Select Committee on International Development First Special Report


Reports Produced in Response to Complex Emergencies and Natural Disasters


76. The Committee visited Montserrat and Antigua from 15 to 18 October 1997 in response to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the volcanic eruption on Montserrat, and took evidence in London on 14, 28 and 30 October. The First Report was published on 27 November. The Report examined:

  • the continuing risk to the population of Montserrat from the volcano;
  • the adequacy of emergency provisions for those remaining on the north of the island;
  • arrangements for decision-making and the delivery of emergency aid to Montserrat;
  • provision of assistance to Montserratians relocated to other Caribbean islands and to the United Kingdom.

77. The Government response was disappointing, tending simply to reassure that all was well, and not accepting criticisms over the planning of housing provision and over the organisation of the delivery of aid, nor tackling robustly the problems faced by Montserratians in insurance and access to savings. It was also inadequate in that it failed to address three specific recommendations made in the Report. These recommendations were:

  • that a simulated exercise take place to ensure that the evacuation plan is adequate;
  • that Montserrat would have been better prepared for the crisis had due note been taken of a report by Wadge and Isaacs on disaster preparedness of Montserrat;
  • that High Commissioners and other FCO officials in the Caribbean take a more active role in explaining HMG's actions to Montserratians, in providing essential information and in overseeing their welfare.

78. This caused the Committee to hold further evidence sessions with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development.[57] There remained dispute over the implications of the Wadge and Isaacs Report but the other two outstanding recommendations were accepted by the Government.

79. One of the Committee's recommendations in its First Report was that "a frank and impartial report be prepared by HMG on the basis of experience in Montserrat which can enable not only HMG but other governments in the area to be prepared for such emergencies in the future".[58] The Government accepted this recommendation and commissioned an independent evaluation which was published in December 1999.[59] The evaluation confirmed the main findings of the Committee, including:

  • the lack of contingency planning for a disaster;[60]
  • the failure to take proper account of scientific advice and volcanic risk prior to the eruption;[61]
  • many of the delays, omissions and shortcomings in the Government's response being a result of the complexity of the Government's management and the administrative system for Montserrat;[62]
  • criticism of the response of the Government to financial regulation issues arising from the crisis.[63]

80. In its memorandum DFID updated the Committee on the current situation in Montserrat. Scientific advice suggests that a further eruption similar to that from 1995-98 is imminent. They believe that there will not be any threat to the north of the island and that the risk to human life is low. More information is provided on assistance to Montserratians who are off island and on DFID's development activity on Montserrat itself. Many of the initiatives meet recommendations made by the Committee in its Reports, for example on the need to restore effective education and support housing. A further and later agreement to a recommendation was the Government allowing Montserratian evacuees in the United Kingdom indefinite leave to remain.[64]

81. Elsewhere, despite the Committee's recommendation that "responsibility and resources for the Dependent Territories should be in the same department",[65] responsibility for Government policy on Montserrat and other Dependent Territories remains split between the FCO and DFID although, following the Government White Paper on Overseas Territories,[66] a Minister for the Overseas Territories has now been appointed.


82. The inquiry into the humanitarian crisis resulting from famine in Sudan was prompted both by the suffering apparent to everyone through media reports and the criticism made by the Secretary of State of the decision by NGOs to launch a Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal to the public for funds. The Report pointed to weaknesses in the UN consolidated appeals system, the need for a political solution to the conflict in southern Sudan, and disagreed with the Secretary of State's criticism of the UK NGOs' DEC appeal. The Government response was marred by some intemperate phrasing. The Committee had raised questions about the effectiveness of information gathering and dissemination by Operation Lifeline Sudan, and about the funding of UN appeals. The response suggested that the Committee had misunderstood the issues, only then to agree on the need for review. The response agreed with the Committee's analysis of the need for greater access to the affected region and for a political solution to the problem. In its recent memorandum to the Committee DFID reported that there had been only limited progress on a review of the UN consolidated appeals system and that donors had concerns about the quality of financial reporting by the UN. Access had been improved by reduced air transport costs but rail and river access are still hampered by continuing insecurity.


83. The Committee decided to conduct an inquiry into the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo as a result of the conflict there. Within a week of making the decision the Committee visited the refugee camps in FYR Macedonia and Albania over a three day period. On its return to London, the Committee went straight from the airport to an evidence session with the Secretary of State (on 29 April 1999), took further evidence from NGOs on 4 May, and published their Report on 15 May 1999.

84. The Report criticised UNHCR, which had a coordinating role in the crisis, both for its lack of contingency planning and for failures in its coordinating work. We also considered continuing humanitarian and longer-term developmental needs for the region. The Report ended with discussion of the refugee crisis. We had urged greater openness to Kosovar refugees when the Secretary of State came before us on 29 April. On 4 May, after the Prime Minister's visit to FYR Macedonia, the Home Secretary dispelled confusion and stated that at least one thousand refugees a week would be allowed in to the United Kingdom.

85. The Government response agreed with the Committee's analysis of the performance of UNHCR and that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) would have been better placed to take on the coordination role in Kosovo. The Government provided information on the international response to humanitarian and developmental needs in the region, and this is updated in DFID's memorandum. The Government did not agree with the Committee's assessment that there was a misunderstanding between the United Kingdom and UNHCR on the UK's willingness to accept refugees.

86. The Committee also received a response from UNHCR, which we printed with the Government response. This challenged the Committee's conclusions. There have been two independent evaluations of the response to the crisis. One was commissioned by UNHCR itself. This Report was fairly supportive of UNHCR but also pointed to staffing failures and weaknesses in coordination and contingency planning. Another evaluation was commissioned by DANIDA, the Danish Government's aid agency. That report, a "real time" evaluation of the crisis from March to May 1999, concluded, as had the Committee, that "UNHCR has been slow to operationalise and has shown poor performance, being over-stretched on shelter, non-food items and overall programme and planning coordination".[67]

87. The Committee took evidence from UNHCR on 9 November 1999 to see how UNHCR and other donors were preparing for the demands of the winter months and to receive an update on conditions in Kosovo and the region. The Minutes of Evidence were subsequently published.[68]


88. The Committee's inquiry into Mozambique was triggered by the extraordinary flooding that affected the southern African region in the early months of 2000. The Committee had been in Mozambique from 20-24 February 2000 as part of a visit to southern Africa, so was able to witness at first hand the initial devastation caused by the flooding and the initial response by the international community — including the Department for International Development — to the disaster. The flooding in Mozambique attracted considerable publicity in the media which led to an unprecedented response to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for assistance. By the end of March 2000, over £28 million had been raised.[69] Much of the media coverage in the UK focussed on a perceived inter-departmental dispute over the use of MoD assets by DFID for relief operations in Mozambique. The Committee examined this and a number of other issues in its Report.

89. The Committee was particularly critical of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It concluded that the departure of the first OCHA team on 24 February — the day before the floodwaters rose rapidly — was premature and a significant error of judgement. It also concluded that OCHA failed to discuss the availability of helicopters, and their funding in the event of further flooding, with donors. The Committee went on to conclude that there had been an inadequate sharing of information between countries and experts in the region. The Report also criticised the response of ECHO to the disaster, concluding that ECHO continually failed to react rapidly to crises.

90. In examining the provision of helicopters by DFID, the Committee rejected media criticism of DFID's failure to make use of MoD assets concluding that, regardless of cost, DFID's initial decision not to use MoD assets but to continue funding South African National Defence Force helicopters already in the region, coupled with its other emergency call-down arrangements was entirely appropriate. The Committee went on to conclude that, despite the official position that the MoD is ready and willing to assist in humanitarian emergencies, it is not flexible, speedy and cost-effective enough to be automatically and seriously considered for deployment by DFID.

91. The Government welcomed the Committee's Report on Mozambique as raising "important issues, both specific to this particular humanitarian response and of wider relevance to the international humanitarian system".[70] The Government response rejected the Committee's conclusions in relation to allegations that the MoD was not "speedy" enough, noting that the primary purpose of the UK Armed Forces was to carry out high intensity combat operations. The response concluded, however, that "there is no room for complacency and the Government will continue to learn from its experience in order to improve the effectiveness of both its own disaster response arrangement and that of its cooperating partners".[71] The Government memorandum provides details of reconstruction efforts and prospects for economic development in Mozambique together with details of new expenditure approved by DFID.

92. The Committee also received a response to its Report from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which it had criticised in its Report. The response reiterated a number of points previously made to the Committee in oral evidence — including the fact that the departure of the UNDAC team was agreed by the Government of Mozambique and the UN in-country team. The response also regretted that very few of the positive aspects of the international relief effort in Mozambique had been highlighted in the Report. However, OCHA had decided to conduct an overall "lessons learned" exercise on its response to the crisis in coordination with other relevant actors. OCHA undertook to share the results of this exercise with the Committee though, to date, the conclusions of the initiative have not been received.

57   Sixth Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1997-1998, Montserrat - Further Developments, HC 726 Back

58   Ibid, para. 69 Back

59   An Evaluation of HMG's Response to the Montserrat Volcanic Emergency DFID Evaluation Report EV635 Back

60   Ibid, Summary, para. 6 Back

61   Ibid, Summary, para. 14 Back

62   Ibid, Summary, para. 26 Back

63   Ibid, Summary, para. 22 Back

64   First Report from the International Development Committee, Session 1997-98, Montserrat, HC 267, para. 92 Back

65   Ibid, para. 101 Back

66   Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories, Cm 4264 Back

67   Real Time Evaluation of the Humanitarian Response to the Crisis in Kosova March to May 1999, ETC UK, Executive Summary para.9 Back

68   Minutes of Evidence and Appendices Kosovo: Further Developments Tuesday 9 November 1999, HC 924-i Back

69   Fifth Report from the International Development Committee, Mozambique, Session 1999-2000, HC 326, p.72 Back

70   Fifth Special Report from the International Development Committee, Government Response to the Fifth Report from the Committee, Session 1999-2000: Mozambique, Session 1999-2000, HC 820 Back

71   Ibid, p. x Back

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