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Central America

Volume 534: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2011

1. What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in central America; and if he will make a statement. (76677)

First, on behalf all right hon. and hon. Members, may I express our sympathy, concern and deep condolences to the people of central America who are affected by the floods, especially those who have lost loved ones and their homes? The hon. Lady will have noted the statements made on 14 and 20 October by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne). We have made an assessment of need, and currently we judge that the Governments and national relief agencies of those countries, supported by neighbouring countries such as the United States, and agencies such as the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross, are responding well and providing sufficient essential humanitarian aid.

I appreciate that the Department for International Development is not involved in central America, but it is the best agency in the world for delivering disaster relief, as has been shown in places such as Pakistan. May I therefore urge the Minister to keep a close eye on the situation? Will he be ready to respond if our services—not just funding, but expertise—are called on?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for noting the technical expertise of the UK response and the Department. Of course, with official advice, we are keeping very close track of the situation, and we will take the necessary steps as called upon. However, our attribution through the multilateral agencies that we fund is clearly playing its part. Therefore, the UK taxpayer is indeed supporting the relief effort in that part of the world.

May I thank the Secretary of State for his excellent recent meeting with central American ambassadors, including the high commissioner of Belize? Will the Minister confirm that the Government will work more closely with the countries of central America—an important part of the world with which we have a lot in common, and with which we should co-operate more closely?

I am delighted to note that excellent meeting—the Secretary of State found it extremely enjoyable and helpful. Those many nations and our country are working to strengthen and develop our relationships, particularly on climate change and trade.

The people of the UK are very generous, but it is estimated that some 30% of humanitarian aid is removed at the harbour at which it arrives. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will have discussions with the countries that receive humanitarian aid to ensure that all of it gets to the people for whom it is intended?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about ensuring that the money reaches the destination and serves the purpose for which it is intended. That is absolutely central to the redirection of the Department for International Development’s aid effort in the past year. We are ensuring that we align every effort to results, to ensure that the money reaches the purposes intended.