I should necessarily join in, but what I will say is that everybody recognises that there have been delays in the provision of aid by the European Community. However, it has pledged 465,000 metric tonnes—a substantial amount and about a third of the total requirement—which is now beginning to come through. The reports that we have received demonstrate that the situation is improving, but the hon. Gentleman is entirely right: we need to maintain vigilance and pressure to ensure that the promised aid is delivered, and that the reform process in the EU, on which both sides of the House are in agreement, is carried forward so that we can deal with these problems more effectively in future.