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St Lucia: Hurricane Tomas

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 20 January 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assistance they are providing to the Government of St Lucia following Hurricane Tomas.

My Lords, HMS “Manchester” provided power, clean water and food to the towns of Soufriere and Morne Fond St Jacques immediately after Hurricane Tomas. Crew also fixed the roof in Soufriere hospital. The Department for International Development has agreed to pay £212,845 to re-establish water, sanitation and health services in St Lucia and St Vincent. The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which DfID supports, also made a payment of $3,214,000 to St Lucia after the hurricane.

I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive answer. The devastation caused by Hurricane Tomas last October, which had practically no media coverage in this country, is still having an effect on the people—and on their financial well-being—of St Lucia and the neighbouring islands, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Lives have been lost and it is estimated that £500 million-worth of damage has been done to roads, agriculture, buildings and infrastructure. Thankfully, the United Nations made a plea for international financial assistance. What financial assistance will the British Government give to these wounded Caribbean islands, and will the Government of St Lucia be expected to pay back any funds provided to them—and, if so, when?

My Lords, the Government of St Lucia are leading the assessment of the damage caused by Hurricane Tomas and setting reconstruction priorities. A full report is expected later this month. Early damage estimates following hurricanes are often radically revised, so we cannot speculate on the extent of the damage until we analyse the report.

My Lords, given that more than 60 per cent of the GDP of the island is generated by tourism, would it not be extremely helpful to abolish the APD to St Lucia and the neighbouring islands? I declare an interest as a residual beneficiary of an estate on the island.

My Lords, the Government cannot change the rules for Caribbean countries without objective justification. The APD on a return economy ticket typically represents a small percentage of the price. However, we are exploring changes to the aviation tax system, including a per-plane tax. Of course, any major changes will be subject to consultation.

Is my noble friend aware that, as a result of World Trade Organisation restrictions on EU trade preferences, St Lucia and Windward Island farmers can no longer compete with the industrial-scale banana production of Latin America? What measures are the Government taking to assist the Windward Isles to diversify and revitalise their fragile and struggling economies?

My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, we do not give bilateral aid to St Lucia. All aid and help is provided through multilateral organisations. I will take back the point that he raised and hope to provide him with a Written Answer.

My Lords, I declare an interest because my daughter is resident for much of the time in the Caribbean. Does not this episode underline the importance of a continuing, frequent and regular Royal Navy presence in the area, in order to give immediate assistance on such occasions?

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. However, our DfID programmes are concentrated mostly on a regional presence and are there to assist in climate change, disaster and risk management, and to tackle crime and insecurity. I will take back my noble friend’s question. However, we are doing quite a lot of constructive work through multilateral agencies.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should acknowledge the importance of €200,000 in humanitarian aid that the European Union is contributing, the considerable funding that goes towards disaster preparedness in the Caribbean, and the disaster management programmes there?