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Democratic Republic of Congo

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2013

May I take this opportunity to welcome the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) and his colleagues to their Front-Bench roles in International Development? I also offer the apologies of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who is unable to be here today. She is visiting Uganda to see what more DFID can do to improve the lives of the millions of people living with disabilities in the developing world.

I am deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. For that reason, last week DFID agreed an additional £5 million of UK funding. That funding will provide life-saving interventions to more than 130,000 people and support protection for girls, women and children affected by the conflict.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the DRC. Does she agree that the UK should therefore seek to play a leading role in the humanitarian effort, including the opening of a DFID office in the east of the country?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that we are the single largest contributor to the common humanitarian fund, which does precisely what I think he wants us to do—provide the humanitarian support needed by so many people affected by the conflict. Alongside that work, we have an additional fund for emergency response; that focuses particularly on providing for people’s health and sanitation needs. As I have explained, I have extended that by a further six months. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are absolutely playing a leading role in that regard.

A large amount of money is involved and a significant amount is, rightly, being spent on the crisis. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential that her Department gets the full support and co-operation of the DRC Government? Does she also agree that it is equally essential to have the total engagement and commitment of the President of the DRC? In the past, that has not been fully forthcoming.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ultimately, we need a political solution to the conflict, and that has to be led by President Kabila. The solution also has to be regional if it is to be sustainable. Furthermore, Mary Robinson, the special envoy appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General, can have a key role in bringing together the various countries that must be brought together if we are finally to achieve long lasting and long overdue peace.

Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the mobile phone companies that source some of their rare minerals in Democratic Republic of Congo, thereby financing the warring parties? If she has not, may I suggest that she does?

I very much take the hon. Lady’s point on board. A lot of DFID’s work is in addressing corruption, and that includes illicit flows of money. As part of the G8 this year, for example, we led the way on challenging the leading economies of the world to up their game on tax, trade and transparency. Illicit flows of money were a core part of that. I assure the hon. Lady that I take her point on board and will follow it up.

Is it not the case that diarrhoea caused through poor sanitation is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in the developing world, and that in the Congo it results in the second highest rate of infant mortality in Africa? How many people will benefit from Britain’s investment in the water and sanitation system in that benighted country?

We have delivered life-saving support to 2.1 million people in DRC. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we look at the millennium development goal on child mortality, we see that one of the reasons it has not had more success is the continued fatal effect of diarrhoea. He is right to highlight that. It is one of the things we particularly work on in DRC, and it is why sanitation is so key.

The Secretary of State will know that 46% of people in DRC are under the age of 14, and reports say that youth unemployment is nearly 90%. Will she say a little more about the long-term plans for DRC? What conversations has she had with colleagues in the international community about getting those children to school and giving those young people a future?

I very much welcome that question. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that one of the key challenges in DRC is to blend together what we are doing from a humanitarian perspective with the country’s longer-term development needs. That is why we are keen to see a long-lasting peace settlement there. I can assure her that alongside the work on the humanitarian effort we are looking at what we can do with partners on the development effort, including in education.