Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Speaking in Parliament about action needed to tackle famine in t

Earlier today I spoke in the House of Commons debate about action needed to tackle famine in the Horn of Africa.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I would like to thank the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) for tabling the motion. We strongly support the terms of the motion. The House obviously wanted the opportunity to debate the terrible suffering in the horn of Africa, which is why so many Members have attended the debate to speak.

I very much endorse what has been said by the Secretary of State. As he told the House, he has been to the horn of Africa and to Mogadishu, and I pay tribute to him for that-it was a brave thing to do. I imagine that he was advised absolutely not to go there. He is the first Minister to go there since 1992. I really give him credit for that. I also pay tribute to the tremendous work of the Department for International Development and our high commissions in the region. They are doing important work for people who face such terrible suffering.

When Islamic Relief took me out to see its inspiring work in the area, I saw for myself the effect of the worst drought for 60 years. It is an area where the land is not bare. There is abundant vegetation, but the trees and shrubs are all parched because of the drought. The area should be teeming with cattle, goats, camels, donkeys and giraffes, but instead the shrubs and trees are white and grey and everywhere the skeletons of cattle and goats can be seen. I saw a huge, majestic giraffe lying dead at the side of the road. The women we met in Wajir in the north-east of Kenya told us how one by one their animals had fallen victim to starvation because of the drought. Their herds had dwindled almost to nothing-herds that had provided them with their livelihood, milk, meat and income. They do not have any money left, and they and their children do not have enough to eat, but although the women and children are so thin, they are not starving, because they are getting food, such as that I saw being given out by Islamic Relief with the support of DFID. Let us make no mistake: our aid and the work of our aid agencies is saving lives. I pay tribute not only to Islamic Relief, but as the Secretary of State did, to Save the Children, Oxfam, World Vision and the multinational organisations such as UNICEF and UNHCR, to which we contribute. They are alleviating suffering and saving lives, and every person in this country who contributed to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal should be really proud of what the money they have given is doing.

Jeremy Corbyn: My right hon. and learned Friend represents in her constituency, like I do in mine, a considerable Somali community. Will she take this

opportunity to acknowledge the huge contribution that the diaspora are making either by giving aid through DEC or by sending aid directly home through mosques, community associations and all the others? They are showing a real sense of solidarity.

Ms Harman: I absolutely agree, and that was going to be my very next point. Not only should everybody who gives to the DEC feel proud of what their money contributes to, but so should every one of the many members of the African diaspora, from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, who not only work hard in this country and support their families here, but send remittances back to their country of origin. We should be proud of what they do, too; it makes an enormous difference.

Malcolm Bruce: The right hon. and learned Lady is making an important point. Does she agree that the huge contribution that individuals have made to the disaster relief fund, plus the actions of her own Government, give the lie to those who say that the British people do not want their aid budget maintained or their commitment to the UN target achieved?

Ms Harman: Absolutely. Everyone should be proud of the work that our Government, through DFID, are doing, and that is why I support so strongly their promise to maintain our commitment to increase aid to 0.7% of gross national income by 2013. I know that they will do everything they can to step up their efforts to get other countries to do the same. We are doing our bit; so must other countries.

The drought has hit a wide area of the horn of Africa, but its impact on people is dramatically different in different areas. For example, in Ethiopia-and I underline the points that the Secretary of State made-for a number of years our aid and the work of our aid agencies with the Government of Ethiopia has put in place measures to protect against the impact of drought. They have prepared systems of what they call cash transfers-systems to give money to people whose crops have failed and cannot feed themselves; they have stockpiled food ready for such people; and they have built roads so that remote areas can be reached even when there is drought. Although those people are suffering hardship, they are not starving. They are able to stay on their land and in their villages, and they are not forced to abandon them and flee, but work will have to go on, and, as the Secretary of State said, the danger is not over when the rains come, because they can bring with them cholera and malaria.

Ethiopia shows that aid works, but it is a tragically different story for Somalia, which shows that, because of conflict, when people do not have access to aid and there is no preparation for drought, people are left totally at the mercy of drought. The best that they can hope for is to flee their lands and become refugees; the worst is to see their children die of starvation. With preparation and with humanitarian aid, people can cope with drought, but they cannot cope with drought and conflict, and that has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee Somalia for the Dadaab camp in north-east Kenya. The numbers are absolutely overwhelming. A camp that was built for no more than 90,000 people now has more than 430,000 and is growing by 30,000 a month. Every single day, there are more and

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more people: between 1,000 and 1,300 arrive every day, and each day those who come are more dehydrated, more undernourished, more exhausted and more traumatised.

Some people, in order to avoid the effect of the searing heat on their children as they walk from the Somali border, travel at night through a no-man's land, but that makes them even more vulnerable to attack. Aid agencies are organising buses from the Somali border, but although they are putting on more and more buses, they cannot keep pace with the flood of refugees. The accommodation in the camp cannot keep pace, either. When people arrive, they have to stay under makeshift cover outside the site. They wait in makeshift shelters until they are registered, and then they join the other-soon to be half a million-people in this camp in the middle of nowhere.

It is hard to describe how bleak the camp is. When we came into land on the small landing strip, we flew over terrain that looks like the surface of the moon. It is so barren, there is just nothing, and then suddenly we saw hundreds of thousands of tents in the middle of nowhere. It is just desperate. For all the work of the camp staff and of the aid agencies, it is not a safe place, either. Of the group of women whom I met in the camp, which is 80% women and children, all said that they wanted to go back to their homes in Somalia-that, if only there was peace, they would go back to their land there. They said that they had fled not the drought, but the conflict.

The camp director said that he wanted me to take back to this country just one message: "Whatever you do, please do what you can to sort out the situation in Somalia." Of course there have to be high-level meetings at the UN and the EU to ensure that the wider international community plays its part, but the deep and long-standing conflict in Somalia will not be solved just by summits in Brussels and New York. We need to support the work of organisations such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Governments of Muslim states, who can help, and the African Union. We need to draw not only on the diaspora in Canada, America and continental Europe, but on the Somali diaspora in this country-on their advice, support and wisdom.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): In Bristol, there is a very large Somali community, many of whom are my constituents, and their work to send remittances and to support development in Somalia and, indeed, in Somaliland is fantastic, but it is done individually. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that we could do more to encourage them to come together so that big projects might be funded along with commercial operations, particularly in Somaliland, where ports could be opened up and infrastructure built? Can we do more on that front?

Ms Harman: Yes, I absolutely agree. We need to do a great deal more to recognise remittances. People sometimes think that such activity is undertaken only by Government Departments or by people giving to organisations such as Oxfam, but many individuals give their own money. The cost of sending money is also quite high, and we could do more, such as by creating diaspora bonds to enable people to invest. There are many ways in which we can support remittances, and we should do so.

We have no embassy in Somalia, but aid agencies such as Islamic Relief are working on the ground there, and the Government should draw on their expertise in order not to get them involved in politics, but to use their connections with the civil society, which must be built up.

In the immediate term, our Government must continue to give aid to Somalia. They have rightly prioritised aid for conflict-affected states, and Somalia is certainly conflict-affected. They have rightly emphasised, as we did, value for money, auditing and monitoring, but in reality, on aid spent in Somalia, that level of scrutiny will not be possible. We must still give the aid, however, otherwise the Somali people will suffer terribly as they flee and then just become aid-dependent miles from their home, in a camp where there is no future for them. We must continue, and the Opposition will support the Government in continuing, to give aid to Somalia.

The Government must also redouble their efforts to work internationally to tackle climate change and to protect people who are affected by it. Our aid is making a huge difference, but we will prevent suffering in future if, as Oxfam has so clearly demonstrated, we bring about a major change in the way food is produced and distributed. The world produces more food than it needs, yet here in the 21st century 1 billion people go hungry. What is needed is support for greater long-term investment in agriculture, an end to exploitation by international land speculators and action to stop speculation on food commodities which causes prices to soar and means that hungry people cannot afford them.

Our Government will be at the G20 summit in November. I hope that the Secretary of State will ensure that the issues that have been raised by hon. Members in all parts of the House will be high on the agenda, with all the G20 countries not only keeping their promises on aid-Britain has, but others have not-but tackling the inequality and exploitation that sees global wealth accumulate while the poor starve.



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