Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-228)




  220. The events of September 11 and after, as mentioned by the Prime Minister in his speech in the City and by the Chancellor last week, demonstrated that we need a coalition against poverty. How do we ensure that the United States continues to engage in this world? They gave 0.1 per cent of gross national product to development aid. If they were only to come up to the DAC average it would make a substantial difference. Is this not a good opportunity for us to engage with colleagues from Congress to demonstrate to them the benefits of a coalition against poverty?
  (Clare Short) This is a profoundly important question. The suicide bombers of 11 September appear not to have come from poor countries. They were predominantly from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. The conditions that breed the bitterness and division and the hatred, however, are linked to poverty and injustice; there is no doubt about that. It is not that it excuses September 11 but it is partly the breeding ground for the events of September 11. I have just been at this World Bank meeting in Ottawa. There is recognition that the world is more interdependent than ever and the richest and most powerful are more vulnerable than ever because the nature of modern technology and trade opens your economy, opens the movement of people, and the nature of information technology is vulnerable if people want to attack it and destroy the mechanisms that keep a modern society going. I agree with you that it is a historical opportunity to grasp that insight and take it forward. Whether the US will do that I do not think we can say is guaranteed. There is probably more understanding of the need but this is an extraordinary country, a generous country, as anyone who has visited it knows, made up of people migrating from all parts of the world, the only great power in the world that almost turns its back on the rest of the world. It is a paradox that it is like this and that everyone thinks inwardly. I agree with you that we have to redouble our efforts on poverty. You know the statistics: one in five in abject poverty, 2.4 billion on less than two dollars a day, more communications than we have ever had so the poor of the world can see how the rich of the world live, which I think makes more anger, and we have got two billion new people about to be born in the next 30 years that will all live in the developing countries. We have made great gains in development. We know what to do and we can either take that forward and have a safer world or not, and have more bitter division and trouble for the future. We continue to work with the parts of the US administration to which we relate as we do in the international institutions like the World Bank, but this is not easy and I would encourage your Committee to think of ways that you might try to visit and form relationships with the appropriate Congressional committees. This is a really important issue for the world. It is not that the US is ungenerous. It somehow just is not sharing this insight or the capacity to move it forward that other countries have and it is urgent that we work on trying to get them there.

  221. I read the Chancellor's speech with care about the international trust fund for 2015 where he says that the international community are going to require 50 billion dollars a year to meet those targets, and phrases like "we must substantially increase development assistance priorities". When it comes to the 0.7 per cent target, what he said was, "and we are committed to making substantial additional progress". I do not know if it would cause you any embarrassment if this Committee were collectively to say that the sooner that 0.7 per cent target is met by the UK the better, not least because it will enable us to exert much greater moral authority on the international community.
  (Clare Short) It would not embarrass me in the slightest. I have been known to say such things myself, both privately and publicly. The international development targets, now the millennium development goals, because they were re-affirmed in the Millennium Conference of the UN, we have got an unprecedented international agreement right through—World Bank, IMF, all the multilateral development banks except the Intra-American Development Bank. The whole of the UN system, the OECD, DAC and all the bilaterals, the EU, that those targets should be the umbrella under which we all work, we should seek to drive them forward in every country. We should measure progress and we have also got a global objective. This gives us an opportunity to get the international system working together in a way it never has and measuring the success of economic reform on systematic poverty reduction, which again was separated in past endeavours. The Zedillo Report, the former President of Mexico, the report he prepared for the UN Financing for Development Conference that is coming up in March next year, I think, in Monterrey, said that we need this change of conception of what aid and ODA is for from propping people up with charitable handouts to building effective modern states that enable people to be educated and run their economy. There is no doubt that we have got failed states that we have just been discussing and without some kind of inputs and investment from overseas some countries will never get to the point of being able to take off. The Zedillo Report, our and the World Bank's recent report both said that we need to massively improve the quality with which aid is spent, focusing it on poverty, backing reforms, creating capacity, but we need to double the quantity to get the whole world to meet the targets. Both reports say the same thing. The Chancellor acknowledged that in his speech and then said that the UK must make efforts and he is trying to get the G7 to make efforts. We must make sure that the UK uses its influence internationally, but it has to get itself into a rather stronger leading position to have the moral authority to call on others. I have said this to the Chancellor and I know he is sympathetic but we all have to keep our eye on this ball. The Comprehensive Spending Review has now started.

  222. We understand that only too well. One last question from me: poppies. One of the curses of Afghanistan which we have not mentioned has been poor farmers growing poppies, which have been a curse to us all in terms of massive heroin production. I notice in your briefing that DFID had been giving emergency help to half a million people, former poppy growers and labourers and their families. What is happening to that programme? Do you see it returning now there is some creeping stability in the country? How are we going to ensure that Afghanistan does not revert to growing opium poppies again in large numbers?
  (Clare Short) The opium growing was part of the failed state. As all the irrigation systems were destroyed by war—there used to be enormous fruit growing and so on and exports from Afghanistan historically—and as it ceased to be a legitimate state people took to growing poppies and truckers took to trucking it out as their only way to survive. They were not using it. It was because it was a failed state with no legitimate commerce. The Taliban appear to have used it in big quantities to purchase the things that they wanted, and they had warehouses full of it. They did not approve of anyone using it of course but were happy to trade in it. It was corrupting not just Afghanistan but also neighbouring countries. Iran is terribly troubled by the border traffic and has tried to make enormous efforts to stop it getting into Iran. It was also corrupting Pakistani institutions because you get such mega money in this large scale drug dealing that then you get corruption going into defence intelligence and other institutions in Pakistan, so this was a failed state starting to cause this kind of corruption through the drug trade. It damages our countries but it was damaging neighbouring countries. Just before September 11 the Taliban, under a lot of pressure from the international community and the UN, said that no more could be grown. There were still warehouses full of it. This meant that these very poor people had nothing, no crop, no income, and we were preparing emergency programmes for them. Then September 11 happened and we could not go ahead because with the situation it was impossible. Now that will be part of the reconstruction: a legitimate open state that therefore cannot be a big source of drug growing. Colombia is another one: failed states that are not legitimate states behind which big drug growing goes on by desperate, poor people who do not use the drug and have no other means of making a living. It has to be a core part of the reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iran and Pakistan will be mightily relieved because of the damage it was doing to them as well as of course addicts and people who trade in drugs in our own country.

Chris McCafferty

  223. I noticed in your objectives for the first hundred days that voluntary disarmament is high on the list and also de-mobbing soldiers and so on. Given that I do not think we have ever seen an Afghan soldier without a Kalashnikov or something over his shoulder, that seems very optimistic to me—desirable but very optimistic. I wondered how you saw that happening. Who would take responsibility for this initiation? Secondly, child soldiers. Many of the boys have been fighting from a very young age. A lot of them have lost one parent, many have lost two. They must be very traumatised, very brutalised. Returning those children to school I would suggest would not be enough. Is there any thinking about how those children can be counselled and supported given that they are the future of the country and we do not want history to repeat itself?
  (Clare Short) This is now where we start to unfold the complexity of this welcome task we are going to have. Clearly it will be essential, as rapidly as possible, as we were saying, to build Afghan police and Afghan disciplined military forces, properly accountable to the transitional government, properly managed. DDR will clearly be part of that and this has happened in many other countries, where you ask fighters to come in to potentially join a new national armed forces but then to hand in their weapons and be trained, as we have done in Sierra Leone. I am getting ahead of myself. I am not aware of detailed plans of this kind but we have done it in other countries and something like this is going to have to happen. As you say, something like that is going to have to happen in a country where people take great pride, and always have, in having a weapon, though of course not in the quantities, not the tanks and anti-aircraft weaponry that now is littering the country. It will be difficult but it must be done and it will be done because there will have to be some disciplined Afghan security forces. It will not be easy but it will have to be done and it will no doubt be approved by the transitional government who will want their own armed forces, I am sure, and then with help from the UN and the World Bank and others like us who have tried to do it in other countries. Child soldiers: when you look at the 2015 targets for getting all children in the world into primary education, countries like Afghanistan stand out as nowhere near. Of course there are lots of child soldiers because of the disorder. We have in Sierra Leone and other places the DRC, UNICEF in the lead, child soldiers who have been de-mobilised, programmes of counselling in care to try and get them ready to go back into normal life. It is not easy. Some of these very young children, especially in the case of Sierra Leone, have killed members of their own family, raped and pillaged. They are very damaged children but we have to do what we can. There are a lot of damaged people in Afghanistan. I had an asylum seeker in my advice bureau on Saturday morning with a note from one of my local hospitals saying he had got post traumatic syndrome. I wonder how many people in Afghanistan have not got it. He was having dreams and was anxious to get back because his family was there, and that is a grown man, father of eight sons, he told me. Yes, that will all have to be done. We are doing it in other parts of the world but this just starts to elaborate and describe the scale of the task we are going to have.

Hugh Bayley

  224. We have not talked about the EU. What has their role been and are you satisfied with that role?
  (Clare Short) I have had a meeting with Chris Patten about this and we had a meeting of the Development Council. They have done quite well to get resources released and find extra resources from ECHO for the humanitarian effort. Part of the EU's complete failure to distribute its resources in proportion to the poor of the world is so little for Asia. In the Asia pot in their budgets they have got little. They are looking to be part of helping the reconstruction of Afghanistan and understanding quite well that the EU, which is a major source of development systems, ought to be there and ought to be helping. They have difficulties. Chris Patten is really anxious because he is responsible for Asia in the way the arrangements work and Poul Nielson is responsible for the ACP countries. He is looking to help but has not got much of a budget to deploy which reflects the other problem we have got with the EC, but it is also, it seems to me, an opportunity to get the EU to take the proportion of the poor of the world that are in Asia more seriously and that is what we really must try and do.

Mr Robathan

  225. Could I return to the question close to my heart? I have read what you say about giving money to the UN for mine action services and a map of those in Afghanistan and I appreciate entirely your desire to do that. Could I just request that in your department CHAD in the form of Mr Baugh watch very closely on the effectiveness and efficiency of the organisation because I think there is a concern which you brought out earlier about high overheads and so on and I would be very interested to hear about this.
  (Clare Short) I give that assurance and have already given it, but we will not have an international system that works unless the UN can look all across the world at where the land mines are, how to deploy the money, how to systematically clear them. If we all say that UN systems are not perfect, therefore we will not change, we will never get such a system. Our whole purpose in moving that is to beef up and strengthen that UN capacity which we think made improvements in Kosovo. We will be watching like hawks, I can promise you, because it is effectiveness we need.

Mr Colman

  226. Could I ask about the UN Donor Alert and the way it is made up? We need to learn about things that have gone well and from things that have not gone well. The NGOs who spoke to us explained how they were distributing the aid that the World Food Programme was trucking in and they explained that aid covered a whole range of things, not just food. We then asked them what were they doing in addition to that and I think it was Islamic Relief who pointed out to us that the range of product that was within the UN Donor Alert was very limited and they were giving examples that the range of food available that was available was extremely limited. Perhaps we could have a separate paper on how in fact this was constructed, the Donor Alert. They said that they had been taken account of in terms views but still felt a number of things had been left out over which they had to have UK appeals in order to obtain the money so that they could supply this over and above what was in the Donor Alert. For lessons to learn in the future it would be interesting to know what was left out and what was left in and what were the things left out which left the NGOs to shake the money boxes rather than, as I have referred to, come through the UK taxpayer.
  (Clare Short) I am going to bring Matt in because I can hear him muttering, but I want to say that everyone must remember that NGOs are a part of the operation but were not the leading part. They do need a public profile. The minute the emergency started—I have told you what I think of Islamic Relief: it is a fabulous organisation operating across the world, not only in Islamic countries, let me add, founded because of the famine in Ethiopia. Adverts appeared in all the papers. The problem we had then was getting anything into the country. People need to be able to give but they also need to be having a public profile and saying that they are delivering even when sometimes it takes them a bit longer to deliver. This is what I would appeal to the Select Committee about. We are trying to do more public education on that to get the UK to be a country with a public that really understands all this work and the need for them to recognise the interdependence of the world. We see public opinion terribly concerned, young people's opinion terribly concerned, and then all they think they can do about development is give to a charity. People do need to know that the UK public gives £200 million a year to charitable giving for development. The UK taxpayer gives currently just over £3 billion rising to £3.6 billion by 2003/4 and if we reached our 0.7 target it would be just over £7 billion. Charitable giving is good but if people think that is the only route, it is distorting what our country owes into the international system. One other point and then I will bring in Matt. There were distortions in food aid because a lot of countries are offloading their surplus foods. The UK gives money to buy in the region, which also helps the region and means you buy more appropriate food, the food that people are used to. Other countries send ship loads of food and often it is not the food that people want. When I visited the refugees from Sierra Leone in Guinea they had bulgar wheat or something and they are rice eaters. You have lost everything and then someone gives you some food you have never known, you do not know how to cook. That goes on in the international system and that is a problem. We need to untie international food aid, which is one of our objectives for better quality aid. Matt, can you comment on these particular points?
  (Mr Baugh) I think it is important that we realise the UN donor alert is exactly that, a donor alert for UN agencies. Those UN agencies will have implementing partners which will be international NGOs and local NGOs. It is important that that NGO base also puts out its own base and has it owns programmes as part of the wider effort. In a way it is where the line between UN donor alert and NGO programmes is drawn. It is a standard approach essentially, all NGOs operate in that manner. We are working with NGOs, both international and local, that are also UN implementing partners but we determined that their programmes were not essentially double-funding in our contributions for the UN agencies as well.
  (Clare Short) The other thing is the public like to be able to give, although I think we should remind the public they are giving through their taxes, so they believe more in the contributions they are making through our 0.7 aspiration. There is nothing wrong with NGOs making a public appeal to add something.

  227. My point, Secretary of State, is whether rather significant areas of aid have, in fact, been left out of the World Food Programme which the NGOs have had to scrabble around to get in.
  (Clare Short) Not for the emergency.
  (Mr Baugh) The NGOs will pick up the important sector of supplementary feeding which a number of the NGOs engaged in food provision are doing, which is very important.
  (Mr Ireton) The 700 million headline figure which was pledged included both the UN alert and help for NGOs as well directly.
  (Clare Short) The NGOs are part of the implementation mechanism of the UN. They are basically organisational parts. You have got this massive World Food Programme and they have got to get smaller organisations on the ground. Oxfam and Christian Aid are organisers of employing Afghans to do it and they bring in an organisational capacity at the end of the delivery mechanism, so they are part of the UN system in that sense, it cannot deliver at the end of its tentacles without that. Remember, NGOs also include Afghan community groups, because we use the phrase and then do not think of all the locals who are doing it.


  228. Secretary of State, thank you to you and your officials for your time this morning. I think the questions and answers have demonstrated there are many complex issues inter-related in all of this. I think we probably share your view that these are issues that cannot simply be described in a single headline or a single sound bite, and I am sure you will agree with that. Because of their complexity I am sure that during the life of this Parliament they are issues, either collectively or individually, that we are going to be returning to and working on with you and your officials and we look forward to that.
  (Clare Short) I fear maybe even in the next Parliament but, as I say, it is a welcome job. Thank you very much.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Secretary of State.

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