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Burma: Storms

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what discussions he has had with his ASEAN counterparts on the humanitarian response to the situation in Burma. (204758)

Since the outset of the humanitarian crisis in Burma, the UK has engaged in intensive diplomatic exchanges with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries. In the weeks following the cyclone I have both spoken to and met with ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan several times, and the Foreign Secretary liaised closely with his counterparts in the ASEAN region, speaking with his Malaysian, Thai, Indonesian and Singaporean counterparts. Lord Malloch-Brown and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) pressed the need for access during their visit to the region on 17 May 2008. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs spoke with her Vietnamese counterpart and has raised the issue with the Governments of Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines directly. In addition, all our embassies across South East Asia have been stressing the need for a concerted international humanitarian response to the crisis in their contacts with host Governments.

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps his Department has taken to ensure that aid for those affected by the Burmese cyclone has reached the most severely affected areas; and if he will make a statement. (211180)

The main objective of the multi-agency humanitarian effort in response to Cyclone Nargis is to reach all affected populations as quickly as possible. The aid operation is scaling-up all the time. The UK is delivering its aid through United Nations, non-governmental organisation (NGO) and Red Cross partners, who have expanding coverage in the affected areas. More than £10 million of UK funds have been allocated to NGOs. They are working closely with local authorities to identify the worst affected populations and to reach them with clean fresh drinking water, sanitation facilities, basic health care and emergency shelter and agricultural assistance in the Delta.

The UK has given £5 million to the United Nations for their logistics operation to ensure that the UN has adequate helicopters, boats, ships and trucks to transport aid into and around Burma, to the most hard-hit areas of the country. Additionally we have directly provided 14 flat-bottomed boats which are operating to good effect to deliver supplies to remote parts of the Delta.

The UK is also working closely with the UN and ASEAN countries to press the Burmese Government to open better access to the Delta. Whilst access is still not good enough, increasing numbers of international staff and assistance are beginning to reach those in the worst affected areas. Progress however remains fragile and could be reversed.