Britain has set aside £10 million pounds for its humanitarian programme and is providing cash to 336 000 Zimbabweans in the worst affected areas a British Minister Baroness Verma told the House of Lords this week.
She said her government was looking at options to extend the programme, which started in September last year, and supports other programmes valued at £48.8 million to build resilience of smallholder farmers.
Baroness Verma said British aid was, however, not going through the Zimbabwean government, which has been accused of political bias in distributing food.
Zimbabwe is facing one of the worst droughts this century and has declared a state of disaster. Some estimates say it requires more than $1 billion to buy enough food for its drought relief.
Q & A:
Lord Oates Liberal Democrat – To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the food security situation in Zimbabwe in the light of the declaration of a state of disaster by the government of Zimbabwe on 2 February.
Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development – My Lords, the UK led the international community when we began our response in September 2015. Our current £10 million humanitarian programme supports 336 000 people through cash transfers in the worst-affected areas. We are looking at options to extend the programme. We also support programmes valued at £48.8 million to build the resilience of smallholder farmers.
Lord Oates Liberal Democrat – I thank the Minister for that answer. Is she aware of growing evidence that the Zimbabwean authorities are using food aid as a political tool by denying it to opposition supporters? Can she tell the House what measures the Government are taking to ensure that UK aid, whether provided bilaterally or through multilateral agencies, is not abused in this despicable manner, and will she assure the people of Zimbabwe that whatever the misrule of their Government, Britain stands in solidarity with them?
Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development – My Lords, I am aware of the reports that the noble Lord refers to but I assure him that all the assistance given by the UK Government goes through local partners on the ground—we do not do anything through the Government—and we use cash transfers targeted at the households that are in most need. I take the noble Lord’s point but we also need to look the progress being made. Like him, we stand by the Zimbabwean people.
Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative – My Lords, when Zimbabwe gets a better Government, will Her Majesty’s Government encourage the Commonwealth to re-embrace Zimbabwe and bring it back to the prosperity that it deserves, not leaving it all to the Chinese?
Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development – My noble friend raises an important point about what the Commonwealth can deliver. It is right and proper that when we see progress, we encourage even greater progress, and that we make sure that countries are able to remain, or return to being part of, the Commonwealth family.
Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour – My Lords, part of the problem is man-made; part of it is simply the dislocation caused by reorganisation in Zimbabwe. Part of the tragedy is that historically Zimbabwe has been the bread-basket of the region, so this is, to some extent, a regional problem. Given the corruption in the Zimbabwe Government and more widely, as well as the inefficiencies in administration, is the Minister wholly confident that any food aid is getting through to the people who desperately need it?
Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development – My Lords, this disaster has been added to by the El Niño effect and we need to make sure that we address that, as well as ensuring, as the noble Lord rightly points out, that the people who most need assistance receive it. I am really proud that the Government step up, show leadership and encourage their partners to work as stringently as we do, ensuring that there is real monitoring of the delivery of cash transfers and food aid on the ground. Ultimately, the focus must be on the Zimbabwean people who most need assistance.
Baroness Northover Shadow LD Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Principal Spokesperson for International Development – My Lords, does the Minister recognise the possible significance of climate change in what is happening in Zimbabwe at the moment? What is DfID doing to make sure that across government, particularly in the Treasury and DECC, there is a return to the high priority that the previous Government gave to combating climate change?
Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development – My Lords, the Government have continued to support a reduction in the impact of climate change, and the Chancellor, through the Treasury, has added resources to the work being done. I do not think that this Government have been backward in dealing with climate change issues. In fact, in many areas we are leading the way, and I know that the noble Baroness will be reassured by that.
Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour – My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the problems in Zimbabwe at the moment is the very severe drought? If not unprecedented, it is certainly very severe. Is she aware that it is affecting not just Zimbabwe but surrounding countries, including South Africa, which are also suffering severely from the drought and a shortage of maize? Are the Government giving due attention to countries other than Zimbabwe?
Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development – The noble Lord is absolutely right. The drought is affecting not just Zimbabwe but its neighbours. The impact on Ethiopia is currently far greater than it is on Zimbabwe and other countries, so our focus is predominantly on those countries with the greatest need. However, it is a regional issue and we therefore need to ensure that we deal with it on a regional basis.
Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) – My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their efforts to ensure that aid gets to the people who need it and that corruption is not a barrier to that. However, the fact is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, the Government of Zimbabwe are using food aid as a political weapon. This is a case for joined-up government. Can the noble Baroness tell us what representations the Government as a whole, through the FCO, are making to the African Union and to neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa, to ensure that such practices are halted?
Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development – My Lords, we, along with our partners, continue to press the Zimbabwe Government to ensure that any food aid is distributed according to need. It is absolutely right that we continue to press them, and our FCO colleagues do the same; we are a joined-up Government and we work collectively. However, in responding to this Question today, I want to assure noble Lords that the focus of my department is to ensure that those who need food the most get it as urgently as possible.