HC Deb 14 March 2001 vol 364 cc1003-4
1. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

What environmental impact studies have been undertaken by her Department into the Zambezi river system. [152209]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin)

We are not currently funding any long-term environmental studies because there is no shortage of such studies. However, more needs to be done to build up water management systems in Mozambique and across southern Africa. We are helping organisations in the region to produce transnational water management agreements and have helped to develop a water resources management strategy in Zimbabwe to relieve the pressure on Mozambique. In addition, we are helping the Mozambique water authorities to obtain hydrological and meteorological data on the Zambezi and other major river systems so that flood predictions can be quickly produced and disseminated.

Mr. Corbyn

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome the fact that many environmental studies are being undertaken on the Zambezi river system. In relation to those studies and to any contribution made by the Department for International Development, will my hon. Friend consider the long-term effects of land use changes in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia? They have led to massive deforestation, which has resulted in the soil being unable to retain large quantities of water, which in turn means fast run-off during the rainy season. All that raises rivers to extraordinary levels. Will my hon. Friend also consider the possibility of reducing the levels of the lakes at Kariba and Cabora Bassa with a view to their being used as retention lakes during the rainy season? That might reduce flooding in Mozambique.

Mr. Mullin

The unprecedented amount of rain in the Zambezi valley area makes it unlikely that any amount of planning would have avoided serious flooding. However, action can be taken to mitigate the effects, including better liaison between the water management authorities in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, better early-warning systems and better contingency planning. I am not aware that deforestation has been a major factor in the present crisis, but I shall make inquiries and get back to my hon. Friend about that.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The Minister knows that the poorest people in the world suffer most from disasters such as that in Mozambique. Will he, therefore, congratulate Comic Relief on spending more than £110 million since 1985 on improving the lives of the poorest people in Africa? Would he, the Secretary of State and other hon. Members like to join us at a Comic Relief photo call on College green at 3.45 pm? You, too, would be welcome, Mr. Speaker, and red noses will be provided.

Mr. Mullin

I join the hon. Lady in congratulating anyone who attempts to relieve the suffering of the world's poorest people. I shall check my diary carefully to see whether I am available to wear a red nose on College green, but the House will understand that I have my reputation to protect.

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