Skip to main content


Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

I returned yesterday morning from a visit to Somalia. Thanks to British aid and support, the lives of millions of Somalis have been saved. We have reduced the number of people in danger of imminent death by two thirds, but 250,000 people—many of them children—remain in danger of starving to death.

On his visit to Somalia, the Secretary of State will have been in a good position to make an assessment of the current state of the famine there. We know that the United Kingdom has made a significant effort in leading the relief work. Is he satisfied that the international community is making the same effort to help the beleaguered people of Somalia?

My hon. Friend is right to underline the importance of the whole international community being engaged in tackling the famine. The situation is that some two thirds of those who were in imminent danger of starving to death are no longer in that position, and Britain has been involved in quite literally saving something like half a million lives in the last year. Huge lobbying is still required. Britain has made it clear that we will produce assistance over the next year, specifically to tackle acute malnourishment, providing seeds, fertiliser and clean water, but the whole international community must take up this task.

The hon. Gentleman’s question has been grouped with question 3. His moment is now; his opportunity is here.

I want to ask about the situation in Somaliland and the aid that has been channelled to that part of the country. What proportion of our aid is going to consolidate the excellent progress that has been made in civil society in Somaliland?

My hon. Friend has used his opportunity well, Mr Speaker. Some 60% of Britain’s development support for Somalia goes into Somaliland, but as the Foreign Secretary has made clear recently, it is extremely important that Somaliland and Puntland settle the dispute on their border as speedily as possible. When disputes are settled in Somalia, we will be able to address the underlying causes of poverty and not have to cope with the symptoms of it.

The consequences of the bad harvest last year and the famine are, of course, enormously aggravated by the lack of security in Somalia and the control that al-Shabaab has in many parts of the country. What are the Government doing, on their own account and through the European Union, to strengthen AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—and improve security in Somalia?

It is absolutely essential that AMISOM is strengthened and given the capacity to operate more effectively, but the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that the Prime Minister has convened a conference on Somalia in London on 23 February. The processes that come out of that will not be led by the international community or Britain; they need to be owned by the Somalis, led by the Somalis and the countries of the region, and strongly supported by the international community.

May I ask the Secretary of State for his response to the criticism in the Oxfam and Save the Children report “A Dangerous Delay”, which is partly based on Somalia? Does he think that there are lessons to be learned, given that an imminent threat of famine is now looming in the Sahel?

Oxfam and the other agencies did a service in pointing out—as they did in their report, if not in their press release—that Britain had shown the way and led the world in tackling the famine in the horn of Africa. However, the report is right in identifying the importance of long-term action to support resilience. As for the Sahel, Britain is not going to lead there, but we have announced a significant amount of support, specifically: therapeutic feeding for 68,000 children; support with food and water for 50,000 people; and support in terms of seeds and vaccinations for cattle for 30,000.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his visit to Somalia and on Britain’s proactive response to the crisis there. However, may I ask whether he will be joining Turkey, which has said that it will be approaching some of the wealthiest Muslim countries to see if they can make a more substantial contribution to preventing starvation in Somalia?

My hon. Friend identifies a most important aspect of the conference on Somalia that is to take place in London, which will be to ensure that all the different nations that are engaged in Somalia work together. It will also be important to ensure better co-ordination of humanitarian relief with the established, richer donors and the donors in the Gulf.

In recent years, there have been problems off the Somali coast for travellers, although progress has been made in recent months on that issue. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that liaison will continue internationally to ensure that people can travel across that part of Africa in safety?

One of the problems is that of piracy. In Puntland, I was able to see the importance of tackling piracy by arresting pirates and putting them through the judicial system, as well as the other measures that, given some stability, the international community would be able to use to tackle the problem directly. We hope that this subject will also be addressed at the London conference.