HL Deb 08 September 2003 vol 652 cc14-6WA
Lord Desai

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they could provide an update on recent developments in Liberia and on their response to them. [HL 4307]

Baroness Amos

Following the most recent fighting in Liberia, between 200,000–300,000 people had to leave their homes and seek shelter in over 100 different locations in Monrovia. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a small number of NGOs have provided emergency humanitarian assistance throughout the crisis under extreme conditions, and in the last few weeks, the UN and additional NGOs have re-entered Liberia to increase the humanitarian effort. Malnutrition remains a major concern particularly among vulnerable groups, and safe drinking water as well as sanitation and basic hygiene remain critical issues, especially in the areas where refugees have moved to. Security remains a major concern for operational humanitarian agencies. While the deployment of ECOWAS (ECOMIL) has stabilised a secure zone in and around central Monrovia, access is still very limited outside the city. Agencies are operating on the basis of ad hoc negotiated access to rebel-controlled areas. In such difficult circumstances, it is crucial that the UN takes a strong lead in humanitarian co-ordination. After a difficult beginning, the agencies have reported that coordination with the UN has now dramatically improved.

On 21 August DfID committed an additional £4.7 million to support humanitarian needs in Liberia. The funds are being allocated to UN agencies. NGOs and the ICRC to provide an immediate response. This brings the UK's total humanitarian assistance to Liberia to £7.6 million this year. Our approach is to strengthen the UN system to take on a lead role in coordination and delivery of assistance, to support NGOs and the Red Cross in provision of immediate relief, and to ensure collaboration between the major donors in planning and monitoring of assistance. Last month we hosted a meeting of NGOs working in Liberia, or planning to do so, to discuss the situation and identify what help is needed on the ground. We have invited NGOs to put proposals to us and we have just agreed to fund a supplementary feeding programme for all refugee children under the age of five in Monrovia. Our strategy has been developed with advice from an assessment team who are currently based in Monrovia. This team will remain in the region to assess the evolving humanitarian situation in Liberia, and monitor DfID-funded operations.

The UK is committed to working closely with the international community to ensure that ECOMIL, and the UN Mission planned for Liberia, are successful in restoring peace and security. We have contributed £1 million to ECOM IL and have seconded a military adviser to ECOWAS. We have also offered military advisors to the UN planning mission and headquarters. The UK is also working in the UN Security Council to ensure that the forthcoming resolution authorises the deployment of a UN mission with a strong mandate to: restore and maintain security; establish peace-building initiatives; and provide the conditions to allow the transitional government to operate effectively and work towards holding free and fair elections. We are monitoring developments in the region closely to ensure that ex-combatants do not cause problems in neighbouring countries. A regional approach to disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDF) will be important if the region is to eliminate the "guns for hire" culture that has developed. We are discussing options for DDR with the UN, ECOWAS and other interested parties, and are considering how we can best support this process.

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