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3. Linda Perham (Ilford, North): What steps she is taking to support the Afghan Interim Authority in its efforts to meet (a) humanitarian and (b) longer-term needs. [69875]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): Our objective is to help build a stable and secure Afghanistan with a growing economy and reducing poverty. Progress has been made, but the needs are massive and improved security is vital. There are still very serious problems with malnutrition.

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Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with very high infant mortality rates. We are channelling humanitarian support through the appropriate agencies, and financial support through the Reconstruction Trust Fund. We are focusing our technical support on building capacity for economic management, a reformed security sector, and better livelihoods for poor people.

Linda Perham: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, and for what she is doing. Does she agree that realising the rights of women is fundamental to the future of Afghanistan, and could she comment on what her Department is doing to support the women of Afghanistan?

Clare Short: I do agree. In Afghanistan as elsewhere, as Kofi Annan said so tellingly:

Some 70 per cent. of the world's poor are women and their children. If we cannot educate girls and empower women, we cannot reduce poverty in the world. That is particularly true of Afghanistan, given the behaviour of the Taliban. Some very brave Afghan women made their contribution at the Loya Jirga by challenging the warlords. That showed the value of having those voices in politics. The schools are reopening and girls are teeming back to school, but it remains a desperately poor country with terrible malnutrition rates. Many children—I think one in four—die before the age of five, so we have a long way to go. Empowering women is a major part of the answer.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Has the Secretary of State tracked how much of the £200 million that she channelled from the taxpayer has been allocated to primary health care projects, particularly those relating to women's health issues? How much of it is being spent on practical infrastructure such as water, drainage, waste and refuse disposal, and electricity?

Clare Short: In fact, we have not allocated any of the £200 million. We have allocated £60 million since 11 September, but that was not part of the £200 million pledge. In the early stages, we are focusing on keeping the humanitarian effort going. Before 11 September, 5 million people a day were being fed by trucked-in food; now, that figure is 9 million. We must keep that effort going as we build up the capacity of the Afghan state to take forward self-government and self-empowerment. We also need order across the country, and the creation of a new Afghan national army—which can disempower the warlords and address their taxation of local people—is crucial to the creation of a united Afghanistan. We are making progress, but we have not made as much as we would like. There remains an awful lot to do.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As my right hon. Friend knows, members of the International Development Committee will visit Afghanistan in October. When we were in Pakistan last year, we were told by the Pakistan Government that they were receiving insufficient help in respect of the tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan. What are we doing to help them? As my right hon. Friend knows, if the refugees return too quickly to Afghanistan, it simply will not be able to cope.

Clare Short: I am aware that three members of the Select Committee, including my hon. Friend, are going to

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Kabul. Unfortunately, it will not be possible to travel outside Kabul because of security concerns relating to other problems in the country. None the less, I hope that it will prove a useful visit.

There are some 4 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan; in comparison, the numbers in countries such as ours are tiny. Through the UN system, we and others have been providing support, but life is tough in the camps, as my hon. Friend testified when she returned. A million Afghans have returned from Pakistan to Afghanistan, yet the situation is still bad, which shows how difficult life in the camps is. Support is being provided, but I strongly believe that no one should tell refugees when to return; they should decide themselves. If they decide that life is better in Afghanistan, we must help them to get home and to start to rebuild their lives.

Tony Baldry (Banbury): Does the Secretary of State agree that there can be no long-term reconstruction in Afghanistan until the security situation improves? An enormous amount has been said about the fight against al-Qaeda, but the international community must not lose sight of the fact that there is an enormous way to go if the security situation in Afghanistan is to improve. The fact that, a year on, we are unable to move not simply beyond Kabul but beyond the boundaries of the UK embassy, is a demonstration of how much the situation must improve if there is to be any long-term improvement in Afghanistan.

Clare Short: I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. Earlier there was talk of an international security assistance force going to all the main cities of Afghanistan, but it was decided that that was not to be done. If that is not to be done, we need to get on speedily—I agree that this should have started already—with building a national army and recruiting fighters who are currently paid by warlords into a national multi-ethnic army that can produce order throughout the country. We must also help to produce a proper tax system to provide revenue to the proper Government. I very much regret the delay in making progress on this and we must all do what we can to press the United States to help us to start to make progress.

Poverty Reduction

4. Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): What steps she is taking to monitor and improve poverty reduction strategies in countries receiving debt relief. [69876]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): The UK worked hard to reshape IMF and World Bank relations with developing countries through the creation of the poverty reduction strategy process. This puts developing country Governments—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber.

Clare Short: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The process puts developing country Governments in the lead in bringing together economic policy and the distribution of debt relief, aid and local revenues in order

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to reduce poverty. The strategies are publicly debated and scrutinised before they are agreed. We are monitoring progress and believe that this approach is leading to improved economic management and social reform.

Mr. Reed: Does my right hon. Friend agree that poverty reduction works only if it is not an accounting method, but improves the lives of the poorest in the countries involved? Does she agree that civil society must be involved in the production of those poverty reduction plans, such as in Uganda? Will she try her hardest to ensure that the World Bank and the IMF includes civil society in the outcomes of all poverty reduction plans, so that they make a difference to the poorest in the country and not just to the bankers and the leaders?

Clare Short: I agree with my hon. Friend that poverty reduction means improvements in people's lives. The shift of the measurement of progress by the IMF-World Bank programmes to poverty reduction means that they must focus on people's lives and not on some theoretical economic reform. That is one of the improvements that has been made. It is a requirement of poverty reduction strategies that they are openly debated with civil society. We must make sure that it is not just a few groups who are capable of applying to agencies such as mine for grants, but that representatives of the people, such as churches, women's organisations and village groups, can apply so that the real poor get a say in the priorities of their country. That is improving, but there is a way to go. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must ask the House to be quiet. There are hon. Members who are interested in this matter.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): Does the Secretary of State agree that poverty reduction strategies can be severely compromised by arms export deals that entail debt obligations? As the Export Control Bill comes to the House for the last time this afternoon without a sustainable development clause, can she say what action she can take as a Minister to minimise the damage?

Clare Short: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My aspiration is that we should learn the lessons of the Tanzania air traffic control case, whatever side of the argument one might be on. Such a contract will not be made again. We helped Tanzania to have procurement, financial management and scrutiny systems, and I am confident that those systems are now in place in Tanzania. The way in which we apply criterion 8—not giving a licence to something that would threaten the sustainable development of a poor country—must be tightened up and improved, and there has been an internal review.

Personally, I do not think that we need the amendment—although I respect those who fought for it—to achieve a tighter and better application of the sustainable development rule. But I agree that that is what we should achieve, and then good will have come out of bad.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House will welcome the apparent easing of tension between India and Pakistan, but will be gravely concerned about the humanitarian problems in Bangladesh, in view of the flooding that has

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led to 1 million becoming homeless, affected 30 per cent. of the country and left 50 dead? Will my right hon. Friend continue her excellent efforts and encourage the European Union to emulate her actions?

Clare Short: I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is welcome that the tension has reduced between India and Pakistan. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has put a lot of effort into that. However, I do not think that the crisis is by any means over. We still have 1 million men on the line of control and elections are due on the Indian side of the line, in Jammu and Kashmir. If we have any crises, we could have an escalation, and then it could easily go nuclear. We should not take our eye off the danger there.

I also agree with my right hon. Friend that Bangladesh copes enormously well with its floods, but it deserves more support and help because so many poor people there deserve a better chance in life.

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