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East Africa: Food Security

Volume 804: debated on Monday 13 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of (1) the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) desert locusts, on food security in countries in east Africa, and in particular in (a) Sudan, and (b) South Sudan.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the food security situation in east Africa. In Sudan, we expect the number of people without access to sufficient food to increase this year by 35% to 9.6 million. In South Sudan, already 6.5 million people suffer acute food insecurity. The UK is working across east Africa to provide life-saving assistance, cash transfers where markets are still functioning, and tools and seeds to build a longer-term ability to respond to shocks.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer and I welcome the Government’s efforts over the desert locust storms and Covid-19 in east Africa and the Sudans. What UK aid programmes have been cut as a result of moving funding for these urgent projects? The FAO reports that some 19 million people were food insecure in the region last year, so the situation is worse than it was 12 months previously. In South Sudan, close to 60% of the population are severely food insecure. Locust swarms present a double crisis for those battling the Covid pandemic, preventing the delivery of locust-control equipment and restricting access to response teams with essential advice and expertise. Will the UK Government commit to maintaining the central purpose of our 0.7% GNI aid programme as ODA compliant to support east Africans with meagre health infrastructure and to ensure access to affordable Covid vaccines, once available?

My Lords, as the noble Lord said, we are committed to 0.7% of our GNI. That commitment continues, and will continue, to work to end poverty. The noble Lord refers to a process that departments are going through at the moment, given the likely reduction in GNI this year. I am afraid I do not have further information about that process but it will be available in due course.

With the economy of Sudan collapsing and inflation rocketing, the Anglican Archbishop of Khartoum said recently that people would rather die of Covid-19 than of hunger. In South Sudan the Anglican Archbishop of Juba said that mortality rates were already high and, in response to the virus, hygiene and social isolation are difficult—indeed, almost impossible. The diocese of Salisbury has a long-standing partnership with the Anglican churches in those countries and we have launched an emergency appeal this month for at least £50,000 for hygiene and food. What are the British Government doing to support the improvement of hygiene and food in those countries? What does the Minister think we are learning about the motivation for our giving aid to these countries?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate for his fundraising efforts. I talked earlier about 0.7%; while it is wonderful that we spend that much money overseas, given Covid, locusts and flooding, those needs are very great so people need further help. The UK Government will continue to support countries across east Africa, including Sudan and South Sudan. We will ensure that we are providing healthcare, clean water and nutrition where possible.

My Lords, given that the UK is a signatory to the Agenda for Humanity’s Grand Bargain initiative, which encourages the use of local and regional NGOs in the delivery of aid, what steps are the Government taking to use local and regional NGOs to deliver food aid in Sudan and South Sudan?

We continue to work to improve the effectiveness of the international humanitarian system. In the time of Covid-19, that is more important than ever. The UK is the largest donor to the UN’s Sudan humanitarian pooled fund, which aims to advance the Grand Bargain commitments that my noble friend referred to. That works by providing direct funding to national NGOs, as well as building the capacity of local partners to strengthen programmes and deliver results.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Disasters Emergency Committee. That committee is launching a coronavirus appeal tomorrow to protect refugees and displaced people in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, including South Sudan, Yemen and Syria. Given the devastating consequences of the virus for those already desperately vulnerable people, will the Government encourage the public to give generously to that appeal by doing so themselves in the form of aid matching?

I thank the noble Baroness for highlighting the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. We will be supporting that appeal; I think we will be making an announcement on it tomorrow. The noble Baroness also referred to support for refugees and internally displaced people. Today we are making an announcement that we are supporting 5,500 teachers to ensure that refugees, over half of whom are young people, will be able to continue their education throughout the crisis.

My Lords, the situation in Sudan is so awful that one can hardly imagine it. Women play a crucial role with vulnerable people in the global food system as producers and workers and at processing plants. In the present situation, it is almost impossible to buy food. We have to think about how the right and proper nutritional food can be made available and can be bought and consumed or given as aid. We know the importance of the right nutrition from gestation for the mother and for the child during the growth of the brain, the lungs and the body, and none of this can wait until later. It is important that there is a proper diet. I want to know how we can ensure that food is getting directly to mothers and children on the ground. We must look at the metrics through a gender lens.

The noble Baroness refers to the situation of women in Sudan. We welcome some of the recent reforms that will support women in Sudan. Gender inequality of course plays a significant role in food security and the nutrition status of individuals. Entrenched sociocultural norms and practices are placing women and girls at greater risk. We are working with the World Food Programme and others to ensure that we are targeting vulnerable groups, including women and girls, as the response continues and as we help to increase food productivity and the diversification of crops and livestock for women farmers.

Does the Minister agree that growing food insecurity in Ethiopia, compounded by Covid-19 and the ongoing locust infestation, is placing further strain on an already fragile political situation? What support are the Government providing to relieve these added pressures and to help ensure that Prime Minister Abiy’s reform process is successful?

I agree with the noble Lord that the humanitarian context in Ethiopia is increasingly complex and of concern. The UK supports a safety-net programme to deliver food and small cash transfers to 8 million people in Ethiopia, and we continue to support the welcome reforms, which include supporting the independent electoral board, organised free and fair elections, and the consultations with civil society and media. We are reviewing the impact of the recent political insecurity on these reforms.

My Lords, the pandemic will have multiplied the challenges that the poorest are facing in the least developed countries. Reducing or cancelling debt is only part of the solution. Will my noble friend ensure that the processes for businesses that wish to go and operate in those developing nations are streamlined by the Government, which would benefit not just those countries but our country as well?

My noble friend referred to debt relief. Of course, the UK—together with other G20 countries—suspended debt service payments, making up to £12 billion of additional fiscal space. I agree with my noble friend that we must support UK businesses in investing in developing countries, and we are doing that through our work with UK Export Finance and the CDC, our development finance institution. I agree that we must do more to streamline the process.

My Lords, the United Nations World Food Programme acute food insecurity and malnutrition forecast for this year confirms the terrible figures that the Minister gave in her Answer. Sudan alone will have up to 9 million people facing food insecurity this year as that insecurity worsens after the coronavirus epidemic. That is a potential famine of biblical proportions. Have the Government had any discussions with the UN in respect of that report? If so, what action ensued from those discussions?

Existing humanitarian disasters and conflicts are going to be exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19. We are working hard to urgently redirect programmes right across Africa to respond to these compound risks. We will be working through our country programming and multilateral responses, as well as through the World Food Programme.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the combined departments of the FCO and DfID will now provide added value to UK humanitarian work in the Sudans, and to good governance? Can she report on any progress with conflict prevention in the south?

DfID and the FCO already have a joint Sudans unit covering both Sudan and South Sudan. That work will continue and, as the noble Earl says, with the new department we will be able to ensure that we use both our diplomatic and development expertise to the highest effect.

Sitting suspended.