HC Deb 18 April 1988 vol 131 c550
90. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assistance Her Majesty's Government are providing for measures to prevent soil erosion in areas bordering the Sahara.

Mr. Chris Patten

Through our contributions to the European development fund we are playing a significant. part in supporting measures to combat desertification in countries bordering the Sahara. Projects costing some £123 million have been approved so far under the sixth European development fund; our share of this amounts to about £20 million. In addition, we are providing assistance in the Sudan from our bilateral programme aimed at halting desert encroachment and reducing environmental decline.

Mr. Hughes

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the United Nations environmental programme forecasts the loss of good land in Africa because of desertification? Is he also aware of the estimates from the European Commission of how much of central, east and west Africa will be lost by the same process? Following his helpful reply, does the Minister agree that preventing the loss of agricultural land in Africa should be one of our main priorities for our overseas aid development programme?

Mr. Patten

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about the importance of halting desertification. The Sahara is moving an inexorable 4 m per year towards the Nile. That is why we have some good projects in Sudan; for example, the western savannah project, and the northern region irrigation rehabilitation programme, which I saw for myself. That is why we support the work of SOS Sahel, which is one of the best non-governmental organisations working in the area.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my hon. Friend aware that investment in the provision of deep concrete-lined wells in villages abutting the Sahara would benefit this cause to a far greater extent than similar developments elsewhere?

Mr. Patten

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of wells in the area. We have several projects to rehabilitate those that already exist and to build new ones.

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