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Humanitarian Assistance (Pakistan)

Volume 494: debated on Wednesday 24 June 2009

3. What assistance his Department has provided to improve the humanitarian situation in north-west Pakistan in the last 12 months. (281794)

7. What steps his Department is taking with international partners to ensure the direct delivery of aid to internally displaced persons in the autonomous tribal areas of northern Pakistan. (281798)

My Department has made available £22 million for humanitarian assistance in Pakistan, which is helping those displaced by conflict in the federally administered tribal areas as well as those displaced in North West Frontier province. With our international partners, we are ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it most through established co-ordination mechanisms for allocating finance, clear funding criteria and careful monitoring.

For months, the international community has been urging Pakistan to act against the Taliban in the north-west territories. Millions of people have paid the price with death, destruction and internal displacement. Given the number of people living with host communities, what support can DFID provide in the circumstances?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the fact that an estimated 2.4 million people have been displaced as a result of the conflict, the vast majority of whom are living in host communities. To ensure that aid gets to those living in host communities, we have helped to establish 34 separate aid stations to enable the fair distribution of aid.

In view of the importance of security in northern Pakistan to NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan, does the Minister share my concern that the aid agencies and NGOs are clearly underfunded? Can we give some thought to ensuring that proper resources are made available?

My right hon. Friend has a long and distinguished record of interest in development. The Pakistan humanitarian response plan is 35 per cent. funded and the International Committee of the Red Cross appeal is 59 per cent. funded, but it is clear that more could and should be done. We are actively lobbying with other countries, including the Government of Pakistan, to do more.

A group of international aid agencies reckons it has a deficit of about £22.5 million in dealing with the humanitarian consequences of conflict in the Swat valley. Within that, World Vision—a charity with which you, Mr. Speaker, and I have a particular connection—reports a deficit of about £7.5 million. Is there anything that the Minister and the Department can do directly to be involved with that group of charities and the problems it faces in the Swat valley?

The UK’s bilateral contribution of £22 million is the second largest made by any nation to deal with the humanitarian crisis. On the specific lobbying on behalf of World Vision, I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and to talk to my officials to see what we can do to help him.

Aid to this region is enormously important not only from a humanitarian perspective, but politically, considering the circumstances. How is the Department dealing with the difficult challenge of the tribal regions and the fact that a lot of the region is still controlled by the Taliban, particularly the Swat valley?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the difficulties in providing aid, especially in the front-line areas. To be honest, we have no real assessment of the number of people who have been displaced and are still beyond the front line. Our difficulty is enabling safe access to those areas for our aid workers.

Pakistan is different: the humanitarian situation requires help in its own right, but that country is also a vital strategic ally of this country. Will the Government put pressure on the rest of the EU to take on its own share of funding the humanitarian assistance? Frankly, our European allies are not doing enough.

My hon. Friend will be interested to know that just last week—at the Europe-Pakistan summit, on 17 June—the European Commission made an additional pledge of some €65 million to deal with the issue he raises.

A few moments ago, the Minister acknowledged that British NGOs face a serious funding shortfall in Pakistan, but, with the monsoon season approaching, 45 per cent. of the money that his Department has announced remains unallocated to specific projects. Can he simply reassure the House that there is a plan and explain exactly where that money will be spent?

I can indeed give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I can also tell him that where concerns have been expressed about the speed at which aid through the UN has been allocated, we have taken the exceptional decision to fund NGOs directly to speed up the process of getting aid to those people in need.