South Asia Earthquake

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 24th May 2006.

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Photo of Lord Ahmed Lord Ahmed Labour 3:00 pm, 24th May 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What financial and logistical support they have provided to the Government of Pakistan in response to the recent earthquake in Kashmir and north Pakistan.

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 United Kingdom has pledged £129 million for relief and reconstruction activities in Pakistan following the earthquake. The UK Government provided direct support to the relief effort led by the Government of Pakistan and channelled funds through UN agencies and NGOs. We flew out 86 search and rescue experts and funded over 70 relief flights, three Chinook helicopters and a Royal Engineers squadron. We have already provided £5 million for health, education and infrastructure reconstruction, and a further £65 million is committed.

Photo of Lord Ahmed Lord Ahmed Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. On behalf of the British Kashmiri and Pakistani community, I take the opportunity to thank the British fire and rescue teams. I also thank the British Army and pilots for delivering the tents, blankets and medicines that were needed; the Department for International Development, the DEC and the British public for their support; and the British doctors. Will Her Majesty's Government consider giving the £70 million committed through the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority as a budgetary grant, rather than assistance over the long term?

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 thank my noble friend for his support for our efforts and those of other organisations. We will try to ensure that the funds that we have committed are spent in accordance with the Government of Pakistan's priorities. We are looking at whether those funds can be channelled through budgetary support—that would be the most effective way of ensuring that they are spent in accordance with the Government of Pakistan's priorities—but we have not yet made that decision.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Shadow Minister, International Development

My Lords, following the warnings from Human Rights Watch of the possibility of a return to massive sectarian violence in Gujarat and Kashmir, what representations have Her Majesty's Government made to the Indian Government, the state governments of Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistani Government to take all steps possible to protect religious minorities in the two regions, especially in light of the past failures of these authorities to identify and prosecute those who plan and execute such attacks?

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 issues of human rights violations and abuses and the importance of protecting religious minorities are raised constantly as part of our ongoing dialogue with the Indian and Pakistani Governments.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords—

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

My Lords, I acknowledge the generosity of the British Government, but will the Minister consider reallocating the £70 million that, she has said, is due to be given to ERRA directly to the agencies, in view of the widespread allegations of incompetence and bureaucracy in that organisation, particularly the 30,000 dud cheques that it passed off on the people who became homeless and were expecting £250 each to reconstruct their dwellings? Will she also consider that, in any reconstruction programme, the money should be channelled directly to villagers so they can decide, in collaboration with aid agencies, what sort of dwellings they should construct, rather than having to stick to ERRA's designs?

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 provided technical support to ERRA to help it to draw up a master plan for the overall reconstruction programme. Its responsibility is to co-ordinate and monitor at the federal, provincial and district levels. If reconstruction efforts are to mean anything in Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan have to be at the centre of those efforts. We will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that the issues of corruption, which the noble Lord has raised, are tackled at a very early stage. The noble Lord may be aware that the Government of Pakistan have their own anti-corruption programme, which has delivered some success in the short term, and we want to see greater success in the longer term.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the meeting between the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prime Minister of Pakistan in March this year to discuss the contribution made by Christian minorities in that country to earthquake relief? Furthermore, is she aware of the very positive effects of UK governmental aid and charitable support for earthquake relief on interfaith relations in the region and in this country?

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 aware of the discussions and of the enormous effort that UK Churches have put into working in an interfaith capacity. That work is very important in building greater trust on the ground, and we shall continue to support it.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many front-line aid workers are saying that credit should be given to the Pakistan army for the part that it played in the relief? Is she also aware that they are emphasising that the fact that we came through without disease on the scale that had been feared was partly due to the mild winter and that a mild winter cannot be expected this year as well? If that is the case, we have only two months in which to tackle convincingly the reconstruction programme by providing housing that is both earthquake-proof and weather-proof.

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 aware that a number of organisations have been complimentary about the efforts that the Pakistan military has made, particularly in handling some of the logistical difficulties that arose. The reconstruction efforts are likely to take some three to four years. The urgent thing to tackle between now and the onset of winter is the situation of the 50,000 people who still have not been able to go back to their village because of the nature of the disaster. We will need to ensure that semi-permanent camps are produced between now and the onset of winter so that they are sheltered.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, are British helicopters still working in the earthquake area? Without them it will be virtually impossible to get medical relief to those who need it.

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 believe that helicopters were last used in early May, but if I am wrong about that I will write to the noble Lord.