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Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2008

7. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the UN and other international organisations in the process of peace and reconstruction in Somalia. (204801)

We support reconciliation talks, arranged by the special representative of the UN Secretary-General, due to begin this month, between representatives of the Somali transitional Government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia. We remain very concerned by the general humanitarian and security situation in Somalia. We are working hard within the UN Security Council for improvements, including a new resolution addressing the political, humanitarian and security needs.

I am sure that a United Nations Security Council resolution would be very welcome, but does my hon. Friend not agree that the world has neglected Somalia, to all our costs? We know the lessons of the failed state in Afghanistan, and we are aware of the potential for Islamic radicalisation in Somalia. Because of our resident Somali population, Britain of all countries has a huge interest in creating stability in Somalia. Can we ensure that the EU addresses the lack of capacity of African agencies such as the African Union, and that we now put real effort into bringing this internal conflict to an end?

I know that my hon. Friend has long taken an interest in this area, and he is absolutely right to point out the importance of the European Union in this regard. I am pleased to be able to tell him that the EU has done a great deal. It has contributed €15 million to the African Union mission, and it is engaging with the Opposition. It has contacts within civil society to try to develop its role in the country, and it is responding to the humanitarian problems that arise there. I am sure that we will continue to press for this engagement through the European Union as well as through the United Nations.

The Minister will be aware that the African regional press testifies that food prices in Somalia are skyrocketing, which means that families have to buy less food or less nutritious food, leading to malnourishment and malnutrition. Does not that present a massive task for the international community and the World Food Programme? Will the Minister share with the House the results of the welcome summit that the Prime Minister recently held at No. 10 on the rises in international food prices? As has been said, Somalia will become a humanitarian disaster area if the international community does not act in the near future.

The hon. Gentleman makes some important points and I appreciate the tone in which he does so. We are giving a lot of humanitarian aid to Somalia; we are the second largest bilateral donor. Of course, the humanitarian situation will improve only if the political situation improves. A genuine political process is under way and we have to put our support behind it. In view of the history of Somalia, it is easy to be discouraged, but for precisely the reasons that the hon. Gentleman raises—the concerns of the population and the continuing pressure of rising food prices—we must ensure that this political process moves forward, if at all possible, in order to bring about greater stability in the area.