It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) for securing the debate. All of us here will recognise that the debate is sorely overdue. In parts of east Africa, people are desperate following almost three years of severe drought: 22 million people are in acute food insecurity, 16 million have inadequate access to water and almost 10 million livestock animals have died. Those numbers are simply staggering. Some 5.1 million children are acutely malnourished. Their health has been severely weakened and they are vulnerable to disease. Many, should they survive, will experience lifelong impacts owing to stunting. The UN has estimated that, in Somalia alone, 43,000 people died because of hunger last year. More than half were children under the age of five.

We are now in the middle of the sixth rainy season since the drought began, and the limited rainfall so far is not enough. Recovery will take many years, so we need to look at extended support and partnerships to build resilience for when the rains inevitably fail in future. We must remember that the impact of food insecurity is not limited to hunger.

Zala had to drop out of school. Her parents could not afford to continue feeding her and her younger siblings. Things got worse and it seemed obvious that Zala would have to marry an adult man simply to survive. That would have put her at risk of early and unwanted pregnancies and all the dangers of giving birth as a child. It would have trapped her in a cycle of powerlessness and poverty.

Thankfully, a small intervention provided Zala with the means to put food on the table. She now has a future to look forward to, but other girls in the same village were not so lucky—girls whose much older husbands treat them as lifelong, unpaid servants; girls who are not allowed to leave the house; girls with bruises all over their bodies; girls who simply have no hope left. That is what food insecurity can mean.

I want to approach today’s debate country by country, because each country is different and needs targeted and sustainable solutions. I want to start with Sudan because the humanitarian consequences of the conflict are simply dire. Within Sudan, as we know, hospitals are being attacked. Supplies are being looted, including from humanitarian stocks, and people are running out of the basics. Even before the conflict began, Sudan had a hunger crisis that was linked to flooding and the political deadlock caused by the 2021 coup. Can the Minister say what plans are being made to respond to the forced displacement that we will see across the borders? That will obviously include South Sudan, where the humanitarian situation is already truly appalling.

In reality, conflict in South Sudan has never stopped, with frequent intercommunal and political violence and the use of atrocities, including mass rape as a weapon of war. Aid workers are killed with awful frequency. We see that in Sudan, too. I pay tribute to the brave aid workers killed in the past week and those who are still struggling to get aid to the most needy in the most desperate situations.

In South Sudan, repeated serious flooding destroys roads and clogs rivers, making humanitarian access really difficult. The floodwaters are mostly generated not by local rainfall but by rains hundreds of miles upstream. In many areas, crops can be destroyed by drought and by flooding—too much water and too little—almost side by side. Conflict, corruption, flooding and drought combined mean that an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year.

This is a bitter irony. From the conversations that I have had, the agricultural potential of South Sudan is massive. If there was sustained peace, and investment in irrigation and water management systems to safely distribute and conserve the Nile waters, food security could significantly increase. There would be no need for the people to be dependent on food aid or vulnerable to such recurring crises. Can the Minister tell us what approach he is taking to enable greater humanitarian access and sustained improvements in food security in South Sudan?

In Ethiopia, as we know, people face severe challenges in different areas of the country. In Tigray, although humanitarian access has significantly improved, it remains limited in more outlying areas. In parts of Oromia, hunger continues to be exacerbated by terrible conflict. Across the eastern regional states, the situation is similar to that in Somalia and north-eastern Kenya, with a brutal drought destroying livelihoods on a vast scale.

As we have heard, the hunger crisis is most intense in Somalia, where the Government’s efforts to combat al-Shabaab risk being totally undermined, if they cannot secure benefits for the people in recaptured areas. Even Kenya, a middle-income country, is struggling. Last month, I heard from a Kenyan NGO leader, who set out a truly dire picture. Even where women and girls are able to remain in their communities, they are having to walk all day for clean water, from 5 am to 6 pm.

As colleagues have already said, we need to recognise that this crisis is being exacerbated by climate heating. Last year, the Met Office published a climate risk report for the east African region, which says that in rural lowland areas, temperatures

“are already reaching the upper limits of human habitability”.

The paradox is that the average rainfall could increase over coming decades. There is more than enough water for the societies of east Africa to develop, but there will be more frequent heavy rainfall events, and more variability in rainfall from one year to the next. Without drastic improvements in water management, that will simply mean more deadly flooding, more soil erosion, more contamination of drinking water, and more deadly droughts.

I know the Government are playing a supporting role around access to climate finance for adaptation, and the new loss and damage mechanism. I hope the Minister will say more about how we can make those systems really work for the worst affected east African states because, frankly, the bureaucracy involved is insurmountable for many. I firmly believe that we need to think about resilience and development, not just about humanitarian aid, but this current crisis is far from over, and the continued support for nutrition, health and livelihoods is essential.

We now have confirmation of UK support for a pledging conference, which is sorely needed. Funding was forthcoming last year, primarily from the US, as we have heard, but stakeholders desperately need commitments for the next period. We know that, thanks to uncontrolled Home Office spending, the ODA budget for east and central Africa is set to fall yet again. Our pledge is now set to be £390 million for the entire, massive region. During 2017, the Government provided £861 million, which was just to the countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan.

I know that the Government will advocate strongly for others to step up, but frankly we need to step up too. We need to support real solutions in partnership, working with the countries and communities most affected. We need to stop writing a blank cheque out of the ODA budget to prop up our failing asylum system. Otherwise, we will fail to play our part and fail to support the peoples of east Africa, just when they need our solidarity the most.

Link to Instagram Link to Twitter Link to YouTube Link to Facebook Link to LinkedIn Link to Snapchat Close Fax Website Location Phone Email Calendar Building Search