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International Aid Update

Monday, January 24, 2011

Every few months my website will carry news items concerned with International Aid compiled by my staff. I hope you find the items useful and interesting.


Haiti - the first anniversary

The first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti was on the 12th January 2011. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the earthquake, and thousands more died from the subsequent cholera epidemic. Many many more lost their homes and livelihoods on that day, most still living in temporary accommodation. There are still over a million people living in hellish conditions without water and basic sanitation.


The Labour government provided millions of pounds in emergency relief after the earthquake and I am delighted that the present government has committed itself to continuing these efforts. But it is not only the government that has responded. The public have donated millions of pounds, as well as clothing and their support and time to those that need it the most. Before the earthquake hit Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world, and it will take some time to put the country back together again. It is vital that the international community is there for the long term, supporting and helping.


The recent collapse of Lebanon’s government is extremely serious and has the potential to take the country back to the days of the sectarian civil war that ripped it apart from 1975 to the early 1990’s. The international community must show swift and strong support for a peaceful resolution of the current political difficulty. The UN Special Tribunal process must complete its work in finding out the forces that killed Lebanon’s previous Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. All attempts to disrupt or destroy justice cannot be allowed to succeed.


Afghan women MPs challenging attitudes

At the end of last year I attended an international conference organised by the East West Institute to hear from and support Afghan women MPs. The conference included Islamic women MPs from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority and female German, British, Swedish and Belgian MPs and explored some of the challenges that women MPs face in Afghanistan. Women make up 28% of the Afghan parliament – 6% more than in the UK parliament – yet theirs are the voices we almost never hear.


We heard about the challenges the Afghan women MPs face: being isolated, oppressed, as well as threats from the Taliban to limit women’s rights. Even though there is a 25% quota for women in the Afghan parliament, it still takes great courage to run for office.


It was a valuable opportunity to hear first hand from women who are contributing to building democracy in Afghanistan, women who seek to represent the interests of women and men. I hope this conference will lead to permanent networks of women MPs, both as a means of support but also to ensure that we continue to hear directly from women about their experience in Afghanistan.



It is pleasing to see that the gender gap is slowly closing in school enrolment in the developing world - 95 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 2007, compared to 91 in 1999. But it was a real shame that the target for eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005 was missed. Furthermore, Girls’ net enrolment ratio in primary school (as a proportion of boys) has improved from a global average of 88% in 1991 to 97% in 2006. Unfortunately girls still account for 54% of the out-of-school population and girls in rural areas and from the poorest households are less likely to enrol and stay in school.  


Promises for Africa will be broken

At Gleneagles in 2005 the G8 countries committed themselves to doubling aid to the African continent. However following the G8 summit in June last year this commitment fell off the final communiqué. Oxfam representative Mark Fried said: "Despite their best efforts to put a positive gloss on their progress, the G8 report shows clearly that the promise made in Gleneagles in 2005 to increase aid will be broken."


Bill Nighy, the actor and Oxfam Global Ambassador, said: "Any attempt to drop the $50bn aid promise rich countries made to the worlds poorest at Gleneagles would be a betrayal of billions of poor people and the millions who campaigned to make poverty history. Any creative accounting would be scandalous."


International Parliamentary Governance

I recently chaired a session of the ‘International Parliamentary Governance’ conference hosted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The session was entitled ‘Engagement and Representation with particular reference to Women and Young People’. The seminar aimed to contribute to a greater understanding of the principles and structures of governance in parliamentary democracies and included representatives from around the Commonwealth.


Speakers at the session were Senator Joan Fraser, from Canada, who set out the steps that they had taken to ensure more women stood for elected positions. The Honourable Jermaine Wade described his journey into politics through the Montserrat Youth Parliament where young people learn about democracy. A lively discussion followed the two presentations.


Seminars of this nature encourage elected representatives to learn from the experiences of other countries in the Commonwealth. We know that there is no one perfect democracy, but discussing initiatives to ensure both genders and young people are engaged in democratic processes should assist to get better representation and therefore better governance. 

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