HL Deb 03 May 1984 vol 451 cc626-9

3.10 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government what assistance they are giving to the people dying from the effects of drought in eastern and southern Africa.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, last financial year, 1983–84, we offered 11,500 tonnes of cereals to Mozambique, and 5,000 tonnes to the World Food Programme's reserve for international emergencies, most of which went to Zambia. The European Community is providing about 200,000 tonnes to 10 drought-stricken countries in these areas and we pay about a fifth of this cost. Further allocations will be decided soon. For this year we have already agreed to give Zimbabwe 10,000 tonnes and to repeat our emergency contribution to the World Food Programme. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development expects to make further allocations before long.

During 1983–84 we provided disaster relief costing £1.7 million to fight drought in Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. We have contributed £1 million to a special appeal by the League of the Red Cross Societies for drought-stricken Africa, including six eastern and southern countries. Finally the European Community has just agreed an emergency allocation to 13 countries, of which our share will be about £2 million. The 13 will include Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Minister for that reply and welcome the figures she has given, although I think we would all wish that they were higher. Is the noble Baroness aware that, at the time the Question was tabled, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation there were 20 million in Africa facing starvation but that since the Question was tabled, as shown by the Oxfam report yesterday, that number has been greatly extended, particularly to the Sahel? Can the noble Baroness inform the House whether Her Majesty's Government are taking any particular notice of the drought which now appears to be approaching the disastrous proportions of a few years ago in the Sahel as well as East and Central Africa?

Baroness Young

My Lords, as far as the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question is concerned, I have of course seen the estimates made by the FAO, but the fact is that it is never easy to quantify situations of this kind. As I understand it, the effects of the drought are patchy. Some areas have escaped lightly but overall the problem is certainly very serious and has been prolonged.

On the second part of the noble Lord's question, I have seen the newspaper reports to which he has referred. He will have noticed that in fact they refer to our contribution to IDA. As he I think will know, Britain has an outstanding record in regard to IDA. In our view the United States 9 billion dollar IDA now under consideration is inadequate to meet the needs of the world's developing countries, but we hope that it will be agreed in time to become effective in July.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister remind the House whether aid is being provided either directly or through the EEC to the drought stricken areas of Eritrea which are occcupied by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front; and whether consideration will now be given to enlarging the amount of any such aid in the light of the recent defeats of the Ethiopian armed forces by the EPLF and its consequent assumption of responsibility for a larger area which is stricken by drought?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the noble Lord's question refers to something which is in fact not a part of the Question on the Order Paper. If he would care to put down a Question on that subject I should of course be happy to answer it.

Lord Oram

My Lords, while we can greatly appreciate the work that is being done in this matter by the Overseas Development Administration and indeed by the voluntary agencies in the matter of relieving disasters, is not the problem of the encroaching desert one that ought to be tackled on a long-term basis? For example, has not our own British experience with the Gezira scheme some years ago and Israel's success in her agriculture proved that, given the resources and the will, man can conquer the desert? Is the Minister satisfied that within our aid programme sufficient weight is given to the long-term consideration of this problem?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that drought is only one of the causes of the present tragedies in Africa. What has become quite clear is that there are frequently policy and institutional weaknesses in many of the African countries which they are now trying to counter, particularly with IMF and IBRD help. The noble Lord also asked whether we were giving aid to help countries grow more food. We have of course done some of this under disaster relief and also some of it through our regular development aid, where one of the objectives is to develop greater self-sufficiency in food production.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a question which relates to the Question on the Order Paper? Does the assistance include the all-important question of seed corn in drought areas? The important thing appears to be to keep agriculture going in difficult circumstances. Even if you are giving food to relieve famine, you still need to keep agriculture going.

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord that such things as a better supply of seeds and water hole boring and other such equipment, which will all be part of the encouragement of greater self-sufficiency, will be a central objective of European Community aid under the next ACP/EC conventions.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, the figures she gave in answer to the Question of my noble friend Lord Hatch will be very welcome by the people of this country who have been horrified by some of the things they have seen on TV, and that the attitude of compassion and understanding shown by our Government should be an example to many other Governments who should also contribute? In response to the point about prevention being better than cure, is she prepared to state her understanding that consultations should take place with many of Britain's voluntary overseas services which have been involved in and understand the problem—for example, with members of the British Red Cross, which has already made recommendations on the basis that prevention is better than cure?

Lord Denham


Lord Molloy

Should not their understanding and experience be added to the generosity and understanding shown by the Government?

Baroness Young

My Lords, of course if there are particular voluntary organisations which the noble Lord has in mind, perhaps he would let me know and we could consider them. As it is, we are giving £10 million, which was announced in March, which includes £1 million for the League of Red Cross Societies and £½ million for various voluntary agency projects to fight drought. I might add that we have also contributed £200,000 to Christian Aid for use by the Sudan Council of Churches for victims of the drought in Northern Ethiopia, which I hope may go some way to answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her comments concerning the International Development Association fund and the cuts by the United States, but will she go a little bit further and say what Her Majesty's Government are doing to restore the funds of this most important organisation which quite clearly can give a great deal of aid to the drought-stricken areas? Secondly, to take up her point concerning the fact that drought is only one issue in the lack of food and starvation, does she agree that the aid cuts, mainly by the United States but also by Her Majesty's Government, have contributed to that situation, as has the necessity for concentrating on cash crops in order to pay the very large interest rates on the debts incurred by those countries?

Baroness Young

My Lords, on IDA, as a Government we have come out publicly in favour of the United States 12 billion dollars replenishment and have urged it on other donors. When the 9 billion US dollars replenishment was agreed, but not signed, earlier on this year, we rallied support for a supplementary fund of 3 billion US dollars. When the United States Government decided not to pay its share of IDA replenishment, we waived our rights to a pro rata cut in our own contribution, and a vast majority of other donors followed us. So I think our record on IDA is a good one. Of course, on the question about aid generally, I think the figures that I have given this afternoon indicate that the sums that we are giving are very considerable indeed.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware—perhaps she is not—that I am president of the British branch of an NGO called SOS Sahel, which works against drought in the Sahel regions? Would she not agree that if perhaps I told her about this organisation, she would find it worthy of Government support?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I was not aware of the information that the noble Baroness has given me, though I am very pleased to hear it. I have noted what she has said, but I think she would agree with me that it is rather wide of the Question.