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House of Commons

Wednesday 26 June 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Mersey Tunnels Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 9 July at Seven o'clock.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Famine (Southern Africa)

1. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): If she will make a statement on international efforts to tackle famine in southern Africa. [62468]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): The causes of food shortages in southern Africa this year are drought and misgovernment. In Zimbabwe, which accounts for over half of the region's total food requirements, economic mismanagement and grossly mis-organised land reform have seriously exacerbated the effects of the drought.

The World Food Programme will next week launch a regional appeal for food for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland. The WFP estimates that 4 million tonnes of cereal imports will be needed. Of that, 2.8 million tonnes will need to be provided by the private sector and government imports, and 1.2 million tonnes through food aid, which will be distributed free. Hardly any preparations have been made in Zimbabwe, and I am fearful that we are facing a serious catastrophe.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank my right hon. Friend for that full response. It is undoubtedly true that current levels of bilateral aid to Africa, with the pledges, will be treble what they were under the last Tory Government. However, in central Mozambique, there are one in five people with AIDS-related HIV, which is exacerbating the problem. In Zambia, there is the worst drought for 20 years. In Zimbabwe and Angola, Governments interfere in food aid. In Malawi and Zambia, people are scouring the bare maize fields for weeds to eat. There are corruption, political problems, HIV and famine.

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My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Please be seated. Perhaps the Minister will try to reply to that question.

Clare Short: Yes, Africa is the poorest continent. Nearly half its people are abjectly poor. On current trends, the continent will become poorer. However, we have progress in a number of countries—for example, Uganda, Mozambique, Ghana and Botswana, and Ethiopia is turning round. We must take the plight of Africa seriously and we must ensure that there is a move forward to peace and development.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): We recognise that some of the problems are self-inflicted, as in Zimbabwe. However, will the Secretary of State tell us how Malawi was guided by the World Bank to release about £750,000 worth of wheat stock, which would now have been helpful to it?

Clare Short: That is an untrue excuse that has been given by the Government of Malawi. The country had large food stocks, but they must always be rotated to keep them fresh. Malawi borrowed money at great expense to have its food stocks. The IMF suggested that it could slim them down and rotate them. Malawi sold the lot. It is not clear where the money or the food went. That has exacerbated the crisis. That is the responsibility of the Government of Malawi. They are co-operating with the international community, and I hope that we can help the people of Malawi through. The situation in Zimbabwe, where nearly half of the people are in trouble, is much more worrying.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage): Have the South African Government been involved in providing food aid in the region?

Clare Short: I am not aware whether the South African Government have provided food aid. Much of the food has to come through South Africa and South African transport routes. We are talking not only about quantities but about getting the food in to the places where it is needed. It is a major logistical task and South Africa has been very involved. I think that we will also need to bring in food also through the ports on the coast of Mozambique if we are to get in enough food.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): While the famine in southern Africa has been developing and numerous aid agencies have been warning of an impending crisis, there have been 13 world summits. I will not read out the list, Mr. Speaker, because it would make you cross. What does the Secretary of State estimate to be the cost of all this talking? With far less than a dollar a day, how many people could have been saved with the money expended?

Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Lady's underlying point. There are too many conferences on international development. There are too many grand declarations and too little implementation. We have been trying to get a grip on not having endless repeat UN conferences where we renegotiate the text that was agreed last time, and instead report on progress against what was agreed last time. The recent run of summits from the millennium

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assembly tying the world to the millennium development goals, to Doha, to the commitment to a development round, to Monterrey to a reformed agenda and more money, and I hope, to Johannesburg, to get a commitment to sustainable development and poverty reduction, constitutes a good round. We should then implement and have fewer conferences.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): At a recent conference in madrid attended by African and European parliamentarians and organised by the Association of European Parliamentarians for Africa, there was concern among the African parliamentarians that the emphasis on the New Partnership for Africa's Development initiative needed to have more links with the emphasis on relieving poverty and debt in southern Africa, and therefore relieving famine. Will my hon. Friend comment on how famine and poverty relief will be worked into the NEPAD initiative that is being discussed at the G8 summit?

Clare Short: The whole point of NEPAD and all its targets is to move Africa forward to meet the millennium development goals. It is all about reducing poverty sustainably. That is the purpose of NEPAD. My hon. Friend's comments reflect the fact that there has been too little work across Africa to let the people of Africa know what NEPAD is about. We, through the Global Coalition for Africa, will engage in such an exercise.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): In our debate on Zimbabwe last night, the Secretary of State said that

What additional pressure is being brought to bear on Robert Mugabe to enable food imports to stave off famine?

Clare Short: As the hon. Lady knows, it is very difficult to bring sensible pressure to bear on President Mugabe. He does not take advice, it seems, from anyone. The Government of Zimbabwe are not yet making credible plans to deal with the impending disaster. In order for the private sector to operate, price controls need to be removed, the exchange rate needs to be adjusted, and the state grain monopoly must be abolished. Otherwise, the private sector will not be able to operate. There will be lots of people with money and there will be no food to buy. We must get food aid through to the people with no money. Kofi Annan and the leader of the World Food Programme are trying to exert pressure, but the situation remains extremely worrying.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): With regard to Malawi, is my right hon. Friend saying that the President of Malawi sold the food to Kenya and that the money is missing? In that case, what electronic information can the International Monetary Fund give us about where the money has gone?

Clare Short: No, I am not saying that the food has been sold to Kenya. We do not know where the food is. There is about to be a crisis, and people sometimes hoard and speculate with food when countries are facing famine, as my hon. Friend probably knows. We do not know

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where the money is or where the food is, and we know that there is an impending crisis in Malawi but the Government are co-operating. There is an inquiry into these matters, but we must get people fed while we make inquiries about what happened.

Mrs. Spelman: Last night the Secretary of State also said that the only way she could see the Mugabe regime being brought down was as an inexorable consequence of the famine. How does that square with the Prime Minister's rhetoric about healing the scars of Africa and declaring no tolerance of the activities of Mr. Mugabe? Were those just empty words?

Clare Short: The hon. Lady and her party were banging on about that last night in a most foolish way, and I am sorry that she has returned to the matter today. The presumption is that the UK Government can fix catastrophes in the world, when Governments are determined, against all international advice, to wreck their country. No UK Government can do that. The present UK Government have done everything in their power to try to dissuade the Zimbabwe regime from the course that it is taking. Even in the face of impending famine conditions, the regime goes on making errors that will make matters worse.

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