Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Mozambique Crisis.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

4 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Mozambique. [8401/00]

With the receding of the flood waters, I am pleased to report that the humanitarian situation in Mozambique is beginning to stabilise. Rescue operations are winding up and the emphasis is now on providing emergency relief to the displaced and affected population. While there are still reports coming in of isolated groups of people who have been cut off from the outside world due to inundated roads, the relief operation is now geared to respond quickly. Currently 463,000 people, including the displaced and those who have been isolated, are receiving food aid.

Airlifts of food and other emergency items are arriving daily. While some non-governmental organisations experienced problems initially with unloading relief supplies, due to landing fees being charged at the airport in Beira, all fees for flights carrying goods for humanitarian assistance have now been lifted. The humanitarian response to the Mozambique disaster has been enormous. There has been an unprecedented response by western countries, including Ireland, and by those in the southern African region. On 23 February the UN launched an initial appeal for $13.5 million. By now over $118 million has been received. The additional money will be used to fund a programme being put together by the UN which will target reconstruction work over the next six months.

The UN, through its Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, has been co-ordinating the international relief effort. OCHA sent in two UN disaster assessment and co-ordination teams to assess the needs and help co-ordinate a unified response from the many aid agencies and donors operating in the region thus ensuring that all needs are being addressed. The UN is best placed to take on the role of co-ordination having committed staff, specialist knowledge and a capacity to interact with Governments at the highest levels which cannot be matched by NGOs or bilateral Governments.

Ireland has made available a total of £2,365,000 in response to this crisis. This money has come from both our emergency humanitarian budget and our country programme budget in Mozambique. Some £700,000 has been allocated from the emergency budget and has gone to both UN agencies and the Irish NGOs, Concern and GOAL, which are working in the region.

Additional Information

Mozambique has been a priority country for Irish Government development aid since 1996. The budget allocation this year is £7.4 million. From this point on, programme expenditure will be administered with maximum flexibility to help Mozambique to deal with the consequences of the emergency. Ireland Aid is ready to provide further funding in response to emerging needs. Already £1 million has been reallocated to be used for reconstruction and recovery activities. A further £650,000 which has been reallocated from a health sector support programme is being used for the purchase of emergency medicines and vaccines to prevent the spread of cholera and other water-borne diseases. The fact that we have a presence on the ground has enabled us to react quickly to the situation. In the aftermath of the first floods the Irish Embassy took the initiative in conducting the first aerial survey of the province of Inhambane, where we operate an area programme. Embassy staff were accompanied by the Provincial Governor of Inhambane on this survey.

As the flood waters recede and the affected people are beginning to return to their communities, we must now begin to focus our support on recovery actions which will be run in parallel with the continuing relief effort. It is essential that the recovery process is seized as an opportunity to reduce the long-term vulnerability of Mozambique. Part of the reason that Mozambique suffered such devastating effects as a result of the floods is linked to poverty and the difficulties faced by vulnerable social groups in absorbing the impact of the floods and recovering from them. The focus of Ireland's development programme is on long-term development and building capacity aimed at reducing such poverty.

Reducing vulnerability will also be the focus of the donor co-ordination meeting being convened in Rome on 27 and 28 April, at which Ireland will be represented. A framework for sustainable recovery and vulnerability reduction in Mozambique has been prepared by the United Nations development programme and will be presented at the meeting. Funding to increase Mozambique's disaster preparedness capacity will be essential.

Of course, the heavy external debt repayments that Mozambique has had to cope with in the past have posed a serious constraint on development. The Irish Government has been vocal in calling for accelerated debt relief for Mozambique. We have said there is a compelling case for the cancellation of all Mozambique's external debt. I, therefore, welcome the recent announcements by France and Italy to cancel Mozambique's debt to them. The decision by the Paris Club of bilateral creditor nations to defer Mozambique's debts service payments to the group until much of the debt is cancelled later this year is a welcome response to the recent disaster. We would encourage other bilateral donors to take similar actions.

Another serious issue is the danger posed by landmines. There is concern that the floods have caused landmines to be displaced and previously demined areas may now be unsafe. As much of the country is still under water it is difficult at this time to quantify the extent of the problem. Nevertheless, the United Nations Mine Action Service has begun a public awareness campaign on the dangers posed by displacement of mines. As the waters recede they will also begin an assessment of the situation. Mozambique has been a priority for Ireland Aid funding for demining in the past. We will continue to support demining efforts and awareness campaigns in the country in light of the additional problems posed by the floods.

Does the Minister of State agree that the suspension of debt repayment by Mozambique is not sufficient and that its elimination is necessary? Does she agree that Ireland would be in a better position to call for this elimination if we met our 0.7% GNP contribution, as outlined by the UN, towards development aid? Will the Minister of State tell us her intentions regarding meeting the 0.7% target, as the Taoiseach, speaking at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, merely repeated what has been said previously?

There is a compelling case for the total cancellation of Mozambique's debt. Important progress has been made in alleviating its debt burden. It qualified for relief under the original HIPC initiative, through which it is receiving $3.7 billion in debt service relief. It is expected to qualify for more than $500 million in additional debt service relief under the enhanced framework. We welcome the recent decisions by France and Italy to cancel debts amounting to almost $900 million owed by Mozambique. Ireland will encourage other bilateral donors to take similar action. The Government also welcomes the decision by the Paris Club of bilateral creditor nations to allow Mozambique to defer its debt service repayments to the group until much of the debt is cancelled later this year.

What about the 0.7% target?

That is separate from the debt question. As the Deputy knows, the Government set an interim target of 0.45% of GNP to be met by 2002. As I have admitted to the House, we were thrown off course, not because of our growth which is no excuse, but because of a change in the calculation of our GNP which has caused us to slide by about four points. We are engaged in a comprehensive review of the aid programme and I will shortly bring proposals to Cabinet which will guarantee an incremental multi-annual budgetary allocation with a view to reaching a target. We are working towards a target and I believe we will reach the target announced by the Taoiseach by 2007. However, we should also have an interim target because it is not fair for this Government to commit future Governments, of which we may not be part—

What is the target for 2007?

The target for 2007 announced by the Taoiseach is 0.7%

Which is the UN target.

At the Ard Fheis, the Taoiseach—

That means nothing.

He did not say that.

The interim target was 0.45% which has been thrown off course. It is highly unlikely we will reach that by 2002 because of the change in the calculation of GNP. We are aiming for a target of 0.5% by 2005. That will involve substantial cash increases which will need management. We are working on this at the moment. With a rapidly growing programme, proper consideration needs to be given to how we will spend that money and whether in terms of the overall ODA, we commit more money to be channelled through NGOs, of which I am in favour. All these matters are being discussed and proposals will be brought to Cabinet.