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Disaster Relief

Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 14 June 2006

6. what progress has been made in establishing a world fund to provide rapid aid and relief at times of major disaster. (77024)

The Central Emergency Response Fund was launched on 9 March 2006. It is now helping UN humanitarian agencies to respond immediately to sudden disasters and to increase activity in underfunded emergencies. So far, CERF has committed $92 million to a number of humanitarian crises, the largest being the Horn of Africa, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In total, 43 donors have contributed $262 million, and the UK has been the largest contributor.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to the implementation of a world fund, which can be used wherever disasters take place. What long-term funding have the Government provided? And how can we ensure that other partners which are as wealthy as, if not more wealthy than, this country are making long-term contributions?

My hon. Friend is right. Having established the fund, we will need it every year, because disasters strike every year. At a Red Cross event last week, I announced that over the next three years Britain will contribute £40 million, £40 million and £40 million—£120 million over three years. I intend to talk to our partner countries and say, “Britain is prepared to make a long-term commitment to the fund. Are you?”

Although I agree with the Secretary of State that the fund is welcome and important, we need more effective co-ordination. Does he acknowledge the concern that the more co-ordination there is at international level, the harder it is for smaller, locally based NGOs and charities in countries affected to access funds? Will he use his good offices to ensure that such bodies are included in what is a worldwide response?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point. In truth, about 60 per cent. of the funding that comes through the UN system for humanitarian relief ends up in the hands of NGOs, which do the work on the ground. Jan Egeland is conscious that he should be able to take quick decisions on spending money from CERF. I praise him and his team for their work, because such money gets down to NGOs, which deliver increasing amounts of humanitarian assistance when crises strike. I hope that we have got the right mechanisms in place to ensure that there is proper debate and dialogue between the NGO community and the UN system, because we are all in it together in trying to provide assistance when crises strike.

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that at a time of crisis the aid that is provided, including the United Kingdom aid, goes to those who are most in need?

I can indeed offer the hon. Gentleman that assurance. That is precisely why we give the assistance. Most recently, when the earthquake struck in Indonesia on the island of Java, Britain contributed £5 million—£3 million to UN, £1 million to the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, and £1 million to NGOs that are delivering help on the ground. In those circumstances, the world demonstrated its capacity to respond quickly to give very practical help—shelter, blankets, bedding, medical supplies, water, sanitation and food—because that is what people need when they have lost everything.