HC Deb 30 November 1987 vol 123 cc602-4
75. Mr. Barron

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what emergency appeals Her Majesty's Government have received from United Nations agencies in response to the current drought and risk of famine in Ethiopia.

Mr. Chris Patten

On 13 November an emergency appeal was issued by the office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Co-ordinator for assistance with an emergency food airlift in Ethiopia. On 17 November I announced in response that Britain would provide £2 million to help support the airlift, with any unspent balance to be used for other urgent famine needs. An appeal for emergency relief supplies has also been issued by the United Nations Children's Fund.

Mr. Barron

Will the Government respond positively to the appeal by the United Nations Children's Fund in view of the fact that the aim is not just to provide food but is primarily to give assistance and care to the malnourished children in Ethiopia? What will be the Government's response to that important appeal?

Mr. Patten

We shall consider in due course our response to that appeal and to another appeal that is being made this week. So far we have provided over £23 million this year in assistance towards Ethiopia. We have been in the van of efforts by the donor community to help that poor country.

Mr. Baldry

Since Tigrean rebels are holding up relief convoys and the Ethiopian Government are spending 75 per cent. of the nation's wealth on prosecuting civil wars, is it not time that the international community, in the shape of the General Assembly of the United Nations, started to apply pressure on Ethiopia to resolve its internal armed disputes and to negotiate with the various rebel groups? Unless less is spent on arms, more will not be able to be spent on food.

Mr. Patten

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend has said. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has appealed to the Ethiopian Government and, more particularly, to the Eritrean People's Liberation Front to try to ensure the free movement of food within Ethiopia. I think, without sounding complacent, that the House should know that the problem does not appear to be that of moving food to Ethiopia; it is that of moving food around within Ethiopia. Although the airlift, which has started, will be of considerable assistance, it is vital that trucks should be able to move around the country and that more trucks are moved from the south to the north to help.

Miss Lestor

I acknowledge the Government's contribution to the relief of some of the problems in Ethiopia. In relation to the UNICEF appeal, does the Minister agree that time is of the essence and that the children who are dying for want of food, water, and so on, cannot wait long? Will he consider the importance of this appeal as a matter of urgency? I acknowledge that there is a great problem in Ethiopia over the internal movement of any supplies that the Hercules or other aeroplanes might fly to that country. Bearing in mind the problems, has the hon. Gentleman considered repeating the 1985 Bushel operation, which was welcomed by many people in this country and abroad and which made such a big contribution in reaching the distressed areas within a short period?

Mr. Patten

It is precisely because of our concern for the starving in Ethiopia that we have committed, so far, £23 million this year for humanitarian purposes. Perhaps I can explain the exact position on the airlifts. The International Committee of the Red Cross airlift began today with the Hercules. The Caritas airlift should begin with the arrival of the Hercules on Wednesday in Addis Ababa, and a further Hercules a week or 10 days later. The United Nations Disaster Relief Organisation airlift will start as soon as the Ethiopian Government give permission to the United Nations to use another Hercules. The United Nations co-ordinator on the spot believes that four Hercules, and perhaps a fifth in January, should be sufficient. But, of course, the situation is being kept under review. We are in daily contact with the United Nations in Addis Ababa and, if we are requested to provide assistance with the Royal Air Force, we shall consider that as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Devlin

Is my hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be warmly welcomed by my constituents, many of whom have written to me requesting that the RAF be used to provide the sort of valiant help that it did two years ago?

Mr. Patten

I want to ensure that we provide the help that is both asked for and required. I do not think that: we should bypass the efforts of the United Nations co-ordinator and the ICRC on the spot. I am sure that the whole House would wish to urge both the Ethopian Government and the EPLF to do everything in their power to ensure that the food gets through to the people who are starving.