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Africa: Flooding

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 7 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What financial assistance they are providing to the countries in south-east Africa that are affected by the recent flooding.

My Lords, the UK has provided the following support in response to floods in southern Africa: £97,000 through Save the Children and £250,000 through Oxfam for emergency water and sanitation in Mozambique; and £300,000 to support the World Food Programme’s operations in Zambia. The UK is also the largest donor to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, contributing £40 million this year. So far, US $4 million has been allocated from the CERF for priority operations in Mozambique including logistics, shelter and health.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. This is the second year running that disastrous floods have hit the region. This year’s floods are coming close to the catastrophic 2000-01 floods which killed 700 people and displaced more than 500,000 people from their homes. The construction of the Cahora Bassa dam from 1969 to 1974 was meant to provide electricity to the southern African electric grid, but was also designed to regulate the flow of the Zambezi river and, in so doing, protect the people who inhabit the flood plains from perennial droughts and floods. The devastating floods show that the Cahora Bassa dam is not doing a great job. What are the Government doing to provide aid to develop the flood control mechanism?

My Lords, it is certainly the case that the water management of the Zambezi needs to be more successfully engineered than it has been in the recent past. There have been one or two catastrophic mistakes. The House will appreciate that the issues that face Mozambique and other states in southern Africa have also been created by the most adverse weather conditions, and now we are entering the cyclone period. DfID is concerned to play its full part in humanitarian aid to deal with the emergency, but the noble Baroness is right that we need to address ourselves to the longer run issues, in particular, the resettlement of people away from the immediate flood plain.

My Lords, in his reply the Minister did not mention the UN’s disaster relief emergency fund special appeal for $7.3 million which I understand has been seriously undersubscribed. Would the Government recommend that all contributions to funds such as that should be published by the donors so that the public in their countries can see how they have responded in comparison with other donors? Can the Minister also say what measures are taken to co-ordinate the many agencies that have been involved across the region, such as the International Red Cross, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme and so on?

My Lords, DfID is the largest donor to the emergency fund, so we can stand tall in that respect. We make it quite clear what our contributions are: others are more coy. I hear what the noble Lord says, but he will appreciate that getting international action in terms of openness is somewhat difficult. We concentrate on playing our full part. The co-ordination of agencies and emergency relief has been rather well done. It is never satisfactory because the demands are so huge, but it has been rather well done with regard to this emergency. We have not had great anxieties on that score. The problem, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, indicated, is that this is the second time in two years and the third time in seven years that the area has been devastated. That is why we need both water management and to protect people from the problems.

My Lords, is this not an urgent matter? It is right for the noble Baroness to raise it at such length. Is it correct that one of the floodgates of Kariba is about to be opened next week thereby flooding something like 800 kilometres of the lower Zambezi? Hundreds of thousands of people have already been moved to resettlement camps which will now be flooded again. Mozambique is full of disaster preparedness plans. Will the Minister accept that it is governments who are inept, the people who are suffering and the organisations on the ground that are having to cope with this?

My Lords, it is clearly a subject about which one can be over wordy. I will be as brief as possible. The noble Earl is right that for hydroelectric purposes it is probable that the gates will be opened again. That helps to generate needed electricity, but of course there are consequences much further down the river which are affecting Mozambique badly. That kind of co-ordination is extremely difficult to effect and DfID has only a marginal part to play in that.

My Lords, does Mozambique's membership of the Commonwealth give it any priority in its claim on our funds or on funds from the rest of the Commonwealth?

My Lords, the House will recognise that the Government have been very concerned for a number of years to give more support to Africa. Of course, Mozambique, which was not a British colony but which became free and joined the Commonwealth, does benefit from the decisions of DfID and the Government as a whole to spend more on Commonwealth countries.