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Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 4 December 2013

3. What recent progress has been made on the relief operation in the Philippines. 5. What recent steps the UK has taken to send aid to the Philippines. (901420)

The UK has committed more than £50 million in support to victims of Typhoon Haiyan, helping to get shelter, clean water and emergency supplies to up to 800,000 people. The UK is also expanding the international effort through the deployment of HMS Illustrious, carrying aid and medical assistance to remote communities.

I am sure that Members across the House can be proud of the UK’s contribution to the relief effort in the Philippines. Alongside the UK Government, UK charities are also playing an enormously important role. Would my right hon. Friend commend the efforts of small local UK charities such as New Hope in my constituency, which has donated all the proceeds of its Christmas party to the typhoon appeal?

I certainly would. The generosity of the UK public has been astounding. I am particularly touched by small local charities such as New Hope in Worcester that have shown their support to those affected by the devastating typhoon.

More than £13 million has been donated by the British public, who have once more demonstrated that we are a small nation with a very big heart. Will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising the extraordinary compassion of this country?

I certainly will. I think that to date the Philippines public appeal has raised well over £65 million, which shows that the British public are incredibly generous in reaching out to people who have been affected by disaster. That generosity is appreciated by people in the Philippines, and when I visited the Philippines its Foreign Minister underlined his heartfelt support to the British people.

Like Worcester’s New Hope, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), the Filipino Association in Hampshire is also making this year’s festive party a fundraiser to send money back home. What is the Department doing to help developing countries build resilience to natural disasters?

We had already commenced work with the Government of the Philippines, in particular, on disaster resilience. For some time now, the country has done work in preparing itself to cope with these natural disasters, because it is in a part of the world that is particularly prone to them. The size of the typhoon would clearly pose challenges for any country, however prepared it was. There are still lessons to be learned about better preparation, not only at national level but at local level too.

The transition from temporary shelter to permanent, well-built, robust homes can take time and cause hardship, so what is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that the process is completed as quickly and as efficiently as possible?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. It may be some time before homes that are able to withstand such natural disasters are built. In the meantime, the United Nations, working alongside the Government of the Philippines, is co-ordinating an effort to make sure that we can provide shelter for people who need it. I should also say to him, as I have been clear with the House, that this is a real challenge because many of those people live in incredibly remote communities.

May I begin, Mr Speaker, by conveying the apologies of the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), who, as he has already informed you, is in the Philippines today? The Government have rightly activated the rapid response facility to commit funding to organisations working to help the population of the Philippines. It is now the 26th day since the typhoon hit, so what proportion of this funding has already been paid out?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we allocated £8 million to a variety of UK non-governmental organisations who, as part of the facility, quickly responded with what they felt was needed. We have allocated all the money that they have requested so far. Clearly, they will then go through the process of making sure that the supplies that the money purchases get out to people on the ground. At this point, I would expect and anticipate that those supplies are largely there. In fact, as he will also be aware, we have since sent many other cargo flights of supplies which have superseded them.

Turning to another issue related to the Philippines, alarmingly the United Nations has predicted a spike in the trafficking of women and girls for sex in the areas heaviest hit, fuelled by the inevitable collapse of civic society and the widespread displacement of people following a disaster of this magnitude. What is the Secretary of State doing to protect the 65,000 women at risk of sexual abuse?

First, we are highlighting the risks to women and girls in emergencies, which is why I held an international call to action summit the very week, as it turned out, that Typhoon Haiyan hit. In respect of the particular crisis mentioned, we have sent two of our specialist humanitarian experts who are particularly specialist in this area to work with the UN and the clusters that are providing support on the ground, to ensure that not only direct, but indirect support is provided across all the work that happens.

Given the call on British development funds from the Philippines and the Central African Republic, and following the outfall from the conflict in Syria, how will the Department budget for what are, by definition, unpredictable disasters, given that it has now reached its budget ceiling?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to reflect on the number of different parts of the world facing crises of one form or another that the Department for International Development is trying to play a role in assisting. As he will know, that is just part of the uncertainties we have to deal with as a Department. We have a budget set aside for humanitarian response, and ultimately it is a flexible budget. As the right hon. Gentleman will have seen over recent days, we announced additional support for the Central African Republic, because we felt it was appropriate.

Will the Secretary of State continue to encourage DFID to work with organisations at a national level so that they can benefit from local knowledge and expertise, both in this period of reconstruction and—I am sad to say—in the event of a reoccurrence?

That is a very important point. To return to the earlier question about protecting women and girls in emergencies, working with local, community-based organisations can be the most effective way of reaching into communities and getting support to them quickly. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue, and that is one of the things we look to do.