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International Development

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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The Minister of State was asked

Hiv/Aids (South Africa)

1.

What discussions the Department has had with representatives of the South African Government about tackling HIV/AIDS in South Africa. [118377]

Officials from the Department's Pretoria office hold regular discussions with their South African counterparts about the problems of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Helping to tackle HIV/AIDS is one of our main priorities in the country, and we have recently approved a new £30 million programme.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new position. As I am sure he knows, many people in South Africa believe that the true number of people with HIV/AIDS is well above the known, published figure, which is itself high. Many in the country also believe that the link between HIV and AIDS is not yet fully established, which makes our task of trying to help and to tackle this appalling problem even more difficult. What can we do to make such people face up to the issue and tackle it head on?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. Let me also take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) for the integrity, commitment and passion with which she led the Department for six years. The esteem in which the Department is held in the House and across the globe owes a great deal to her achievements, and we are very grateful to her for all that she has done.

My hon. Friend is right to mention the difficulties created by attitudes to HIV/AIDS in some quarters in South Africa, which are preventing an effective response to the problem. According to our best estimate, about 5 million people in South Africa are currently infected with HIV—one person in nine—although there have been changes in recent months, not least following last year's court ruling that pregnant women should have access to neverapine. That has now been implemented.

I agree with my hon. Friend that we must work continuously with the South African Government in responding to the challenge, and that is what we are seeking to do. There is a good plan on paper, and we must provide support, along with other donors, so that it can be delivered in reality.

Let me also welcome the Minister to his post, and wish him well.

I was in South Africa with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) in South Africa very recently. We visited Khayelitsha in Cape Town, which has grown from nothing to an area with a population of 1.2 million since 1985. We heard about the work of a woman dealing with child abuse—and its obvious consequences, including sexually transmitted diseases—in a desperately overworked clinic. Will the Minister ensure that the Department's money is spent on supporting such clinics at the grass roots, so that the message about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases reaches those in the greatest need in South Africa? Sometimes those people are away from the public eye and away from the established clinics. Work needs to be done to help those who are moving into shanty towns: that is where the need may be greatest.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of ensuring that the message reaches all levels of society, especially those that are the hardest to reach. We are working on a national and provincial programme, in partnership with the South African Government and other organisations. Evidence elsewhere in Africa—Uganda being the best-known example—shows what can be done through a concerted effort by the Government and all parts of society to convey the message about the steps people can take to protect themselves, which in the long run is the most effective thing we can do to reduce this terrible scourge in South Africa, and indeed throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his post. Does he agree that women play a key role when it comes to dealing with HIV/AIDS in South Africa and other countries? They can convey their knowledge of the illness to children, in the family and in schools. Can the Department take that into account, through its relationship with the Government and at other levels?

As my hon. Friend says, it is important to work with all parts of society but particularly with women, given their important role in the family. The court judgment that I mentioned, allowing access to antiretrovirals for pregnant women, will be widely welcomed.

As my hon. Friend knows, an important part of the Department's work wherever we are to be found in the world involves working with women and giving them more opportunities to take control of their lives. Their contribution will also be important to the tackling of HIV/AIDS in South Africa and elsewhere.

Ethiopia

2.

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.

Drinking Water

3.

If he will make a statement on the efforts being made in co-operation with the international community to increase the availability of clean water in the developing world. [118379]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

One in five people currently lacks access to clean water worldwide. My Department is spending £87 million on bilateral programmes, focusing on improving water management and health education. We are also providing at least £40 million for multilateral initiatives to increase access to water.

Given the Government's commitment to humanitarian aid for Iraq, can the Minister tell me whether there is a time scale for the delivery of fresh water?

We have taken substantial steps, which my hon. Friend will be aware of, to ensure that we provide aid to Iraq. Extensive work, supported by us, has been undertaken to ensure that the power supplies, which were a real problem, were reconnected so that the people could get water. I believe that the water supplies are now getting back to pre-war levels.

Given that 6,000 children die every day because of poor water supplies and poor sanitary conditions, and given that this week, reports from Oxfam, Care, and Save the Children have highlighted problems with the water supply to the children of Iraq, what will DFID do to deliver for those children?

I have already set out what we have done about the water supplies, and the steps that have been taken to reconnect the power to ensure that such supplies get through. We have also provided aid to several non-governmental organisations, including, I believe, UNICEF, to meet some of the needs of the children in Iraq. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to point out the connection between water and child health—a problem that affects not only children in Iraq but children world wide. Some 2 million children die each year, quite unnecessarily, from diarrhoea-related diseases, which are almost entirely due to poor water supplies. It is not just about the supply and management of water; hygiene and sanitation needs are absolutely crucial. That is one reason why we are putting so much effort into tackling the need to improve sanitation levels, as well as into tackling the worldwide shortage of clean water.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the World Trade Organisation is currently discussing the liberalisation of services, including water distribution and supply. Does she agree that any negotiations must ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect supplies to the poorest people in the world, and that the WTO should now adopt the millennium development goals?

My hon. Friend has set out some important issues in her question. It is entirely for Governments of individual countries to decide how to manage and organise their water supplies. Figures so far show that, by and large, virtually all the investment in water in the developing countries—about 68 per cent.—is in the public sector. Despite fears about the consequence of the liberalisation of water, comparatively little investment by the private sector in the developed world has taken place. When investment has been made, it has tended to be in management rather than infrastructure, about which most people are concerned. The main concern of the Department in increasing access to water is precisely to ensure that the most poor and marginalised people gain access to it. I can give my hon. Friend my complete assurance on that.

The Minister will be aware that Malawi has plenty of water, but needs to improve its water management. On the other hand, throughout all sub-Saharan Africa, local villages and small communities need that help. Is it not a fact that DFID is not too happy about supplying funds to some of the non-governmental organisations working in those areas, because the sums that they are looking for are too small? I understand, for example, that £2 million to help an education, AIDS and water programme was considered too little.

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If he wants to make specific points, I would be grateful if he would make them afterwards and I shall ensure that they are followed up. The Department's approach to water deals extensively with management and education programmes rather than infrastructure. Our experience would go against what the hon. Gentleman says. I shall ensure that he receives a detailed reply to any specific points that he wants to raise.

It should come as no surprise to the Minister that hon. Members on both sides of the House are drawing her attention to the chronic problems of securing a clean water supply in Iraq. At the International Development Committee yesterday, non-governmental organisations warned that there are already clear signs that cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea are on the increase. According to the former Secretary of State, the Government ignored the need to keep basic humanitarian services running when they were planning for the war. Will the Department now launch an inquiry into why preparations were so poor?

The issue of the Department's preparations has been covered many times. The hon. Lady knows how much finance was provided to NGOs specifically to prepare for the eventualities of war. She also knows that much of the money went into making preparations to deal with refugees and displaced people, though, mercifully, that problem has not arisen. We are aware of several cases of cholera and other diseases on the basis of information supplied by the World Health Organisation and other organisations operating on the ground. We examine such information closely. Without wanting to sound complacent, we are aware of the health problems that can arise at this time of year in Iraq, and we are taking stringent steps to improve services, particularly water. I understand that both power and water supplies are more or less back to the position that obtained before the war.

Cuba

4.

If he will make a statement on aid to Cuba. [118380]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

DFID does not have a bilateral programme in Cuba. There is a £120,000 small grants scheme, administered by the Foreign Office, which supports civil society projects. The EU currently provides $12 million of aid, and the Commission is reconsidering its engagement with Cuba, in the light of the human rights crisis there.

While much progress needs to be made in Cuba, not least in the field of human rights, the island has started on the road to reform. I do not condone recent events, but demonstrable progress has been made in the past 20 years. Would not that be built on by facilitating entry to Cotonou and by the development of a bilateral aid programme? Is it an instance in which the broad policy of aid for the poorest prevents us from helping a country that is making progress in development?

I acknowledge the work that my hon. Friend has done to promote relations between this country and Cuba. However, the issue—especially in relation to the EU—rests very much with Cuba itself. As he may know, it was Cuba that withdrew its application to join the African, Caribbean and Pacific group. We are currently supporting civil society, and the Cuba initiative deals with non-aid relations. It is for Cuba to deal with the human rights abuses and to reapply, perhaps at some future stage, to join the ACP group.

Would not the most important thing that we could do to help the people of Cuba be to use our newfound influence with the American Administration to persuade them to drop their trade and diplomatic embargo on that island—an embargo that should now be consigned to the dustbin of history? Would not that be the best way to ensure that the people of Cuba could look forward to the prosperity and stability that they so richly deserve?

If we are talking about aid from Europe, it is important that Cuba deals with the human rights abuses. A major project involving EU technical assistance is coming up on 26 June and, at present, the focus is very much on that. It would be a major step towards tackling some of the financial and banking issues on the island. One would hope that once the situation improved, the country could rejoin the international development community.

Order. There is too much noise in the Chamber. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thank all those who cheered. Perhaps they will now be quiet.

Occupied Territories

5.

If he will make a statement on humanitarian needs in the west bank and Gaza. [118381]

Two and a half years of violence and closure have caused rapid economic and social decline. Many families have endured long periods without work or income, and many Palestinians now depend on food aid for their daily survival. Humanitarian assistance is helping to alleviate immediate suffering, but only a just political settlement will resolve the situation.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but one of the areas that is often overlooked is the issue of the new security fence. A World Bank report has shown that as many as 10,000 people have already been affected by disruption to water supplies and agricultural land. Some 95,000 Palestinians will be affected by the time the wall is completed. Will he please turn his attention to the humanitarian needs of those people who, once again, face dispossession in their own land?

My hon. Friend is right. The building of the fence is a symptom of the problem. It is estimated that it will leave 290,000 Palestinians on the wrong side and will cut communities in two and separate people from their livelihoods. That reinforces the point that I made earlier: only a political solution will deal with the problems that the Palestinian people are experiencing.

I welcome the Minister back to this brief, but I wish to place on record the fact that we would have liked the Secretary of State to be a Member of this House. However, I congratulate him on his promotion.

The real progress now being made on the road map for peace in the middle east has taken Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen to positions that their supporters might never have imagined being achieved. We need to support those who share the common ground of wanting peace against the extremists on both sides who would like to derail it. Does the Minister agree that the Government must do all in their power to buttress that delicate process, and that our aid must strengthen the negotiators' fragile position?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words—not least because they give me the opportunity to congratulate my noble Friend Baroness Amos on her much-deserved appointment to the post of Secretary of State. We are looking forward to working with her. I agree with the hon. Lady when she talks about the importance of supporting the road map process. As I am sure she will recognise, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has played a very significant role in supporting that work, as has President Bush.