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Middle East: Armed Conflict

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development pursuant to the answer of 5 January 2010, Official Report, column 201W, on the “Middle East: armed conflict”, what steps are being taken to remove white phosphorus contamination from rubble in Gaza; how many sites have been found to be contaminated; what timetable is envisaged for decontamination; and what assessment has been made of the risk to public health arising from such contamination. (311486)

Following the end of the conflict the UN Mine Action Team (UNMAT) carried out an unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance operation and any white phosphorus (WP) rounds that were found, whether leaking or intact, were removed and neutralised. During this initial phase UNMAT assisted in the destruction of over 100 WP rounds. UNMAT has also removed and neutralized 53 WP rounds found in further clearance operations carried out since July 2009.

Currently, the UN does not know of any contaminated sites where WP remains. However, there may be a residual risk in buildings and areas yet to be cleared. The removal of UXO and explosive remnants of war (ERW) from rubble and agricultural areas will continue until July 2010.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is unaware of any assessments of the risk to public health arising from WP contamination. However, UNMAT notes that exposed WP normally burns immediately, leaving remnants which pose a limited risk. Unexposed WP is safe until it is discovered or exposed to air. If WP is exposed during clearance, UNMAT is ready to deal with the situation immediately.

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development pursuant to the answer of 5 January 2010, Official Report, column 256W, on the “Middle East: armed conflict”, what arrangements his Department has made to meet the housing needs of the 60,000 families identified as being in need; and if he will make a statement. (311487)

The Department for International Development (DFID) supported the provision of basic shelter by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. The Prime Minister, other UK Ministers and officials have repeatedly pressed the Government of Israel to permit the import of materials for the reconstruction of homes and other buildings.

We are pleased that Israel has now allowed some glass to enter, but we will continue to advocate on this issue. We are also following with interest the UNRWA pilot project to build three houses using locally-manufactured compressed earth bricks, made from locally sourced materials such as sub-soil and aggregates.