Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 48 - 59)




  48. Thank you very much for coming and giving evidence to the Committee. We are going to be, I hope, courteous but brisk in that we have a major debate on the floor of the House this afternoon on Iraq and a number of colleagues, understandably, either want to participate or intervene or contribute. Thank you for coming and giving evidence. James Morris put out a press release on 28 October in which he said a couple of things. He said that there were now 14 million food insecure people in the Horn and 14 million food insecure people in Southern Africa. He then went on to say in the press release that the international community, I cannot quote him verbatim but the thrust of what he said was, should be concerned that the scale of these numbers is such that the humanitarian system is in danger of being overwhelmed. Firstly, just a quick factual question. Is 14 million for the Horn and 14 million for Southern Africa about the right order of magnitude as you see it at the present moment?
  (Ms Lewis) From my latest assessments in the field for Southern Africa, certainly the peak period for assistance will begin in December and it is about 14.4 million. In Ethiopia they have assessments in the field now and the 14 million, I think, was worst case looking at all of the factors. We will know better as soon as these assessments are back and I understand they should be back in the next few days, so we will have a better idea of what the projections look like for Ethiopia. Certainly between ten, 12 and 13 is still very much very valid.

  49. Those are still pretty huge numbers.

  (Ms Lewis) Huge.

  50. Essentially this is a logistical exercise. Going on to James' second point really, does there not come a point when the food pipeline simply gets overwhelmed in the sense of your physical capacity to be able to deliver these sorts of amounts of food aid?
  (Ms Lewis) Absolutely. On Southern Africa we launched our appeal in July and we have been able to deliver just over 13 per cent of all of the needs in Southern Africa.

  51. One-three?
  (Ms Lewis) One-three, 13 per cent of all the needs. I think that what we are seeing is the longer term impact of the lack of a healthy pipeline. It is just a grinding poverty and vulnerability and I think we are beginning to look at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how bad it is going to become in Southern Africa.

Hugh Bayley

  52. It was clear to those of us who went to Malawi recently that this is not just a food shortage crisis, that the AIDS pandemic has affected productivity, the production of food, and also the impact of a food shortage will be greater because people are weakened through HIV and AIDS. To what extent does that affect the way that you are doing your work and how can longer term food security be achieved in countries like those in South Africa where a quarter of the population is HIV Positive?
  (Ms Lewis) Two points. Certainly we have been hampered by the lack of not having enough resources. We are convinced that one of the best ways to help address the HIV pandemic in terms of those who are infected and those who are affected by HIV is to increase the nutrition. This needs to be done through general distribution. As you saw, people in Africa do not have the opportunity to be tested, they do not know that they are infected with HIV, and certainly we think that if we can increase the protein and the other micronutrients that we can help people have a longer, more productive life. We have not been able to do that with the pipeline. Basically our pipeline has centred around cereals and, of course, that has an adverse affect on health. When you have too much dependence on cereals, you have pellagra and all of the things that go with that. We have not been able to do that but we are convinced that this is one of the best ways to help at giving people a little longer and a more productive life. In terms of long-term food security, I think one of the things that we are addressing now from the co-ordination unit is looking at the impact of HIV on food security. We cannot continue to have traditional agriculture as we know it. People cannot do labour intensive agriculture when they are affected. We are looking at less labour intensive irrigation. I think I read in your report that you had seen the treadle pumps. Many times people who are infected do not have the energy to even use those.

  53. I could not use the treadle pump.
  (Ms Lewis) I am glad you said that because I thought "oh, my goodness, a healthy person cannot do this". I think we have got to be very, very creative in looking at crop diversification. We have got to get away from this dependence on maize only in Southern Africa and in many other parts of Africa. We have got to look at how we can help preserve the agricultural intelligence. We are having children that are being left to try to eke out some type of living from the fields. There is a lot to be done in that area but I do not think that continuing to talk about food security in terms of traditional agriculture is even viable any more. We have got to work with the governments to be sure that we have economies and markets that support some type of agriculture economy. There is so much to be done and certainly you saw how critical the situation is in Malawi.

  54. You make me even more pessimistic because you have not had the food requirements from your appeal met, although arguably there is still some time to get some more food in. You have got about half of your requirements. For the non-food inputs you have got five per cent, next to nothing.
  (Ms Lewis) That is right.

  55. So it is one thing to say we need to address health problems, we need to address agricultural and rural development issues but do you have the resources to do so?
  (Ms Lewis) No, absolutely.

  56. Do the governments have the resources to do so?
  (Ms Lewis) No. I think the only government that has really done a fairly decent job of looking at the food imports particularly is Malawi. I think the flags were up early, the message got through and a lot has been done on that side. By and large we are still at ground zero in terms of epidemiological surveillance, nutritional surveillance, therapeutic and supplementary feeding for children. We just do not have the resources that we need to do that. All of the social sectors are certainly in the negative, if you will. From our appeal we did not have the necessary resources to meet the new agriculture inputs for this year, the seeds and the fertilizers that were needed, so that is going to have an impact on what the needs are going to be next year. No, we do not have any good news in Southern Africa.

  57. How many people in those Southern African countries that are affected do you think will die from the food shortage over the next six months?
  (Ms Lewis) It is absolutely very difficult to tell. When deaths are reported we are not sure if it is because of lack of food, if it is not having enough nutrition because they are infected with HIV, it is so intertwined. We do not have a baseline, we did not have a baseline when we started this crisis, so in terms of actually projecting how many people are going to die, it is going to be very hard to tell. We are in the rainy season now, I think we have to think about seasonal diseases, the cholera and the malaria and those increases, some of the proxy indicators for HIV, tuberculosis, all of those things. We are trying to work with the countries' health systems particularly and certainly our NGOs on the ground are looking at the situation and trying to apply it. My gut tells me that many people are going to die.

  58. Finally, to what extent do you think the governments of these countries have the capacity to respond to a crisis of this scale? One of the things that struck me while I was out there which I had never realised before—although I guess people like you have—is that if you sit down in a room with a dozen senior civil servants or politicians you are probably talking to four or five people who know they have only a couple of years to live. How can people like that plan ahead for agricultural reform when all they can do is plan for whether their families can survive through the winter? To what extent do governments have the capacity to mount a response with aid?
  (Ms Lewis) I think they are just now beginning to grapple with the situation. Certainly we are seeing the education sector totally decimated by AIDS, and in the health sector, nurses, doctors are just disappearing, not only to speak about the agricultural impacts, so I think this is the first time that we have really had very serious discussions about the AIDS pandemic and its effects on government and how to deal with it. We are just now beginning to focus on the impact, but the governments do not have the capacity to deal with it and I think the longer-term implications are just dreadful.


  59. We tend to get asked this from time to time by commentators saying that the problems of Africa are the fault of Africa, it is all their own fault, through bad governance or whatever. You see a flurry of these comments every time this issue is raised. Most of us have spent many years looking at concepts of sustainable development but does not the combination of drought and disease make any of our pre-existing notions of sustainable development in countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe a complete nonsense?
  (Ms Lewis) I think so. If you look at the amount of development aid that has gone into many of these countries and you just take the human development indices, we are going backwards, we are not making progress. We really have not been able to use that assistance properly to get at the grinding poverty that is affecting these countries. If you look at the six countries in this crisis, five of them are still in the very bottom of the human development index and are the poorest countries in the world. We have the highest malnutrition rates in the world, we have the highest chronic malnutrition in the world, we have got the highest rates of wasting and stunting in the world, then you add HIV on top of it. So talking about sustainable development right now is almost moot, if you will. I do not want to be cynical about development. We have got to continue to talk about this and we have got to continue to strive to do things differently.

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