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Cyclone Idai

Volume 796: debated on Thursday 28 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current humanitarian situation in the countries affected by Cyclone Idai.

My Lords, Cyclone Idai is one of the most severe cyclones ever to hit southern Africa. Approximately 129,000 people have been displaced in Mozambique, 87,000 in Malawi and 4,000 in Zimbabwe. Some 2.6 million people have been affected across the three countries.

I am grateful for that response and for all that the department has already done, including UK Aid Match, which has helped the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal reach over £21 million in less than a week. I remind the House of my interest as a trustee, and that the appeal is still very much open for those who have yet to donate. Does the Minister agree that the scale and effect of this disaster is devastating and still unfolding with, as he said, more than 2.5 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and the threat of a secondary emergency from diseases such as cholera and malaria? Could he tell the House of the department’s longer-term plans to help these countries recover and what the Government are doing to encourage other countries to match this country’s generosity, both private and public?

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work with the Disasters Emergency Committee. The amount of money raised—£21 million—is phenomenal, thanks to the generosity of the British people. The UK Government contribution is some £22 million so far. The appeal launched by the UN is for some $289 million. The UK contribution, from overseas development assistance alone, is way ahead of that of any other country. The next nearest is the United States at $10.8 million and then Germany at $3.5 million. Rightly, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister for Africa have been putting great emphasis on getting other countries to step up to the mark and realise the severity of the situation faced by these people.

My Lords, I was struck even at the time of the last significant flooding that there were no preparations in place to try to avoid a similar catastrophe affecting so many communities in the future. Will the Government, as part of these international discussions and through our own ODA, look to build better disaster resilience facilities and mechanisms for the future in Malawi and Mozambique in particular, including early warning systems and the construction of homes and facilities that can withstand some of these extreme weather events?

Absolutely—I am happy to give that commitment. The UK Met Office has a significant relationship in Mozambique as far as that is concerned. We have commitments already on the ground there from previous instances of providing resilience support. We have a £150 million DfID package of programmes which is supporting building resilience, and we will build that up further as we move to the UN climate summit in September.

As we are chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, will my noble friend the Minister encourage the Government to encourage the richer Commonwealth countries to work closely together now and rally round to help a stricken member of the Commonwealth family?

I am happy to do that in relation to Mozambique and Malawi. Canada has contributed some $2 million, but the scale and response internationally is just not meeting the level of crisis that we are seeing on the ground.

My Lords, can I return the Minister to the Question that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked him in connection with the spread of cholera? Did he see that the first reported cases of cholera were confirmed overnight in Mozambique? Did he see the comment of Ussene Isse from the Mozambique Health Ministry, who said:

“When you have one case”,

of cholera,

“you have to expect more cases in the community”—

and that health workers are already battling 2,700 cases of acute diarrhoea, which could be a symptom of cholera? Given that the World Health Organization has said that it will deliver some 900,000 oral cholera vaccines, can the Minister tell us when they are likely to arrive?

Yes, I can give the noble Lord an update from the situation report that I received just an hour before coming to the House today. Five cases were confirmed at a laboratory in Beira. There is a high risk of an outbreak. Vaccinations are already under way but this is a very worrying situation, which is another reason why the scale of the response and facilities from the international community needs to be stepped up.

My Lords, in response to my Oral Question yesterday, we heard the extent to which the Government in the UK support the export of fossil-fuel infrastructure. Shockingly, 40% of those exports go to developing countries. Does the Minister recognise the policy incoherence between, on the one hand, support for fossil fuels and, on the other, the millions that DfID is deploying to alleviate the awful suffering caused by extreme weather events such as Cyclone Idai?

On the co-ordination that we are responsible for, we have committed some £5.8 billion to international climate finance. We are taking a leading role in resilience, ensuring that the ambitions set out in Paris are actually met and putting resources behind that. So we are doing all that, but this is a complex situation and international co-operation is needed to address it.

My Lords, the Minister may recall that some 20 years ago there were images in our newspapers of a woman giving birth to a baby in a tree in Mozambique. The disaster then was made worse by a shortage of helicopters and large Antonov aeroplanes that could get helicopters to the area. Has this been corrected? Are there enough helicopters to help people in south-east Africa at the moment?

We could not say that there were enough, but what the international organisations are doing is quite remarkable. The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs at the UN, led by Sir Mark Lowcock, formerly of DfID, has been doing an incredible amount of work in this area. The UNFPA is dealing with that particular point but so is the WFP, the IOM and UNICEF. They are all working to ensure that people get the help that they need.