HC Deb 24 October 2001 vol 373 cc266-8
3. Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

What action her Department is taking to support poverty reduction and development in Africa. [6113]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

Since 1997, we have doubled our spending in Africa and focused our efforts on poverty reduction. On present rates of progress, none of the international development targets will be met in Africa, but significant progress is being made in some countries, which shows that we could do better. To speed up economic growth and poverty reduction across the continent requires a much bigger effort in resolving conflict, dealing with HIV-AIDS and improving the effectiveness of economic management and public: services. There needs to be a crackdown on corruption and more investment. That is what the new Africa initiative and the partnership around that is meant to drive.

Margaret Moran

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. As she will be aware, Malawi is one of the poorest nations in Africa. Is she aware that on a visit some years ago, parliamentarians were advised that the lack of education among women, and the lack of sex education in particular, were among the causes of poverty there? Fifty-four per cent. of its population live below the poverty line and 48 per cent. of its children are malnourished. What assistance is this country giving to Malawi to deal with those causes of poverty?

Clare Short

My hon. Friend is right. Malawi is desperately poor. Something approaching 64 per cent. of the population are chronically malnourished. It has few natural resources and is densely populated.

We have a growing programme in Malawi. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is to visit Malawi in the next month or so to take our programme forward. We have focused on primary education. All the evidence is clear: if a generation of girls get through school, they bring about profound development effects in their country as they grow up. They have fewer children and those children are more likely to survive, household income rises, the children go to school and receive better health care. We are working on that and on reproductive health care and reducing maternal mortality. I agree with all the points that my hon. Friend makes.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Does the Secretary of State agree that we do not need new pledges and agreements? We just need the international community to deliver on existing commitments. The international community promised at Copenhagen in 1995 that there would be universal primary education and a substantial reduction in child mortality by 2015. At present, it is not going to meet any of those targets. What can be done to galvanise it into meeting them?

Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We do not need more and more conferences and meetings across the world. We need to implement what we have already agreed. I am happy to say that the hon. Gentleman is wrong to think that we are not on course to meet any of the targets: we are on course to meet the target of halving the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015, which means 1 billion people making the journey out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015. However, there will be more to do because the world population will grow.

Some of the other targets have been met in Asia but will not be met in Africa on present trends. We need to up our ambition. We have more focus and agreement on the targets. However, we need to co-ordinate our efforts so that we do not have piecemeal projects but improve governance, the effectiveness of economic management and the provision of health care and education. I agree with the hon. Gentleman and hope to work more with him on those issues. We are making more progress, but we will have to do an awful lot more if we are to have a just world and we will not have a safe world unless it is more just.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to study the UNICEF report entitled, "The State of the World's Children 2002", which shows that malnourishment among children in sub-Saharan Africa has increased in the past decade; that only 47 per cent. of children are immunised against diphtheria; and that one in 13 women are likely to die during childbirth? Is not her focus on poverty in that region absolutely right, if only because it offers the opportunity for others in the international community to follow her lead?

Clare Short

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those comments. Most people find it unbearable to think of large numbers of children dying before the age of one or five—before they have had the chance to develop their lives. However, in a world that has more than enough food for everyone, it is somehow even more unbearable to think of vast numbers of children being so chronically malnourished that their bodies and brains do not develop properly and their whole lives are blighted by hunger.

We have made progress in African countries such as Rwanda, Uganda and Mozambique, and in post-conflict countries such as Tanzania and Ghana, but we have got to do better. Africa will not meet any of the international development targets without a bigger effort. Immunisation rates are improving, but we can do more if the world has the will to co-operate.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the answers that she has given so far. Can she assure the House that in targeting aid and encouraging investment, she will focus on countries such as Tanzania, which is already making progress in terms of good governance, democracy and the rule of law, rather than albeit understandably focusing only on countries with critical problems? To do so will encourage other countries to follow that lead.

Clare Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's fundamental point. Governments who are determined to drive reform by building up systems of government can prove much more effective. All the research suggests that aid proves more effective in countries where there are reformers, but also in countries where there are large numbers of poor people. We are increasingly backing reformers, and rightly so because that produces results, and we need models of success. However, some of the poorest and most oppressed people in the world live under bad Governments, and we must look for more subtle ways to intervene, bring immediate help and drive demand for better governance. That is the more difficult task, but we must not neglect it.

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