HL Deb 21 May 1992 vol 537 cc685-7

11.25 a.m.

Lord Alport asked Her Majesty's Government:

What financial or other assistance is being given to Zimbabwe in view of the serious consequences of the prolonged drought there.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the Government are providing £7.5 million in extra balance of payments aid to ease the financial burden of planned food imports. This is additional to our normal aid programme for Zimbabwe, which totalled over £32 million last year and includes technical assistance for a variety of water management projects.

Lord Alport

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Will the situation in Zimbabwe be kept carefully under control by the Government? The money that has been provided so far is rather small when compared with the size of the problem that the country is now facing. Will the Government use their good offices with the European Community to get additional assistance for Zimbabwe from the Community in view of the serious political as well as social and human problems that will arise from the prolonged drought?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am glad to tell my noble friend that the European Community's special food aid programme has had our very full support. We have agreed on a total of 800,000 tonnes of food aid, 680,000 tonnes of which is for Africa. Of that, in its first allocation, Zimbabwe is expected to receive a substantial amount—around 73,000 tonnes. I can assure your Lordships' House that we are keeping a very close watch on what is going on, not only in terms of the provision of food but also by helping areas of Zimbabwe to drill for water and to conserve it so that when the seeds are sown next winter, they may produce a crop next year.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and I were members of a commission many years ago when the Mau-Mau troubles were taking place in Southern Rhodesia. We produced a unanimous report for which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, was mainly responsible. As a result of that, there was peaceful development, interspersed by the actions of Mr. Smith and his friends who stopped it developing. I therefore have much pleasure in supporting the noble Lord's plea to Her Majesty's Government.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, perhaps I may say briefly that I shall be attending the United Nations Southern African Development Coordinating Conference in Geneva on 1st June. That will look at the problems of drought and famine, not only in Zimbabwe, but also in neighbouring countries. We shall be taking stock of what is happening then. However, food is going into the pipeline now, which is what I sought to achieve with my initiatives at the beginning of March.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, while expressing my sympathy for the serious suffering that clearly exists in Zimbabwe, perhaps I may ask my noble friend this question. Is it not a fact that the present government there were advised some time ago—before the serious consequences of the drought took full effect—that if they took some action, at least some of the problems that might result from the drought could be alleviated? Therefore, to what extent do we make ourselves liable to provide help in such circumstances, which might possibly be the responsibility of an independent government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have encouraged the Government of Zimbabwe to take all sensible measures themselves, and from my meetings in the past few weeks, both with the president and with the minister of transport, I am convinced that they are doing their best. But as other noble Lords have said, this situation is very serious indeed. It is the worst drought in this area in living memory and that is why we are looking at other ways in which we can help. The fast disbursing of the £7.5 million which we have agreed is helping Zimbabwe and we shall find other ways, if necessary, to do so quickly.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is it not true that the particular tragedy of the situation is that Zimbabwe had begun to get its food production into sensible order and was beginning to export maize before the drought hit it? This is a tragedy not only for Zimbabwe but also for Zambia next door.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, bearing in mind that our country has been prompt and generous in similar situations, when the noble Baroness meets the various organisations involved will she point out that, of all the nations that have made contributions, this country has not only been prompt but has also been very generous?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that comment. We were indeed the first. On 4th March last I wrote to all our European partners and I shall be having some bilateral discussions this weekend with other donors to speed up their bilateral donations to the countries of Southern Africa and indeed the Horn of Africa too.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, has my noble friend or her department studied the results of the recent Australian research on the subject of constructing dew ponds in tropical areas which might be of help in this situation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am sure that one of my officials has done so. I had not yet done so myself but I shall now look into the matter.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the House fully understands that this is the worst cereal harvest in Zimbabwe for 70 years and that everything that can be done by Britain and Europe should be done? However, will the noble Baroness look at the logistical problems, because there are reports of delays at the ports in South Africa upon which Zimbabwe is dependent? There is also rail congestion and the trucking fleets are encountering difficulties. Anything the Government can do to help with logistics as well as supplies would be welcome.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we have already offered to the Government of Zimbabwe additional help with logistics problems. In the past few days we have managed to secure the release of the trucks for Zimbabwe which were being held up at Durban. The Government of South Africa in fact waived the demurrage payments. Last month I sent the Crown Agents to Southern Africa to make sure that, where there are blockages in getting the food aid to those who need it so badly, those are removed as fast as possible. We shall continue in this way.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, while the noble Baroness is investigating this subject will she ask her officials to look particularly into the question of the grain silos in Zimbabwe, some of which, I understand, were destroyed before the drought on the instructions of the IMF?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I have no evidence to that effect but I shall look into the matter.