South Asia Earthquake

– in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 12 October 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, following news of the South Asia earthquake, the Department for International Development immediately mobilised its emergency response system. In answer to a specific request from the government of Pakistan, search and rescue teams were sent to the affected areas. We have also sent a range of material assistance and are continuing to provide further help.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Spokesperson in the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Africa), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Civil Liberties), Home Affairs

My Lords, may we extend our deepest condolences to the people of Kashmir on this appalling disaster which has cost the lives of perhaps 40,000 people and rendered several hundred thousand homeless and destitute? Since we have DFID officials on the ground co-ordinating relief efforts by the European Union, may I ask the Minister if we are now in a position to reassess our estimate of the scale of help which is needed and to upgrade the help which has already been given, for which we are most grateful to her and to the Secretary of State for International Development?

Is the Minister satisfied that help is now reaching the people who are out in the open air, in freezing temperatures—not just in Muzaffarabad and Rawalakot, but also in areas such as Bagh, the Neelam Valley and the villages which seem not to have been reached by many of the aid agencies?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in endorsing the initial comments by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. With respect to whether or not aid is reaching everyone who needs it, there is undoubtedly a problem with infrastructure in some of the most remote areas. The reason that aid has managed to reach Muzaffarabad is because the Pakistan army repaired the road to enable that aid to get through.

We are doing all that we can. The United States for example has provided some helicopters and we are seeking to do the same to enable food lift into those areas where going by road is extraordinarily difficult. It would be wrong of me to assure the House that we have managed to reach all of those areas; there are still remote areas that we are trying to reach with the UN.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Spokespersons In the Lords, International Development

My Lords, I would like to extend our condolences from these Benches too and would like to congratulate the Secretary of State and DfID with the non-governmental organisations on their rapid response in sending assistance to Pakistan. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that money sent will be invested in long-term prevention programmes, such as proper housing and emergency planning?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that there are always two phases to these operations. One is the immediate emergency need; the second phase is the longer term rehabilitation and reconstruction. In our longer term rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes we seek to ensure that a proportion of those programmes goes towards disaster management in areas such as this?

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the ways in which individual citizens can help with this is through the DEC appeal and that that has a very honourable record of ensuring that resources get very quickly to where they are needed? Would she further accept that from a political level, in an area of the world which is marked by huge poverty and very derelict infrastructure, there is an urgent need to press upon the parties to find peace in Kashmir?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I entirely endorse the comments of the right reverend Prelate, and that is precisely why we have supported the moves by the Indian and Pakistani Governments with respect to moving towards long-term sustainable peace.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that not only was the UK the first government in the world to offer help after this awful disaster, but that they have collaborated in a most co-operative way with the aid agencies—for instance, paying for the transport of 800 tents for Oxfam and 19,000 blankets for Islamic Relief?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The first search and rescue team came from the United Kingdom. We have also undertaken to pay for the transport of NGOs. It is also important to remember that this is a co-ordinated effort, with governments, the UN, the European Union and NGOs working together. We have had to learn serious lessons from the tsunami disaster, when co-ordination was not as good as it should have been, and we are trying to put them into practice in our response to this disaster.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating especially the Disasters Emergencies Committee, which has achieved an exceptionally rapid result in its co-operation with the media this time. There is a lot of concern about the individuals going out to Pakistan, many from the Kashmiri community here, and what happens when they arrive. Is the department particularly concerned about those groups of people, and what sort of guidance is she offering?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, this is an effort across government. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office sent out a consular team on the very first flight. Not only are we supporting British citizens visiting Pakistan but the British High Commission in Islamabad has established a desk at the airport to support those travelling out from the UK to look for, or support, relatives affected by the disaster.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Spokespersons In the Lords, Wales

My Lords, in view of the frequency of such disasters, do the Government have any plans to enhance their reserves to deal with such calamities?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the funding comes from different places, so to date we have never had a problem in our immediate emergency response. If over time there seemed to be a problem, I am sure that we would revisit this.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Spokesperson in the Lords (Communities & Local Government), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that not only will the disaster affect Pakistani Kashmir in the here and now, but that it will have an impact in the future because a generation has been wiped out, affecting the number of teachers, medics and many other people whom Pakistan will need. Will the Government take a positive and sympathetic approach to long-term aid requirements, particularly in human development and infrastructure?

Photo of Lord Weatherill Lord Weatherill Crossbench

My Lords, I think that I may be one of the few Members of your Lordships' House to have visited the part of Pakistan affected. The infrastructure, as the House well knows, is very difficult indeed. Is the Minister prepared from the Dispatch Box to applaud the mosques of the United Kingdom, which have been so generous in sending aid and people to Pakistan at this time, notably in my former constituency of Croydon?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, we must applaud the efforts of all who have contributed not only to the DEC but to individual NGOs, and that includes the Pakistani and Indian communities in the United Kingdom.