HC Deb 25 July 1983 vol 46 cc856-71 8.43 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the matter of aid from this country to Ethiopia. At the moment, the people of Ethiopia are facing one of the worst crises that the country has ever faced because of drought and distress. We talk and grumble about the weather, but it is rarely that many of us are seriously at risk as a result of the vagaries of the weather. However, for those who live in much of Africa, and particularly in the areas around the Sahara, it is not just the climate but the weather within it that may put many at grave risk. It is almost the vagaries of the day-to-day weather that decide whether they live or die. The late arrival or non-arrival of rainfall may ruin the entire harvest and leave the people at grave risk.

Of the countries around the Sahara the one that concerns me most now is Ethiopia. From 1970 to 1973, it suffered a major drought, and hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of the drought and the internal conflict in the country at that time. It appears that the failure of rainfall in the past 18 months has been almost as serious as it was 10 years ago, and a very large number of people are now at risk.

Members will have heard many accounts from people who have visited the drought-stricken areas and seen films and photographs of the distress there. We now know that the worst affected areas are the four northern areas of Ethiopia — Gondar, Wollo, Tigre and Eritrea. The Ethiopian Government estimate that between 3 million and 4 million people are at risk in those regions and that 2 million of them are probably dependent on emergency aid.

Not only are people at immediate risk of starvation. The effects of drought are felt for a long time afterwards. Michael Cross made the point effectively in a well set out article in the New Scientist of 17 March. He said: Even if the food does arrive, even if Ethiopia's overstretched infrastructure can manage to distribute it, the drought of 1982 will have dealt a devastating blow to the country's hopes of feeding itself. One of the real achievements of the revolutionary government has been to reform land-ownership, in theory giving everyone the right to farm. With the technical assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation it has begun digging terraces, and building dams to stop its topsoil disappearing. The drought has already set one project, a national food reserve, back by at least a year. The displacement of tens of thousands of people will make other development projects impossible. Even if the rains come this year, they will do the people of Gondar no good. The dirt roads will turn into torrents, stopping the relief trucks from getting through. The inevitable epidemics will take their toll in the camps. And back on the farms of the refugees, the rain will further erode a topsoil without crops to hold it together. It will add to the 5 million hectares of agricultural land already lost to soil erosion. Meanwhile, the people of Gondar, Wollo, Tigre and Eritrea sit in their shelters, waiting for an indifferent world to decide their fate. I could quote many mote magazine and newspaper articles describing the current distress in Ethiopia. To give balance, I should make it clear that I have received information not only from the Ethiopian Government but from groups in Ethiopia which oppose that Government — notably the Eritrean People's Liberation Front. The EPLF estimates that in the northern province of Eritrea in the Sahel region almost one third of the population, or about 82,000 people, are now at risk and that in the past 12 months one in 10 of them has probably died due to the drought and the resulting famine.

The problem for these areas of Ethiopia is the seasonal pattern of the rainfall. In the lowland areas, most of the rain falls in what we would describe as the winter months from October to March. That rainfall should produce just enough vegetation for animals to survive throughout the year. Last year, the rainfall between October and March was deficient in almost all those areas. That has left major problems not just for the people's survival this year, but in terms of depletion of animal stocks for many years to come.

In the upland areas, the rainfall pattern is slightly different. The main rainy season is supposed to be from June until the end of September, supplemented by a smaller amount of rain between February and March or April. Last year, for much of that area the main period of rainfall was deficient. The total volume was less than was necessary. In many instances the rain came too late—in some areas too early—to fit in with sowing patterns.

By the time of the harvest in October, it was clear to many people that there would be a food shortage. Even the smaller rainy season failed. The rain did not occur in sufficient quantity and in some instances came at the wrong time. As a result, the problem was compounded. Many of the crops that should now be growing well in anticipation of a good harvest this autumn were not planted. It appears that once again the rainfall will be too little. It may be that it will come later, but so far it is nothing like sufficient.

What information do the Government have about potential rainfall in Ethiopia this year? Such information could determine the prospects for a good harvest this autumn and a return to near-normality. It could equally prepare the people of Ethiopia for a deficient harvest. What has already been a difficult and disastrous 12 months could be extended for another 12 months, and reserves that have carried the country through so far may well be inadequate.

As well as the rain shortage and inadequate crops, Ethiopia suffers from its difficult terrain. Much of the area worst affected is difficult to traverse. Roads are almost non-existent and it is difficult to get from one area to another. As a result, there may well be a food surplus in one part and a major food shortage a relatively short distance away.

It is also worth remembering that Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. The people are almost always undernourished and in poor health. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerable if there is a shortfall in the harvest. It is also sad that the country receives less aid than almost any other country in the Third world. Recent estimates suggest that per head of population the aid is about $8, whereas the average for the Third world is about $22.

It is also unfortunate that in recent years most of Ethiopia's aid has come from eastern Europe, which has not had a grain surplus. As a result, Ethiopia has received small amounts of grain from countries that have been most generous in giving other forms of aid.

Ethiopia has no natural links with advanced countries of Europe as most of it was not occupied by a colonial power. It is therefore more difficult to remind people in the advanced world of its needs. But even if Ethiopia has not had any of the benefits of a lingering European conscience, it has been left with many ex-colonial legacies. It is particularly unfortunate that the country is still torn by internal strife. We must try to ensure that that is reduced, because it is clear that famine is associated with the tragic effects of that internal unrest.

Such unrest makes it harder for aid to get in and to be distributed. Unfortunately, those who become involved in the political arguments become propagandists and argue that aid should be given in one direction but not in another. Both sides in that struggle try to blacken each other's reputation, and in many ways discourage individuals and Government organisations from giving aid.

I find it distressing that some people go around the capitals of Europe, probably dining and wining liberally, spreading rumour and innuendo about the way aid is distributed within Ethiopia. The evidence from the relief organisations and voluntary charities is that the vast majority of aid gets through and is being used properly. Those who decry the way in which the aid is spent should go to Ethiopia and see the position for themselves. They would then admit that most of the aid is being put to good use.

I plead with the Government to do everything that they can to bring about negotiations between the liberation movements in Eritrea and Tigre and the Ethiopian Government. That is one of the central elements in bringing immediate relief to the famine and long-term relief to the people. We must persuade those groups to talk rather than to fight. It should not be impossible for other countries to bring the two sides together to fashion a compromise. Some system of local autonomy within a federal state is a possible solution.

Ethiopia cannot be expected, for obvious strategic reasons, to give up its claims to either Tigre or Eritrea. Equally, the independence movements within those regions cannot be annihilated. If peace is to be achieved, it must be through compromise. If there is ever to be economic viability and if the people are to be free of the fear of famine and hunger, there must be peace within the area. That must be achieved by co-operation, and there must be an end to the conflict. I appeal to the Government to use their good offices to persuade the countries of the world to bring pressure on both sides in Ethiopia to negotiate and to restore an established peace.

The Government must increase the amount of aid to Ethiopia, both directly and through the relief agencies—especially the Save the Children fund and Oxfam, which have workers there. The Government should press the European Community to give more aid and the United Nations to pay more attention to the problem.

I was distressed to read an article in The Times on 15 July that suggested that, despite all the pleas and information available about the scale of the disaster, aid was not forthcoming in anything like the amount required. The headline was Ethiopia aid appeal falls on deaf ears and the article stated: The response to international aid appeals on behalf of some four million people suffering from the effects of drought in northern Ethiopia has so far been unsatisfactory, Mr. Dawit Wolde Giorgis, the Ethiopian relief commissioner, said yesterday in Geneva. About 900,000 tons of grain was needed for an 18-month emergency period but only 90,000 tons has as yet been offered after the March appeal by the UN Disaster Relief Office. Fifty four-wheel-drive lorries had been requested, but only spare parts for existing vehicles were forthcoming accompanied by a multinational maintenance team. It is important to increase the amount of aid and to ensure that it gets through.

The Government made two announcements earlier this year about additional aid from Britain and the additional aid being allocated from agencies to which Britain contributes. I ask the Minister to do more, especially on transport. Within the aid that he announced there was some help with transport, but it is a major problem. Can we supply more Land Rovers and other four-wheel vehicles so that the food aid can get through to the areas for which it is intended?

I also stress to the Minister that one of the major problems in Ethiopia is the fact that much aid must be transported by air and it has only an ancient fleet of DC3s, which is literally falling to pieces and for which it is increasingly difficult to get spares. If the problems within the country are to be overcome, someone must consider helping it to purchase newer and more efficient planes which can move aid within the country.

It also appears from the Save the Children fund that there is considerable need for medicines and similar facilities. We must get out and tell the world the extent of the tragedy, particularly those problems which will ensue if no rain falls in August and September. The country will have major problems for another 12 months.

We must look at the major problems of Ethiopia's financial credit. It appears to be badly in debt to eastern Europe. We should be saying firmly that if the Ethiopian Government and the liberation groups in Tigre and Eritrea can get together and patch up a lasting peace, world reconstruction aid should be available to them, particularly for rebuilding roads that have been destroyed, and the railway line in Eritrea that goes from Massawa to Asmara and Karen, which has been completely destroyed in the fighting, which would be extremely useful for transporting aid. With small investments, the water supply could be improved and wells and irrigation systems developed. The country has a considerable agricultural potential. Many countries in the Third world that suffer problems are overpopulated but, with good agriculture management, it ought to be possible to make Ethiopia self-sufficient in food. Therefore, help in land management and similar schemes would be useful.

It is important that we should meet Ethiopia's immediate needs and then look forward to trying to help it out of its long term difficulties. We should help to achieve peace and growth in the area so that it can become self-supporting and able to build up its food reserves as some insurance against drought every 10 or 15 years.

Finally, my constituents and those of other hon. Members should remember every time they grumble about Britain's weather that it puts few people here at risk, whereas in the northern part of Ethiopia some 4 million people are presently close to starvation and completely at the mercy of the weather. We should be giving them far more aid and assistance than we are doing.

9.2 pm

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I am perhaps the Member of this House most recently to have visited Ethiopia, having spent some weeks in Addis Ababa and the surrounding countryside early last year. My wife and I stayed with a friend at the British embassy and consequently I had ample opportunity to talk to several diplomats based there, not only in our embassy but in others, and to representatives of leading voluntary and United Nations aid organisations.

I have kept in touch since, so that it is as an interested layman that I seek to speak. I hold no brief for the Ethiopian Government or for any particular relief organisation. I just want to make several brief important points which I hope will be of interest to the House.

There is no dispute about the scale of the drought and the magnitude of the tragedy. Half a million Ethiopians are trying to stave off starvation. Nine hundred thousand tonnes of grain are needed for the next 18 months and only one tenth of that has so far been promised. Quite simply, the Ethiopians need help. Ethiopia is the fourth poorest nation in the world and its inhabitants have the shortest life expectancy.

The first point that I want to make as an objective observer—I hope with some force—is that there is no reliable evidence that food aid from the United Kingdom or any other agency or country is being misdirected or abused by the Ethiopians.

I shall deal briefly with the facts and why I believe it necessary for my point to be made again and again and to be understood. The suspicion and accusation of abuse is best exemplified by an article in The Sunday Times on 27 March. The lead front page story was about Ethiopia and described as "Exclusive." It was headed: Starving babies sold for Soviet arms. The article, by a reputable journalist, began: There is mounting evidence that food sent from the west to drought-stricken Ethiopia, is being diverted by the Ethiopian military regime to its army and also to an increasing extent to the Soviet Union to help meet the regime's huge arms bill. I read on to see what the evidence might be, particularly because when I was in Addis I took every opportunity to ask everyone whom I met about the effectiveness of food aid. Not only members of our embassy in Addis Ababa, but others connected with voluntary organisations and UN agencies agreed that so far as was humanly possibly all aid sent through, got through.

Having heard that from people such as the Canadian ambassador and EC representives, I was surprised to see that headline in The Sunday Times. I was even more surprised when I read the article. The headline suggested aid abuse when the Save the Children fund and other organisations were launching a massive fund-raising appeal. That headline would have considerable effect on the money that they were able to raise.

After reading further into the article, I discovered that it contained not one corroborative fact. Simon Winchester, the author, quoted one anonymous Ethiopian government emigree seeking asylum in Britain and others such as Mary Dines, who is known to be hostile to Ethiopia. He quoted no independent observers. Such articles are manna to those who argue that we should not give aid to African countries because it will be abused, will not reach the right people and will support suppressive regimes. The litany is well known to those who see the western nations as having a role in providing aid and assistance to the Third world.

What do those closest have to say? On 24 March the chairman of the Save the Children fund wrote to The Times saying: Regardless of the ideological hue of the Ethiopian government, it cannot be held responsible for the current situation which has been caused by two years of almost continuous drought and resultant crop failure … Not even centrally planned economies can control the weather … It may be said that the response of the Ethiopian Government has been prompt. In The Times of 12 April this year Dr. Paul Shearn Oxfam's health co-ordinator, said: After a four-week visit to Ethiopia I found food provided through the EEC in its aid programme is definitely reaching people in the most severely affected areas such as Wollo and Gondar. The Save the Children fund, the League of Red Cross Societies, EC officials and evidence from the overseas development agency confirms that there is no evidence that food aid has been or is being misdirected. It is as well for the Dergue to appreciate that, when it comes to humanitarian aid, the Soviet Union upon which it is militarily dependent, is the feeblest of allies. If that point is lost on the Dergue it is certainly not lost on the people of Ethiopia.

As one young Ethiopian put it to me, "All we get from the Russians is arms and the writings of Lenin. I cannot feed my younger brothers and sisters on the writings of Lenin." English is still the second language in many schools and many Ethiopians appreciate our contributions. It would be a mistake to write Ethiopia off simply as a Soviet-backed regime. Many Ethiopians want nothing more than to feed their families and to live in peace. Nothing will be gained by writing them off and forcing them to become even more dependent on the Soviets.

I should like to make another point based on my visit to Addis Ababa. As this is a debate on United Kingdom aid to Ethiopia, I pay tribute to the work of the British Council. The library of the British Council in Addis Ababa is manned by one man and some locally engaged staff. It is a phenomenal organisation. Young Ethiopians queue for hours—it is a phenomenal sight—for the doors to open. When all the chairs are taken they sit on the floor to read. Books are read with fervour. For many it is their only access to textbooks. Every penny spent on the British Council is money well spent. The minds of many young Ethiopians are as hungry as their bodies.

What we do as a European Community and as a nation, and what we might do as individuals, we do because there are other human beings, like us, who are starving, who have no other help but us. That we give willingly although Ethiopia is supposedly a pro-Soviet regime is not just a measure of their need, but is, I hope, a measure of our civilisation.

9.10 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Like the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), I shall be brief, but I want to put some questions to the Minister in the hope that if he is unable to reply specifically this evening he will give some thought to these matters.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) on having the initiative to introduce this relevant discussion. It is a sad reflection on our times that nature can bestow such havoc on this section of humanity. Even given the tremendous strides that we have made in science and technology, we stand aside almost helpless in the face of this holocaust. I know that there are many in this nation, as has been shown by their response to the various appeals, who would encourage the Minister and the House to try to seek a solution to the problem that is exposed in Ethiopia.

As my hon. Friend said, the rains are still not good. Some farmers who have returned to their land to try to grow crops have been forced to go back to shelters. There is no suggestion that things are improving radically.

The hon. Member for Banbury commented on food aid. I think that it is fair to say that a number of organisations, including Oxfam, are concerned about food aid. I should like to draw to the attention of the Minister the evidence of the bottleneck at the port of Assab. We are told that a British ship carrying European Community grain has been sent on to Pakistan and that there is evidence that another has been standing off the port for some weeks unable to unload. If so, it is time we asserted ourselves. None of us would wish to defend that state of affairs, because all of us would regard it as indefensible.

We are told that food is reaching regional capitals, but that often it gets no further. There have been reports of people dying only 50 km from food supplies. If that, too, is so—many people believe that it is—something should be done urgently.

As the two preceding speakers have said, the problems in Ethiopia — apart from the drought — have arisen because wars are taking place. The greatest problems have been in the border areas—the no-man's land between territories held by different factions. Guerrillas have operated within 3 km of Government food dumps. Nobody wants to lose food supplies to the other side and the Red Cross has considered evacuating villages—some with as many as 1,000 people—from the war zones, but this would be a hazardous operation.

A large-scale relief operation will be needed until November. I understand that Oxfam is emphasising that what is happening in Ethiopia is not a total disaster in terms of food aid. The numbers affected by the drought are relatively small compared with the total population—in terms of food aid, not general aid— and Oxfam has cautioned that rushing in more food will not help unless there is the necessary organisation — transport, administration and so on—which is essential if food aid is to be effective.

We are told that it will take more than a year to get over the effects of the drought. There are long-term problems of declining rainfall, deforestation and inadequate transport. Aid is needed to tackle these problems, although the continuing war and political instability make it difficult to implement long-term infrastructure projects.

I shall be grateful if the Minister will comment on the points that I have raised, if only to underline the fact that, in spite of the enormous wealth and energy resources possessed by the universe, it is a sad reflection on us all that such circumstances should exist and that apparently we should be powerless to deal with them.

9.17 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

The hon. Member for Monklands West (Mr. Clarke) has a considerable interest and expertise in these matters. We listened to him with interest and respect and I hope that he will make many contributions on development issues.

The tragedy that is being played out in Eritrea—the deprivation and death — should be uppermost in our minds until it is overcome. Britain is a civilised country and our poorest people, on whom we rightly concentrate so many resources, are rich compared with the people of the Horn of Africa. It is the responsibility of the whole world to help in such circumstances, and Britain can be no exception unless we wish to exclude ourselves from the company of civilised states.

The problem we are debating raises the far wider question of the Government's contribution to the United Nations development programme. I asked the Minister for Overseas Development in a written question on 18 July about the maintenance of Government aid to that programme. I asked whether it would be maintained at the same level in real terms as in 1982 as a minimum commitment". My right hon. Friend, constrained as he is by the needs of the Treasury and the financial circumstances of the country, replied: The Government support the United Nations development programme as the central funding and co-ordinating agency for UN technical assistance. They intend to maintain their support for this programme within the constraints resulting from the need to restrict Government expenditure and the pressure of other aid commitments. For 1983 the United Kingdom contribution to this programme will be £18.5 million, the same as in 1982. I cannot yet say what will be the level of our contribution for 1984."—[Official Report, 18 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 3.] We are fortunate in having a document to hand, published this month, entitled "UNDP — The Development Connection: Britain's stake in the United Nations Development Programme". I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that it sets out fairly and accurately the way in which Britain can benefit from exercising what I believe to be its right as a civilised ration in aiding the poorest countries in the world. In many parts of the developing world good projects on the drawing board are waiting and needing to be implemented. They may be projects to help the local population to grow more food, stimulate rural development, increase the purchasing power of villagers, step up the availability of clean water or tap new sources of energy. These projects continue to lie on the drawing board even though the money to implement them may be available.

What holds these projects back? There is often a lack of trained people to manage, supervise and lead the world to ensure that a good idea becomes a reality. In other areas some development projects that are under way are going wrong. Those projects may lack management, good supervision and co-ordination. Imaginative projects that are crucial to the lives of tens of thousands can all too often fail to work if there are missing links in the chain.

Everything is connected in the development effort, and there must he someone to ensure that all the connections are made. Since it began in 1965, the United Nations development programme has been involved in different development projects in more than 150 developing countries and territories. Unfortunately, the programme now faces a crisis. At a time when the demand for its services is as high as ever, its funds are dwindling and have become too low for it to do its job properly. Unlike most other major United Nations agencies, the programme is financed on an entirely voluntary basis. All countries, both developed and developing, contribute voluntarily to the agency. In the past four years, contributions from donor countries have not kept pace with inflation. For 1983 the programme will have virtually the same amount of money to devote to the urgent task of co-ordination as it had in 1979. That means that in real terms the work that it can do will be cut nearly in half. The implications for the developing countries are serious. They have already been severely hit by low commodity prices, rising debt burdens and protectionism. They now face having many development projects axed because of lack of technical cooperation. Inevitably, the greatest losers will be the poorest.

Britain has cut its contribution to the programme more severely than almost any other major donor country. Yet few countries give more recognition than Britain to the importance of technical co-operation in the development process. It is perhaps especially understandable that Britain should believe so much in what is being achieved in technical developments in developing countries. It is particularly sad, therefore, that Britain's contribution has been cut so substantially.

In many ways the programme was a British creation. It was born in 1965. Its predecessor was the expanded programme of technical assistance, which was formed and shaped by the distinguished British civil servant, the late Sir David Owen.

The expanded programme merged with the United Nations special fund in 1965, and the United Nations development programme was formed. It has accumulated experience in technical co-operation over the years since 1965 and built up a network of 114 offices around the world, each manned by a resident representative and supporting staff. These offices do their best to ensure that local people are involved to the fullest possible extent in decision-making processes and in the management of development projects. About three fifths of the cost of United Nations development projects comes from the Governments of developing countries.

The Brandt report, which has been debated fully in the House and throughout the world, had this to say in February 1983 about the development programme: Another set of aid channels presently starved of funds are the United Nations agencies … The United Nations Development Programme was particularly hard-hit … we urge the donor community to restore the funding of these agencies on an adequate basis. As with Ethiopia, the world is in a crisis. Rich countries are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In the past 10 years there has been a retrogression in the standard of living of developing countries, especially those south of the Sahara.

There is no doubt that aid money has been wasted. I accept that view. Machinery has been cast on one side and there have been many other examples of waste. However, it is not enough for the donor countries to be generous. They must give what the developing countries need—infrastructure, the ability to develop their own resources and to increase their standards of living — not merely food aid. That is how one achieves the mutuality of interests between the developed and the developing countries. In those circumstances there is a reciprocation of benefits in so far as the developing countries are able to increase their standards of living and the developed countries can increase the market for their manufactured goods.

The United Nations developing programme can help in that respect. In developing countries, such as Jamaica, one sees the tragedy of help that could be available not being given. Jamaica has to borrow money at 11 per cent. interest to hire people at international rates to do Civil Service jobs. That money should be provided by the UNDP in the form of grants. Jamaica has to borrow the money because the UNDP has insufficient money. Even countries, such as the United Kingdom, which have a sophisticated aid organisation cannot hope to reach all the developing countries, especially the small ones which are effectively on no country's aid list. At this point I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and his Department for the organisation of aid. The Department is a fine example to other countries.

There is a political overtone to bilateral aid. Two thirds of America's aid goes to Egypt and Israel. Moreover, there is not so much scrutiny of how money is spent in a donee country when the aid is bilateral. Smaller countries will suffer if we devote all or the preponderance of our resources to bilateral aid, thereby starving United Nations agencies, especially the UNDP, of the necessary aid. The UNDP and other international bodies are more likely to concentrate on the poorest countries which do not appear on major countries' aid lists.

The rate of return from multilateral aid can be just as good as, if not better than, that from bilateral aid. It is interesting to examine the benefits that the United Kingdom and United Kingdom companies have gained from the UNDP. In 1981, for example, direct orders placed with British firms as a result of UNDP activities amounted to $20 million in goods, $8.15 million in services—that is British consultancy firms engaged on UNDP projects—and $18 million in training. That latter figure is made up of the 1,259 UNDP fellows studying in Britain, each of whom cost the UNDP about $15,000. Those figures tot up to $46.15 million. Therefore, in 1981, from a contribution of $34.17 million or £17.5 million to the UNDP, Britain received £23.54 million from UNDP activities. That does not include the considerable return value of salaries received by 1,223 British specialists who were paid by the UNDP. Therefore, in 1981, the British economy gained more than £6 million.

The UNDP is always opening up opportunities for capital investment throughout the Third world. In 1981 alone it made possible nearly $5 billion of follow-up investment. British firms are very well placed to gain from the increased activity that the UNDP can help to generate, provided that it has the funds. In 1981, for example, 26 British firms gained orders for equipment from UNDP activities worth more than $100,000 each and in total about 130 British firms gained orders. I shall not list the details of those orders or the companies that benefited. However, I hope that I have made clear my case about the benefits that can accrue to a country that is prepared to give a donation to the UNDP for its excellent work.

The UNDP has offices in 114 countries. It has a worldwide presence. It is unique, because it deals with many other United Nations organisations on behalf of those countries. If the UNDP was forced to close some of those offices, there would be no United Nations presence in those countries.

The UNDP has cut its staff by 8 or 9 per cent. That has meant cutting field representation. Further cuts in UNDP funding would entail a complete change in the quality of its service, because field costs amount to two thirds of the total costs.

Between 1978 and 1982, Britain's contribution to the UNDP was cut by 56 per cent. in real terms. Last year the United Kingdom would have had to give £42 million to give as much in real terms as in 1978. In fact, our contribution in 1982 was £18.5 million—only 44 per cent. of our 1978 contribution. My right hon. Friend in his written answer said that the contribution in 1983 will be the same as that for 1982. That will be a further cut in real terms.

The UNDP is an efficient and effective body. Its overhead costs amount to less than 5 per cent. of the value of its activities. The poorest countries, such as Ethiopia, benefit very much from the UNDP. It is our duty to humanity to ensure that it can carry on its excellent work. I urge my right hon. Friend to keep close to his heart the benefits that can accrue not only to the poorest countries but to this country. There is mutuality. In helping the poor people of the world—in helping to alleviate suffering, deprivation and starvation—we do this country a service not only in financial and economic terms, but in terms of its status in the world in showing concern for humanity.

9.33 pm
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Timothy Raison)

The House is very much indebted to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for introducing the subject of Ethiopia. He spoke movingly of the situation there, and the House listened with care both to him and to the other hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken part in the debate. The hon. Member stressed the need for a reduction in internal strife in Ethiopia. We are all in agreement with him on that point. He also talked about the terrible drought. The hon. Gentleman asked whether I could give the latest information on what is happening in Ethiopia. We expect to receive an up-to-date report very shortly and I shall be very happy to pass it on to him.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) asked me about the European Community food ship. We are not responsible for that, but I shall investigate the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman to let him know what is happening.

We must all be concerned about the terrible effects of drought on human lives. In a few moments, I shall outline what we are doing in that respect. However, development aid is also a long-term process and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish is asking for the resumption of our direct aid involvement with Ethiopia for several years to come.

The House listened with considerable interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) when he told us of his recent experiences in Ethiopia. I was pleased by what he had to say about the operation of the British Council. I was delighted to hear that it is doing an excellent job. Apart from the British Council, at present we have no direct bilateral aid programme to Ethiopia, although we are heavily involved in helping the country through multilateral channels, especially the European Community. It is wrong not to take full account of what we do through agencies such as the World Bank and the Community, and simply to think in terms of our bilateral aid. It all comes out of the same pocket, and it is all part of our aid programme.

Ethiopia is the largest recipient of money from the European development fund under the second Lomé convention. It has been allocated 132 million ecu —about £80 million—and our share of that is nearly £15 million. The fund will help finance projects relating to the Addis Ababa water supply, the coffee crop, new power generation capacity and new hospitals. So, through the Community we are certainly making—if indirectly—a substantial contribution to the country's future.

Those who are keen to leave the EC should think from time to time about the implications of that for the aid given by it. In this case, it is clearly very important. However, we decided in 1979 that our direct bilateral aid programme should be discontinued. We did so because of the internal and external strife affecting the country, and because of our concern over the Ethiopian regime's abuse of human rights as it sought to consolidate its power after the 1974 revolution. There was parliamentary and public repugnance at the manner in which Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown. There was also considerable unease about the methods being used to suppress Eritrean guerrilla efforts to recover the autonomy of which they had been deprived. Furthermore, the new regime became increasingly aligned with the Soviet Union, in both internal and external policies. It was also reluctant at first even to consider providing compensation for the assets, which were worth about £15 million, that it had seized from British enterprises.

Since 1979 the position has not altered greatly. On many occasions we have made clear to the Ethiopian Government our strong objection to the imprisonment without trial of political prisoners. However, we were encouraged by the amnesties of 1981 and 1982 and hope that the process of release will be completed before too long. There is, of course, still considerable sympathy for the 19 surviving members of the imperial family who remain in prison.

Eritrea remains a disturbed area, where there have been reports of renewed fighting. The Ethiopian Government are aware of our belief that regional disputes should be settled not by violence but by conciliation. The military effort has now become bogged down, but we welcome the fact that the major operation of 1982 stressed social and economic betterment as much as military victory. But we remain concerned at the scale and nature of the involvement of the Russians and their surrogates in Ethiopia. We believe that there are still some 11,000 Cuban troops in Ethiopia, plus more than 1,500 Russian military advisers and several hundred Russian and East German aid personnel. Outside Angola they represent the largest Soviet presence in Africa.

There is also still the unresolved problem of compensation for British commercial assets seized by the Ethiopians after the revolution. We continue to remind the Ethiopian authorities of their responsibilities. These matters are largely for negotiation between the Ethiopian Government and the commercial interests concerned but they inevitably affect our relations with Ethiopia.

Having said that, I recognise—as one must—that there are immediate needs of human misery that none of us can or should overlook just because our longer-term relationship with Ethiopia does not include bilateral aid. First among those immediately is, of course, the widespread drought. As has been said, it has been particularly severe in the Wollo, Gondar, Eritrea and Tigre regions. The Ethiopian authorities reckon that about 3 million people may be affected, but that only 1 million of them are accessible.

Supplies already pledged by donors — including Britain and the Community —would would be sufficient for emergency distribution in all these regions, together with cereals bought locally, but the capacity of the ports to handle inputs, as well as the poor security situation in many areas, mean that delivery in the distribution areas has been slow. Fortunately, most parts of the country have had favourable weather, but it is a matter of keeping the famine area going till the main foodcrops are harvested in November and December.

During the past few months the European Community has delivered or allocated food aid worth about £8 million comprising 40,000 tonnes of cereals, 2,000 tonnes of milk powder and more than 1,000 tonnes of butter oil. The cost is met out of the Community budget, of which the British share is about one fifth. Further EC food aid allocations will be made soon. We have been doing what we can directly from our resources to contribute to relief work inside and outside Ethiopia. In that country we have given 19,000 tonnes of food aid, worth about £2.8 million, from our bilateral contribution to the world food programme; £100,575 to the Save the Children fund to help with the costs of a supplementary feeding centre for young children in Korem in north Wollo; a further £50,000 to the Save the Children fund for seven Land Rovers for the feeding programme in Korem and new programmes in other areas; £100,000 to the Save the Children fund and £75,000 to the British Red Cross Society for general relief work; and 75,000 to the United Nations disaster relief office. Those grants to the voluntary agencies and the United Nations are especially important since they will help with the problem of distribution, which I mentioned.

Some hon. Members have asked whether the aid gets through. I am happy to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) and by Labour Members on this matter. We are aware of allegations that food aid and other relief have been diverted to the Ethiopian army and to the Soviet Union. The European Commission's delegate in Addis Ababa has extensive facilities for monitoring the use of food and development aid, and has on several occasions examined carefully allegations of misuse. He has never found evidence to confirm them. A recent mission by members of the European Parliament rejected allegations of resale to the Soviet Union as nonsense, and although they could not confirm that no food aid was abused or misdirected, they were satisfied that huge quantities were clearly used for the right purpose and that thousands would die without it. That at least is helpful.

As I have mentioned the voluntary agencies and their work, I am sure that the House would wish to welcome the release of the hostages who were kidnapped by the Tigrean People's Liberation Front on 20 April. The 10 expatriates, who included four Britons and one Indian, all employed by the Save the Children fund, and about 10 Ethiopian staff, were all released unharmed after several weeks in captivity, and a lengthy trek to the Sudanese border. I cannot praise too highly the courage and dedication of those aid personnel, and I am sure that this episode will not be allowed to disrupt the valuable relief work which is confining. Equally, I cannot condemn too strongly this senseless act of disruption to the Save the Children fund's humanitarian work. Besides the relief organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, which rendered helpful assistance at a critical time, I wish to thank the Sudanese authorities for their splendid cooperation, and the Ethiopian authorities for their forbearance during the difficult weeks.

I should say a word about the drought in Africa in a wider context, because there is great anxiety about that. We have been concerned by reports of the drought in recent months and we are watching the position closely. We have commissioned reports from our missions in the affected areas and have kept in close contact with our partners in the European Community and with United Nations agencies such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation. We are studying a report just published by the FAO. The picture that has emerged so far suggests that the effects of the drought are patchy. Some countries have escaped altogether or have suffered only lightly. Central and southern Africa, including Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, is the region worst hit, as I have seen for myself. East Africa, with Ethiopia the principal and tragic exception, has escaped the worst effects. Ghana and Mauritania in west Africa are very badly affected. The effects of the drought have been compounded by other factors. Animal diseases, such as rinderpest and foot and mouth, have taken their toll. Refugee problems are both a cause and a symptom of the difficulties faced by some countries. Pest infestation and lack of roads and transport are other crucial factors.

We are doing what we can. In the current crisis we have already provided approximately £500,000 of drought relief assistance to Ethiopia. In addition to the substantial relief that we provided last year, we have this year donated mobile trucks for Botswana's emergency feeding programme, at a cost of £52,000. Over the last two financial years we have contributed towards an emergency airlift of food in Chad and have provided transport to ferry relief supplies. We have responded to a Red Cross appeal for transport and other items for an emergency feeding programme in Mauritania, and in the last two years we have supplied transport in Mozambique. We have provided transport for Zimbabwe's emergency feeding arrangements through non—government organisations working there. This is all disaster relief. We also do much under our normal bilateral programme to counter the effects of such droughts. We have projects to extend the supply of drinking water to the rural villages of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. We are involved also in the provision of improved water supplies to the west and savannah areas of the Sudan. For some years we have been involved in studies to evaluate underground water resources in Botswana also. We are providing assistance for irrigation projects in Zambia.

We also have a bilateral food aid programme, which plays an important part. There are major contributions from the European Community programme of food aid from which many African countries receive assistance. Substantial allocations have been made recently to Botswana, Lesotho, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe in specific response to the current drought, and further allocations to African countries will be made soon. Beyond this, the United Kingdom Government strongly support Community efforts to improve food production in the developing countries through the design and implementation of national food strategies, for which Community assistance has been offered to a number of African countries. I hope that the House will accept, therefore, that we are making an important and effective response to the grave problems of drought and hunger which afflict so much of Africa today. I hope the House will feel that we are making the right response.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn raised a slightly different topic, although it is clearly related to the main subject of our debate — the United Nations development programme. I underline what was said in the House on 12 July by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs during the debate on overseas development. We are utterly committed to the work being done by the UNDP. Since its inception, the United Kingdom has strongly supported the UNDP as the major funding and co-ordinating body for United Nations technical co-operation. We believe that the programme still has a vital part to play in harnessing the experience of the various United Nations specialised agencies and the financial contributions of donor countries to help developing countries build their capacity to undertake their own development programmes.

It is recognised generally that technical assistance is an essential complement to capital investment, and the UNDP is particularly well placed to provide the technical assistance which developing countries need if they are to make effective use of capital aid. The fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon said, the contribution to the UNDP in recent years has had to be reduced does not reflect a lessening of a belief in the UNDP; it is simply the result of the economic difficulties which we had to face.

The need to restrain public expenditure as part of the Government's strategy to put the economy on a sound footing has led to cuts in our aid programme and other areas of our aid spending. In addition, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the funds available for the UNDP are limited by the pressures of our other substantial multilateral commitments, particularly those resulting from the growing European Community aid programme and our policy of trying to give greater priority to our bilateral aid programmes. As a result of this policy, in 1980 the Government had to decide that future contributions to multilateral agencies such as UNDP would have to reflect more closely than in the past our relative economic strength. We should not, however lose sight of the fact that our contribution remains substantial.

The United Kingdom pledge of £18.5 million for 1982 represented approximately 5 per cent. of UNDP resources —roughly proportionate to our relative wealth as shown by the admittedly rather crude measure of GNP. The United Kingdom remains among the top 10 contributors to UNDP. We have not yet decided upon the level of our contribution for 1984. We shall certainly do all that we can to help within the limits of available resources.

There is one other point which I think is worth putting to the House. We and a handful of other Western donors contribute over 90 per cent. of UNDP resources. The Government believe that for UNDP to achieve greater financial security it is necessary for the support base to be widened. In particular, the Eastern bloc countries, whose contributions are not just deplorably small, but made mainly in non-convertible currencies which UNDP cannot readily use, must be persuaded to contribute on a scale more commensurate with their means. For example, in 1983 the USSR provided only US $3.7 million or 0.5 per cent. of UNDP resources. Of that, 25 per cent. only was in convertible currency. According to UNDP's statistics, that is less than India's contribution. It is clear that there are others who should be playing a much greater part in supporting the UNDP.

I return to the principal topic of debate—Ethiopia. I hope that what I have told the House shows our recognition of the great human problem that exists there. It is not just a matter between states, though, inevitably, our long-term aid depends upon our wider relationship with Ethiopia. That sets narrow limits, but, in a short-term human crisis, we all have to find ways to reach past these short-term limits to help those who suffer. For that reason, I stress again the great importance of the voluntary agencies, which are doing so much, and the substantial part being played by the European Community, and I am glad to say that in both those respects the Government have been able to help with their work in dealing with this problem.

Forward to