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Haiti: Earthquake

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 4 February 2010


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Douglas Alexander) has made the following Statement.

Three weeks have now passed since an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 struck Haiti. The Government of Haiti have confirmed 112,000 bodies recovered from the rubble in and around the capital Port-au-Prince. Estimates of the final death toll are close to 170,000.

Following my Written Statement to the House on 25 January, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed that a second British citizen, Ann Barnes, has lost her life in Haiti. Like Frederick Wooldridge who also died in the earthquake, Ms Barnes worked for the UN Mission in Haiti. We pay tribute to the work of Ms Barnes and Mr Wooldridge and the more than 80 members of the United Nations Mission in Haiti now confirmed to have lost their lives.

I would also like to pay tribute to the British public for their continued generosity in responding to Haiti’s plight. The Disaster Emergency Committee appeal has now raised £70 million. This is a remarkable achievement.

Effective co-ordination of the relief effort remains vital. The Department for International Development is working hard to improve the situation on the ground and overcome the logistical bottlenecks that are hampering relief efforts. Our assessment is that co-ordination of the relief effort is improving. Systems are now in place to deliver clean drinking water to those who need it, with 500,000 people able to receive five litres per person per day. The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that operations on the ground continue to expand. In addition to the £1 million we have already provided to assist the United Nations with aid co-ordination, we have also taken the decision to provide a second secondee to OCHA in Haiti.

Shelter and sanitation for 900,000 people in Port-au-Prince and a further 200,000 in rural areas made homeless by the earthquake are now the top priority. Our Field Team reports that co-ordination of water and sanitation relief efforts continues to improve despite the scope and complexity of needs. There are still problems, but donors, cluster leads and OCHA are working to identify solutions.

The Department for International Development has also purchased 5,700 sheets of corrugated iron roofing materials that are vital for constructing durable shelters for about 2,000 families to bridge the gap until permanent homes can be rebuilt. Through our working closely with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, these materials weighing over 55 tons are being transported to Haiti by ship, on Royal Fleet Auxiliary Largs Bay.

RFA Largs Bay departed from Marchwood, Southampton yesterday, Wednesday 3 February, carrying these shelter materials as well as critically needed port handling equipment and vehicles for use by Save the Children, the International Federation of the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies. The port handling equipment will help unblock critical supply bottlenecks at Haiti's ports. Weather permitting, we expect the ship to arrive off Cap Haitien on or around the 18 February. Once there, RFA Largs Bay is expected to stay in the region for a number of weeks to help the United Nations transport supplies around Haiti.

In addition to the materials sent on the RFA Largs Bay, three aircraft sent by the Department for International Development have also delivered plastic sheeting and other shelter materials for temporary shelters. We have also provided £1 million to Oxfam and £400,000 to the Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development (ACTED) to provide clean drinking water, shelter materials, hygiene kits and water tanks for the construction of latrines and bathing spaces. On 2 February, we made a further £1.12 million available to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to support its work in providing temporary shelter, including two secondees from CARE International to support temporary settlement management. We have also provided a seconded specialist in transitional shelter to IOM, and all three secondees are now working on the ground, with exemplary support from the British embassy in Santo Domingo.

We have also deployed three civilian experts from the joint DfID, MoD and FCO Stabilisation Unit to help restore vital government functions—specifically to get the prison service working again. We are liaising closely with the European Union, Canada and the United Nations and the unit stands ready to provide further civilian support to help the Haitian Government get back on their feet.

The British Government are mindful of the risks to the safety and protection of children in the aftermath of the earthquake, and their well-being is our primary concern. Priority must be given to efforts to reunite children with their birth families. Advice has been issued by the Hague Bureau, Children and Families across Borders and the Disaster and Emergency Committee and the Prime Minister of Haiti has stated that the Government share the deep concern of the international community to avoid any trafficking of Haitian children. We welcome his commitment to sign personally all adoption authorisations so that no children will be allowed to leave the country without legal adoption documentation.

In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy and for the foreseeable future, we will continue to work with the international community to support recovery in Haiti. The Department for International Development has provided funding for development work through multilateral channels, such as the United Nations agencies, the European Commission and World Bank. The World Bank is allocating $100 million from the current IDA 15 replenishment, to which UK was biggest contributor. The United Kingdom’s contribution to European Union humanitarian assistance for Haiti totals £42 million.

The Government of Haiti have asked the World Bank and United Nations to be the joint international leads with respect to longer term rehabilitation, and we expect the other International Financial Institutions, the European Commission and Haiti’s major bilateral donors also to have a strong role. A World Bank team is already in Port-au-Prince working with the Government to identify priority areas for their assistance and preparing for the joint needs assessment due on 8 February. The international community needs to continue its efforts to address the terrible plight of Haitians, and we will play our part through our very substantial support to the multilaterals involved, and the continuation of the humanitarian operation now under way.