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Covid-19: Aid Programmes

Volume 675: debated on Wednesday 29 April 2020

What assessment she has made of the effect of the covid-19 pandemic on the (a) delivery and (b) effectiveness of UK aid programmes and projects. (902039)

What steps she is taking to ensure the effectiveness of international development assistance during the covid-19 pandemic. (902043)

What assessment she has made of the adequacy of the level of funding made available by her Department to tackle the covid-19 pandemic overseas. (902057)

There is no country better equipped to help the world out of this crisis than the UK. Over the past 10 years, this Government have made the Department for International Development a global leader in international development and reaffirmed its commitment as one of the world’s biggest development donors. It is no surprise that the UK is at the forefront of the global response and has committed up to £744 million of UK aid so far, including the highest level of funding for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to find a vaccine. We are working with other donors and refocusing our programmes on the urgent response to coronavirus.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s Gavi announcement. Does she agree that the long-term outlook for DFID’s joint funding of vaccine research projects—with, for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—will be more secure with a separate international aid department than if DFID were merged into the Foreign Office?

Our response to covid-19, including on vaccines, treatments and testing, is a great example of joint working between DFID and the FCO, as well as with Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy experts. We are able to combine our world-class diplomatic network with DFID’s global leadership on development. We are proud of the UK’s close partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including on the Wellcome therapeutics accelerator initiative, to which we committed up to £40 million with the aim of bringing 100 million courses of covid-19 treatment to those who will need it the most in 2020.

I welcome DFID’s announcement on supporting efforts to curb the spread of covid-19, but we need to increase support for non-governmental organisations. They have been granted just £20 million, but say they need £100 million to move quickly and effectively to mitigate the effects of this humanitarian crisis. Today, I have sent a cross-party letter signed by more than 100 parliamentarians from both Houses calling for further funding to be made available. The world looks to the UK in terms of international response, so will the Secretary of State reconsider NGO funding?

So far, we have made commitments in three areas of funding for resilience of vulnerable countries through international appeals, from the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the UNHCR, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, to which we have pledged £55 million. We are doing a £100 million project with Unilever, for which DFID is providing £50 million, to help to reach more than 1 billion people with sanitation training and tools. That goes alongside more than £300 million which we are providing for vaccines and therapeutics. DFID continues to lead the way forward in how all countries must help to tackle this great invisible killer.

With virtually no testing capabilities, limited supplies of ventilators and scarce hospital beds, the impact of the coronavirus on the millions of refugees who are living in overcrowded camps will be catastrophic. Since my letter highlighting this state of affairs at the start of the month, what steps has the Secretary of State taken to increase spaces for screening, isolation and quarantine for the world’s most vulnerable people?

In these early stages, DFID has led the world in its commitment to supporting organisations that can reach in to the most vulnerable communities, including the Refugee Council. We have provided £75 million to the WHO, £25 million to UNICEF and £20 million to the UNHCR as initial commitments to help those who we hope are most able to reach the most vulnerable as quickly as possible.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Bond’s recent covid-19 survey reveals that 86% of UK NGO members are cutting back or considering cutting back in-country work, so how is DFID making sure that 30 years of work in alleviating poverty does not unravel as health systems come under more strain in lower-income countries?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. There is a real challenge for those of us who are committed to helping vulnerable countries to become stronger and more self-sufficient. We have had to bring some of our team home, but many are still in country. We are finding as many ways as possible to support in-country work on the economic and the healthcare sides, to make sure that those countries do not fall over and that the work that has painstakingly been built up to help them to develop in strength and self-sufficiency does not go backward.