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Sub-Saharan Africa

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

The latest United Nations assessment, published in June 2006, shows that progress towards each of the millennium development goals in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole is either slightly or seriously off track. However, many countries in the region will achieve some of the goals by 2015, or make substantial progress towards them.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply, but I am particularly keen to learn what progress has been made in the supply of clean water to the many people in sub-Saharan Africa who lack safe drinking water.

The short answer is “not enough”. That is one of the reasons why the Government are committed to doubling, and then doubling again, our investment in clean water and sanitation by 2010-11, but we need three things to happen in the world. First, we need more investment in clean water and sanitation. Secondly, we need to ensure that the money invested is used effectively to ensure supplies for the people who need them. Thirdly, we need the right structures in the world to help to make that happen. Currently we do not have the right structures, and I should like to see some changes.

I know that the Secretary of State is aware of the close connection between the millennium development goals and progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS. He will also be aware of the recent growth in the XDR strain of tuberculosis in South Africa. Is his Department making every effort to ensure that we are as successful in supporting the distribution of drugs to tackle TB as we are in supporting the distribution of antiretroviral drugs to tackle HIV/AIDS?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the close relationship between AIDS and TB and to the fact that people with AIDS are more susceptible to TB. One of the most practical things that we are doing to support the point that he has made is to contribute to the global fund which was set up to fight those three great diseases: AIDS, TB and malaria. As he will be aware, we are a very significant contributor. We have pledged to put £359 million into the global fund between when it started and 2008.

I welcome the work of my right hon. Friend and his Department on improving the MDGs on infant and maternal mortality, which are most off-track in sub-Saharan Africa. Does he agree with the World Health Organisation, which is organising a conference here in March, that much greater political commitment is needed from the African Governments in sub-Saharan Africa if we are to stop the needless deaths of 600,000 women a year in child birth?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who I know takes a close interest in those matters. The fundamental problem is a lack of capacity and, in particular, not enough doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals. We have therefore increased the aid programme to Africa, and put our efforts into debt cancellation. As she will be aware, the debt deal done at Gleneagles has enabled Zambia to introduce free health care in rural areas for the first time. That should enable more people, including pregnant mothers, to get access to the health support that they need.

The Secretary of State is clearly right to be concerned that, while we will probably meet the millennium development goals in Asia, we are way off course in Africa. Does he accept that we need to focus more on outputs and outcomes? Will he look seriously at the proposal that we have made for the establishment of an independent aid watchdog in Britain, like the ones established by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and in Denmark, to monitor the quality and effectiveness of aid to ensure continued public and taxpayer confidence in the British aid programme?

I am currently considering proposals that would address that very issue, which we have been concerned about for some time. It is true to say that, as the aid budget rises, the public will increasingly want to be assured that every penny that we are putting into that budget is spent effectively. In every waking moment of this job, I am concerned above all about the difference that our effort makes. It is not about inputs so much; it is about the difference that we make to people’s lives.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One of the millennium development goals is access to clean drinking water. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my constituent, Mr. Brian Kite, on his Chembe water project, which has brought clean drinking water to more than 2,000 people in that village in Malawi? We know that 1 billion people do not have that access. That project provided it for just £2.50 per head. As it costs so little, could we do more and encourage other countries to do more to pursue that millennium development goal?

I am happy to congratulate my hon. Friend's constituent on the practical contribution that he is making to one of the most fundamental tasks that we have, which is to ensure that people have enough clean water to drink. It shows that everyone can make a contribution. The Government are playing their part with the increased investment to which I referred earlier.