It is a matter of great satisfaction to me that we have further significant increases in Ireland's Official Development Assistance — ODA — budget for 1998. Expenditure on the programme this year is expected to reach a record £137 million or 0.32 per cent of GNP. The budget increase will permit not only an expansion of the programme but also, and more importantly, qualitative change and improvement. This relates to all elements of our programme including multilateral assistance, bilateral assistance to the priority countries for Irish aid and other bilateral assistance.
Specifically with regard to Ireland's role in development projects the Irish aid programme has concentrated on priority programmes of co-operation with six countries in Africa, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In 1998 the allocation for the priority countries programmes is £43 million, 33 per cent more than the level for last year. Ireland is now well on the way to becoming a medium-sized donor to the countries concerned. We have become increasingly involved in initiatives with the partner governments and with other donors to improve and make more efficient the overall aid effort in the countries concerned. A case in point is the development of a coherent sectoral approach to aid allocation.
The essential focus of the Irish aid programme is on the eradication of poverty through meeting basic needs such as access to primary health care, clean water supply, food security and basic education. In addition there is particular emphasis in each of our priority countries on helping to create the right environment to ensure development activities can be continued by the relevant communities and authorities. This means that we place great importance on fostering democracy, respect for human rights, gender and social equity and capacity building.
In addition to our spending on priority country programmes there are smaller programmes of assistance in other countries, chiefly South Africa, the Palestinian territories, Zimbabwe and Sudan. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, visited South Africa briefly over the period coinciding with St Patrick's Day. The Irish aid programme in South Africa continues to focus on the needs of disadvantaged communities with priority attaching to the sectors of human rights and democratisation, capacity building, education and training, health and rural and community development.
Irish aid continues to respond as speedily and effectively as possible to humanitarian crises. In the past six months assistance to the amount of £3.6 million went to alleviate the effects of natural disasters and conflict-related emergencies. The El Nino phenomenon has had a devastating effect in terms of drought or severe flooding in a number of countries and support has been given to vulnerable groups in, for example, Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Honduras and the island of New Guinea. Ireland has also played its part with the international community in meeting the urgent food needs of the people of the Democratic Republic of North Korea.
Unfortunately large numbers of people continue to suffer because of conflict and war and support has been channelled to those in need in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola. In addition, we continue to meet the basic humanitarian needs of genocide survivors and returned refugees in Rwanda. In societies recovering from conflict, Irish aid finances rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes and projects. A total of £4 million was allocated to this type of assistance in 1997, mainly in Bosnia, Rwanda and countries such as Angola and Somalia.
Humanitarian mine clearance is a priority in a number of countries if people are to return to normal lives as quickly as possible and Ireland is supporting demining programmes in Angola, Cambodia and Chechnya.
There are also significant developments in relation to the other components of our bilateral assistance. New guidelines aimed at strengthening the partnership with non-governmental organisations were introduced in 1997 on a pilot basis. Based on experience with their implementation, revisions are currently taking place in consultation with NGOs with a view to enhancing their effectiveness and consolidating the partnership.
In addition to the human rights and democratisation focus within the individual priority country programmes, there has been a sizeable increase in the budget for support for human rights projects in other countries, from £0.868 million in 1997 to £1.25 million this year. This substantial increase will enable us to expand our activities in this area in this year of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.