HC Deb 27 March 1974 vol 871 cc447-8
37. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Overseas Development what is the total value of aid supplied by Her Majesty's Government for the relief of peoples affected by the drought in the Sahel region of Africa; and what further help is proposed in the immediate future.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. William Price)

Last year the amount was about £2 million. This year it will be in excess of £3½ million. In addition, in response to an appeal by the United Nations Secretary-General, my right hon. Friend proposes, subject to parliamentary approval, to contribute £500,000 to his Sahel disaster fund.

Mr. Hooley

I greatly welcome the contributions which have been made by the United Kingdom. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has said that at least $30 million is needed to alleviate what has been one of the greatest natural disasters in the history of this century? Will my hon. Friend consider persuading his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be more generous than the further £500,000 promised?

Mr. Price

We are doing all that we can, and we believe that we are one of the first nations to respond to the appeal. That is something. I met the voluntary organisations last week, and they tell me that a far bigger problem than money or food is transport. We are doing all that we can to get the vehicles so that the food will go to the people.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that one of the most disturbing features of the situation in the Sahel region, particularly in Ethiopia, is that famine arising from persistent drought over a long period is largely predictable, and that if people are dying, as they did last year and are now, that is due largely to the failure of the international community and the governments concerned to co-ordinate aid effectively and in time? Are the Government prepared to take any initiative at international level to deal with this tragic situation?

Mr. Price

Again, my right hon. Friend and I invited a number of people, including Jonathan Dimbleby, to the Ministry last week to discover precisely what was happening. We discovered that this was a major problem and that information was not getting through. We have asked for all the help and assistance that we can get, and shall then do whatever we can to mitigate what, as the right hon. Gentleman says, is one of the great tragedies of this century.

Mr. James Johnson

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his first excellent answer to my question in the House? I should like to ask him, at his leisure, to look into the question whether the Sahara is advancing into the coastal Littoral of West Africa, and whether it is not a short-term matter of too many mouths to feed, or, even more important, whether there are too many animals to feed upon the venegation in that belt.

Mr. Price

This is a matter which our officials are studying very closely, but there are differences of opinion.

Sir Douglas Dodds-Parker

In view of the excellent work done by the Royal Air Force during the past three or four years in this area, will the Service be asked to help again?

Mr. Price

That is another matter which is being considered. There is a possibility that some of the Governments who have been helping will be withdrawing their assistance. We hope that that will not happen but if it does we shall have to consider the possibilities of replacing it.