Chile: Earthquake — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 16th March 2010.

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Photo of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Crossbench 3:00 pm, 16th March 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to aid Chile following the recent earthquake there.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have provided the following aid in response to requests for assistance from the Chilean Government: £250,000 on 1 March to the Chilean Red Cross to deliver immediate water, sanitation and shelter emergency relief on the ground; and 600 tents by Ministry of Defence flight to Concepción for distribution by the relief agency World Vision to people left homeless by the earthquake.

Photo of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Crossbench

My Lords, that is extremely encouraging and very generous so far, but is the noble Lord aware that President Sebastián Piñera, the new president of Chile who took office last Thursday, has appointed a committee to study what will be required to achieve an orderly reconstruction process in Chile, which is a highly organised country? Will he therefore ensure that his department keeps in close touch with the Chilean embassy in London in order to find out exactly what will be required and when?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I appreciate the noble Viscount's Question. He is a great friend of and expert on Chile. We received the request from the Chilean ambassador and looked at the areas where we could offer assistance most effectively-as opposed to other areas where it would come more quickly from regional partners-and at our understanding of the humanitarian need; hence the items that we chose. We will, of course, look at any list provided by the new presidential committee to see whether there are other areas where we can give humanitarian aid and immediate assistance. In the long term, reconstruction is thought to be within Chile's own ability as it is a relatively wealthy country in Latin American terms. The new president has already announced that he expects reconstruction to be borne by the Chilean economy.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Is the Minister aware that what the Government have done so far is most welcome, but should we not have learnt from the experience of the tsunami when the United Kingdom contributed Bailey bridges and enormous help, particularly to the charitable sector, to rebuild houses and replace fishing boats? Should we not be sharing that experience with the incoming Chilean Government, particularly as regards Bailey bridges which are relevant in Chile and would provide that extra help?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

I appreciate the noble Lord's sentiments about the United Kingdom Government's endeavours in this area. Bailey bridges are available within Chile. I am sure that the expertise that we have in their construction in an emergency could be made available if that were requested by the Chilean authorities. There is no good news in a national disaster. However, compared to Haiti, where 230,000 people have lost their lives, the Chilean death toll is 500. That is helped by the fact that the detonation was at a much greater depth and therefore caused less damage, although it was larger on the Richter scale. Chilean society is more robust in the buildings in which people live and the civil defence and other emergency services; hence it has emerged from this with much less trauma and devastation than Haiti.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench

Given the expertise of the British search and rescue teams that have to go into an area very rapidly, are the Government part of any international initiative to try to decrease bureaucratic delays when earthquakes occur in at-risk countries in earthquake zones? We saw delays occur in Haiti, where some lives could have been saved if our own teams had been able to get in more quickly.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the UK Government put a search and rescue team on standby, but it was not required to go to Chile, as I have said, because of the enhanced nature of that country's civil defence and other mechanisms. However, the noble Baroness makes a good point; it is essential for those countries which live on earthquake fault lines to recognise, when these situations occur, that search and rescue is the most essential and immediate requirement. It may well be that the advice to Governments such as Chile and others is to make sure that they have search and rescue teams in place.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Spokesperson for Women and Equality

My Lords, to what extent has there been a restoration of water supplies, a rebuilding of temporary shelters and so on in the weeks since the earthquake? Does he agree that Chile's ability to cope with emergencies is highly developed? Did the Chileans have any special needs which the British Government have been able to supply?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

The most immediate response was of course that of Shelter, whereby we were able to dispatch 600 tents by RAF flight. The Americans, for example, were able immediately to provide a substantial number of satellite cell phones. That is the kind of immediate external help that Chile requires. Beyond that, I am sure that the new president-and we wish him well-who faces enormous tasks in reconstruction, is confident that he has both the resources and expertise within his own nation to do much of that. But of course, as Europeans, as Brits, and as part of the nation of humanity within the United Nations and beyond, we will offer such assistance as we can and as is appropriate.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings - Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for International Development), Shadow Minister, - Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister

My Lords, as the Minister knows, Chile is highly vulnerable to earthquakes as it is situated on the Pacific ring of fire on the edge of the Pacific and South American plates. The Chilean Red Cross has responded quickly and efficiently. What further support are Her Majesty's Government giving to the Chilean Government, even though they are very well organised, to help particularly the poorer areas and to develop better earthquake resistance?

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip

Our endeavours at the moment and those of the Chilean Government are, first, to get people back into shelter, and to reconstruct and rebuild people's lives that have been shattered by this experience; and secondly, to learn the lessons and to seek to avoid such things in the future. In addition to immediate UK aid, some €3 million is being provided by the European Commission for further assistance, and pledges of some $29 million have been given via the United Nations-$10 million has been provided from the Central Emergency Response Fund. The UK contribution to CERF is 16 per cent or $1.6 million, so I think that we are doing all we can. However, it is for the world to learn, not just from this disaster but from the disaster of the tsunami in south-east Asia and from the experience in Haiti, that we have to do better. That is where the United Nations has a responsibility; its specialised agencies need to co-ordinate better, not only in the aftermath of these natural disasters but, by greater endeavour, to prevent them or to recognise as early as possible that they are going to happen and to respond more effectively.