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Pakistan

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

4. If he will make a statement on international co-operation in providing humanitarian relief to those affected by the earthquake in Pakistan. (96573)

6. What ongoing assistance his Department is providing to people affected by the earthquake in Kashmir. (96575)

In addition to £55 million for the immediate relief effort, we have committed £70 million to help with reconstruction and rehabilitation; and £5 million has already been spent, for example, on reconstructing bridges, training teachers and mental health services. Two weeks ago, I confirmed that we were releasing a further £44 million of that money.

Order. Before the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) asks his question, I urge those who are not listening to these questions to be quiet. We are dealing with an important matter and the noise is unfair to hon. Members who are participating.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I pay tribute to the Department’s efforts to support the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan, but there are bound to be future disasters on the same scale, so will my hon. Friend tell the House how the Department is galvanising international support in case of future disasters so that action can be immediate and responsive?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the need to ensure that the international community is well placed to respond to the needs of every disaster and emergency situation. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has led a campaign over the past 15 months to ensure that there is an international humanitarian fund that is well resourced so that the Secretary-General can deploy the money when he needs to. So far, $270 million is in the fund and there will be a replenishment conference in December when we hope to get closer to the ultimate target of $500 million.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating British Kashmiris in my constituency who, following the earthquake, operated under the banner of “Burnley for Kashmir” and raised enough cash to build 10 permanent shelters around Khoria Channa and a van to help the relief effort in Muzaffarabad? What estimates has his Department made of the total value of private donations to help earthquake victims in Kashmir?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents for their fund-raising efforts to help the victims of the earthquake. I know that constituents in other areas, including some from my own constituency, have also put considerable effort into fundraising. I also pay tribute to those constituents’ continuing advocacy for the victims of the earthquake—doing more for them and not walking away. We need to recognise that the reconstruction effort will take a long time—not just the 12 months to date, but perhaps as long as three to five years. We are determined to stay the course and we are continuing to monitor plans for the winter period to ensure that people—those still living in tents as well as those in transitional shelters—have the support that they need.

Oxfam has estimated that about 80 per cent. of the surviving families are still living in temporary shelters. Can the Minister tell us what action is being taken by the Department to improve that situation?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the work of Oxfam in highlighting the need to accelerate the reconstruction effort. As I indicated in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin), a proper plan, initiated by the Government of Pakistan, is in place and is being co-ordinated with UN organisations and non-governmental organisations to make sure that the 30,000 to 35,000 people still living in tents over the winter period have the support they need. Some of the money that we released as recently as two weeks ago will help to accelerate the reconstruction effort. We need to do more, and quickly, to get more permanent houses built, to accelerate the road reconstruction process and to get more schools and hospitals built. Our money will help to do just that.

Following the earthquake in which 73,000 people died, many millions of pounds were raised by Pakistani communities throughout the country. What information can DFID make available to those communities to maximise the impact of their funds and to co-ordinate their efforts?

The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the contribution of Pakistani communities, and I am sure that he will acknowledge that many others also contributed to fund-raising efforts. In the wake of the tsunami, the Department published a booklet setting out how people who want to contribute following a disaster or some other humanitarian emergency can best do so. I am happy to make copies of the publication available to the hon. Gentleman if his constituents want access to that information.

I thank my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for all the investment that has gone to the earthquake relief fund. A considerable amount has been done by the UK Government, but will my hon. Friend join me in putting further pressure on the Government and the organising committees in Kashmir—especially ERRA, the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, and SERRA, the State Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority—to make sure that people exposed to the forthcoming harsh winter are looked after quickly? They need protection now, while the overall construction is taking place.

I assure my hon. Friend that we will do just that. We are working extremely closely with the earthquake reconstruction authority and are closely monitoring the winter plan, which is in place, as I indicated, and is being co-ordinated with the United Nations and non-governmental organisations. We will seek to make sure that our staff based in Islamabad following the earthquake continue to monitor the winter plan extremely carefully. Some of the money that we have released will help to make sure that the winter plans that are in place are delivered to the vulnerable people who are still living in tents and to others, too.