HL Deb 01 December 2003 vol 655 cc15-7WA
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What their latest information is on the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa. [HL124]

Baroness Amos

The humanitarian crisis that has affected six countries in southern Africa (Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe) since September 2001 has eased in recent months. Emergency operations have largely ended in Malawi and Zambia, and are working on a reduced scale in Swaziland. The position in Zimbabwe remains very serious and, while there are also significant needs in Lesotho and Mozambique, these too are now on a much smaller scale.

Efforts to support recovery operations are either under way or being planned in all six countries and DfID is examining, with partners, what further actions they can take to reduce hunger and vulnerability in the region in the long term. These efforts will need to take careful account of the widespread impact of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa.

Humanitarian needs are greatest in Zimbabwe, largely caused by the Zimbabwe Government's disastrous policies. Foreign exchange shortages have meant that the Government of Zimbabwe have been unable to import significant volumes of food and seeds for planting, and the Government continue to prevent the private sector importing or marketing grain. Rampant inflation and increasing unemployment have meant that few people are able to purchase the limited food available in the market. Though the needs of displaced former commercial farm workers and their families have yet to be assessed accurately, it is estimated that up to half a million of them are in need of assistance. The economic collapse means that urban areas are also badly affected and vulnerability levels in the major centres have been rising steadily. A further assessment of needs in urban areas will be published shortly. In total, half the population of Zimbabwe— around five and a half million people—are likely to need food aid over the coming months.

There has long been concern about possible interference by the Zimbabwe Government with international food aid programmes. It is the agreed policy of the World Food Programme and other donor agencies working in Zimbabwe that relevant operations will be suspended in the event of such political interference. There have, however, been no significant incidents of this kind in recent months and no suspensions have therefore been needed. Minor incidents have occurred periodically but all of these have been investigated and resolved with local authorities using agreed procedures. By contrast, food distribution controlled by the Zimbabwe Government through the state Grain Marketing Board is not subject to the same monitoring procedures and there is evidence that it is distorted for political reasons.

In Mozambique, while harvests in the north remained good, there has been near total crop failure in many southern and central districts as a result of poor rainfall last year. This has affected about 650,000 people who are in need of food and other assistance.

In Lesotho, crop failure has also affected a significant part of the population with up to 700,000 people estimated to be affected following the failure of the winter harvest. There are considerable problems of access to many of the most vulnerable populations, many of whom comprise growing numbers of orphans and child-headed households.

To address these needs DfID will be spending over £40 million this year on immediate humanitarian assistance in the southern African region. This builds on the £125 million that the Government have already spent since September 2001. The vast majority of the new funds this year (£35 million) will be for humanitarian assistance operations in Zimbabwe. They have also provided £3.5 million to fund emergency operations in Mozambique and Lesotho and are continuing to monitor the position in those countries closely. Resources are being channelled through the main UN agencies, notably the World Food Programme, as well as through a range of NGOs to support emergency feeding and nutrition programmes. They have also provided £500,000 for enhanced monitoring of food aid deliveries and beneficiary selection procedures in Zimbabwe. In Mozambique, DfID will also be supporting efforts led by the Ministry of Agriculture to better target humanitarian assistance in addition to providing immediate food aid and nutritional support. They are also providing £1.5 million to the UN's Regional Co-ordination and Support Office in Johannesburg to help the UN's regional planning and improve its country programmes in affected countries. The World Food Programme has responded to the concerns of DfID and other donors, as well as partner governments, by stepping up efforts to increase the amount of food that it purchases in local markets. They and others are working to address remaining barriers, including import restrictions between countries in the region.

Pockets of vulnerability remain in Malawi and Zambia, but we have seen important improvements in the food security situation in both countries over the past few months. Strategic grain reserves have recovered and these will need to be carefully managed. In Malawi, DfID support for subsidised inputs programmes continues to provide affordable seeds and fertilisers for poorer households, enhancing household food security and allowing them to grow maize that can offer an alternative to imported commodities. In Zambia, maize is both available and accessible.

Food security will continue to be a concern throughout the region for the foreseeable future, especially given indications that vulnerability is increasing, partly due to the high rates of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. DfID is developing a regional hunger and vulnerability strategy for working with national governments and regional institutions to promote food security in the future in ways that both protect and promote livelihoods for the most vulnerable communities.

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