HC Deb 07 May 2003 vol 404 cc678-80
3. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

If she will make a statement on the relief of poverty in southern Africa. [111518]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Ms Sally Keeble)

The 14 countries of southern Africa contain some 200 million people, of whom approximately 40 per cent. live on less than $1 a day. The region is heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, and has also suffered a food crisis. In the past year, my Department spent £260 million to support poverty reduction in those countries.

Mr. Edwards

Has my hon. Friend noted the conclusion of the Select Committee on International Development report on southern Africa? It states that Africa is the only continent that is moving backwards on attaining the millennium development goals for relieving poverty. Does she agree that some of the major challenges in southern Africa are the health crisis caused by AIDS, the underdevelopment of agriculture, and the political regimes of countries such as Malawi and especially Zimbabwe? Those countries could be a solution to the problem in southern Africa rather than a major cause. How are the Government working with the international community to tackle those challenges?

Ms Keeble

My hon. Friend is right about Africa's problems, especially the fact that the region will not generally reach the millennium development goals, although the performance on some is worse than on others.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to identify governance and HIV/AIDS as two of the main barriers to development. The United Kingdom Government have been in the lead in tackling those problems, and in working internationally to do so—through the G8 Africa plan and also through our support for the New Partnership for African Development. Most important are our proposals for an international financing facility to raise the extra funds needed to achieve the MDGs both in Africa and elsewhere.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

Can the Minister confirm that the southern African country in which poverty has increased most is Zimbabwe, owing to the disgraceful behaviour of its illegal Government? The Secretary of State mentioned the welcome aid money that would be sent to Zimbabwe for food. Is the Minister entirely satisfied that that food is getting through to all people in Zimbabwe, not just—as is alleged—to Government supporters?

Ms Keeble

I am not sure whether Zimbabwe is the country in which poverty is increasing fastest, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that a once strong economy has collapsed. Inflation is rampant, and I believe that growth is now negative. The right hon. Gentleman is also right in thinking—I suspect—that whenever the Government in Zimbabwe change, rebuilding the economy will take many years, and people will suffer for a long time as a result of the damage to the economy.

There are stringent safeguards to ensure that food sent through the international community is not used for political purposes. As well as food, we give Zimbabwe about £15.3 million of other aid, and do a substantial amount to tackle HIV/AIDS.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

The Department has persuasively linked conflict and poverty. Does the Minister agree that a resolution of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo would significantly reduce poverty in southern Africa? What measures will the Government take to secure peace in a conflict in which more than 3 million have died?

Ms Keeble

My hon. Friend is right about the impact of conflict on a country's economic performance. About one fifth of people in Africa are affected by conflict, and it costs the continent about 2 per cent. a year in economic growth. The elimination of poverty is therefore a major problem. My hon. Friend is also right to pinpoint the DRC as one of the areas in which the problem is most acute.

As my hon. Friend will know, we are supporting the introduction of a transitional Government. We have also supported the UN observers in the area, and we look forward to the arrival of Bangladeshi troops in, I think, June. We will support the peace process as a key part of our ethical conduct policy.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

It is common ground that the HIPC—heavily indebted poorest countries initiative is failing to meet expectations, even in countries where in some respects it has been completed. What is the Department doing to tackle the greatest deterrent to increasing trade in poor countries and relieving poverty? I refer to the collapse of the commodity prices on which those countries' trade depends so much.

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. It is difficult to hear either the questions or the answers.

Ms Keeble

I do not agree that the HIPC initiative has failed. It has provided substantial relief for a number of countries. There is unsustainable debt in some countries that have completed the initiatives, but we are considering ways of tackling that.

The hon. Gentleman is of course right about the need to support trade. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other Ministers throughout Government have been extremely supportive of the Doha agenda which will secure the reforms that are needed to increase trade. That, ultimately, is where the solution will lie.

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