I am deeply conscious of the enormity of the challenges facing African nations as they seek to build the foundations of economic and social development, often in a climate of hunger, disease and endemic poverty. The reduction of poverty, food insecurity and disease, including HIV/AIDS, are some of the most important tasks to which the international community can dedicate itself in the 21st century.
In regions such as southern Africa, it has become apparent that the impact of HIV/AIDS, both as a cause and a feature of food insecurity crisis, has been underestimated. The far-reaching social impact of the pandemic has created a completely new spectrum of vulnerable groups such as AIDS-orphans and child-headed households that are lacking the most basic of coping strategies.
Ireland responds in two ways to the humanitarian and development needs of Africa. In the short term we focus on saving lives in the most effective way possible, through direct assistance via the UN system and international agencies as well as non-governmental organisations, NGOs. In the longer term Ireland's development programme tackles the structural reasons underlying endemic poverty.
Last year the Government's humanitarian assistance to African countries amounted to more than €20 million. Humanitarian interventions were designed to reduce the effects of famine, disease and conflict on some of the most vulnerable populations in Africa, with a particular emphasis on women and children.
Over the past three years, the volume of development co-operation Ireland funds committed to HIV/AIDS has increased ten-fold. In 2002 alone, over €40 million was spent on HIV/AIDS programmes. On a multilateral level, Ireland is a strong advocate and supporter of the global fund for AIDS, TB and malaria and the international AIDS vaccine initiative.
Our direct humanitarian and development assistance is complemented by ongoing political action. In relation to food insecurity, we have been working closely with our partners in the EU and the UN to develop strategies on how immediate needs can best be met at national and regional level.
In November last, Ireland hosted the launch of the 2004 UN humanitarian appeal. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, represented the UN at the event. The appeal is a key instrument for the humanitarian community and acts as the principal vehicle for strategic planning and resource mobilisation. It facilitates effective and efficient responses to famines and other emergencies by fostering collaboration among key humanitarian agencies including NGOs, donors and host Governments. In hosting the launch, I highlighted chronic humanitarian emergencies, particularly in Africa, which have faded from public consciousness or indeed have never been funded sufficiently.
At EU level, Ireland will host an informal meeting of the humanitarian aid committee in Dublin next March. This meeting will bring together senior representatives from the humanitarian offices in member states and the Commission to share information in relation to the management and implementation of humanitarian aid.
If we are to break the cyclical nature of food insecurity, disease and conflict in Africa, the underlying structural problems affecting poverty and stability must be addressed. Ireland has strong development partnerships with six countries in sub-Saharan Africa and delivered development assistance of approximately €150 million last year to these countries. Through these partnerships, Ireland fully engages with the Governments, donors, EU and UN agencies on the basis of poverty reduction strategy plans, PRSPs. The PRSPs outline how each country prioritises resources and policies with the objective of reducing poverty. These programmes contain a strong governance element throughout to assist in the building of democratic structures, the rule of law and a culture of respect for human rights.
This comprehensive and African-owned approach by donors, Governments and civil societies stands the best chance of reversing the downward spiral of economic and social indicators in sub-Saharan Africa, reducing conflict and facilitating real and positive change in the lives of millions of Africans.