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Philippines: Typhoon Haiyan

Volume 759: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the international recovery effort following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the United Kingdom’s contribution to that effort.

My Lords, the United Kingdom was the largest bilateral donor, contributing £77 million in response to Typhoon Haiyan. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact found the United Kingdom’s response to the crisis to be exemplary. While some longer-term needs remain, the Government of the Philippines are of course leading the recovery effort with international support, including more than £8 million from the United Kingdom. That support is helping to increase communities’ capacity to manage extreme weather events.

I thank the Minister for his Answer and the Government for their strong support for the Philippines. I look forward to seeing the results of some of that support when I return there as a parliamentary volunteer during the February Recess. The sustainable development goals drafted by the United Nations for post-2015 include goal 11, on the important issue of resilience to natural disasters and extreme weather events. Will the UK Government be arguing strongly for natural disasters and resilience to extreme weather events to feature prominently in the final goals agreed in September?

I pay tribute, first of all, to what the noble Lord has already been doing in the Philippines; as he has just said, he is going there again, and he has made a significant difference. On the sustainable efforts that he mentioned in relation to millennium goals and continuing development, the United Kingdom is committed to ensuring that climate is fully referenced post-2015 and that natural resource management is up front. Everything that we have been doing with our assistance has been towards supporting continual, sustainable development.

My Lords, I understand that less than a third of the $788 million needed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs programme for the recovery of the Philippines has been received. Has the Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK yet activated the pledge it made of £88 million, and will we encourage other rich states to come up to the plate and contribute, too?

As I said, the United Kingdom has been the largest single donor, eclipsing even the United States—which, of course, is a far richer country and has far stronger ties with the Philippines. We are committed to ensuring that all the aid that we have contributed is spent on ensuring that this dreadful disaster is met and on trying to provide resilience against future disasters.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Disasters Emergency Committee. Following on from the point of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, does the Minister agree that, in addition to the Government’s response, the British public responded to the appeal with enormous generosity and that the independent assessment of the results of that generosity has shown that UK aid and humanitarian agencies have provided highly effective and timely help on the ground?

I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to what the charitable sector has done. It always responds magnificently in the United Kingdom, and it certainly did in relation to this disaster. Of course, the United Kingdom has also given through the EU, so we have actually given in addition to the sums that we have given as the single largest donor.

My Lords, it is a sad fact that the vulnerable poor cluster in areas where climate change has a disproportionate effect. Last March, DfID declared that investment in the Philippines would be focused on building back better and longer-term climate resilience. Has the aid focused on protecting the poorest and most vulnerable?

Clearly, the area affected has been extremely poor, even by Philippine standards—the Philippines being a relatively poor country. We have sought to use the aid to meet the immediate need but also to provide resilience against future events of this nature. Indeed, all the housing that was put up in response to Haiyan withstood the more recent, dreadful typhoon, Hagupit, at the end of last year. In addition, money is being spent on ensuring that there is insurance and on getting better advice on meteorological events. As I said, we are very keen that climate change features in the 2015 millennium development goals.

My Lords, there have been reports of moneys that had been made available standing idle in bank accounts. Will the Government ensure that what is available is spent promptly and effectively and that there are proper safeguards against corruption?

It remains very much at the forefront of the thinking of the Secretary of State and the department to ensure that the money is got out and used very quickly, and that is happening. I come back to the independent assessment of ICAI, which gave us green lights on all but one factor—which was in relation to medium-term goals, and we have sought to assess that—so our response has been exemplary, not least in making sure that the money is usefully spent.

My Lords, what is being done regarding the immunisation programme for children? Are we giving aid to that area?

Yes, that is also happening. We recognise the danger of water-borne disease, so immunisation and healthcare are very much at the forefront of ensuring that money is well spent, as is being done on shelter as well. These are priority areas.

Does the noble Lord agree that these additional priorities in the Philippines, the Middle East and so on have brought the United Kingdom’s share up to and past the 0.7% figure? This must be enshrined in law and noble Lords must support that.

I personally strongly support the party-political broadcast that the noble Earl has just given. This is important. We have a very good record on international aid and I hope very much that the figure is enshrined in law.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the new aircraft carriers are amazingly well configured for disaster relief, and that if they are used for that in future there ought to be a better mechanism for transferring money across from DfID funding to defence when they are used in that way?

Talking of party-political broadcasts, I very much congratulate the noble Lord on his contribution. He will be aware that both the RAF and the Royal Navy were part of the response to Typhoon Haiyan. The Ministry of Defence was accredited with the spending that they both incurred.