Humanitarian Disasters

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:06 pm on 8th March 2011.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Party Chair, Co-operative Party 10:06 pm, 8th March 2011

A lot of the money pledged to the UN does get through to the sharp end, but that does not mean that there is no scope for improving the savings that can be found across the UN system.

The second broad issue I want quickly to raise is the reform of the UN development system and how UN agencies can be supported to step up their longer-term response to natural disasters. The Government need to champion a joined-up UN response and to celebrate the One UN reform programme that is helping in some countries to ensure that the sheer plethora of UN agencies’ funds, programmes and commissions add up to more than the sum of their parts. Again, leadership money and co-ordination are fundamental, so I ask the Minister what support he is giving through his Department to help to widen the pool of experience of dedicated UN resident co-ordinators able to lead that collective, co-ordinated UN development response. What resources are the Government putting in to One UN funds that force agencies to work together to deliver the prioritised response that countries need?

In our more financially difficult times, and given what the hon. Member for Strangford asked, what action is the Minister taking to encourage the UN to drive savings? For example, does every UN agency continue to need its own procurement or human resources function, as savings could be reinvested in the front line of the development and humanitarian effort?

Lastly, the World Bank is a distinct and different part of the UN family, but it is part of that family, too. It could do more, more quickly, to help countries to plan their response to disasters and could certainly do more to help disaster risk reduction work and assist countries to pre-plan their response to a disaster. The World Bank remains, however, far too Washington-focused. More of its staff with more devolved power need to be based in the developing countries that they are seeking to help. I would welcome hearing whether the Minister shares that view.

The UN is a remarkable group of organisations with remarkable people in key parts of the humanitarian and development systems doing a very important job and doing it well, but to be ready for the challenges of rising numbers of people being affected by natural disasters, it needs to continue to reform. It will do so only with the help of constructive and critical friends such as the UK. The UK, in turn, will be that consistent and constructively critical friend only if Ministers continue to take a profound and abiding interest in the two issues of UN humanitarian system and UN development system reform. I recognise that the Minister must reach his own judgment on the different elements of those reform agendas, but I hope he is interested enough to want to reach such a judgment.