Today’s House of Lords debate on the new international development strategy

Dec 16, 2021 | Featured parliamentary activity

During today’s House of Lords debate I stressed the importance of formulating a new strategy on international development which does far more to combat the causes of conflict which can wipe out the gains made out by our aid programmes. I gave specific examples from Tigray, Sudan, and Nigeria.

.1.06pm

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)

My Lords, during the Cross-Bench debate in April on the reduction in UK development aid, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, told us

“I am determined … that we return to 0.7% as quickly as we can”.—[Official Report, 28/4/21; col. GC 558.]

In thanking the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for initiating today’s debate, I agree with him that the sooner we can restore funding for initiatives such as girls education, cut by 25%, and humanitarian preparedness for famine, the better.

In addition to hard-edged aid, UK funding does other extraordinary things, with, for instance, BBC World Service audiences reaching 364 million people—up 13 million people last year. I hope the Minister can tell us when the World Service, a global force for good, is likely to receive confirmation of its funding figures for 2022 onwards, and whether it will be sufficient to ensure that the World Service can continue to build on the success of World 2020 programmes and further expand its global reach.

In every context, secure and sustained funding is crucial to the credibility we have in sustaining of our relationships, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, on many occasions.

But so is the way we use the money.

I will never forget seeing the bombed remains of a clinic, a school and the homes of villagers I visited in South Sudan during the civil war, which claimed 2 million lives.

Along with lost lives, millions of pounds of development aid was destroyed by Khartoum’s aerial bombardment of what were its own citizens. Now independent, South Sudan still struggles against all the odds to recover from that unspeakable violence.

Conflict destroys development, so a primary objective of our new development strategy must be to prevent and resolve conflict.

Conflict also drives displacement, contributing to the 82.4 million people displaced worldwide, 42% of whom are children and 32% of whom are refugees—an issue the House will debate on a Cross-Bench Motion on 6 January.

How are we using the £400 million earmarked by the FCDO to promote conflict management and resolution?

What progress has been made in developing recently created FCDO initiatives for conflict mediation and stability, and in co-ordinating all conflict work right across government?

I will give some specific examples of the urgency of this task.

I co-chair the All-Party Group on Eritrea. We have held a series of meetings and hearings on the conflict in Tigray. This conflict erupted a year ago and has resulted in thousands murdered, injured and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and thousands subjected to sexual violence as a weapon of war.

The exact numbers are not known and will not be until a comprehensive and independent investigation is conducted. In northern Ethiopia alone, more than 7 million people now need humanitarian assistance.

In Tigray, more than 5 million people need food and an estimated 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions. Assistance there is hindered by the ongoing inability to move cash, fuel and supplies into the region. No aid trucks have reached Mekelle amid continued airstrikes. This catastrophe is manmade. Only today the Africa Minister, Vicky Ford, wrote to me to say that “ the situation in Tigray is catastrophic.”

Tomorrow, the United Nations Human Rights Council will host its 33rd special session, which will focus on the human rights situation in Tigray and consider a mechanism for monitoring and investigating human rights violations in the country.

The mechanism would preserve evidence of those atrocities and, where possible, identify those responsible—a crucial step towards justice and accountability—but I am told that a lack of funding may delay its establishment.

I implore the Minister to investigate this, consider making a UK contribution towards the mechanism and encourage other states to do so.

To stop the flow of refugees, we must focus on the push factors of war, conflict, persecution and instability.

As a trustee of the Arise Foundation, I have seen the interplay between trafficking and modern slavery and the mass movement of people. The 10 countries on the global slavery index with the highest prevalence of modern slavery and exploitation are in the top 50 fragile states, from Afghanistan to the Central African Republic. This conflict has disfigured life.

Let us take Nigeria, which has a flourishing domestic and international trade in human trafficking, from so-called baby factories to forced labour and sexual exploitation.

It faces an array of complex challenges, from food insecurity and political instability to what many believe to be a developing genocide in the north, where an estimated 2.7 million internally displaced people are living in camps.

More than half the population live on less than $1.90 a day, with millions facing acute medical needs, including 30% of the global cases of malaria and more than 20% of the deaths. As many leave their homes in search of a promised life, who can blame them? Over the past decade, we have given Nigeria £2 billion in aid, but too little of it has tackled the root causes of violence and built resilience and safety at local level.

In 2019, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found that DfID did not fully support the long-term health of the civil society sector in its funding and partnership practices.

That must change. We need long-term relationships with trusted parties, which will often be small, local institutions, often those within faith traditions. The integrated review invited focus on initiatives that produce

“the greatest life-changing impact in the long-term.”

The new strategy must surely address this issue.

Finally, a new development strategy should also combat the malign influence of the CCP as it subverts international institutions, including the Commonwealth, and uses belt and road to further its military interests, especially in Africa.

If the Government does address some of these challenges and those initiatives receive commensurate funding, they will deserve our support.

1.12pm

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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