Skip to main content

East Africa

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2009

7. What recent assessment he has made of levels of availability of food in east Africa; and if he will make a statement. (294275)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced an extra £39 million of additional humanitarian assistance to the region, bringing our total contribution this year to some £83 million. That will help to supply food aid, emergency nutrition, water and sanitation, and will be delivered by the World Food Programme and UNICEF, and agencies such as Oxfam and Médecins sans Frontières.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and for the additional moneys that he has announced. However, he will know that it is 25 years since the first Band Aid concert brought the Ethiopian food crisis to our attention. Local Tearfund visitors say that even the weeds are not growing in some areas. This is a long-term problem, not just a short-term one. Will the Minister describe the specific steps that he is taking to address the long-term climate change issues affecting the region, and Ethiopia in particular, as well as the immediate food programmes that are so desperately needed?

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I congratulate him on his work with Tearfund and other similar aid agencies in his constituency. He will recognise that we are in a very different place now from where we were some 25 years ago. There has been a substantial increase in the numbers of people getting help. The proportion of people in Ethiopia in need of emergency assistance is lower than 25 years ago, not least because of some of the support that we have provided through in-country productive safety net programmes and humanitarian assistance. We continue to work with African leaders to make sure that their voices are also heard in the climate change negotiations that are under way at the moment, and which we desperately hope will lead to a new global deal to replace Kyoto.

Ethiopia is one of the worst affected areas. The Government have provided welcome emergency relief, but the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) made a good point when he spoke about the long-term problems. I spoke to the ambassador just a few minutes ago, and he stressed the importance of providing development aid. I understand that Ethiopia receives a smaller proportion of such aid than a number of other countries in the region. Will the Minister look at what can be done to provide the financial and technical assistance to Ethiopia so that these terrible famines do not keep happening?

We continue to provide a substantial assistance programme to Ethiopia. I hope to visit the country shortly to see for myself the challenges the hon. Gentleman describes. When we published the White Paper in July we set out our determination to do all we can to help developing countries such as Ethiopia increase agricultural production. We are therefore increasing our research budget for the types of crops that can survive climate change and so prevent people from needing emergency support. We also want to put further investment into the type of social protection schemes that are already making a difference and preventing people from needing emergency assistance. We are determined to provide more humanitarian assistance, and will keep up the pressure on other international donors to do more to help countries like Ethiopia, and other countries in the region as well.

Does my hon. Friend agree that children who are hungry in east Africa face particular problems? Will he therefore commend the work of the Schools for Africa School Meal Deal, and the School Food Trust’s Really Good School Dinner campaign? They provide practical support for children in school and community-based feeding schemes and also persuade children here about the importance of providing long-term support for children in developing countries.

I certainly will praise the work of the organisation that my hon. Friend describes and has worked with. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who attended the launch of the programme that my hon. Friend describes, was also impressed by its work. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we continue to work closely with organisations such as UNICEF which provide support to help to make sure that children are not forgotten in the delivery of emergency assistance, and that we help to tackle the levels of malnutrition that still exist among children in the region.

The situation in east Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, is dire. We welcome the additional support that the Government have offered to the Governments there but, as the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) highlighted, it is 25 years since the famine that killed a million people. Is it not a scandal that the World Food Programme has barely half the funding that it needs to feed the 100 million people it estimates are starving, and is it not time to stop relying on emergency appeals and get proper funding in place for that programme?

As I said in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and other Members, we accept that a series of steps need to be taken. We have to continue to provide emergency assistance to organisations such as the World Food Programme, and indeed we continue to campaign internationally for more humanitarian assistance to be provided. At the same time, we need to put in place a series of further long-term steps to help to increase agricultural production in countries in east Africa and elsewhere so that they can better tackle their own needs, thereby preventing the need for emergency assistance. We have said that we will increase our agricultural research budget, but we also continue to put pressure on other donors, some in Europe and some outside Europe, to do more to increase humanitarian assistance and to put in place long-term development programmes to help countries away from the type of problems that we are discussing.