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World Food Programme

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 27 June 2019


Asked by

My Lords, DfID is a strong supporter of the World Food Programme, providing over £445 million of funding in 25 countries across the world in 2018. Our contributions support critical, life-saving work in countries such as Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo and those of the Sahel. The UK is currently the agency’s fourth-largest donor and a member of its executive board. The WFP is one of our main humanitarian partners, with a strong mandate to fight hunger and provide food assistance.

My Lords, I welcome the UK’s support for the World Food Programme, particularly in Yemen, where it is so dangerous for it to operate. Can my noble friend please give the UK’s assessment of the impact of the World Food Programme decision, just last week, to suspend partially its delivery of aid in Yemen because of its misappropriation by Houthi rebels? How can we help to resolve that situation?

My noble friend is quite right to highlight the complexities of delivering aid in Yemen. We are extremely concerned that the WFP has been forced to consider suspending the delivery of life-saving food assistance, in part due to excessive Houthi restrictions on and interference in aid delivery. The Houthis must stop this interference and agree to the WFP’s conditions. The WFP has carefully selected where it will initially suspend its support, and the UN is reviewing the impact of the suspension of general food distribution and how different agencies can ensure that those in need of life-saving assistance can receive it.

My Lords, WFP executive director David Beasley told the Security Council in June that he had been warning authorities since November 2017 about the problems in Yemen—the resistance and the threat to humanitarian workers. Can the Minister tell us a bit more about how we responded to those initial threats and what we will do now to ensure that the humanitarian aid gets to where it is most needed?

The noble Lord is quite right: the executive director has been highlighting this issue for some time. There have been talks with the Houthis about ensuring that aid can be delivered safely and that our humanitarian workers are protected. The UK is playing a leading role in responding to the crisis, through both our humanitarian programmes and, importantly, our diplomatic influence. Of course, we need to ensure that we achieve a political solution in Yemen.

My Lords, in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year the executive director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, referred to the Sahel region as ripe for mass migration, destabilisation and many other issues. Climate change is a factor and the UN estimates that 80% of the region’s farmland has been degraded as a consequence. How does DfID work with the WFP to plan for impending food crises?

The noble Baroness highlights the Sahel. Humanitarian needs remain incredibly high there, with significant spikes due to underlying structural challenges, inadequate access to basic services and cyclical food insecurity. We are working closely with the WFP to ensure that it has the right organisational capacity and programming to meet the different needs of vulnerable people. We provided £248 million in humanitarian assistance to the Sahel and Cameroon from 2015 to 2019, which supported more than 2 million people.

The noble Baroness knows that a similar crisis exists in South Sudan, a country that is only seven years old. Seven million people face malnutrition and starvation, with 4 million displaced in other countries. As always in such a situation, the real problem is access. Can the Minister specifically encourage the World Food Programme to make more effort to get to those areas other agencies cannot reach?

The South Sudanese people are facing appalling suffering in our youngest nation. We are working closely with the WFP to ensure that it is able to improve access. It has made good progress in the effectiveness of its aid, adapting to the changing and challenging environment. We funded biometric registration last year, which has led to a reduction in operational costs. We are also looking at how we can better deliver food using the waterways rather than air transport to reach the people who need it.

My Lords, tragically, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is suffering from an Ebola outbreak as well as severe food insecurity. Can my noble friend tell the House exactly how DfID is working with the World Food Programme to reach the DRC and ease the situation there?

My noble friend is right to point out the difficult situation in the DRC. It is a complex challenge, with much conflict, densely populated areas and difficulty in gaining community trust. We are a major donor to the Ebola response and a leading donor to the regional preparedness. On food insecurity, in particular, which is worsening, the WFP is the only actor with the capacity to respond on the scale needed. We have provided more than £35 million to the WFP since December 2017 and that is expected to assist approximately 800,000 people. The WFP is a strong partner in our work in the DRC. It is able to deliver at scale and is good value for money, getting food to the people who desperately need it.

My Lords, the key arterial road for the biggest area of population density in Yemen is the Hodeidah to Sanaa road. Would it be useful if the Government produced a note on specifically how food distribution interacts with the ceasefire talks? Is this not a special feature that could be identified to find a solution to the wider problem—if there was an agreement on how the food can be delivered along that road?

The noble Lord is right to point out the importance of both Hodeidah and Salif ports in allowing the onward supply of aid. The impact of violence around Hodeidah on commercial and humanitarian access is one of the main reasons the UN is warning of the growing risk of further food insecurity in Yemen. There can be no return to military operations in Hodeidah. Any renewed military push would be catastrophic for Yemen, potentially pushing millions towards famine. I am happy to write to the noble Lord with further information on how aid is distributed.

My Lords, is DfID using modern technologies, such as blockchain and smart contracts, to, in effect, cut out all the middle people in the process and enable funds to get, say, from her agency directly to farmers all around the world?

We are investing in innovation to ensure that our programmes and those of the WFP are as effective as possible. The noble Viscount mentioned agriculture, which is an area we are working in. There is the Farm to Market Alliance, an initiative that allows smallholders to use digital apps to produce and sell their crops. We are working with the WFP to develop that.