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Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2006

3. What progress he has made in improving conditions for the peoples of the Atlantic coast in Nicaragua. (77021)

We target approximately 15 per cent. of our £4 million funding to Nicaragua to the Atlantic coast. Through our support, municipal governments on the Atlantic coast are providing community services and improving local infrastructure. Our funding for HIV/AIDS has enabled the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua to provide services so far to 40 per cent. of the Atlantic coast. We are also working to improve local people’s livelihoods on the Atlantic coast.

I acknowledge the good work that the Department is doing on the Atlantic coast. Does the Minister accept, however, that the Government in Managua pay little attention to the Atlantic coast, which is a forgotten coast as far as they are concerned? When I met peoples over there on the Atlantic coast, their view was that when the horse leaves Managua laden with aid, it dies halfway across the country. What steps can the Minister take to encourage the Managua Government to look after the Atlantic coast? Is not Bluefields, with a population of 60,000, a way to connect it with the rest of the country?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the disparity in progress on development on the Atlantic coast compared with the rest of the country. On average, gross domestic product per person on the Atlantic coast is less than half of GDP in the rest of Nicaragua. We have sought to use our funding to leverage more Government funding into the Atlantic coast, and similarly to put pressure on the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to leverage more of their funding into the Atlantic coast. Given his interest in Nicaragua, the hon. Gentleman will be particularly pleased to know that for the first time the World Bank, in its next assistance programme for Nicaragua, will have a set of loans specifically for the Atlantic coast work.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America and the disparities of income are the worst in that region. Can my hon. Friend say a little about DFID programmes to tackle the grinding poverty, especially in rural areas near the Atlantic coast? Are the governance, social and economic inclusion and public sector reform programmes advertised on the DFID website starting to bear fruit?

Our spending is directed at building and maintaining access to roads, helping to improve rubbish collection, and helping to improve access to rural electricity, both on-grid solutions and investment in off-grid solutions such as solar and wind power. As I said in my previous answer, our funding is beginning to leverage more funding from Government and from the big multilateral donors such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Our funding is making a difference to HIV/AIDS on the Atlantic coast. However, it is equally clear that more needs to be done, both by the Nicaraguan Government and by the international community generally. We will stay alive to that.

Twenty years ago, I spent a year on a Church mission, working with the Carib people on the Atlantic coast of central America as a voluntary teacher. Do we have any aid programmes that channel aid through the valuable work that Church missions do in that part of the world?

The hon. Gentleman is right to praise the valuable work that such missions and civil society more generally do in Nicaragua and across the developing world. We have extensive programmes of work with civil society groups, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question about work with Church missions, I will look into that and write to him.