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The Sahel

Volume 545: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2012

The situation is extremely grave. Eighteen million people across the Sahel are at risk of food shortages, and 8 million of them are now in need of immediate assistance. The British people, through the UK Government, have responded swiftly to the crisis, providing aid for over 400,000 people who have been caught up in this disaster.

The United Kingdom has been admirable in its support for the region, but with 18 million people vulnerable to the impact of the crisis, which is due to peak in about six weeks’ time, and with further delays to the donor conference, what can the UK Government do now to invest in the region and help those people?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Like her, I fear that the worst is yet to come. The hunger season in July and August is imminent. The United Nations, with which we are working extremely closely and consistently, is revising its appeals from about £452 million to about £1 billion as a matter of urgency in response to the growing need in the Sahel, and the final appeal for Mali is due to be released at the end of this month. The Department has a special team in place, and we are monitoring the situation closely. That includes assessing the appeals. My ministerial colleagues and I are keeping an extremely close eye on the position.

14. Given recent reports that the African Union has delayed the pledging conference to deal with the crisis until June, what assurances can the Minister give that the UK Government are doing all that they can to establish a date, and who will represent the UK at the conference? (108786)

I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that we are sparing no effort whatever in seeking to persuade all the various parties and stakeholders who can provide assistance to meet the emerging humanitarian crisis. The amount that the UK people have already provided through our humanitarian support has staved off some of the worst, but the trouble is that the crisis continues to escalate.

The question of attendance at the various meetings is being decided, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we will ensure that we are well represented.

The deteriorating security situation in northern Mali around Timbuktu has caused the European Union to reduce severely the amount of aid that it feels able to give. Given that the UK donates a great deal of its aid through the European Union, will the Minister say what continuing aid we will be able to provide for the people of Mali?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Because of the conflict, the situation in northern Mali is extremely grave, especially around Timbuktu. That is in addition to intense pressures in areas across the Sahel such as Niger and northern Nigeria. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that work is being done both through our bilateral humanitarian system and, in particular, through European support which has already contributed some £106 million to help with the Sahel crisis. We will continue to work very closely with those involved, not least because of the attribution of the contribution that we make.

In view of the widespread recognition that there is an urgent food and security crisis in the Sahel, will the Minister tell me what criteria were used to determine that UK aid to the region should be halved between 2010 and 2012?

As I hope the hon. Gentleman is aware, there is a difference between the humanitarian response and programme issues. I think that he was referring to Niger, where we supported a programme led by the French which served the purpose for which it was intended. As for the humanitarian process, we continue to work with a range of international partners in trying to ensure that the donor burden is spread fairly and equitably, while also ensuring that we in the UK step up to our responsibilities.