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Pakistan: Flood Relief

Volume 824: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2022

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what financial and humanitarian assistance they are providing to the Government of Pakistan in light of extensive recent flooding in that country.

My Lords, the United Kingdom was the first country to support Pakistan with financial assistance, providing an immediate £1.5 million towards water and sanitation, cash assistance and primary healthcare. In response to the joint UN and Pakistan Government’s $160 million appeal, we have now increased the value of our assistance to £16.5 million, which is around $19 million. Of this, £5 million has gone to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Pakistan floods appeal; the rest is being worked through and allocated to UN funds and NGOs on the ground to support relief and recovery efforts.

My Lords, I very much thank the Government and my noble friend for his Answer, but he will appreciate that we can do much more. The situation in Pakistan is devastating. A third of Pakistan is under water—an area the size of the UK. About half of the country’s crops have been washed away, creating significant food shortages. Thousands of people have been injured, and many displaced and killed, due to the significant impact of climate change.

As the Minister knows, Pakistan contributes to less than 1% of the planet’s greenhouse gases. Can he say what the Government are doing about the pledges repeatedly made at climate summits regarding compensation for countries such as Pakistan, where there is an impact from climate change? How is that being activated and addressed? Will he keep the House updated?

My Lords, first, I totally agree with my noble friend’s assessment. She is correct: a territory one and a half times the size of the United Kingdom is currently under water in Pakistan. I have been engaging directly with the Pakistani authorities, Ministers, officials and high commissioners, as has our high commissioner on the ground, in making assessments. We have also been engaging directly with the UN over the last few days and since the tragedy took place. It is catastrophic; there is no better word for it.

On the specific point about climate change, issues of mitigation and adaptation continue and need to be addressed in Pakistan in the medium and long term. That is why, last year at COP, the United Kingdom committed £55 million for this purpose in working directly with Pakistan. We are the primary voice, as we hand over the COP baton to Egypt, in ensuring that countries keep to the pledges they have made.

My Lords, yesterday in the Commons the chair of the International Development Committee pointed out that

“Climate change, fertiliser costs and conflict all pose a serious threat to food production and distribution globally.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/9/22; col. 96.]

In welcoming the Government’s reallocation of £16 million of existing aid to Pakistan, she asked Vicky Ford, the Minister, how it will contribute to addressing the long-term food insecurity Pakistan faces, and what programmes would be cut as a consequence. She failed to answer the chair of the International Development Committee yesterday, and I hope the Minister will answer today. What cuts will be made to existing programmes to give this welcome and needed support to Pakistan in this crisis?

My Lords, on Pakistan’s specific needs and requirements, I have already indicated that £16.5 million has been allocated in response to the direct needs identified by the Pakistani Government. Within the allocations we make for that part of the world, we have the flexibility to respond to a humanitarian crisis such as this. As the Minister who currently oversees that, I grasped this situation immediately to ensure that those moneys could be allocated. On the medium-long term, there will be additional requirements, and my noble friend has already alluded to some on which we could work with Pakistan, such as reconstruction and climate mitigation. I will certainly be happy to update the House on the future support we will be giving to Pakistan in this respect.

My Lords, the suffering of the people of Pakistan is immense, particularly that of women and children. The health needs of the population will be not only immediate but medium and long term. I therefore welcome the reallocation of the £16.5 million, but I have to inform the House that UK support for the people of Pakistan, which was £378 million in 2020, has been cut this year by 88% to just £43 million. Just two years ago, the health component of that was £69 million. This year, it is zero. Will the Minister please go back to the new Foreign Secretary and the new Minister for Development and get the health component restored, at least for the women and children of Pakistan, who are desperately in need?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in that, over the past 12 to 24 months we have been looking at reallocating primary funds to the support that we identify is needed, particularly for women and girls. However, the tragedy that has struck Pakistan means that we need to look at what support can be provided. The noble Lord is right to point out the health concerns and requirements. I assure him that I have already made the case very clearly to the new Foreign Secretary—like my noble friend Lord Kamall, there is the question of whether I continue in this role—and to the previous Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, about the need for medium and long-term support for Pakistan.

I am grateful for the work the Government have done in response to the disaster that has struck Pakistan, and to my noble friend for leading on this work. He will be aware that when Pakistan was flooded in 2010, at the height of government cuts and in the midst of austerity, our flood response alone was four times what is has been to date in 2022. By all indications, the floods in Pakistan today are four times worse than in 2010. I look forward to what my noble friend has to say about the medium to long-term support we can give to Pakistan as it approaches a harsh winter.

My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great insight; indeed, I understand that she visited Pakistan very recently. Of course, it is clear that the challenges are immense: there is no doubt about that. I have spoken directly to Pakistani Ministers, including Hina Rabbani Khar, to identify the specific immediate needs and the medium to long-term needs. There is a need for infrastructure investment in bridges. More than 3,500 kilometres of road have been swept away. In the previous response, the funding my noble friend alluded to included infrastructure support for bridges, for example. Those needs are being identified. I spoke to Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed at the end of last week and I have been direct contact with Secretary-General António Guterres, who is visiting Pakistan tomorrow. There will be another assessment of immediate, medium and long-term needs. We are engaging directly with the UN and other authorities in that respect, and as I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I will update the House.

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, in thanking the Minister for the personal and deep interest he has taken in this. I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistani Minorities and vice-chair of the country group on Pakistan.

My first question concerns Sind province, where Lake Manchar is in danger of overflowing and 100,000 people have already been displaced. It has already had to be breached in order to stop an even more catastrophic situation emerging. What news can the Minister give us about that? My second question concerns children and follows on from a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. UNICEF pointed out yesterday that 30% of water systems have been damaged, 17,500 schools have been damaged or destroyed, 16 million children have been affected, and 3 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance and are at risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera, and of drowning or malnutrition. Children are always most at risk after terrible catastrophes such as this. What priority are we giving to trying to ensure that their critical needs are met?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s point about Lake Manchar, we are watching that situation very carefully. He is of course correct that various efforts have been made to prevent the lake destroying the neighbouring lands, which are already flooded. I am fearful, given the forecasts. This was a catastrophic event; it was not just the monsoon rains but the glaciers that caused the flooding—the two things happened together. As the Minister in Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, told me, it is the most vulnerable of communities, including children, who have been impacted. That is why we are working with NGOs on the ground and directly with UN agencies, and making our own assessments through the high commissioner, to identify the immediate needs in terms of sanitation, water and medicine in order to avert disease spreading. We are also looking at the medium-term needs of those vulnerable communities in particular to identify how, ultimately, once the floods have receded and some order is restored, we can get children back in school.

My Lords, these floods are of course unprecedented, as my noble friend has rightly pointed out. Eight feet of water over hundreds of miles of land means mass drownings and the wiping out of whole villages, as he well knows. He has done very well in taking the lead on this. Has the Commonwealth come into this at all? Pakistan is a member of the Commonwealth—we sometimes forget that—and this would seem to be a time when mobilising all the wealthier members of the Commonwealth should be considered in order to support anything we are doing to bring decisive help on a global scale to tackle this ghastly horror.

My Lords, my noble friend is correct: we need to make sure that we leverage all levers. I have mentioned the United Nations, and the Commonwealth is of course a very important institution. Some of Pakistan’s near neighbours are members of the Commonwealth and have stood up support. Other members of the Commonwealth which are part of the industrialised nations have also lined up support. What is important, as I have said to the Pakistanis, is a detailed assessment of exactly what is required. That is why, with the DEC standing up its funding requirements, the immediate need is to ensure that funding can be allocated to the specific priorities. I will be speaking to other Commonwealth members as well as the wider UN family to ensure that Pakistan’s needs are met not just for the short term but the medium and long term.

Given the scale of this disaster and our many links to Pakistan, is it very good that the Disasters Emergency Committee is running an appeal. I commend the Government for agreeing to match the funds raised by the appeal. However, when I last looked, the Government had put a ceiling of £5 million on the extent to which they would match-fund. Given the scale of the tragedy, that seems a very low ceiling. I hope that the Government will be ready to raise it.

My Lords, as I said earlier, we are making assessments, and I hear what the noble Lord has said about the current £5 million ceiling. According to my most recent figures, the DEC fund has already raised in excess of £16 million, which includes our match funding. Of course, as we look at Pakistan’s priorities, the Foreign Secretary and I will certainly be considering what else we can give priority to, including further DEC funding support.

The Minister rightly pointed out that this catastrophe has multiple causes. Will he undertake to tell the new Environment Secretary and Business Secretary that this sort of Armageddon will increasingly occur across the world as a result of climate change, and that we must not take our eye off the ball on climate change during the current energy price crisis?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that the points she raises are very valid. It is not just about a cross-government approach to climate change, but a global approach. That is why I am fully supporting, engaging with and will continue to engage with the current COP President, Alok Sharma. Prior to this catastrophe, in my role as Minister with responsibility for north Africa, I spoke directly to Egypt, which will hold the COP presidency, to ensure that the commitments mentioned earlier to meeting the challenges of climate change are kept. The United Kingdom very much stands at the forefront of that. We allocated £11.6 billion of climate finance funding. That support is not just pledged but delivered in a way that focuses on the specific issues. Looking at the lay of the land in Pakistan, important long-term investments need to be made in respect of adaptation and mitigation.

My Lords, rich countries promised to help finance lower income countries to deal with the impacts of climate change because of a recognition of their responsibility for historic carbon emissions. However, the target of £100 billion of climate finance by 2020 has never been reached. Does my noble friend agree that Pakistan should have its debt repayments suspended with immediate effect to ensure that much-needed resources are not sent out of the country at this time, as the human and economic costs the country faces are truly astronomical? Finance delivered in the past has been in the form of loans, not grants. Can we exert any pressure on the international community to do away with this debt?

My Lords, I know that the IFIs, including the IMF, are working with Pakistan on its current situation. My noble friend will know from her own insights that Pakistan has just agreed a programme with the IMF that was important, as I am sure she agrees, to ensure the economic stability of Pakistan for the medium term. This catastrophe was not foreseen but it could certainly have been mitigated, and that is why my noble friend talks about emissions and contributions.

It is important to look at the here and now. What can be put in place? What support can be offered to Pakistan? As we have seen in previous crises, including when we were gripped by the Covid pandemic, the decision was taken internationally to freeze debt interest repayment. I am sure that all the authorities concerned—the IFIs and the international organisations—are looking at the different proposals. The United Kingdom will also make sure its voice is heard.