Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Overseas Development Aid
Question 12: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on diverting funds from bilateral aid programme to an emergency programme that would resuscitate discussed boreholes in the Horn of Africa, thus providing immediate clean water to ten million people facing starvation in the drought ridden region; if he will recruit unemployed Irish engineers to volunteer their services to this emergency appeal; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the cost of drilling and maintaining a functioning bore hole capable of serving a village of several hundred people is as low as $6,500. [20376/11]
The Government has been following the humanitarian crisis across the Horn of Africa for many months. At the beginning of 2011, in anticipation of a severe crisis, we pre-approved humanitarian funding of €4 million for UN agencies and NGOs working in the region.
Approximately 12 million people in five countries are now being affected by the most severe food crisis in the world today. To compound the situation, access for aid agencies to much of Somalia – one of the worst affected countries – remains extremely dangerous as a result of the conflict there. Last week, as the situation deteriorated, I approved the release of a further €500,000, to support emergency feeding programmes run by Concern and Trócaire in Somalia and Kenya. My officials, including our embassy in Addis Ababa, are in daily contact with partner agencies across the region to assess the needs on the ground and the possibilities for further Government support.
In addition to humanitarian assistance, Ireland also has major bilateral development programmes with Ethiopia and Uganda, two of the countries most affected by the current crisis. These long-term development programmes are making a vital contribution to the fight against poverty and hunger for some of the poorest communities in Africa. Any diversion of funding from these programmes would undermine the progress being made in health care, education and other basic services.
Provision of clean water and decent sanitation is a central element of our response to emergencies and is also crucial for long-term development. So far this year, Irish Aid has provided more than €1.4 million in direct emergency support for NGOs providing water and sanitation in the region. This includes the construction, maintenance and rehabilitation of boreholes, wells and other vital water points.
Irish Aid also regularly deploys engineers to humanitarian emergencies through the Rapid Response Corps. At present, 155 highly-skilled volunteers are registered with the Corps, 11 of whom are working with humanitarian organisations in the Horn of Africa in response to the current crisis. They include a number of engineers and an expert in water and sanitation programming.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. From a previous discussion, I know she has been focusing on this issue.
I commend the work of the non-governmental organisations in co-ordinating an emergency response to this extremely serious crisis as it develops. The Minister of State will share my concern arising from criticism made of providing direct aid to governments over the years and the impact this approach may have had. While I do not attribute abuse and corruption to Ethiopia or Uganda, there has been clear evidence that many of the governments which have received direct aid have been responsible for abuse and corruption. Such criticism does not apply to aid being provided to NGOs, which have done tremendous work.
Will the Minister of State consider diverting funds to establishing a programme to resuscitate abandoned bore holes using the expertise of some of the many construction workers on the live register who have worked on bore holes? Could we think outside the box, perhaps by working in partnership with the non-governmental organisations which, as the Minister of State noted, are already doing some work in this area? It strikes me that we must be able to make a more constructive, planned and thoughtful contribution than simply channelling money through governments. I ask the Minister of State to consider such a response in co-operation with the NGOs.
Most of the funding to the Horn of Africa is allocated directly to non-governmental or United Nations organisations. Any money allocated directly to governments, largely the Governments of Uganda and Ethiopia, is directly programmed for specific areas and is not paid into a central government fund. While I appreciate that bore holes and access to water are crucial, practice has shown that the best way to deploy people is through the NGOs, given the considerable experience they have acquired in these areas, or the rapid response corps. As I indicated, 11 members of the rapid response corps are in the Horn of Africa and a number of others are waiting to travel. I will raise the point made by the Deputy in my discussions with NGOs to ascertain if it is possible to deploy more people. It is important, however, to continue to act in an organised and effective manner. As the Deputy will be aware, Somalia is a particularly dangerous country and we must ensure people are safe.
I thank the Minister of State for her offer to discuss my proposal with the NGOs. We must respond to the current crisis and the NGOs, which I again commend, are best positioned to provide a response. Nevertheless, there is scope for strategic thinking about how we could deploy some of the many people on the live register with specific skills in this area to address the need to find and develop water infrastructure in the long term. This is not a one-off problem but one which will arise repeatedly in future. The United Nations has stated that focusing on the development of agriculture and water infrastructure is the best means of assisting the countries in question in the long term.
As part of the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid the Minister of State is about to commence, will she engage immediately with the NGOs to determine what we, as a Government, can do to access the skilled labour force that is available? The Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, has noted my wishful thinking.
I thank the Deputy for his co-operative approach to helping the Government. It is extremely important that we do whatever we can in this area. A number of representatives of the United Nations are in the region and our embassy in Addis Ababa has been reporting back directly from them on the current position. I, too, commend the non-governmental organisations on the fantastic work they are doing. We will continue to take on board any suggestions the Deputy may make.