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Philippines: Typhoon Odette

Volume 817: debated on Wednesday 5 January 2022

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to the Philippines following Typhoon Odette.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, draw the House’s attention to my register of interests.

My Lords, we were saddened to see the devastation wrought by Typhoon Odette, known internationally as Typhoon Rai, on the Philippines on 16 and 17 December. We offer our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected. The UK has committed £750,000 to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ emergency appeal launched on 18 December. This will go towards supporting the recovery needs of affected people, including water, sanitation and shelter. The UK is one of the top four contributors to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, which is contributing $12 million to the UN’s humanitarian response plan for Typhoon Odette.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and the embassy in Manila for all its action over the last three weeks. I visited the Philippines as a VSO international volunteer shortly after Typhoon Yolanda in early 2014 and saw for myself the devastation that these extreme weather events have on a country that has weak resilience and more extreme weather events than any other country in the world. I have watched since then the way in which climate change has accelerated the regularity of these events. I have two questions for the Minister. First, will the forthcoming international development strategy properly recognise the importance of disaster risk resilience, to protect development rather than see it blown away in a matter of moments? At the same time, will the Government recognise the critical importance of volunteers in the humanitarian response to these kinds of disasters? They are most often on the ground in the community and able to respond very quickly, so will they be reprioritised in future international development funding?

I can give an emphatic yes to both those questions. The noble Lord is right to identify the Philippines as being particularly on the front line in relation to climate extremes. This is the 15th typhoon to hit the Philippines in the last year. That phenomenon underscores the acute vulnerability of the Philippines and other climate-vulnerable nations to these now unfortunately inevitable changes.

My Lords, be it typhoons in the Philippines or hurricanes in the Caribbean, the key to timely support is the ability of the affected area to open its ports and airports. That is why our overseas territories of the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands raised army reserve regiments in 2019 to do just that. These have been tremendously successful, and I should declare my interest as the honorary colonel of the Cayman Islands regiment. I simply ask my noble friend whether he has any plans to encourage our other overseas territories to follow suit.

My Lords, I will have to get back to my noble friend on the specific point but, broadly, as I said in my opening remarks, the UK has committed £750,000 to the emergency appeal. More recently, Ministers in the Foreign Office have agreed to increase that to £1 million and we are now working out how best to allocate those remaining funds.

My Lords, can I come back to my noble friend’s point about resilience? I appreciate the Minister’s kind words, but can he give us concrete examples of what we are doing to build resilience so that countries such as the Philippines can recover more quickly from these disasters? In particular, what are this Government doing to support the work of the UN Environment Programme? Concrete initiatives are what we want from this Government.

My Lords, the UK has been a reliable humanitarian partner to the Philippines for some time. We supported the responses to Typhoon Rolly last year and to the devastating Typhoon Haiyan nine years ago. We are also supporting work on anticipatory action for tropical cyclones, which responds prior to a potentially destructive typhoon to mitigate and lessen its humanitarian impact. We know that climate change is happening and, irrespective of the changes that Governments now implement, that change will continue—it is inevitable. A big focus of our international climate finance, including in the Philippines, is therefore on not just mitigation but adaptation and resilience. That is no less true in the Philippines.

The initial horror of the impact of the typhoon has been compounded, with up to millions of people now affected by lack of sanitation and clean water. In his response to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, the Minister highlighted this specifically. That shows that the Government believe that, at times of humanitarian crisis, water, sanitation and hygiene—WASH—are of critical importance. Will the Government now review the 64% slashing of global WASH support in their development cuts, which is 80% in bilateral support to individual countries? As we start this new year, will the Government review this crippling cut?

My Lords, there have been really significant impacts to livelihoods and a wide number of sectors, including food production, in the areas worst hit by the storm. Around 133,000 farmers and fishers have been affected and there has been approximately £130 million-worth of damage to those industries. For those reasons, and the reasons the noble Lord identified, priority needs are being reported in the sectors of shelter, camp co-ordination and management, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, health, education and protection, including psychosocial support.

My Lords, there is a considerable diaspora in the United Kingdom, with many individuals working in the NHS. What are the Government doing to ensure that those who are here, supporting our services, can keep in touch with their families and know what support is getting to them?

My Lords, the only information I have in relation to British nationals is with regard to our consular services and support.

My Lords, as a Welsh Protestant I have been deeply impressed during my visits to the Philippines by the role of the Roman Catholic Church, which is deeply embedded in the country, highly respected and does a vast amount of social work. To what extent are the Government prepared to use the Church as a conduit for supplies and to listen to it about the priorities for relief?

The noble Lord makes a hugely important point. One of the problems in humanitarian circumstances is not just making a commitment to provide support but getting it to where it is needed on the ground, and for that we need to rely on whichever avenues exist and best suit those purposes. The church networks that he just described are one such avenue, and we will continue to use them for the deployment of our humanitarian assistance.

My Lords, the £1 million support that the Government are giving is very much appreciated and welcome. In addition, what are the Government doing in regard to supporting immunisation programmes at this time of need?

My Lords, I take from the question that the immunisation relates to Covid. We anticipate that, because of the difficulties of deploying vaccines, Covid cases will rise. We are absolutely committed, as we have been since the start of the pandemic, to supporting the rollout of vaccinations across the world, particularly in vulnerable countries. Although those barriers exist as a consequence of this storm, we are nevertheless working with partners to figure out how best to restore the rate of vaccinations that preceded it.

My Lords, returning to disaster resilience, does the Minister recall the excellent report commissioned by a former Tory Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, and produced by the late Lord Ashdown, a Liberal Democrat? It was on disaster resilience and how important it is. Can the Minister therefore tell us exactly the effects of the cuts announced to the development programme on the money spent on disaster resilience?

Because I do not think that answer exists, and it is hard to assess. However, our support for humanitarian crises remains a priority, and that will be reflected in our upcoming development review.

My Lords, sadly, natural disasters of one sort or another occur in different parts of the world with very great frequency. No doubt as a result of climate change the frequency will increase. Her Majesty’s Government will naturally want to help whenever they can but they cannot possibly help on every occasion. Can my noble friend tell me whether his department has an objective set of criteria by which it judges the suitability of help, both in terms of the form of the disaster and of the country concerned?

My Lords, that is perhaps the most difficult issue for the department to grapple with. Shortly we will produce our international development review, which seeks to address exactly that question among a great many others. However, my noble friend is right that we have to ensure that when we deploy support it is to areas where we can have the biggest possible impact.