HC Deb 19 November 2003 vol 413 cc263-84WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Gareth Thomas.]

9.30 am
Vera Baird (Redcar)

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa. With the exception of five years of Italian rule between 1936 and 1941, it has never been occupied. Its history is amazing. It is referred to innumerable times in the Bible and in many ancient texts, and it has many as yet unexplored architectural remains—churches hewn out of solid rock, steles and much more—that confirm its prominent place in man's early history.

At 1.14 million sq km, it is as large as France and Spain combined. Probably its most famous leader was Haile Selassie, but he was ousted in 1974 by the Derg, Colonel Mengistu's brutal Marxist dictatorship. In May 1991, after a long struggle, Mengistu was overthrown by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. A new constitution was adopted in December 1994, when Meles Zenawi became Prime Minister. He continues in office as the head of a slightly uneasy coalition.

Ethiopia's population is multi-ethnic, with around 78 ethnic groups, and 80 languages are spoken. Most of the people in the highlands around Addis Ababa, the capital, are members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but many lowlanders are Muslim; it is a 50:50 split, but there are some other Christian sects. They are bound together in a federation of states delineated by natural features of the landscape; they seem to coexist quite amiably.

Unfortunately, Ethiopia is best known for drought and war. The most notable war was the border war with Eritrea, now ended after a border commission and a commitment not to reignite hostilities, although there remain issues on the allocation of Badme to Eritrea. As for drought, securing a sustainable supply of food for its people has been a priority for the Ethiopian Government and for donors for about 20 years, but food insecurity remains the country's most deeply rooted problem. The major famine of 1984–85 was followed by further food shortages in 1992, 1994, 2000 and 2002. By 2025, Ethiopia will need to double its production of cereals to 24 million tonnes in order to feed its people.

The international community has responded to food crises in Ethiopia with food aid, but it has never sufficiently addressed the causes of those crises by investing in Ethiopia's poor rural communities. As a result, Ethiopia, its people and the international community have become trapped in a cycle of dealing only with the immediate crisis.

Ethiopia is a fascinating country. I have had the privilege of visiting it twice in the past two years, most recently courtesy of the Norfolk Fellows Trust, when I travelled with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow). Another of Ethiopia's problems is the scale of epidemics, most notably HIV. I shall not refer to them now, Mr. Benton, as I hope that my hon. Friend will catch your eye. Having been there with me, I know that he took a particular interest in the problem; he will be able to tell the Chamber what we found.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 169 out of 173 in the United Nations Development Programme human development report. It has a literacy rate of 32.7 per cent., and its economy is rural. About 85 per cent. of its population lives in rural areas, and most people have small farms leased from the Government. However, since the days of the communist Derg, the Government have owned all the land. Land policy was central to the political debate during the previous two elections.

There appears to be a popular mandate for the communal ownership of land, but it is subsistence farmed, and tef is the most usual crop. It is a nutritional miracle food that contains much more iron than wheat or barley and has high concentrations of essential minerals. It is made into injera. Together with maize, tef is the country's staple crop, and that is grown for food and for the local drink.

As the drought developed this year, after the failure of two lots of rain, it was thought that people would move from the land into the towns to look for food. The anxiety was that they would become a dependent urban underclass, unlikely to be able to return to the land. The fact that land cannot be sold for short-term survival, which would have happened, has helped to avoid that catastrophe. Therefore, land can be seen as a sort of social security. However, we were concerned to hear that land was handled by peasants associations and that it could be redistributed.

There are two sides to the issue: on the one hand, a family who have perhaps three or four sons need land for their children and may have to split an already small area of land into much smaller packages to accommodate more and more people; on the other hand, peasants associations redistribute land to other families, so there was perhaps unhappiness about the prospect of improving land lest it be redistributed. However, it is clear that the nationalised nature of land plays a role in stability and in three of the states no further land redistribution is allowed. There will be a move to longer leases and there will then be the ability to pass land on to children—indeed, to do everything with it except sell it. That land status played a very important role in the beginning of 2003 and there is a political commitment to its continuing.

We went to areas near Dirẽ Dawa and Harer with the World Food Programme to see how the food aid was being delivered in drought areas and the steps that are being taken to create sustainability in communities. I make a generalised comment, but, happily, it is clear that enough food aid came in sufficiently early to stop a major catastrophe occurring. However, that does not mean that there are not deep problems, even with this impressionistic view of Ethiopia, which is all there is time for me to mention.

Approximately half the population is in long-term, deep poverty; they suffer repeated droughts, the loss of their assets, and a decline in the price of coffee, which is the main export crop, leading to the collapse of livelihoods. There is also a lack of infrastructure in poor communities. At the best of times, upwards of 5 million people will never be able to live sustainably on their own land because it is too poor and poorly irrigated to be adequately farmed, and they will be permanently dependent on food aid. In a good year, Ethiopia can produce food in abundance, but even then, because their livelihoods have crashed because of repeated drought, people are often unable to purchase the food that is available. Only 5 per cent. of Ethiopia's irrigable land has been cultivated; the country has great reserves of under-utilised ground water and annual surface water but there has been a lack of investment in water harvesting.

Driving out of Addis Ababa towards Dirẽ Dawa, we saw an amazing sight. It poured with rain, which, although absolutely essential for the crops that were starting to appear and, hopefully, will soon be harvested, ran down both sides of the road in an orange torrent, taking with it the topsoil and eventually running into the lakes, which were made shallower and shallower by the deposited silt. As the rain rushed along the side of the road, it flooded people's houses and was lost from the cultivable areas, carrying away the topsoil and making the lakes shallower, so that that source of water was lost. We saw clearly that it was a lose, lose, lose situation.

The cornerstone of the Ethiopian Government's rural development policy has been to try to turn subsistence farmers into commercial farmers. We heard that there are now 38,000 agents who have been educated to go out to farms to try to persuade them to change their farming. The export of fruit and vegetables from Ethiopia has tripled in the past year, partly as a consequence of that policy, and there is now a move to grow flowers for export in Oromia.

In the drought-ridden areas, there is an excellent project called managing environmental resources to enable transitions, of which I am sure the Minister will be aware, in which food is given for work. MERET aims to discourage people from being dependent on food aid—as long as they are able-bodied, they are given food aid on the basis that they contribute to the sustainability of the local community, for example by digging ditches for irrigation, developing terraces for crop growing, or planting trees where there has been deforestation.

Now that the latest crisis has died down, there is a clear need for the protection of people's livelihoods to begin in earnest. There should be cash-supported programmes focusing on building skills and infrastructure through public works in return for money, which can then stimulate recovery in rural communities. There needs to be rapid development of Ethiopia's ability to store food and transfer it from areas of surplus to areas of deficit. There is an urgent need to restock pastoralist communities, which have lost many of their animals. Women's access to and control over resources and assets should he greatly enhanced. There is also a need to protect small, infant industries, which are just starting to develop and produce diversification.

The food aid performance of donors has been patchy, but the habitual giving of food as aid, rather than providing cash to pay for long-term development, can create a chain of dependency from wealthy donors such as the UK to poor communities. We are starting to change our approach, but the USA continues to give the majority of its aid in kind.

One of the infant industries to which I just referred is a new heavy steel plant on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. That is a welcome development, providing approximately 1,000 jobs and producing 220,000 metric tonnes of sheet steel. That economic development is to be encouraged. It is right that we have changed tack in the way in which we give our aid. At the end of October, the EU announced 3.8 billion birr for development projects over the next five years, intending to try to facilitate food security and economic development. On the same day, the Secretary of State for International Development was invited to an international conference on food security in Addis Ababa, and I know that he has agreed to go. It appears that we, with our EU colleagues, are leading the way into moving our aid on to a more sustainable basis.

I shall quickly refer to two areas of high importance and concern. The first is reproductive health. While in Ethiopia, we were privileged to talk to Dr. Duah from the United Nations Populations Fund. The Ethiopian Government statistics show that the country's population is 70.5 million. Population growth, which was 3 per cent., has now settled at 2.9 per cent. That is a very minor reduction, despite the high level of activity of charities such as Marie Stopes International, and the work on birth control carried out by UNICEF, the UNFPA, aid donors and the Government; 2.9 per cent. of 70.5 million represents huge population growth—the population will undoubtedly double before 2030. The birth rate is 39.8 per 1,000 people, notwithstanding a death rate per 1,000 live births of 103.2. The average woman has 5.55 children, and life expectancy for those children is about 40 years.

The UNFPA has a $5 million per year programme over five years for dealing with reproductive health, which is not very much. It hoped to focus its resources on a few regions, but it seems that the Government have a fairly clear policy of regional resource distribution according to a formula, and so resources have been spread rather thinly. It is estimated that 6 per cent. of the Ethiopian population use contraception compared with, for example, 40 per cent. in Kenya.

The national population conference in Ethiopia in June this year emphasised the need for urgent action. However, family planning is not popular, and presents political difficulties. There is also some sense that the Orthodox Church will not help. Charities told us that the Orthodox Church has no doctrinal problems with birth control, but it seems clear that it will not come off the fence. I am grateful to the ambassador for making it clear that there is no hope of that. That is a great tragedy. The 500,000 orthodox priests in Ethiopia are each an integral and respected part of the community. They could certainly help to break down the myths that stop people from taking up the use of contraception as strongly as they should.

The issue is clouded in myths and traditions. Dr. Jember, in a sustainable development project in a poor area of Addis Ababa, told us of a fear that the contraceptive pill made a person weak and unable to manage their work. Unsurprisingly, there is a notion that a child is a gift of God, a measure of status and an insurance policy for old age. Women are expected to have children. One tribe tells its males that they should abandon their wives if they do not produce one baby a year. I am not surprised, and no one else will be, that some women are bitter that they are denied control over their futures. Maternal mortality in Ethiopia is the highest in the world.

Availability of contraceptives is low, irrespective of the lack of will to take the methods on. The UNFPA spends half of its budget on physical contraception, as the major supplier of the public health system. However, no programme of contraception will work without Government support, strong political will and the help of non-governmental organisations. As we went around, day after day, talking about attempts to make sustainable communities and engender a livelihood for Ethiopia, we were concerned not to hear about sufficient reproductive health to curb the increasing population. Great concerns exist that the Government pay insufficient attention to the issue.

I was recently reassured by the important announcement that the US Packard Foundation has announced that it will spend $40 million on expanding its reproductive health work in Tigray and the southern states. I understand that the request that Packard should spend resources on reproductive health came from the Prime Minister, which I find strongly reassuring. The Government are clearly taking up the idea that better contraceptive advice is needed. However, there is a long way to go.

There is no doubt that UK resources should be applied. We had concerns that donors would not be able to do much about myths about child bearing if there were no political will to tackle them. A donor country cannot easily impose conditions about ways of life and morality on a recipient country. It was a relief to learn that the Packard Foundation's project has been encouraged, as it shows that Ethiopia is keen for all the help it can get.

In ways that are too obvious to set out, reproductive health is integrally linked with women's rights. I went to Ethiopia on the second occasion to look at women's rights. Ethiopia has a modern, gender-egalitarian constitution. Article 35 should be read out in ringing tones: Women shall, in the enjoyment of rights and protections provided for by this Constitution, have equal right with men. It gets better: Women have equal rights with men in marriage as prescribed by this Constitution. Better still: The historical legacy of inequality and discrimination suffered by women in Ethiopia taken into account, women, in order to remedy this legacy, are entitled to affirmative measures. The purpose of such measures shall be to provide special attention to women so as to enable them to compete and participate on the basis of equality with men in political, social and economic life as well as in public and private institutions. Women played a significant role in the overthrow of the Derg, and have earned that equality.

All the institutions are in place. The Ethiopian Parliament has a standing committee on women's affairs, which is chaired by Dr. Ethiopia—a notable female MP who recently visited the House of Commons. She is proud to say that there are two men and 11 women on the committee. There are quotas to ensure that women have a voice in public life and there are efforts to train women candidates for public office. The committee felt that the issue of gender equality was mainstreamed.

A new family code has recently been adopted, and there is a new criminal code to outlaw marital rape, which was outlawed here only 10 years ago. Ethiopia is doing very well to outlaw both that and female genital mutilation. We were told that over 90 per cent. of women in Ethiopia suffered from genital mutilation. They are a bold and strong Government who outlaw something as prevalent as that. There is no doubt about their commitment to equality, or that it is affecting the metropolitan areas.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the work of the national committee on traditional practices in Ethiopia, which considers not only the many beneficial traditional practices but the harmful ones? The women in Parliament have been particularly involved with that committee.

Vera Baird

Yes, I believe that we did talk to someone who was on that committee, although I am not certain of that. My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are beneficial traditional practices as well as some harmful ones.

I have been lucky enough to go to Ethiopia twice in the past two years, and I can track the improvement in women's roles from my own experiences. I was first asked to go by the British Council in order to train some of the judiciary to deal with domestic violence cases. At that time, the new family code, which expressed the new constitutional principle of equality, was functioning only in Addis Ababa, although the constitution is national. The old civil code, which goes back to Haile Selassie's day, made it perfectly clear that the man was the head of the family and that the wife owed him a duty of obedience. The penal code states that nothing is a criminal offence if it is done according to law. Judges outside Addis Ababa were saying, "We can't do anything about domestic violence. The man is the head of the family; his wife owes him a duty of obedience. If he has to enforce the duty of obedience on her by assault, that is not a crime because it is done according to the law in the civil code." That position was very hard to argue against. I said that judges must look at the constitution and interpret those difficulties through the equality clauses of the constitution. That was a hard argument.

This year, I was asked to teach police officers how to police domestic violence. I asked them whether they felt that there was any impediment on their legal powers similar to that which the judges had experienced. They laughed and said that it was perfectly clear that the constitution now prevailed and that everybody accepted it. That seemed to be empirical evidence—although pretty rough and ready—that the march of women in Ethiopia is going forward ever stronger, but it is easy to paint too rosy a picture. In a country that until recently had laws allowing the subordination of women, there is still a huge tradition of that.

We were privileged to meet the head of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, who has recently received the African Nobel prize for her help with women in Ethiopia. After receiving the award, she was interviewed and was asked what she thought the position of women in Ethiopia was. She said that it is poor and does not compare with that in the neighbouring countries, as they have little social and economic power and are still prisoners, especially in the rural areas, to old traditions and views.

The prevalence of abduction of schoolgirls is still clear, so much so that parents are reluctant to send their daughters to school. If a young man asks a girl to marry him and she is not interested, his usual tactic is to abduct her with his friends and rape her. Then, when no one else wants her, she becomes his. There is also a strong tradition of female genital mutilation, and although rape in marriage may technically be outlawed, it is prevalent. There is also still a good deal of domestic violence, so there is a long way yet to go.

There are now clearer statements than ever before of the Government's good intentions on reproductive health and women's rights, but there appears to be a long lead-in time before either desirable policy comes to fruition.

I have said little about the Government, who have had a difficult time in contending with war and repeated drought. They appear to aim to do well and attempt to comply with international human rights treaties, and although they are not perfect, they do well to try. They appear to be run intelligently and have strong plans and powerful initiatives. There is a sense that, because the Derg was an oppressive regime in which initiative was regarded as rebellion, the civil service may still be slow to respond to Government initiatives, but that problem is not isolated in Ethiopia.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I understand the significance of what the hon. and learned Lady says about hidebound social traditions that have constrained or undermined the pursuit of gender equality. On the theme of governance and pluralism, is it the hon. and learned Lady's impression that the elections that have taken place have not yet been fully free and fair? Can she offer any advice on that?

Vera Baird

We did not take it as our job to investigate the democratic viability of the country, but it is notable that the ruling coalition has a majority of about 97 per cent. To some extent, that may speak for itself. None the less, there is no doubt that that Government intend well by their country, and perfect democracy may not be an essential concomitant of progress.

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I, too, visited Ethiopia twice, with some colleagues who are present. The Ethiopian Government's intentions are honourable, and they are dedicated to bringing about an improved condition for the people of their country, which, as was rightly said, is vast. One of the Government's priorities was capacity building, which my hon. and learned Friend referred to in terms of the judiciary and police force. What evidence did she see of the central policies delivering changes to the outlying states?

Vera Baird

The empirical observation that I can make is that, at both training sessions that I was asked to take, people from each state in Ethiopia had come to Addis Ababa. That suggests, although only impressionistically, that a network is developing from the cosmopolitan metropolis outwards to the states.

Overseas investment in Ethiopia is critically needed, and tourism is one of the country's greatest hopes. Like my colleagues, I can give direct testimony to the interest and beauty in Ethiopia—Simien national park, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, the castles of Gonder, the fantastic and unique former kingdom of Axum and the stunning Blue Nile falls. It is as beautiful as eastern Africa and as historic as northern Africa; it has as interesting peoples as western Africa and all the wildlife of southern Africa. It is a country with multiple problems but with a reasonably stable Government with clear hope and strong plans. There is a saying in Ethiopia when one looks on something that is particularly beautiful: before he made it God must have washed his hands. I am sure that everyone who has visited this complex, but now optimistic country, would agree that before God built Ethiopia he certainly washed his hands.

Mr. Joe Benton (in the Chair)

Before I call the next speaker, I should point out that I intend to commence the wind-ups at 10.30 am. Five hon. Members have indicated that they want to speak and I ask them to bear that in mind.

10 am

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

Thank you, Mr. Benton. I will try to keep my comments brief. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) on securing the debate and on an excellent introductory speech. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on his appointment. I am sure that he will add to the quality of the Opposition Front-Bench team. I leave others to make judgments on the general quality. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows what I mean.

I first took part in debates on Ethiopia during the major crisis of 1984. We were told then that it would be a one-off, yet here we are with a sense of déjà vu. What is taking place now, outlined by my hon. and learned Friend, was predictable and predicted. The international community must clearly challenge it. It is not just that things in Ethiopia are bad, but that that is against a backdrop almost throughout Africa of food crisis, drought, plagues and conflict. None of that helps.

As we have heard, the crisis is of staggering dimensions: 14 million people are at risk in Ethiopia and Eritrea. That is bad enough given that in a normal year 4 million such people would face a crisis of famine. Across southern Africa, 13 million other people face death and famine. There have also been many natural disasters in the Congo, in Uganda, in Mauritania and elsewhere. Transcending all that is the issue of global warming. I do not want to depart from the debate, but it is relevant during the visit of the American President to point out that environmental matters in the Kyoto agreement are as relevant to Ethiopia as they are to the rest of Africa and elsewhere. They simply have to be addressed.

There are some who criticise our response, Bob Geldof perhaps among them. We will not criticise him for the contribution that he has made. I cannot quote precisely what he said, so I will paraphrase. He asked why on earth we cannot give food to non-governmental organisations to help the people who are in desperate need. He said that he was a citizen of Europe and that he expected more from the European Union. Many of us would want to echo that last point.

Even if that food aid were delivered in the way that we want and in the time that we want, there are still some structural challenges, particularly in Ethiopia as well as elsewhere in Africa, some of which my hon. and learned Friend addressed. One such challenge is population. Since the 1984 crisis, the population of Ethiopia has grown from 40 million to almost 70 million. The problems with world trade, including the fluctuations in coffee prices, are a great blow to Africa, coming as they do on top of the existing difficulties of economic situations and abilities to export and earn. In addition there is the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

The problems are of a staggering dimension. Some people think that money flows in when there is a crisis, but that the problems are then forgotten. One aid worker in Addis Ababa is reported as saying, "If you don't have starving babies, you don't get the money." Recently, there was a particularly relevant and thoughtful article in The Independent by Declan Walsh, in which he said: Funding does not always follow famine. In recent years the Balkans received $300 per capita in aid, Albania $111—which is not an enormous sum—and Ethiopia $16.

If we are to address the problems, we must discuss the challenge set by the Ethiopian Government, which does not have a bad record on good governance, for the G8, the IMF, the World Bank and the UN. It is worth considering how much the essential development that is needed for Ethiopia to recover and thrive has changed. Twenty years ago, 80 per cent. of World Food Programme resources were spent on development, compared with 20 per cent. on aid for emergencies. That trend has been reversed, which is a short-termist, knee-jerk reaction. That reversal does not represent the vision of aid agencies that work there and address practical problems day in, day out. They experience frustration, knowing that, for example, in respect of the millennium goals set for Africa, the targets for 2015 will not be met until at least 2050.

In view of the time, I shall conclude. We know what is happening in Ethiopia, and we know the early warnings. Our friends in the aid agencies tell us that the situation will almost certainly recur in two, three or five years' time, but that can and should be avoided. So what should we tell aid agencies in Addis Ababa? What is the UK Parliament's message to the Zenawi Government, who are committed and set higher standards for anti-corruption policies than most other developing countries? We should tell them that we genuinely recognise their problems. We congratulate the Department for International Development, and hope that its efforts are emulated in Europe and elsewhere in wealthy parts of the world. We must tell our friends in Ethiopia that theirs is a country of great beauty. We want them to share in the mineral resources of Africa. We want transparency and accountability, and we want those mineral resources to be fairly shared for the benefit of the many, not just the few.

If we can address the problems of the need for food aid when it is required and the need for water, which people are crying out for, as well as the need for fair trade, conflict resolution, and the issue of blood diamonds, we should be entitled to say that security, good politics and good government are at least as important as providing transient warehouses full of grain. Those warehouses are there temporarily, and do not respond to the hearts and minds of people who deserve better.

10.10 am
Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) on securing the debate. Following our return from Ethiopia in the summer, we felt that an Adjournment debate would be appropriate, and I am grateful for this one. My visit to Ethiopia in August was my second; I went there as part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation in December 2002 with my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Rugby and Kenilworth (Andy King), who are present this morning.

The visit last December was timely in that, while we were there, the international donor community was meeting the Ethiopian Government to discuss the food aid crisis there. It was interesting to see how Ethiopia has improved its early warning system, which gives advance warning of food crisis. That is done by measuring rainfall during the two rain seasons in spring to early summer and the main rains in August and September. Those rains were very patchy, and made clear to the Government the risk of famine. Instead of 5 million people needing food aid, it was calculated in December that the figure would be 12.5 million.

On that basis, the international community reached agreement with the Ethiopian Government to deliver food aid. Having visited in December, it was interesting to visit in the rainy season this year towards the end of the famine period, when crops were in the fields, and to see how successful that programme had been. The international community and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Government were very successful overall in handling that crisis, and should be congratulated on that.

However, that does not deal with the issue of sustainable development. The population constraints that my hon. and learned Friend mentioned have struck me on both visits. They are very real and need to be tackled, as does the issue of how the land is used or misused. I remember visiting the West Harerge area, Asbe Teferi and the Messio district in December last year, and there were piles of sticks or charcoal everywhere. The forests were being cut down to produce fuel to sell for income. One could see, even from the hotel in Addis Ababa, that the hillsides that were covered in forest a generation ago were completely denuded. In many parts of the country, the effect of that was the same as the problems that we saw in Harer in August: when the rains came there was no forest left on the hillsides to keep the rain within the land. It came as a torrent off the hillsides and was wasted. We visited a project where trees had been planted to replace those lost, but it is clearly still an issue.

Another issue is that of water management. It is a sensitive issue as the waters of the Nile are used extensively by Sudan and Egypt, although they generally come from the mountains of Ethiopia. It is clear to me that even in a year such as 2002—a poor year for rains—there was sufficient rainfall, if managed properly, to feed the people of Ethiopia. The problem is that the infrastructure is not in place and irrigation systems do not exist to ensure that the land can be used productively. The pressure on the land means that there is great pressure to increase grain production, but instead of pressure to produce tef, which is part of the staple diet, there is pressure to produce maize. If it is successfully grown, maize produces more grain than tef, but it is very susceptible to anything less than the optimum rainfall, so if there is only half or three quarters of the optimum rainfall, the maize grows, but does not come to proper fruition. One sees half-grown stalks of maize everywhere, because there has not been enough rain, whereas tef and other indigenous grains will grow even if there is poor rainfall, and they will produce a crop, even if it is not of the size that one sees in a very good year. At least tef produces some grain; maize is either completely successful or produces nothing at all, which was a real problem in 2002.

That situation derives in part from issues of land tenure and the willingness of people at village level to invest in the land that they occupy, but do not own. They fear that if they invest in improving the land, it could be reallocated when the village council next meets to decide who gets the land. A real issue is how to devise a system that encourages farmers at local level to invest in improving the land.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Borrow

I will take a short intervention; I am mindful of colleagues who wish to speak.

Mr. Bercow

Is not what the hon. Gentleman has described an argument for establishing proper private property rights?

Mr. Borrow

We need to be fairly careful about giving prescriptive advice to an independent country, particularly one such as Ethiopia, which has a long, proud history. However, there is a problem, which I think it recognises, with how land tenure operates there and the knock-on effects.

I shall touch on HIV/AIDS, which was the main reason for my visit in August. The official figures show a prevalence rate of between 6 and 7 per cent. That is based on antenatal testing in 34 centres throughout the country, 28 of which were in urban areas and six in rural sites. The figures show real variation. The infection rate is 3 per cent. in the rural areas, but in some urban areas it is much higher. It is 20 per cent. in Bahir Dar, 19 per cent. in Jijiga, 18.7 per cent. in Nazret and 13.2 per cent. in Addis Ababa.

I have some scepticism about those figures. The National Intelligence Council in Washington projected a possible figure of 18 per cent. on the figures that it had for 2002. We had discussions in August with UNESCO and it felt that the figure was higher. My feeling from speaking to people at all levels, particularly on the visit in August, is that there is real recognition that HIV/ AIDS is a problem. When the figures are 18 or 20 per cent. for Uganda, Kenya and other parts of east Africa, it is difficult to believe that the figures are so much lower for Ethiopia, and that the assumption is that they will remain so much lower.

There may be particular issues in Ethiopia that make its figures much lower. We heard that the army has a strong sexual health policy: condoms are issued to soldiers. In many other places, the army is often a strong instrument for spreading HIV/AIDS, so the Ethiopian Government are to be congratulated on their policy. The fact that so much of Ethiopia is very rural may also make a difference.

That said, I sense that there could well be a major problem with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia in years to come. It is applying to the global fund to deal with the issue and to secure drug funding in respect of mother-to-child transmission. That is crucial, but in many ways we need to know more about the scale of the problem. I am not sure that the figures are as robust as those available for other African countries.

My overall impression in Ethiopia was that the Government are doing their best in very difficult circumstances. They coped well last year with the risk of major famine, but the international community will have to feed 5 million or more people with emergency food aid in the years to come unless we put in place, or help Ethiopia to put in place, a structure that brings the productivity of its land and its food production in line with its population growth. That is unsustainable. We must work with the international community and the Government of Ethiopia to determine what policies are needed to improve the productivity of the land and to manage the population growth better than has been managed in the past 20 years. I fear that the international community will become increasingly reluctant to find funds for emergency famine aid if it is requested year after year with no end in sight.

10.20 am
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) on securing the debate.

Time is short, so I shall talk briefly about some of the issues that emerged on my visit to Ethiopia last July as part of the British Council's pairing scheme for Westminster and Ethiopian women MPs. I was linked with Dr. Ethiopia, whom my hon. and learned Friend mentioned. Dr. Ethiopia visited my constituency in Cardiff, and I spent five days with her in Addis Ababa and Nazret. I want to talk about the issues that she wanted me to raise, and on which she wanted me to work with her.

The British Council should be congratulated on starting the scheme. Now that many visits have been made, it is important to determine how to sustain them and how to work together to resolve issues such as those that Dr. Ethiopia raised with me and I raised with her.

Dr. Ethiopia was very concerned about health, which is high on the agenda. We all know that Ethiopia has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world: 166 per 1,000 births. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) referred to HIV/AIDS. Project workers in Nazret said that it was a huge issue and told me that coping with young people who tested positive was very difficult. Dr. Ethiopia took me to a district health centre—Woreda 13—in Addis Ababa, and one of her great passions is to try to develop it. I was extremely impressed by the quality of care that it gave. It was very holistic and examined every aspect of the lives of mothers and children. It urged mothers to use contraception, encouraged the use of deprovera and tested for HIV/AIDS. It also gave good antenatal and postnatal care, and children were vaccinated. All those treatments were available at the same time, and there was an extremely high rate of breastfeeding, which this country would envy. We have much to learn from the way in which the centre operates. However, Dr. Ethiopia drew to my attention the fact that although so much good work was being done at the centre, which was progressive, its resources were poor. It had no ambulances to bring in mothers to deliver their babies, the delivery bed was so old and broken that it was depressing, and there were no heaters, dish washers, sterilising equipment or microscopes.

Any aid that we decide to give must be sustainable. There is no point in sending over an ambulance in a great charitable rush when there is no money to run it and no spare parts are available. Very small resources may help centres such as the one in Addis Ababa, which is already doing a tremendous job. I had a great deal of admiration for what it was doing. I ask the Minister to take on board the fact that sustainable aid can help in places where progress is already being made.

The other major issue raised with me by women in Ethiopia—I met mainly women and it was women's issues that were brought to my attention—was the effect of the harmful traditional practices that are still carried out and which particularly affect women and children. I was in the Parliament for what I think was an annual debate on the traditional practices of Ethiopia. As I mentioned in an intervention, there are many good and positive traditions, such as breastfeeding, the care of mothers after delivery, the care of elderly and disabled people and many others, that we would want to emulate.

Nevertheless, there are harmful practices, and women in the Parliament are leading the fight to get them outlawed, as they threaten the human rights of women and children. The practices in question were debated in Parliament for a whole day and I was tremendously impressed by the way in which they were being tackled at all levels—through the school curriculum, through the training of trainers and through the mass media. However, there were very limited resources for the task and the areas that could be covered were also limited.

Parliament accepted, fundamentally, that the traditional practices challenged mothers' and children's rights and caused additional health problems, as my hon. and learned Friend mentioned; permanent damage can result from childbirth at a very young age. I want to ask the Minister how we can give sustainable help on health issues, and provide help in the matter of harmful traditional practices.

10.27 am
Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

I shall take careful note of your strictures, Mr. Benton, and keep my remarks to three minutes. I welcome the introductory comments of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), who gave a clear exposition of what Ethiopia is like. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) mentioned the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation last year, of which I was a member; one thing that I remember is that we shared our visit with a certain Mr. Rumsfeld, which is something that we might care to forget.

I want to make two clear points. The first was touched on by my hon. and learned Friend, but it is crucial: to achieve sustainable development, Ethiopia needs to remain at peace. It can do so only if it has territorial sovereignty; the countries that surround it are Djibouti, Eritrea, about which I shall say more shortly, Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan. Pleasingly, the British Government are investing time in trying to overcome the boundary dispute with Eritrea. While we were there, we met General Gordon, who is the grandson of the General Gordon—that's Britain for you.

It is crucial that we invest time, money and real effort to resolve the dispute in the Badme area. If there is a return to war, everything else will fail. Of course, there is internal tension. It is clear that the Government are still dominated by the Tigreans. That causes resentment elsewhere in the country. We need to provide the means to develop good governance.

I do not think that the other point I want to make has yet been mentioned. It is a simple fact that Ethiopia is an under-urbanised society. Addis Ababa is by far the dominant centre, but its population is less than 2 million, in a total population of 70 million. There are no other centres of any size in the country. Some form of urbanisation is needed, and we need to help with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble made a point about infrastructure, and transport in particular is woefully inadequate. There is one rail line to Djibouti. A developed country cannot be established on that basis. Telecommunications are also relevant, as any hon. Members who tried to use a mobile phone there will know. Ethiopia is about the only country in the world that has not yet got its act together to set up a network. That is due to its dilemma of trying to maintain some vestige of belief in the rural society, which has a strong grip on the population, while aiming for development.

10.30 am
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

I, too, congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) on her interesting speech, and all other hon. Members who have spoken so passionately this morning. Like others, I visited Ethiopia this year, and, all being well, I should return next year.

This is the latest in a series of debates concentrating on Africa. When the eyes of television news crews, and therefore of the world, are focused on places such as Iraq and the middle east, it is important to remember those countries that face grinding poverty every year. We must continue to assist them if we are ever to meet the UN's millennium development goals. The hon. and learned Lady, along with all other speakers, fairly and effectively spelled out both the short-term and the long-term problems facing Ethiopia. On both counts, we have a duty to help.

The UK should be a champion in the war against global poverty—I know that the Minister and his Department are genuinely committed to that cause. Other Members have demonstrated why Ethiopia should be at the top of our list of priorities—its chronic symptoms include 82 per cent. living on less than a dollar a day, 15 per cent. suffering from HIV/AIDS and adult illiteracy of almost two thirds. Those underlying problems cause the crises that sometimes—not often enough—feature on our televisions and in our newspapers.

In the short term, we have a responsibility to respond to humanitarian crises as they occur. Approximately 5 million people require food aid almost every year. The Government—the Department for International Development specifically—have a good record of contributing to UN appeals, something that other countries would do well to emulate. However, as the World Bank has pointed out, official aid to Ethiopia fell considerably between 1995 and 2000. The $2.5 million that DFID recently pledged to fight malaria in Ethiopia is a massive forward step, and a good example of our Government's contribution. Over 100,000 people die from malaria every year in the country, and while this debate takes place, some 17 Ethiopians will be killed by it.

The hon. and learned Lady was right to mention the equally, if not more, important challenge that faces us: that of the long term. How can we help Ethiopia to develop in a sustainable manner so that it can treat its sick, feed its people and help them out of poverty? Most of all, how can we ensure that Ethiopia has all the necessary tools to resist external shocks, particularly the environmental shocks that appear to be becoming the norm, and to minimise their impact?

Earlier this year, I visited Ethiopia with the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) and representatives of Oxfam. We saw the food aid that was being provided to help to mitigate the effects of the drought in the rift valley. On my way there, I passed several windmills, designed to pump water from below the ground. Most of them had fallen into disrepair, because the initial investment and good will that had enabled them to be built was no longer there, so they had not been maintained. Rainfall is crucial. It is not rocket science to say that when the time, energy and money are provided to build Ethiopia's infrastructure, we must ensure that that infrastructure is maintained—that is at the very heart of long-term development.

When I was there, I found that there was a particular requirement for considerable and sustained investment in rural development, particularly in water management and infrastructure. It struck me that a diversification from agriculture is needed. Farming is almost entirely dependent on smallholders, which leaves the country particularly vulnerable to the external shocks that I mentioned. A related issue is the ongoing problem of land tenure. The average holding is only one hectare and because all land is Government owned, farmers are not encouraged to invest in the land that they work. That problem will increase as population growth outstrips agricultural growth.

The current debate in Ethiopia about land reform needs to involve the Ethiopian people so that the environment is managed. This is a matter of life and death. There are real problems of going straight to private ownership of land. If people are so poor that they cannot produce enough to feed themselves, the temptation may be just to sell their land and move into the city, which does not solve the problem.

The ongoing crisis in the coffee industry has also taken its toll on Ethiopia, a country heavily dependent on that industry. Not only has coffee production decreased by between a quarter and a third over the last year because of the drought, but coffee prices have collapsed by some 70 per cent. over the past four years. There are small projects that can benefit those in direct need. When I was in Ethiopia, I was fortunate enough to see the Negele Gorbitu coffee farmers' co-operative, an excellent set-up that benefits its 1,400 members enormously. However, even with the co-operative, farmers still only get 100 birr—roughly £8—for 100 kg of coffee.

It did not take me long to work out that when I buy a cup of coffee here, I pay roughly what one farmer gets for producing the coffee for 1,000 cups. That is a scandal, and that is even with a pro-farmer co-operative that leaves out some of the middlemen between the farmer and the supermarket. The difference in the price that the farmer receives and what we pay in a supermarket is outrageous. That also links to trade agreements, imports and exports, but I do not have enough time to go into that this morning.

In the short term, we need to help coffee producers weather this storm. However, if the coffee crisis shows us anything, it is that Ethiopia must be less dependent on one crop and even less dependent on agriculture. That is not easy but it must be a long-term goal. The fact that coffee comprises 60 per cent. of Ethiopian exports has meant that the collapse of the market has had a massive negative impact on the country's income. That is very serious, especially as Ethiopia is still servicing $6 billion worth of debt. Last year it spent almost $120 million in debt repayments, 12 per cent. of its GDP. That is outrageous.

For a country with so many problems to be paying so much money on debt, money that could be spent on food and medicines or health care and roads, cannot and should not be tolerated. That money, if spent annually on poverty-focused development, could make an enormous contribution to visible improvements for the people of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, along with many of its neighbours, is also in the grip of HIV/AIDS. Although it is not as widespread as in other parts of Africa, particularly the south, it is still a major problem. There are possibly 1 million AIDS-related orphans and, in many cases, knowledge and skills are being lost and not passed down from one generation to the next. Not only must we ensure that Ethiopia can afford to treat those suffering from the virus, but we must ensure that the delivery mechanisms for health care are improved so that access to medicines is increased.

If Ethiopia is to become the country that we all want to see, its next 70 years must not match its last when it comes to war. Too much has gone wrong in the past. When more money is spent on guns than food, when more money is spent on soldiers than doctors, we can never hope to tackle poverty. The ongoing and sometimes daily shootings that take place along the border serve as a reminder of this. That is why the promotion of and persistent attempt for peace is so important for Ethiopia's long-term development. It must be a safe place to visit for the tourism industry to develop.

In the short term one of the most pressing problems facing Ethiopia is the removal of the 2 million land mines estimated to remain in the country. Ethiopia remains one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world with regular casualties caused, especially along the northern border with Eritrea.

This has been a valuable debate, which has served to highlight the short and long-term difficulties and challenges. Of course the burden does not and should not fall entirely on the shoulders of the Minister and his Department. However, there is a role for them to pursue in terms of aid to improve trade and infrastructure. If successful, we can hopefully meet in this place in the coming years to celebrate the improvements and advances in Ethiopia, rather than revisiting many of the problems that have plagued the country over the decades.

10.40 am
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I begin by congratulating the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) both on securing the debate and on the vivid portrait that she painted of a beautiful but beleaguered country. She was ably followed by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), with a characteristically powerful speech, and by the hon. Members for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), all of whom brought something different to bear on consideration of the plight of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

In the short time available, I shall focus on a few issues on which I am interested to solicit the Minister's response. First, the aftermath of the war with Eritrea was mentioned. We would all agree that sustainable peace is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of sustainable development. The Minister will be familiar with the decision taken by the boundary commission that was set up by the Algiers agreement. It is underpinned by and has the support and authority of the United Nations, and it has to be implemented if peace is to be achieved and maintained.

The Minister will be aware of resolution 1507. My concern, based on a recent parliamentary answer by the former Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), and on the work contained in the Africa research bulletin, is that peace could be in danger of losing out. Can the Minister tell me what the Government are doing in concert with the United Nations, the United States, the African Union and the European Union to ensure that the momentum for peace is maintained? He will be aware that the Ethiopian Government are anxious about the lack of domestic support for the agreement that has been reached. Does he feel confident that the Government of Ethiopia will be kept on track and that peace will be achieved?

Secondly, I come to the issue of debt relief. Starkly, there seems to be a problem. The Government gave £12.3 million in aid to Ethiopia last year, yet, consistent with existing arrangements, it sought £15 million back in debt repayment. The Minister will be aware that completion point, which is the jargon in debt relief, was expected to take place in the third quarter of 2003, but World Bank analysis shows that the debt will not be sustainable for Ethiopia after that completion point. Total debt is already about 150 per cent. of gross domestic product. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West correctly pointed out that the cost of servicing that debt has risen to about $118 million a year and there is genuine anxiety about whether debt relief and reduction will be ongoing and sustainable.

Does the Minister accept that there is an inherent tension between giving money with one hand and taking it away with the other? I do not suggest that just one Government are culpable; it is a long-standing phenomenon involving an international system that doubtless requires a thorough rethink. However, I should be grateful if the Minister said whether he thinks that there is a problem that needs to be tackled. In the process, he might also like to say something about the direct Government budget support to assist the Ethiopian Government in the pursuit of its poverty reduction programme of £60 million spread over three years. Can he say precisely how those moneys will be used to best effect to ensure a direct benefit to the cause of poverty reduction?

Many hon. Members focused on agricultural production and the significance of coffee, and I want to press the Minister on the issue of a future processing plant. If Ethiopia could export, not in raw form—green beans—but on the strength of a processing plant, that would be vastly more commercially beneficial. We discuss that ambition and we hear periodic pronouncements from Nestléand others, but are there concrete grounds for hope that that worthwhile aspiration could, before long, become a practical reality to the benefit of Ethiopia? If the Minister could also, in the 10 minutes available to him, say something about the debate on land reform, crop diversification, water and irrigation, he would be displaying a pithiness and intellectual distinction that we would all like to emulate.

On the issue of food relief, the Minister will be aware that the food security coalition donors have another conference next month, possibly similar to the one last year, to which the hon. Member for South Ribble referred. The Ethiopian Government understandably want to receive the moneys that will flow from those donors and to be able to deploy the resources as they see fit. However, there is concern that it will not be able to manage those resources, and that it should benefit from the expert assistance on offer from the non-governmental organisations. Oxfam is one of the bodies that thinks that it has a role to play. Does the Minister agree with that concern? If so, are the Government taking steps to ensure that such co-operation happens?

We have heard much about HIV/AIDS. I have received different indications as to whether the spread of AIDS in Ethiopia is likely to get worse or better. The NGOs with which I have spoken advise me that the issue has not been effectively tackled, and they are pessimistic about the short-term prospects. It has been put to me that one quarter of Ethiopian children could be orphaned due to AIDS within eight years. That is not only a human health tragedy, but it has implications for the Ethiopian economy. It will be an obstacle to industrial investment, commercial expansion and economic growth, and will concomitantly have implications for the chances of poverty reduction.

Will the Minister comment on the Ethiopian Government's policies on HIV/AIDS, as articulated first in 1998, and more recently in the plan for 2000–04? Reference is made to transmission education, behavioural change, and care and support for infected individuals. What are our Government doing to help the Ethiopians, given the dramatic significance of antiretroviral treatment and appropriate care in cutting transmission rates? Transmission rates could be reduced from 35 per cent. to 5 per cent., so a premium must be attached to pursuing the best public policies. Will the Minister comment on what the British Government are doing towards those worthwhile objectives?

This has been a stimulating and wide-ranging debate. I suspect that all hon. Members agree that too many people in Ethiopia have suffered too much for too long. There is a pressing need for this and other Governments, as well as international agencies, to pool their financial and intellectual resources to assist Ethiopia. We should not impose solutions but work with Ethiopia to help it to realise its human potential and tackle the problems that have undermined it for so long. I am anxious to hear what the Minister has to say and, on the strength of my nine minutes, I rest content and look forward to his response.

10.49 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas)

I, too, congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) on initiating the debate and on the excellent way in which she outlined many of the issues currently facing Ethiopia. I should also like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew), and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) on their contributions. They have added additional focus to other issues facing Ethiopia. I also welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). This is the first opportunity that I have had formally to congratulate him on his appointment, and I look forward to regular opportunities to cut my teeth on his performances.

If ever a country serves to remind us of our responsibility to look beyond our own borders, Ethiopia is it, not least because it faces huge levels of poverty. Of its 67 million population, 47 per cent. live below the national poverty line. Ethiopia's people face the regular threat of drought and famine, chronic food insecurity, the ongoing backdrop of the recent conflict with Eritrea and, as a number of hon. Members have outlined, a growing HIV/AIDS problem. If one adds to that mix Ethiopia's historic debt relief needs, the ongoing human rights abuses that still occur there, and the low status of women, we begin to get a sense of the scale of the challenge facing Ethiopia and its friends in the international community in helping its population to survive but, more importantly, move on and live their lives outside the daily challenge of poverty.

The UK's support is within the framework of Ethiopia's own sustainable development and poverty reduction programme. That programme, which the Ethiopian Government worked up, includes a strong commitment to empowerment, gender equality and democratic governance, all of which are fundamental to poverty reduction. We plan to provide substantial funding in the form of a multi-annual programme of direct budget support to back up that programme. In order to create a solid framework for our development partnership with Ethiopia, we have recently signed a 10-year memorandum of understanding setting out the necessary mutual commitments and establishing the basis for ongoing dialogue between the two countries. In addition to that memorandum of understanding, we are providing technical support in key areas, including food security, capacity building, education and HIV/AIDS, to which I hope to return if time allows.

In this financial year, we are seeking to spend some £19 million supporting Ethiopia. That will rise to some £42 million in 2004–05 and £57 million in 2005–06. As I have said, much of that money will be allocated in the form of budget support. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston referred to the debates on Ethiopia in the House in 1984, and the excellent work that Bob Geldof did in bringing Ethiopia's plight to the attention of the world. As he rightly said, there is a sense, in many people's eyes, that Ethiopia is continually associated with the need for more humanitarian aid and the ongoing difficulties of food security.

We have been one of the largest financial donors of humanitarian assistance. Since January 2002, we have provided some £50 million in relief. Most recently, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West mentioned, we have provided some $2.5 million to help UNICEF to tackle the problem of malaria. That support is provided both through voluntary agencies and through the United Nations for food and non-food relief. Last year the possibility of famine was again identified; fortunately, it was identified early. The Ethiopian Government quickly sought help from external donors, many of whom responded extremely generously.

On Monday, I had discussions with representatives of the World Food Programme. Current estimates suggest that the food pipeline is in good shape and that cereal needs are certainly covered this year. Indications are that, in most parts of Ethiopia, rainfall was better this year in comparison with last year. Assessments are under way, but it looks likely that food production will be much better than it was last year.

Health issues remain a serious concern. Signs suggest that parts of the east of the country face problems because of inadequate seasonal rains. However, the idea that food aid alone is not a sufficient response, a point made by several hon. Members, is absolutely right. Other issues, such as health care, water and sanitation, are equally critical to child survival. We, and other donors, need to pay more attention to that problem.

The Ethiopian Government have put considerable time and effort into their coalition for food security initiative, which seeks to address some of the underlying causes of food insecurity. That will be discussed at a meeting between donors and the Government, where the UK will be represented, on 1–2 December. It is right that we are there. We have a shared focus on wanting to address those underlying causes. I am sure that we will have opportunities to discuss the results of those meetings in the House.

The hon. Members for Edinburgh, West and for Buckingham rightly raised the issue of debt. Ethiopia reached the first phase of debt relief under the enhanced heavily indebted poor countries process in November 2001. Ethiopia no longer has to service around $1.9 billion worth of debt, and clearly that allows those savings to be spent on the needs of its poor. We hope that those debts will be formally written off, probably in the first half of next year, once completion point is achieved.

The hon. Member for Buckingham highlighted concerns that Ethiopia's debt-to-export ratio has risen sharply. That is largely due to global interest rate and exchange rate movements as well as lower export prices; coffee has been mentioned. We are concerned that such a rise could damage Ethiopia's prospects for long-term debt sustainability. Ethiopia's level of need is such that additional debt relief from the international community is merited to reduce that threat. We are working to achieve that. Ethiopia is receiving full—100 per cent.—debt relief on moneys owed to the UK.

I will not say too much on the peace process, other than that dialogue to reduce tensions on the border is clearly necessary. We remain firmly of the view that the recommendations of the boundary commission need to be implemented and adhered to. Clearly, ongoing political dialogue between Eritrea and Ethiopia is needed. We are closely watching the developments in both the UN work and the African Union work in that area.

The hon. Gentleman alluded to concerns about human rights abuses. We hope to discuss human rights on a regular basis with the Ethiopian Government as a result of the memorandum of understanding that has been signed.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, in particular, referred to the problem of HIV/AIDS, and expressed rightful scepticism that the current statistics on HIV/AIDS have captured the seriousness of the problem in Ethiopia. I should say that, as well as the UK, the international community is focusing on HIV/AIDS as an important issue in Ethiopia, which we believe has the fifth largest problem with prevalence in Africa. Some $60 million has been set aside by the World Bank to tackle the problem, and the UK is providing some £7 million to help intensify, better co-ordinate and increase the effectiveness of Ethiopia's response to the problem.

I recognise that I have been not been able to answer all the questions raised by hon. Members. I will look carefully at the debate in the Official Report and reply later.

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