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Horn of Africa

Volume 531: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2011

7. What recent assessment he has made of the food situation in the horn of Africa; and if he will make a statement. (65542)

Up to 10 million people need emergency relief, especially in south-east Ethiopia, southern central Somalia and northern Kenya. We are seeing acute malnutrition in all these places. The crisis is provoked by the failure of the rains for two consecutive years and is characterised by the loss of crops and livestock, exacerbated by high food prices. The situation is unlikely to improve before the October rains.

Will the Secretary of State set out the steps that his Department is taking to build long-term resilience in the national agricultural systems in the countries in the horn of Africa so as to reduce the impact of potential crises such as the one they face?

My hon. Friend is right to make it clear that food security over the longer term is the key way to tackle such disasters. It is also true, however, that it is no fault of the horn of Africa that there have been no rains for the past two years and that a serious situation has been exacerbated by that. I can tell him that there has been significant progress and over the past 20 years, for example, the incidence of acute malnutrition in Ethiopia has gone down by some 50%.

The Minister does not have to visit the region to know what the problem is. Every night on television we are seeing children dying, the elderly dying and livestock dying—it is obvious what is happening. The aid agencies are short of money and surely we can do more right now.

I can reassure the right hon. Lady. We were the first people to make it clear that we would give strong support, helping 1.3 million people in Ethiopia and ensuring that mothers with babies and children—330,000 of them—would receive rapid support. The Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has kicked into play and we are considering additional support to that which we are already giving to take account of the situation that she described in southern Somalia and particularly in Dadaab, which is now the biggest refugee camp in the world.

The House is full, everybody is chattering, everybody is obsessed by Murdoch but millions of people are in danger of dying in the horn of Africa. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this is an absolute priority for him and that all the bureaucratic restraints that stop help going in this uniquely challenging environment—usually useful things such as value for money and protecting our workers—will be laid aside and that he will go right in there and help those suffering people?

My hon. Friend has eloquently made the case for the world taking urgent action to ensure that what is currently a crisis does not develop into a disaster. He has my assurance that the British Government are doing everything they can to help and I will, as I say, be going to Dadaab at the weekend with the head of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. Together, we will look to see what additional work Britain and the international community can do to help.