Written statement to Parliament

Andrew Mitchell: Further update on aid to the Horn of Africa

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Andrew Mitchell’s second written statement to the House of Commons on British intervention in the Horn of Africa food crisis

The drought has prompted the most serious food insecurity situation in the world today. Across the region, 18 million people require emergency assistance. The UK continues to be at the forefront of the world’s response - I can report that Britain was one of the first donors to step forward with significant funds. Following my announcement on 17 August of an additional £29 million for Somalia, our contribution across the Horn stands at £124.29 million, which we estimate will provide assistance to over 3 million people. We are the second largest bilateral donor behind the US. These funds have been reallocated from elsewhere in Britain’s Development budget. The British public, too, is showing incredible compassion and commitment, raising more than £57 million through the Disaster Emergency Committee East Africa appeal.

Southern Somalia is the area of most concern. The first famine of the 21st Century was declared there in two regions in late July and further news from the UN earlier today means that 750,000 people face imminent starvation in the next 4 months. In places, malnutrition rates are more than three times the emergency threshold, and tens of thousands are thought to have already died. Many of those who are still strong enough have fled - to Mogadishu, where I witnessed at first hand the depth of the crisis a few weeks ago - and to camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. When I visited Dadaab in north-eastern Kenya in July, I saw how agencies have struggled to keep up with the flow of new arrivals. The camps there represent the biggest concentration of refugees anywhere in the world.

While Somalia remains our chief concern, the situation in Ethiopia and Kenya is also deeply worrying. More people are affected by the crisis in Ethiopia than any other country in the region. According to government figures, 4.56 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Ethiopia hosts 240,000 refugees - over 75,000 from Somalia arriving this year. In Kenya, the worst affected areas are in the northern and eastern arid and semi arid lands - over 500,000 children and pregnant and breastfeeding women are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Across the region, the crisis is made even worse by conflict and insecurity. Over the weekend, 20,000 Sudanese refugees crossed into Ethiopia fleeing violence in eastern Sudan. And in the worst affected parts of Somalia, insecurity means that many of those in most need cannot be reached. Officials in my department are working closely with a small number of well-established and trusted agencies that can deliver effectively on the ground, ensuring aid reaches those it is intended for.

Let me be clear that across the Horn the situation will worsen before it improves, with the situation forecast to be at its most dire in October. Relief efforts are now reaching more people every week, but although donor support and the volume of assistance in the pipeline have increased significantly, there remain serious gaps. Diseases such as cholera, measles and malaria represent a growing threat to the weakened population. It is vital that increased support flows into the health and water and sanitation sectors.

Although the situation remains grave, UK aid is working. Our support is already showing results:

  • In Somalia the UK will vaccinate at least 1.3 million children against measles and 670,000 against polio. Some 624,000 children will receive vitamin A inputs and at least 528,000 children will receive de-worming medication
  • In Ethiopia in June and July, the UK helped to provide food to 2.4 million people with 1.68 million people benefitting from UK funded food aid programmes in May
  • UK support has also provided over 45,000 people with food distributions or vouchers for food in Somalia. By the end of this week, an additional 35,000 will have been provided with cash to buy food
  • A further 18,000 of the most severely malnourished Somali children will have been treated with specially formulated food
  • A consignment of over 10,000 metric tonnes of specially formulated flour, rice, pulses, and oil for the prevention and treatment of moderately malnourished children is now en route to Somalia
  • Almost 160,000 mosquito nets have been purchased to prevent weakened children and their families succumbing to malaria

Unfortunately, other countries have been slower to contribute. That is why, throughout the summer, we have relentlessly pushed donor governments across the world to dig deeper. This has yielded results and relief operations are now on a stronger financial footing. But acute humanitarian needs will persist into 2012 and Britain will continue to play a leading role in keeping the world’s attention focussed, and pushing for sustained international support.

Ultimately, we need to stop these crises happening. We cannot avoid droughts, but we can avoid famines. We are already investing in building the resilience of communities to shocks. There is clear evidence that these investments work, as we can see from the impact of the crisis in Somalia, compared to Ethiopia, where people were better able to deal with the shock. We must build on this success.

In the long run, investing more effectively in reducing poverty and reinforcing resilience is not only better value for money than emergency relief, but will help those affected to break out of the cycle of disaster. In Somalia and the region, however, we need political progress to ensure aid can be used most effectively.