Pakistan Floods

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 7th September 2010.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 4:01 pm, 7th September 2010

May I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the early sight of it? I join him in expressing my deep sympathy for and solidarity with the people of Pakistan in the wake of this terrible flooding. The thoughts of all us are undoubtedly with all those families in Pakistan and their relatives here in the United Kingdom who have been affected by these unprecedented events.

May I, on behalf of the Opposition, also join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the work of the officials in the Department for International Development, as well, of course, to our armed forces, especially the Royal Air Force, and many other officials across Whitehall, in responding so effectively to this emergency? There is also common ground across this Chamber in paying tribute once again to the incredible generosity of the British people. As the Secretary of State mentioned, the DEC appeal has now raised upwards of £47 million and many outstanding British charities are contributing to the relief effort.

It is nevertheless incumbent on me to ask a number of questions. First, the Secretary of State and the Deputy Prime Minister were right to criticise the response of the international community to this disaster as "woefully inadequate" and far too slow. Will he therefore give us more detail on which specific donors and international organisations he and the Deputy Prime Minister have spoken with over the past few weeks to encourage them to make more generous contributions? Will he also tell us what meetings have taken place at the EU level, and what meetings in particular he has had with Commissioner Georgieva?

Secondly, I thank the Secretary of State for providing us with a detailed list of what the Government aim to fund in the relief effort. He has indicated that he decided to bring forward some projects, including bridge building. That strikes me as a sensible approach, but could he clarify how much of the funding announced comes from sums already earmarked for Pakistan in the DFID budget, and how much of it is new and additional financing?

Thirdly, I join the Secretary of State in expressing concern about the secondary health crisis now emerging. According to the most recent reports, more than 200,000 cases of acute diarrhoea, 260,000 cases of skin disease and more than 200,000 cases of acute respiratory infection have already been reported. Does he believe that the health situation is under control? What further steps will he be taking to help to improve access to clean water and sanitation?

I wish to conclude by raising two final issues. As many in the House will know, there has been a series of concerning revelations over the summer about the Government's policies on international development. However, I do not think it appropriate to raise those in the context of today's statement, and I hope that the Secretary of State will do us the courtesy of coming to the House again soon to clarify his position on those matters. Nevertheless, there are two particular matters on which I seek further clarification today, relating specifically to this disaster.

First, as the poor initial response by donors showed, there is a clear need for greater pooled and co-ordinated funding able to be easily and quickly disbursed in disasters such as this-one of the main reasons why we championed the expansion of the UN central emergency response fund. Can the Secretary of State therefore tell us what role CERF has played in responding to this disaster, whether adequate funds were available, and whether or not he intends to increase Britain's contributions to the fund in future?

Secondly, it is clear that there is a need for continued reform of the global humanitarian system, including the UN, to increase its efficiency and effectiveness in responding to disasters such as the Pakistan floods. Can the Secretary of State therefore tell us whether or not he intends to continue the drive of the previous Government in pushing for global humanitarian reform and investing in a reformed international system, what lessons he believes need to be learned from this particular crisis, and what discussions he plans with the new UN Secretary-General?

The Secretary of State was of course right to point out the common bonds of history, culture and family that unite the UK and Pakistan. We must continue to be resolute in our support for the poor and vulnerable in Pakistan, particularly at this troubling time. Be assured, Mr Speaker, that the Government will have our support on this side of the House in their continued efforts to do so.

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