HC Deb 06 November 2002 vol 392 cc271-3
4. Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East)

If she will make a statement on the food crisis in southern Africa. [77695]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

In southern Africa, the number in need of food and other urgent humanitarian assistance is growing and will reach 14 million by March next year. The United Nations appeal is only 40 per cent. funded. The United Kingdom is the second largest donor after the United States. I am working to encourage my colleagues in other countries to increase their commitment. This is a very complex crisis. The drought is badly exacerbated by weaknesses in governance and economic management in Zambia and Malawi and by gross misgovernment in Zimbabwe. Levels of HIV/AIDS infection have weakened populations now facing serious malnourishment. The international community has not yet responded adequately to the crisis, and it is likely to escalate badly. I fear that we will see a terrible catastrophe.

Mr. Luke

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I, like her, have been involved in discussions with non-governmental organisations and have taken part in debates on the unfolding human tragedy in southern Africa. I am well aware of the role played by the political leaders of countries such as Zimbabwe and Malawi in adding to the enormity of the famine being faced there. Does she agree, however, that the international community should not use the Government of Mugabe or Muluzi as an excuse to walk away from the peoples of Zimbabwe, Malawi and the southern Africa region?

Clare Short

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend, and the situation is very worrying. For such a serious crisis, to have only 40 per cent. funding for the UN appeal is very unusual. My guess is that that is because of the reputation of President Mugabe, but the people of Zimbabwe are the victims of President Mugabe, and the international community must not turn its back. One in three Zimbabweans are affected by HIV/AIDS. If those people do not get food and emergency health supplies, there will be catastrophic human suffering. The international community must not turn its back. Unappetising as President Mugabe is, the people deserve our support.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The Secretary of State accepts that a major factor in the impending famine in southern Africa is Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Food aid for his people is being diverted to supporters of ZANU-PF. Given that fact, and reports of trouble in Matabeleland, what is the right hon. Lady's view of the US proposals, recently reported in the Washington Times, to deliver food directly to the people of Zimbabwe and, if necessary, to effect regime change in that country?

Clare Short

There is no doubt that the situation is very difficult. The Government of Zimbabwe are attempting to control which NGOs can work, and their diversion of some food for political reasons makes the problem more complex. The Government, the UN and the whole international community are standing together to resist that. However, we must stay engaged, or vast numbers of people will lose their lives.

I saw Andrew Natsios, the head of USAID, fairly recently, but I am not aware of any plan to provide food aid in a way that will bring down the Mugabe regime. Keeping people fed and giving them health care is a complex enough problem, and we must focus on that. My hunch is that the disaster will bring down the Mugabe regime, after which there will be an enormous job of reconstruction to do.

Mrs Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

Does the Secretary of State accept that we also must bear some responsibility for the famine in southern Africa, as our system of subsidised agriculture distorts world markets and prevents African farmers from securing a sustainable livelihood? I remind the Secretary of State that yesterday she said that failure to reform the European common agricultural policy would mean the end of the Doha agreement. Is not that meaningless in light of the Prime Minister's rebuff at the European summit last week?

Clare Short

The hon. Lady is trying, but I am sorry to say that she is getting things slightly wrong. What happened at the European summit was that France had agreed that there should be no increased spending on the CAP when the EU is enlarged. That is good, as far as it goes. Keeping the CAP going and spending more and more would be a disaster. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister caused some irritation, we are told, because he stood up at the summit and insisted that the EU adhere to the commitments made at Doha. That requires progress on the mid-term review of the CAP.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that she perhaps ought to revisit the question of food aid in Zimbabwe? There is evidence that food is being denied to people who are not members of ZANU-PF. If that is happening, it is a form of genocide. We will be judged very harshly if we sit back and do nothing and do not question the people in control in Zimbabwe.

Clare Short

I assure my hon. Friend that we are not sitting back and doing nothing. As I have said, the UK is the second-biggest donor to the emergency fund, and our emergency team has some of the best experts in the world working in the region. We are doing everything that we can to work around a bad Government, to keep people fed and to prevent the abuse of food aid.

By and large, we are succeeding. The regime is attempting to misuse food aid, but we must keep working so that the regime will not prevent those who did not vote for it from receiving any assistance at all. We cannot allow that to happen.

Forward to