HL Deb 25 February 2002 vol 631 cc1221-3

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

Following the Tokyo conference, what efforts they have made to get humanitarian aid to inaccessible regions of Afghanistan.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, thanks to the early and effective actions of the international humanitarian community, a catastrophe has been averted in Afghanistan. However, the humanitarian situation remains fragile and pockets of unmet need remain where vulnerable people cannot be reached due to poor weather or insecurity. Humanitarian agencies, supported by the United Kingdom, are continuing to do their best to deliver life-saving assistance to those in need, including the United Nations World Food Programme, which has deployed helicopters for rapid assessment and delivery of emergency aid to remote areas, and specialist experts and equipment to keep routes open.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that realistic and comprehensive Answer. Does she agree that the ultimate aim must be to render humanitarian aid unnecessary by fostering long-term development? If she does, will she say, following the publication of the DfiD consultative document on eliminating hunger, how her department will be furthering Afghanistan's needs for long-term development?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lady Whitaker that we need to work to make humanitarian aid unnecessary. However, in the short term. we shall continue our humanitarian efforts while at the same time working for the long-term reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. My noble friend will be aware that at the recent Tokyo conference there were pledges both for next year and for a five-year reconstruction effort. The Department for International Development has set aside a further £20 million for this financial year. This support follows on from the £40 million of emergency humanitarian relief we have already given. We have pledged £200 million over the next five years.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, even in accessible areas, levels of malnutrition among Afghan children are shockingly high? Can she give an assurance that the levels of emergency food aid will not be allowed to drop off as international tension moves on to the next big crisis?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that we continue to monitor the humanitarian situation extremely carefully. As I said in my opening Answer, helicopters are now being used to access the more remote and difficult areas. Of course, the weather remains a problem because it is winter. There are also some security problems, with which we are trying to deal. There is a huge problem with the numbers of internally displaced people in Afghanistan, as well as problems with refugees in neighbouring countries. We are well aware of these challenges and we are working in partnership with the whole international community to try to bring an end to these problems.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, can the Minister say what is being done to encourage the Afghans to grow food to feed their own populations rather than to grow opium poppies to feed the addiction of the western world?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as the noble Countess knows, our overarching development commitment is to deal with poverty reduction. As 85 per cent of Afghanistan's population is dependent on agriculture, and given the continuing food shortage, the international recovery efforts need to focus on raising productivity in agricultural areas and, indeed, on creating employment opportunities. The noble Countess may be aware that, in ex-poppy-growing areas, a poppy cultivation ban was imposed by the Taliban which has created some difficulties for those communities.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there is a continuing problem because there have been press reports that, when food parcels were being dropped, children were being told not to touch them as they contained poisons or dangerous substances? Has that problem been overcome? Are people now willing to accept the humanitarian food aid in particular?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I believe the noble Baroness is referring to a problem which occurred very early on when airlifts were being used to drop some supplies. We are now trying to ensure that we get supplies in directly, either on the ground or through the use of helicopters. Donkeys have also been used to get supplies into some of the more remote areas. The difficulty identified by the noble Baroness is no longer such a problem.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, as regards the resources committed by this country and internationally, will the Minister indicate the balance between those for humanitarian needs and those for long-term reconstruction and development?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can confirm that at the Tokyo conference we pledged £200 million over five years for long-term reconstruction. With regard to the immediate needs, since 11th September—I hope that I get the figures right—we have given some £40 million; and we have given a further £20 million since then. I shall confirm the figures to the noble Lord in writing.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, will the Minister comment on her department's commitment to ensure that women's interests in Afghanistan are fully represented— including through the Afghan Interim Authority and that there may be a ministry for women?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I can confirm that it was agreed at the Tokyo conference that women's rights should be fully mainstreamed and honoured through all the programmes in the reconstruction process. I can confirm that, of the 21 people appointed to put together the Loya Jirgah, three are women.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that aid is still arriving in Afghanistan by train from the north, granted that rail is the best way of bringing in large quantities of aid? Are there any plans to re-establish the rail link across the Pakistani border?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not able to answer the second point about the rail link across the Pakistani border. I shall investigate the matter and write to the right reverend Prelate. We are using every avenue open to us to get humanitarian aid into Afghanistan.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, how many helicopters are available for the distribution of food?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not aware of the exact number. If I can confirm it, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord.

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