Asian Tsunami: Emergency Relief

– in the House of Lords at 4:27 pm on 13 June 2005.

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Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative 4:27, 13 June 2005

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the progress of reconstruction following the emergency relief given in response to the Asian tsunami.

My Lords, given that I shall not be more than 11 minutes, I too make a plea to my colleagues to keep to their time so that we can hear from the Minister. To a degree I know all the five affected countries in south and south-east Asia. I have visited them all and I have had the privilege of working in three. Post-tsunami, I visited Sri Lanka and the Maldives, but this debate is not about emergency relief; rather, it concerns the next stage, that of reconstruction.

I chair both the Maldives and the Sri Lanka All-Party Groups and I want to see both countries back on their feet as quickly as possible. I do not take any political side in the debate on the respective countries and I have absolutely nil in the way of commercial interests in either or any of them.

Perhaps I may begin with the position in the Maldives. Although the Maldives is the smallest country, in relative terms it was in fact the hardest hit of the whole lot. It was affected both economically and in terms of land mass. The disaster relief exercise went well, having been well organised by the Maldivian Government, and there was a good response from both the aid agencies and the world in general. Nevertheless, out of a population of 300,000, one third—some 100,000—people were affected. While it is true that the dead numbered only 83, some 12,000 were made homeless, nine islands have disappeared altogether and are no longer a part of the Maldives as a country, and only nine out of the 200 inhabited islands escaped damage altogether.

The damage hit the Maldivian economy extremely seriously. The biggest loss was that of tourism because understandably tourists have decided not to go to the Maldives, while the direct damage costs are estimated at over $100 million. Some 25 per cent of the 87 tourist hotels were badly damaged, and the United Nations Development Programme estimates that the tsunami has set back development by 20 years. Total damage renewal costs have been estimated at $470 million, which represents 62 per cent of the GDP of the entire country.

Today tourism is still down by 40 per cent, despite the fact that only six resorts have not yet reopened. Some 81 are now open for business. In my judgment, the Maldivian Government are efficient and well organised. I was interested to read a letter sent recently by our own British Red Cross to the government complimenting them on their arrangements for its involvement, and I should like to place on the record my appreciation of what the British Red Cross has done in the Maldives.

The restraining factor in the Maldives is money. They have estimated their needs, which have been verified by the United Nations, at $470 million. As of last Friday the international pledges stood at $150 million: a shortfall of $320 million. That is a huge shortfall. It was slightly disingenuous of the Leader of the House in answer to my Question last week to suggest that the Maldives was no longer a poor developing country. That might have been true pre-tsunami, but it is certainly not true post-tsunami. Whereas previously it had 5 per cent growth, the growth rate this year is estimated at best to be 1 per cent.

So I am asking Her Majesty's Government to take a lead individually and in terms of our presidency of the European Union. In contrast to the UN, the World Bank and our own DfID, the EU's response was disappointing, to put it mildly. As a major member of the Commonwealth I would hope that we could take a lead in garnering the support of the Commonwealth. As the Prime Minister seems to be involved in most world matters, maybe we could also get cracking with the UN and the World Bank.

But this is not just a short-term disaster. For the Maldives, the shortfall of needed resources runs the risk of being at best a medium-term disaster. We have special responsibility; after all, it was a British protectorate until 1965. Admittedly, we made an early pledge of £50 million, which is welcome. But as it moves from least-developed country to developing country status that aspect needs to be reviewed; otherwise its exports will be adversely affected.

I would like to say a big thank you to certain members of the UK High Commission for the Maldives, particularly Mr Steve Ainsworth, and to the Royal Navy, the British Red Cross and Oxfam.

I turn to Sri Lanka, which I know extremely well. In one sense it has a greater problem and in another sense not so great. There were 40,000 dead, 1 million homeless, massive disruption and 23,000 fishing boats destroyed. Yet there was no death or starvation subsequent to the tsunami, no law and order riots. Camps were set up immediately, of which I visited a number: 750 camps were set up, now reduced to 102. The railway line reopened in six weeks—somewhat quicker than at Hatfield. Rehousing commenced and temporary housing is now available for 200,000, but permanent housing is still needed.

There was an incredible response from small British charities. I mention two in particular: Adopt Sri Lanka, run by Geoffrey Dobbs, who lives in the outskirts of Galle; and Rebuilding Sri Lanka, run by Alison Nagle, who was initially just a tourist. Both those organisations, but Adopt Sri Lanka in particular, got cracking almost within 12 hours of the tsunami in terms of providing food, livelihoods, storing fishing boat engines, setting up workshops to restore fishing boats and getting the schools reopened. It was a wonderful response.

There was a very good response from the United States in bringing in heavy equipment to clear the ground. I would also like to pay tribute to the government agents, who do a thankless job in Sri Lanka. I have met a great many over the years; they are dedicated public officials. That is the good side.

Unfortunately there is a bad side. Unlike 9/11 and the east coast floods in 1953, when everyone pulled together, sadly in Sri Lanka that is not the situation. There is argy-bargy between the political parties: the PA—the government grouping—the UNP, the JVP and, overlying everything, the LTTE. That is a huge hindrance. Ball-bearings are being sent in relief containers, not to be put into wheels but for suicide bombs—that is what ball-bearings are for. It is a great problem and a great tragedy and the world has to put some pressure on all those parties to achieve peace in that country.

There is a lack of working equipment on the ground. I am tired of seeing people trying to rescue things or do things with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. We have to move forward and something has to happen there.

There is a great problem of the 100 metres, the 150 metres or the 0 metres. I make a plea to the President, whom I know well, to make a clear world announcement on that policy, in which there has to be some flexibility. If one is a fisherman, one does not want to be 150 metres away; one wants to be near the beach.

I mentioned in passing the east coast to remind us all that 307 people were killed in this country, which led to the erection of the Thames Barrier; 32,000 people were evacuated and no one was properly rehoused until a year later. We are only coming up to six months after the tsunami, so frankly even we were not that good at it.

My conclusions are that the emergency side went well, on which I congratulate everyone. But as with the conclusion for the east coast flooding, we need a warning system. We need to recognise that we are in a technical world. We need capital equipment, bulldozers and JCB diggers on-site, so why does the UK not consider an agreement with JC Bamford, immediately when there is a crisis, to draw off a dozen or so JCBs to be flown or shipped to wherever the problem is?

We need technical people on standby. How good to see the Germans having their desalination teams on-site within 36 hours of the disaster. We need electricians—they went in in the end, but it took almost a couple of weeks. They should be on call. We need to deliver stuff. We are good at aircraft, but we have forgotten that landing craft are needed for coastal disasters. We need landing craft positioned around the world. How well the Singaporeans did in Ache. They were the only people who had landing craft: they were there within 48 hours.

I conclude by saying that after one year we as politicians will need to review what has happened. We as politicians need to set the pace and to show that we have responded to what has been one of the world's greatest disasters.

Photo of Lord Giddens Lord Giddens Labour 4:38, 13 June 2005

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for initiating this debate on such an important subject. It is a shame that there are so few noble Lords here in the Chamber to debate it. I venture that if this debate had been about Africa the Chamber would be much more full. I remind noble Lords—and perhaps the Minister—that there are more very poor people in east Asia than in sub-Saharan Africa. Of course concentration on Africa is important—and vital, given the coming up of the G8 conference—but we must remember to focus our attention at a more global level.

The tsunami in the Indian Ocean was, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said, one of the worst natural disasters in modern times. An estimated 270,000 people were killed in the disaster; many more were injured; even more lost their sources of livelihood or their homes; there was massive damage to infrastructure.

When it happened the world's attention was focused on the tsunami, not just because of its devastating nature but also because it was, as it were, an expression of globalisation. The events interacted with the global tourist industry. We do not completely know how many people from what countries died in the tsunami, but it is estimated that people from 70 countries died there.

The response of the world was very generous. As has been mentioned, in this country there was an enormous out-flowing of generosity at that point and the Government made a very quick response. But there plainly are problems of reconstruction, some of which have been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. I have seen many different estimates of the shortfall of money required. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, mentioned various areas of shortfall but, overall, all the calculations that I have seen—including a very recent one by the Asian Development Bank—put the figure for shortfall at more than $4 billion, a very significant sum.

I remind the Minister that there is a big difference between aid which is pledged and aid which is delivered. The world does not have a good record on the delivery of pledges. In 2000, there was an earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam in which some 3,000 people were killed. A sum of $1.1 billion was pledged from the world community for reconstruction, but so far only 1.5 per cent of that aid has been delivered. We have to ensure that this does not happen in the case of the tsunami disaster.

Devastating though it was, we cannot understand the process of reconstruction and the implications of the tsunami without placing it in a much broader context. The 21st century is likely to be marked by larger disasters and larger catastrophes than the world has ever seen before. I should like to offer—if the House will forgive my quasi-academic manner—three reasons for this.

First, we live in a world of intensifying globalisation, which is the characteristic feature of our epoch. What does globalisation mean? It means increasing interdependence. It means an increasing economic interdependence, political interdependence and cultural interdependence of world society. As we know, the expansion of globalisation brings many benefits. Economic globalisation is the condition of effective economic development in poorer countries, not a barrier to it.

But globalisation—meaning interdependence—also has a massive downside. There are new risks that we must face. Let us consider, for example, world financial markets, which are far more integrated than they ever were before. We know that such markets can produce shocks. It is possible that there could be a meltdown in global financial markets. Every country in the world today would, of course, be affected if that should happen.

Secondly, in the case of purely natural disasters such as the tsunami, there is good reason to suppose that the consequences of such natural disasters are much greater than they used to be because they intersect with modernisation and economic development. For example, we have erratic urbanisation, where thousands—sometimes hundreds of thousands—of people live on the edges of ravines, on the top of mountains, in volcanic areas and near flood plains. We have to take on board very seriously this intersection between global disaster and development. The tsunami is a big example of it but we have to generalise it far more.

The third reason is that the world must deal with a new range of not quite natural disasters but disasters stemming from human technological intervention in nature. For many hundreds of years people worried primarily about what nature can do to us. Not long ago, for good reason, we started worrying more about what we have done to nature. And what we have done to nature has created imponderable risks for us, which, again, intersect with purely natural risks. Yesterday, there was a large-scale flood in China in which 87 people died. It was apparently caused by excessive rainfall. We just do not know how far such episodes are natural or not, but we can be quite sure that they will expand if we do not take systematic preventative action.

The UNDP report on world disaster contains a very interesting analysis. It considered disasters over the past 20 or so years, from 1980 to 2000, and found that 75 per cent of the world's population live in areas which have experienced at least one serious natural disaster over the past 20 years, whether a tropical cyclone, earthquake, large-scale drought or large-scale flooding. According to the report, 1.5 million people died in natural disasters over this period. Across the planet, that is probably more people than died in wars over that 20-year period.

We know also that catastrophe and disaster affect developing societies disproportionately. Eleven per cent of the population live in the various very poorest countries of the world, as designated by the World Bank. That 11 per cent of the population experienced no less than 53 per cent of overall deaths from catastrophes over that 20-year period.

We are only just starting to recognise how connected disaster and catastrophe are with economic development. We tend to think of economic development as a kind of long-term flowing process and disaster and catastrophe as coming from out of the side field, as coming from nowhere. But it is not like that. There is a systematic connection between disaster, catastrophe and development.

This systematic connection can very much affect, for example, the millennium development goals. Part of the reason for that is that catastrophe in poorer countries is less easily preventable and its immediate consequences tend to be much more severe and much more long-term than they are in developed countries. We therefore need to forge much closer connections between economic development policy and disaster management than we have done previously.

If time allows I shall conclude by making three or four policy observations which I should like the Government to consider at least—or for the Minister to say that she will take them seriously.

First, we have to integrate disaster management and risk assessment with economic development programmes in a direct way. We have to integrate these issues and not just treat disaster management as an add-on. That means building risk assessment into development programmes; it means creating knowledgeability among local populations; and it means looking at vulnerability in different parts of the world and assessing its potential implications for economic and other kinds of development. It is crucial to have a much greater integration of these issues than we have had.

Secondly, it has become a convention of the economic development literature that you cannot develop from top down; you have to develop from bottom up and empower local communities. The same is true of disaster reduction and management. We have to empower local communities to anticipate disasters and to have the means and resources to deal with them. That involves very much the same kind of issues as apply in overall economic development. For instance, the role of women needs to be considered. We know that the role of women is central to economic development bottom up, but it is also very important in disaster management because of the centrality of women in the family and in the larger community. We must therefore have community development relevant to disaster assessment.

Thirdly, we need much more effective forms of technical assessment, especially of natural and not-so natural disasters. As I understand it, the Indian Government have committed themselves to developing an early warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean within a period of two years. It remains to be seen, of course, whether that will actually eventuate. They have also promised that this will be integrated with wider world management systems for disasters. We need something more systematic. We need to deal with natural and not so natural disasters. The proposal to create a global observation system that would integrate data from climate, data from the ocean, and data from echo systems as a kind of world informational system for disaster anticipation and management is an important development.

Finally, we must consider multiple risks, because each of the three types of risk that I mentioned interact with one another; and that particularly affects poor countries. Natural disasters can accentuate economic shocks and the disintegration of local communities and can affect education and policy programmes. Some disasters we cannot control, and sometimes nature reminds us of its power in relation to human capacity. We can always control and try to regulate the consequences of disasters. I ask the Minister to assure me that we will look for a world in which that is done not only in the rich countries but in the poor ones.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 4:51, 13 June 2005

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for providing us with this opportunity. The aid community lost one of its leading lights in the tsunami. He was Robin Needham, country director of CARE International in Nepal, who was on holiday with his family in Thailand. Having considerable experience of emergencies, he had already moved his wife and family to safer areas when he was swept away. I worked with him during the 1980s, when he was setting up the CARE office in London. He was a good friend and an excellent example of the dedication and love of humanity that characterises the staff of all our NGOs.

This is the second time in a few weeks that I have paid tribute to someone from CARE who died in the act of helping others. The memory of Margaret Hassan in Iraq is still fresh in our minds. The release of Clementina Cantoni, also from CARE, last Thursday in Kabul was a great relief, but it was another example of the callous targeting of an aid worker who in her case was serving Afghan widows and their children. Those tragedies remind us of the remarkable sacrifices made daily by our volunteers literally on the battlefield. We often, rightly, in this House recognise the work of our armed services, but we do not pay enough attention to the selfless commitment of our hundreds of unarmed aid workers who are serving overseas. The world is not a safer place than it was, nor than we expected it to be a generation ago; quite the contrary. Increasingly the lives of aid workers, both local and international, are being lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and in emergencies such as the Asian tsunami. Embassies are good at following up families once there has been a disaster, but the Government have no statistics on the number of Britons serving overseas in our NGOs. As far as I know, there are no current plans to provide greater security for them. That is a subject to which I hope we can return.

It is said in India that when the cyclones come to the coast, tall buildings rise in the cities. I first heard that in Hyderabad after the Andhra Pradesh cyclone of 1977, and I was reminded of it when I was there again a few weeks ago. Thirty years ago, while businesses seemed to thrive on foreign aid, the affected families living along the coast were still waiting to be rehoused or compensated months or even years after the cyclone. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has alluded already to reconstruction. The tsunami victims in Sri Lanka and the other countries affected now echo the same complaint. Nearly six months after the tsunami, the displaced continue to live in temporary shelters, with no information from the various governments regarding their permanent shelter in the future. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said, there are about 1 million displaced in Sri Lanka alone.

The noble Lord mentioned the buffer zones proposed by all the governments. India has proposed 500 metres, Sri Lanka between 100 metres and 200 metres, Indonesia as much as 1 kilometre, in which those displaced will not be allowed to rebuild. Not only have the displaced not been consulted on whether they would like to rebuild their original home or whether they are happy to move to an alternative location, in most cases they have not even been told what the policy is. They have had little access to coherent information produced by their government on the policy to be implemented. Where respective governments have issued statements, they have not provided further information giving a timescale or at least a plan for relocation.

Once again, it is a story of the poor being made victims all over again. People in all those countries remain in temporary shelters with no idea what will happen to them in the immediate future. With the onset of the monsoon, the rains are already worsening the conditions in those shelters. In the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which are some of the hardest-hit areas, like the Maldives, the monsoon is already in full swing and no reconstruction will be possible until September. Have our Government taken up that issue with the respective governments? Does the Minister agree that those delays are the major obstacle to the proper and urgent allocation of funding that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has asked for?

It is not just a problem of consultation but of wrong policies. Some of the coasts are densely populated, and it is almost impossible in areas of Tamil Nadu, for instance, to find suitable land for relocation. There is also the considerable problem of title deeds. How will the poorest obtain rights to new land? What will happen to the sites of their former homes?

I hear through Christian Aid's partners in south India that, at the district level local administration is becoming a nightmare. Finding suitable land is only part of the problem, as taking the risk of altering powers conferred in land purchases is all too daunting for most revenue officials. I am told that virtually all district collectors in Tamil Nadu are informally pushing for the communities to seek the in situ option despite the official policy of promoting relocation. That is a serious dilemma for the aid agencies involved, too. While they have to look sympathetically at proposals for relocation, for obvious reasons they are unwilling to side with the authorities. It seems highly unlikely that the Indian government will be able to enforce relocation in cases where people insist on remaining on or near the beach where they have always lived. There is also the issue of continued access to the sea for fishermen who have been relocated. New tourist ventures and small businesses already threaten to take over those sites, and new regulations are unlikely to resist such economic pressures.

Another concern of the NGOs is that while the fishing communities bore the brunt of the tsunami, many other communities suffered directly or indirectly, including the Dalits, or the scheduled castes, in India. As I discovered during my visit, they were the ones who also had to remove the dead and clear up the mess, who suffer daily discrimination in their lives and who are often left out of the loop of rehabilitation. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how the various donor governments are handling those issues. Will the Indian and Sri Lankan Governments which, after all, have their major political concerns, listen to the anxieties expressed by NGOs? How can DfID, which I know supports greater consultation in theory, get involved without interfering in the proposed legislation? Do the Government accept that it is not surprising that relief funds cannot be spent in a hurry?

Meanwhile, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, mentioned, the voluntary organisations are doing marvellous work. A quick search of Christian Aid and Save the Children projects shows how much is going on at a local level. Christian Aid lists the provision of food and drinking water, medical aid, temporary shelter, household items and trauma counselling to affected communities, which lead to longer-term projects such as the construction of permanent housing, assisting people back into work, preparing for future disasters, and helping the most vulnerable. Save the Children, among many of its projects in the region, is active in child protection and psycho-social support for orphaned children in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. CARE is also a vital player. No doubt the Minister will confirm that Her Majesty's Government are supporting many of those initiatives.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 4:59, 13 June 2005

My Lords, the Asian tsunami on 26 December was a terrible tragedy. As other noble Lords have reminded us, there are huge effects on the economies, as well as the life and limb. The economies of all countries of the world were affected, as the insurance industry is well aware—and, indeed, that industry can also help. I should like to speak about what could be done further by using science and engineering to reduce the impact of such events and to help the countries to ensure that, if such events recur, they will be better protected.

I declare an interest as a member of the UK Advisory Committee for Natural Disaster Reduction. I am also chair of an NGO called ACOPS. As director of the Institute of Mathematics at University College and the Institution of Civil Engineers, we had a meeting with experts from Sri Lanka, Europe and the USA. I have placed a report of that in the Library for those of you who like studying waves and other complex problems.

As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has reminded us, this natural disaster had much in common with other natural disasters, in that many of the deaths were preventable and happened in greater numbers in the least developed countries. More developed countries have demonstrated time and again that through the use of science and technology, planning and resources, many of the effects of natural disasters can be mitigated. Progress is being made through international collaboration, through the United Nations system, at which I was pleased to represent the UK with the World Meteorological Organisation. Through such collaboration, many developing countries have also learned the lessons that technology, planning and emergency response can be applied, often at modest cost. For example, a centre of coastal environment set up in Kenya, partly through the help of our NGO in the UK, provided warnings in that country. When the tsunami reached Kenya, which was about six hours later than it reached Sri Lanka, warnings had been given and there was some reduction in the amount of damage.

It is important to recall that each type of natural disaster has its own features, but there are broad types of response. Whereas in the UK we have different types of response for every type of disaster, in Japan, for example, there is one centre where all the information and decisions are taken. India also has more of a unified response. Nevertheless, the UK with its expertise and its governmental departments can be involved; I refer not only to DfID, but to many specialised departments that can provide help. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, made some further suggestions.

The noble Lord also reminded us that many other countries have been very effective at every level, and the United Nations system has been helpful in co-ordinating that. However, it is important to recognise that current methods need to be improved and that there are new kinds of technology that we need to make use of—for example, the satellites and computer systems that are widely available around the world, which need to be applied to provide detailed warnings. In Japan, for example, one has detailed models for how a tsunami will affect every single bay and port area. Such models are very important for local responses.

At this point, it is important to realise that the UK Government, following the disaster, set up their own committee to deal with the reduction of natural disasters. That committee reported last week—as always, to the press and not to Parliament; that is a bit of a new Labour thing, is it not? But its conclusions were important. One of them was that the UK could contribute, but that the UN system is very important to co-ordinate.

One of the important points of the special meeting that we had was to recognise that the cause of tsunamis comes about from earth movement. It is not only the earth movement in itself that causes tsunamis, but it triggers slides—large shifts of sediment—down the sloping sea bottom, which often causes a depression of the sea surface, followed by an elevation. A speaker from Sri Lanka blamed Hollywood for the widespread death and destruction, because Hollywood has always presented a tsunami as a huge wave. The important point about that particular event was that there was a depression—so everybody went down to the beach to have a look and then, following the depression, the huge wave came. So perhaps we can blame Hollywood a little. But that only shows that it is extremely important to explain to people what can happen. Indeed, the communities that were saved there were saved by people who had experienced tsunamis in other parts of the Pacific basin.

The other important point, which I have already mentioned, is that the combination of satellites, computers and telecommunications now provide a method for effective warnings. They have been very effective for tropical cyclones around the world, and developing countries make use of them just as much as developed countries. They have been used for tsunamis in the Pacific. The new system that needs to be developed is a tsunami system for the Indian Ocean. That would be a great step forward. But as I saw for myself while visiting India in March, many organisations there are requesting collaboration and assistance from the UK and Europe to make best use of the satellite systems that are available.

The other very important point is the question of buildings. Those which were put up of a commercial type, such as hotels built to modern standards, survived the tsunami; other buildings did not. The Institution of Civil Engineers made a plea to its own members, and got to work within a day or two in some of the ports in the Indian Ocean area—but we need to provide that kind of training and expertise. Training is the most important way in which the science and technology community can contribute, but it needs some government help for that.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative 5:06, 13 June 2005

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has given us some very interesting information. As the House knows, he speaks with great knowledge of this subject.

I join with other noble Lords in expressing gratitude to my noble friend Lord Naseby for enabling us to have this short debate. In a memorable speech, he was extremely constructive in his observations. I shall be a little more critical than him, and I am encouraged in my criticisms by an article that appeared in prime position in the Daily Telegraph just over two weeks ago, on 28 May. I shall quote a couple of brief commentaries from Peter Foster's report from Colombo, in Sri Lanka. The article states:

"Despite almost unlimited resources—the relief fund stands at more than £1.75 billion for Sri Lanka alone—victims are cooped up in camps waiting for news of progress that never seems to come".

Later on, the article quotes the comments of the Sri Lankan-born director of the Irish Sri Lanka Trust Fund, who said:

"This hard-earned money was raised by schoolchildren and old folk to help the people of Sri Lanka. It was not raised for the Sri Lankan government to swipe 15 per cent for itself".

Those are pretty tough words. I do not know how right it is that comments like that should be made, but they are troubling—particularly when I heard just the other day that apparently the Sri Lankan Government have authorised the expenditure of a considerable sum of money so that every Member of Parliament in the Sri Lankan Government has a new S-type Mercedes car. How can that really be so? If it is really so, where has the money come from? Have the Sri Lankan Government really, to quote the Sri Lankan-born director of the trust, swiped

"15 per cent for itself"?

The sad thing is that the horror that overtook so many people with such brutal suddenness, while it triggered great charitable responses from this country and elsewhere, did not in the countries directly affected stimulate great co-operation among all elements of society and among all factions in government and public administration. The sadness is that they seem to have seen the tragedy as an opportunity to advance their own partisan political purposes.

I can illustrate that with details of what has happened to some small charities. As I have declared in this House before, members of my own family are involved with a charity called Friends of the South. They do not try to obtain publicity or to draw attention to themselves. They get down to the humdrum work of actually helping in a practical way the people who need the help—in many instances, in small villages and towns that are not in the headlines at all and many of whom are being bypassed and ignored by government and authority. I should emphasise that many of them are frustrated in their attempts to recover their way of life by pettifogging, stultifying bureaucracy.

The awful thing about a country such as Sri Lanka—and one must admit that it might happen here—is that no one dares to take the responsibility for decisions. So, decisions have to be referred to committees. And committees, when they meet, look over their shoulders to see what the Government are doing. Over all of that looms the dark shadow of the president. She could have unlocked all of this with one turn of the key. She could have required immediate action. She could have required that her administration go out into the field to see precisely what people wanted. The tragedy was that neither she, nor the head of the LTTE in the Tamil areas on the north-east coast that were affected, were able to get together and put aside their years of strife and conflict. Now, just at the moment when she is reaching out to the head of the LTTE, when there is a prospect of some type of agreement and a package for settling some of their differences, and to ensure that the aid is distributed to the people that most need it, what do we see? Her power base is falling apart, because the other political elements that formed the coalition are refusing to go along with the plan and are threatening to walk out of the Government—the Marxist JVP being one and the Buddhist monks the other. Both are demonstrating in the streets and playing merry hell with the situation. They are not interested in what is happening to their own people who need help. They are interested only in gaining partisan political advantage for themselves. That is the tragedy. That is Sri Lanka's shame, too.

I could give many examples of the frustration of efforts by others who try to bring help where it is most needed. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned the matter previously raised in this House about the government restrictions on people being able to re-establish their own businesses. The Government are, apparently, trying to use this opportunity to control and regulate the lives of the people. People do not want to be housed in government-provided housing, where the Government can choose that they should go; they want cash compensation, so that they can live in their own homes. They do not want to be shovelled off into a government-provided market centre or marketplace; they want cash compensation, so that they can restart their own businesses in the places where they had their businesses previously.

There is only one solution to this: that we should ask for less posturing and more performance. I hope that, when she replies, the Minister will give an undertaking that there will be no hesitation on the part of the British Government in encouraging our high commissioner in Sri Lanka to make the strongest possible representations to the government of Sri Lanka that they release some of the relief funds so that they go directly to people who need them. Will the Government give an assurance, on behalf of the generous-hearted British people, that they will demand a full and detailed account for the expenditure of every penny of tsunami relief money that has gone to Sri Lanka?

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Spokesperson in the Lords, International Development, Spokesperson in the Lords, Welsh Affairs, Whip 5:15, 13 June 2005

My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate and am grateful that it has been put before us. It is important that we are kept up to date with such experiences, with exactly what is happening in the tsunami-affected area and with exactly how our aid is being spent there.

I was told only last week by the Disasters Emergency Committee that the total raised in voluntary donations in the United Kingdom has now reached some £350 million—the largest amount ever raised for any appeal of this type. That has meant that the immediate needs of some 5 million people have been met and that some £150 million of that money has already reached the people who are in greatest need. There is money available and that, of course, will be spent. The agencies in the area handle the necessary day-to-day work and the projects that need to be put in place, but over the next three years that money will be used for rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes.

As other noble Lords have said, we can never appreciate enough the tremendous work that is carried out by these voluntary, charitable organisations and all those who have supported them over these past months. It has been an incredible experience to see how people have responded. The people saw the need and the people responded to that need. Some noble Lords have spoken from first-hand experience. I cannot do that. I can speak only from what we hear and see from the various agencies.

Oxfam, one of our major agencies, says that this is the largest aid effort in its history. Over 1 million people have been helped and over £150 million has been available to provide that help. Its report states:

"For once the scale of the response reflects the scale of the disaster".

It adds, vitally, that:

"Our long-term reconstruction programme aims to give people the chance of building something better then the poverty that existed before the tsunami".

The reconstruction provides opportunities to alleviate poverty and to restore dignity. Due to the giving and the work being done, the people will enjoy a better life and will have something more hopeful to look forward to.

The need for an adequate warning system has already been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Hunt. I am sure that we were all impressed when last week we were told that such a warning system was envisaged and that it would not cost a great deal of money, when one considers all the money that is needed for other efforts. For £1 million, we could have an adequate warning system in that part of the Indian Ocean.

To me, the co-operation between the various agencies is fascinating. They have always worked together and helped each other—the need is greater than the organisation that is providing it. But 160 different agencies, in addition to United Nations agencies have been working in Indonesia alone. That is a tremendous number. It is to be hoped that this new spirit of co-operation will also continue and that it will have long-lasting, long-term, beneficial results.

Some of the difficulties that have been faced have been mentioned. Some are due to the political, ethnic and religious differences in parts of the affected area. The tensions in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels over the distribution of aid has caused and still is causing problems. On the southern coast of India the right-wing Hindu groups are angry with the local Christian organisations which are involved in the reconstruction programme. They are afraid that the Christian organisations are using this in order to try to make converts in that part of the continent, but the Church denies that there is any intention, in any way at all, of using relief operations to try to win Christian converts.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands have been mentioned, but the anger there is different. It is that the central government have received millions of dollars and are paying out paltry sums to the people who suffered most. I have an instance of one person being offered 2 rupees as compensation. I might not be good on currency exchange but that is about 3 pence in our money. We must make sure that the tension between central government and local administration does not impede the flow of aid to where it is needed most.

In Africa, the coast of Somalia was the place most affected; it was one of the few African countries that was affected. Between 150 and 200 people are thought to have died there, but thousands more were rendered homeless and many fishermen are still unaccounted for. But the tsunami could well have affected Africa indirectly in a different way, because it has focused our attention on the desperate need of so many people—on the poverty level of so many. This new awareness may have led to some of the increasing sensitivity in these past few weeks to the needs of Africa as well as of other parts of the world. When do we last remember newspaper after newspaper daily headlining the needs of the third world and the needs of the desperately poor? The tsunami might indirectly have led to that awareness and the new response to that need.

Finally, this is an opportunity to build bridges between the rich countries and the poor countries. They have seen our response; we have seen their need. We must make sure that that confidence is maintained, that the pledges of aid and help are fulfilled, that the pledges are not forgotten or watered down. If people have confidence that we can be relied on to keep our word and to fulfil our promises, despite the horror of the tsunami some good might come out of it. They will say that there is the possibility of a new understanding. That, in its way, could be the main reconstruction following the devastating effects of 26 December.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development 5:23, 13 June 2005

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, on securing this debate, especially as it allows us to expand on his Starred Question of last week. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, that reconstruction is an area on which we should concentrate today.

With the run-up to the G8 gaining momentum, calling for greater quantities and more effective aid, it seems particularly apt that we turn our attention to the unprecedented tsunami response five months on as a case study of what aid can do.

As your Lordships have highlighted, the funds raised in response to the tsunami appeal were staggering, totalling over £300 million. With the UN Development Programme's disaster recovery experts estimating that it will take from five to 10 years for the countries affected by the tsunami to recover fully, I am sure that every penny will be needed.

I would like to echo what has been said so many times when I commend all those individuals, companies and charities who have donated and continue to work so hard in response to this natural disaster. However, I am incredibly disheartened by the reports that have been emanating from the tsunami countries. While I agree with the UN's humanitarian co-ordination office that "the tyranny of rush: trying to get things done quickly can actually put us behind in the long run", the news that over 1,500 essential containers of humanitarian aid for victims in Indonesia—some of which have been there since January—are stranded at the region's main port by bureaucratic bungling and missing paperwork is, in itself, a tragedy.

A similar situation can be seen in Sri Lanka where a quarter of the aid shipped after the disaster is still sitting on the dockside at Colombo. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the reports mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. That is just a small part of what charities are describing as chaos, and goes some way to explaining why the pledged money received to date is apparently achieving so little in comparison to what could be done.

Admittedly, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, reminded us, the Asian Development Bank has spoken about a shortfall of $4 billion between pledges and moneys paid, calling for aid agencies and donor governments to improve coordination to avoid overlaps and duplications. In relation to this, can the Minister outline the plan for the release of the total funds and resources Her Majesty's Government have pledged in response to the tsunami?

However, there is a need to fight—or at least to try to limit—corruption and ensure that money is spent effectively. These latter issues are not ones that we in the West can organise for recipients. The recipient countries have to do more to help themselves if we are to see a return of momentum to this response.

Local chiefs have to be persuaded not to siphon off their own shares of the aid budget, or insist that aid agencies use certain suppliers. There is also a vital need to address the fundamental disconnection between bureaucrats and reality. In Sri Lanka, new homes have been held up by a decree forbidding any rebuilding within 100 yards of the coastline, as described by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I find it absurd that fishermen are being offered houses five miles inland.

My sources inform me that much of the new accommodation is in 1960s tower-block style, despite the problems that we have seen in our own country regarding the effects that these can have on communities and civil society. But perhaps the story of construction of temporary shelters in Sri Lanka provides the best insight into the failings of the relief operation. With your Lordships' patience I will outline the situation.

The temporary, single-room wooden huts with tin roofs, about the size of a garden shed, despite alleged consultation with those supposed to live in them are almost universally loathed. The tin roofs turn the huts into ovens by day and sieves by night. Yet the Government persisted, despite warnings from aid agency engineers that these problems would occur. An internal memo seen by the Daily Telegraph on 28 May—as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Eden of Winton—admits that many of the shelters are substandard and will have to be upgraded, doubling work and resources to be used on a project that should have been completed.

On top of this problem, many also complain that they have received only two out of five instalments of the monthly living allowance that the government promised them. In fact, it is my understanding that the majority of victims are still waiting for news of their entitlements as their cases are suspended due to the lack of relevant documents—documents, which, of course, were destroyed in the tsunami.

Can the Minister inform me what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to offer advice and to persuade the governments of the countries hit by the tsunami that they need to look to themselves as well as to the West and to reform their systems and methods of working to overcome what may become an impasse in the recovery of their increasingly frustrated and angry people?

Although this change is needed, we must not neglect the steps we can take. A report by an international team of researchers that was released at the start of this month highlights that significant human rights problems persist in areas affected by the tidal wave. Vulnerable groups, particularly women, children and migrants, are suffering from violence and exploitation. In Aceh, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka there is armed conflict. Children are forced to fight and people are living in fear. In Thailand, drought had led to a decline in agricultural production, which compounded the problems caused by the tidal wave. What is the Minister's response to the report? What steps are the Government planning to help to implement their recommendations for the protection of vulnerable groups, aid distribution and increased community participation?

I have painted a depressing picture. However, not all is doom and gloom. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Eden, smaller charities that do not seek publicity are doing great work. Charities such as the Saga Charitable Trust are having great success at grassroots level, while many larger charities are getting stuck in paperwork. Following a strategy of filling the gaps, the Saga Charitable Trust has been setting up special groups, such as sewing circles that it provided with sewing machines. Most recently, it set up a bakery. That is aid going directly to those who need it. Not only that, it is providing people with a means to provide for themselves and get back on their feet. I commend the work that Saga is doing with what is, in comparison, a small budget, and I hope that it is emulated by others.

The message that I am trying to get across is the age-old lesson that bears repeating in the run-up to the G8: no amount of aid is any good if it is not used efficiently and effectively. I repeat that to do that good governance, accountability and transparency are needed. While it is essential that donors honour the pledges they have made, and that we continue to look at the issue of trade, well-targeted, smaller amounts sometimes provide greater change for good, as in the work done by the Saga Charitable Trust, than large amounts of resources tied up in red tape.

It is also essential that developing countries as a whole start taking responsibility for their own actions and holding their neighbours to account. For example, what good is the NePAD peer review mechanism if the African members fail to use it against people such as Mugabe? We need to break the cycle of all talk and no action and stir the world, not the West, to give more and to change attitudes to trade. But developing countries must reform themselves if they are ever to stand on their own two feet.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour 5:33, 13 June 2005

My Lords, I add my thanks to those already offered to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for securing this important debate. Naturally, I share his desire to ensure that the Maldives and Sri Lanka, among other countries, get back on their feet as soon as possible. I endorse the thanks he gave to the NGOs he mentioned. I also join the tribute paid by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, to aid workers working in situations of conflict or areas of disaster. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I commend the work being undertaken by the Saga Charitable Trust. I fully agree with her comment that we must endorse and fulfil all the pledges made to people in those countries.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Giddens that, while Africa is of the utmost importance, we cannot, and must not, forget poor people in other parts of the world. Like him, I am glad that global poverty is at the top of the national and international agenda. I am sure that in this year, 2005, we will start to make a real difference in the world. Like the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, I am an optimist. I hope that, after the dreadful devastation of the tsunami, some good will come out of it and some lessons will be learnt.

As noble Lords said, an exceptional level of support has been given by governments, donors, NGOs and members of the public to the countries that suffered from the terrible devastation. But the overwhelming human and economic problems resulting from the tsunami will not be solved overnight. Delays are frustrating, but we must recognise that it will take many months and years for the reconstruction to be complete. That is not an excuse for delays, but it means that we must accept that delays will occur. The UK Government have committed £75 million towards immediate humanitarian aid, but, recognising the critical importance of longer-term reconstruction in the region affected by the tsunami, we have said that we will provide up to £65 million towards reconstruction.

The scale of the response to Indonesia was great and the immediate relief response was effective. However, the Indonesian Government have been slow to launch the reconstruction phase and, to date, it has been driven by the people of Aceh, with support from local and international NGOs and the UN. The government-run Aceh reconstruction and rehabilitation agency has just started work, so I hope that the pace of progress will now accelerate.

As many noble Lords said, Sri Lanka was particularly badly hit by the tsunami and more than 31,000 people were killed. The response to that country has been staggering, and more than $2.7 billion has been pledged by the international community. As a result, the initial reconstruction phase has been successful. For example, 1,600 homes have already been built and contracts have now been signed to reconstruct 163 of the 182 schools that were damaged or destroyed.

The Government of Sri Lanka have been working directly with donors to implement reconstruction programmes. However, as noble Lords said, assistance has been slow in northern areas controlled by the LTTE, because it is classified as a terrorist organisation and many donors are therefore unable to work with it. To try to get round that, the government are negotiating a joint mechanism with the LTTE so that donors can provide reconstruction assistance in the northern areas. In the mean time, many NGOs are working in the north so that some reconstruction is taking place.

Our humanitarian advisers in the country are monitoring the response and are confident that aid is getting through to those in need, but the Government agree that a resolution of the conflict is desirable. Indeed, it is an absolute necessity if Sri Lanka is to be a prosperous country that benefits the whole of its people.

As noble Lords said, there have been delays in the release of land for house reconstruction. The Sri Lankan Government have banned building within the buffer zone that stretches 100 kilometres from the coast. The difference between bureaucracy and the reality on the ground is indeed baffling.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour

My Lords, I think that the Minister meant to say 100 metres.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, my noble friend is quite correct. I meant 100 metres. I beg the House's pardon. One hundred kilometres would be obscene. One hundred metres is slightly obscene but not very obscene.

As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out so eloquently both today and last week in a Question to my noble friend the Leader of the House, people's livelihoods often depend upon where they live. It is clear that many displaced people are struggling to find places to build because they do not have land rights elsewhere. More information is also needed for the people affected. I am glad that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development is in Sri Lanka this week, and this is one of the issues he will be raising with the Government of Sri Lanka. He is also going to Indonesia to see what is happening on the ground, the effect of DfID spending, where problems lie and how they should be addressed.

I understand the many frustrations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Eden, on behalf of people working on the ground in Sri Lanka. I cannot comment at the moment on the allegation about the Sri Lankan Government swiping 15 per cent of the budget, but I shall ensure that the allegation is looked into. I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library. The noble Lord asked that representations should be made to the government of Sri Lanka. I am sure that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will do so this week.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to advise governments to help them improve governance. There are various programmes. The Government are working very hard to build administrative capacity with the governments of the countries which were hit by the tsunami as well as governments who are in conflicts or in developing parts of the world.

I turn to the Maldives. Although the death toll was lower in the Maldives than in other affected Asian countries, more than one-third of the population were severely affected and 10 per cent of the islands were totally destroyed. Despite the extensive destruction, the government of the Maldives responded quickly and immediate relief programmes have been implemented. The government of the Maldives have launched, and are making good progress with, a national recovery and reconstruction plan designed to rebuild damaged infrastructure and restore livelihoods.

On tourism, I am glad to say that the government of the Maldives say that the hotel occupancy is increasing, and they are keen to increase that.

I understand the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, to ensure that adequate money for reconstruction is available in the Maldives. However, it seems that, notwithstanding the devastation wreaked by the tsunami, the Maldives will remain a middle income country. Therefore, further relief will not be possible.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, can I urge that a Minister finds time to go to the Maldives? If he does, he will find that at least one-third of those islands are every bit as poor, if not poorer, than the vast bulk of Sri Lanka, which I know equally well. Therefore, the categorisation needs to be looked at again, particularly in relation to our EU presidency.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, I well understand the noble Lord's very good point that somebody on the ground should look at the situation to ensure that the categorisation is still correct. I shall certainly feed through that point.

The noble Lord makes an interesting suggestion in relation to JCBs. I shall also follow up that very practical suggestion.

I turn to monitoring and evaluation. To ensure that UK Government funds are spent effectively in the region, DfID humanitarian advisers are going on a series of monitoring missions to affected countries during June and July to evaluate the support provided with those funds. My noble friend Lord Giddens was right to emphasise the need to ensure that there is no gap between pledged aid and aid which is delivered.

I noted all the points raised by my noble friend Lord Giddens in relation to natural disasters and economic disasters which could result from globalisation. I shall undertake to follow up his points.

My noble friend also stressed the importance of global risks. It is clear that natural disasters have a disproportionate and catastrophic effect on poor people. That is one of the reasons that the Government have been investigating the issue. As my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton pointed out, some lessons have been learnt about natural disasters, but more needs to be done throughout government and current methods need to be improved. I trust that the Government will be able to assist with the training he suggests so that scientists and technicians have all the necessary skills.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, £66 million out of the £75 million for humanitarian aid has been programmed through UN agencies, NGOs and DfID direct action. We are considering disaster risk reduction for the remainder of the money. As I mentioned, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is visiting the region this week. He will make decisions on future spending when there.

I was very struck by the noble Baroness's point about the aid that was left in containers and not properly dealt with. I am told by my colleagues in the department that the international response to the tsunami was unprecedented, as we all know, and that that presented logistical challenges in particular. Therefore, it was necessary for the relief agencies and the affected governments to prioritise the items that were distributed, and I can only presume that whatever was in the containers was not a priority for the governments. I am sorry about that.

To conclude, the exceptionally generous response following the Asian tsunami has meant that the initial humanitarian relief effort in all the affected countries has been successful. Any potential further consequences of the disaster, such as major outbreaks of disease, have been prevented. We are committed to playing our full part in helping to meet these exceptional needs. But six months is a very short time and the challenges of reconstruction are still enormous.

It is of course absolutely right, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said, that we should continue to monitor the situation. I welcome his suggestion that there should be a follow-up debate in six months' time. I have no doubt that in the mean time noble Lords will continue properly to question the Government on the issue, which has such a profound effect on the people whose lives and livelihoods were shattered by the Asian earthquake and resulting tsunami.

Where I have not responded to questions from noble Lords, I shall do so in writing.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes before six o'clock.