Interventions in the House of Lords by David Alton on Eritrea and Sudan
Lord David Alton is a crossbench member of the House of Lords and chairs the APPG’s inquiry into Darfur. He has initiated debates on the effects of Putin’s Ukrainian grain blockade and the war in Tigray, where between 600,000 and 800,000 lives have been lost. The UK Government have said that the use of food as a weapon of war in Tigray could constitute a war crime.
by Paul FitzPatrick
The Horn of Africa is experiencing the longest drought in four decades, with no end in sight. Recovery from a drought of this magnitude will presumably take years. Exacerbated by soaring food prices, political instability, conflict, locusts, Covid-19 and the effects of climate-induced drought, or floods in the case of South Sudan, it has led to 36.4 million people suffering from hunger across the region and 21.7 million requiring food assistance.
UNICEF says that 5.7 million children require treatment for acute malnutrition, with 1.8 million subject to life-threatening malnutrition. In Somalia, the situation remains particularly critical, with 5.6 million people currently acutely food insecure; that figure is expected to rise to 6.4 million by March. Some 1.8 million children under the age of five are expected to face acute malnutrition by July 2023.
The World Food Programme says that it urgently needs $689 million until May 2023 “to prevent widespread loss of lives”, and that as it tries to respond to 8.8 million people, funding shortfalls have already forced the WFP to prioritise who receives assistance and who goes hungry.
Notwithstanding a rapidly mounting death toll and what seems like acceleration towards a human catastrophe, the Government’s 2022-23 funding allocation for the Horn of Africa is lower than the 2021-22 allocation and less than a fifth of the £861 million provided by the UK Government during the last famine in 2017-18. That intervention saved millions of lives. With a desperate population again living on the brink, I hope we will re-examine the level of support and at the very minimum offer to match pound for pound an appeal via the Disasters Emergency Committee.
The British Ambassador to Sudan told us that in Sudan “15.8 million people—one third of the population—will need humanitarian assistance”. He described insufficient supplies of bread and wheat and how what was available was priced out of the range of the majority of the population. He also said that increased displacements in Darfur—now at the rate of 200,000 people each year, in addition to all those already displaced—are adding to the challenges in a region which was subjected to a genocide in which 300,000 people died and more than 2 million were displaced.
South Sudan has had four years of floods, not drought, and seen another 1 million people displaced. The Ambassador told us that “9 million out of 12 million people are in need of help, 74% of the population are in need of humanitarian help and 63% are dependent on food aid”. For South Sudan to become a net exporter of food, and indeed meet all the food needs of the region will require old warlords to become real leaders. It will require reconciliation rather than conflict, not least the appalling violence done in South Sudan to women.
Eritrea, with 1,500 kilometres of Red Sea coast, has huge potential for a viable and highly productive fishing industry which could help to boost food security, yet that was arbitrarily closed by the Eritrean regime. Instead of feeding its people, the dictatorship is more intent on conscripting 50% of its working population into the military, running a police state, generating a mass exodus of refugees, pursuing military conquest and committing atrocities, undermining food security in the region.
Internally it provides very weak social protection but no end of curfews, restrictions on movement, power outages in Asmara and limited running water. NGOs have been denied access to deliver help and support, while fleeing refugees report starving families and destitute women begging on the street. Remittances from the diaspora to help relatives are reported to often end up in the Government’s coffers. That must all change.
Across the region, we need to tackle root causes, whether it is tackling corruption and the diversion of much-needed resources into manmade conflict, or creating greater resilience and sustainability by harnessing renewable energy, for instance, to create desalination for better crop production.
To secure justice in Sudan, there must be mechanisms that deliver it along with a means of enforcing the promises made by the parties signing peace agreements. That in turn requires the international community not to lose interest at the point when the military and the Islamists believe they can revert to their old ways.
But tragedy on such a colossal scale cannot be reduced to a peep show. We have to sustain our commitment and be clear-eyed about demanding that benchmarks are met, and quick to apply personal smart sanctions on those breaking their commitments. Sudan is desperate for debt relief and foreign investment, so the international community has plenty of leverage if it chooses to use it. The real question is whether the rest of the world has the will to remain focused on Sudan’s unsteady path to a democratic, pluralist society based on a rule of law.