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Remaining Private Members' Bills


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 20 January.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be read a Second time on Friday 24 February.

11 Nov 2005 : Column 666

South Asian Earthquake

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Watson.]

2.30 pm

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the south Asian earthquake disaster that is slowly but surely turning into a catastrophe. I am grateful, too, to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development for being here to respond, as I know that he has a personal interest, as do many of his constituents, who have raised thousands and thousands of pounds to help the victims of the earthquake disaster in Pakistan, India and Kashmir.

My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) and for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) recently visited the affected areas with me as part of a delegation, with the UK charity Helping Hands and the Limbless Association in the UK, of which the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), among others, is well aware. I can honestly say that the four days we spent in Pakistan and Kashmir were four of the most harrowing days of my life. The places we visited included Abbotabad, Mensera, Bagh, Balakot and the Chathara plain, and the scenes were unbelievable. The stark facts speak for themselves. More than 73,276 are dead; more than 69,260 people are wounded; 3.3 million people are homeless; 1.3 million have lost their livelihoods; 15,000 villages, hamlets and townships are devastated; 6,000 schools are destroyed; 364 medical facilities are destroyed; and I could go on.

Those are not just figures. That part of south Asia is like a war zone. Those figures are real people, just like us, our families and our constituents. I met three-year-old, four-year-old, six-year-old, and nine-year-old children who are amputees, with a leg missing or an arm missing. Children have been orphaned. Grandparents have been traumatised by seeing their entire family—children and grandchildren—wiped out. Ancestral homes have been destroyed. Children and adults are still in a physical state of shock more than three weeks after the earthquake, because of what they witnessed. Aftershocks have caused roads that had been cleared to be blocked again by landslides. Again, I could go on.

I met heroic British citizens helping in the disaster zone, relief workers, British doctors, BT engineers, British nurses, Department for International Development staff, RAF Chinook pilots and personnel, and others doing their best to help. Of course, disasters emergency committee organisations are doing a great job, including Islamic Relief, Save the Children, the British Red Cross, Oxfam, Merlin, Christian Aid, World Vision and many more. Less heard-of British charities are also doing a brilliant job, including Helping Hands, Muslim Hands, Muslim Aid and others.

I pay tribute to the British public and the British Government. Ordinary members of our communities have been phenomenally generous with their donations, and often it is the poorest in our constituencies who have been the most generous in giving charity. More than £30 million was raised from the British public alone in the first three weeks after the earthquake. Our Government, too, have punched above their weight, and the Pakistani Government and the people we met are very grateful for the help that we have given and have
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seen the benefits of the £33 million that we have donated. British expertise, British helicopters and British equipment have been out there from day one, and I pay tribute to those concerned.

There has been a silver lining to the earthquake disaster. President Musharraf has announced that Pakistan will postpone the purchase of F-16 aircraft from the USA in the light of the disaster facing Pakistan and the region. We have also seen continued improvements in relations between India and Pakistan, which have led to the line of command being opened at five separate places. However, as I said earlier, the disaster is quickly and surely turning into a catastrophe.

The British and other western media have lost interest and I am concerned that the full scale of the horror will not become known in the western world. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the number of casualties continues to rise as new areas are accessed. Up to 30 per cent. of the earthquake affected areas remain inaccessible. Some 250,000 people are above the snow line and face a life-threatening situation.

UNICEF estimates that more than 32,000 children may have died and that there are tens of thousands of children who are now in peril due to deteriorating weather, injury and illness. There are 120,000 children in the mountains still waiting for help, of whom 10,000 could die of hunger, hypothermia and disease within the next few weeks.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing an Adjournment debate on this important subject and on the words that he has addressed to the House. Does he share my concern about the lack of helicopter airlift capability in this and other disasters? That has meant that we are only just discovering the true horror of the earthquake in the region, because no one has been able to get there. The recent UN humanitarian response review report looked at the issue of improving airlift capacity. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in urging the Government to have an urgent review of this country's ability to provide helicopters?

Mr. Khan: I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and my hon. Friend the Minister have ensured that the UK Government have done their share. For example, I met the pilots of three Chinook helicopters who were doing three sorties a day, which was way more than their counterparts. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about ensuring that we are prepared for future disasters, and my hon. Friend the Minister will have heard his concern.

Islamic Relief also expressed concern about the disaster. It said that the prospect of a second wave of death looms over the survivors as thousands of injured people remain stranded without access to food, shelter and sanitation. Helicopters play a vital role in alleviating some of that suffering.

It is with shame and anger that I tell the House that the international community is failing to provide a global solution to this global catastrophe. The earthquake was not preventable, but further deaths in
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the days and weeks afterwards were. It is useful to compare and contrast the present disaster with the tsunami disaster that occurred almost a year ago, on Boxing day 2004, but I should point out that I do not criticise the help that we or the international community gave to those affected. The tsunami affected 1 million people: the Pakistan, India and Kashmiri earthquake has made 4 million people homeless. The tsunami affected flat coastal areas that were easy to reach: the earthquake was in rugged, mountainous terrain. After the tsunami, there was moderate weather in all the areas affected: temperatures in the earthquake zone have already dropped to freezing point and snowfall has started. In the case of the tsunami, 4,000 helicopters were made available by foreign countries in days: the earthquake region has received 70, and the Pakistani Government and the UN can no longer afford the fuel to make optimal use of them. In the case of the tsunami, 80 per cent. of the aid pledged by the international community to the UN was realised in two weeks: more than four weeks after the earthquake, Pakistan has received 12 per cent. of the promised aid.

There is a stark contrast in the scale of the international response to the UN appeal in each case. I said that I was angry and ashamed and I shall explain why. After the tsunami, international donors pledged more than $700 million for immediate emergency relief in the first two weeks alone; 79 per cent. of the UN appeal was met within two weeks, whereas more than a month after the earthquake, only $131 million had been pledged—only 24 per cent. of the UN appeal. Unless the   Government take a lead in the international community, I truly fear that children, adults and elderly people will die from starvation, cold and disease—avoidable deaths.

Pakistan needs help. India, because of the numbers affected, is coping well by herself. Pakistan needs tents, other shelter, food, medicine, blankets, helicopters, fuel and more. In addition to the specialist help that DFID is giving, I have been advised that the best thing we can do is to provide urgent cash assistance so that the relief experts and agencies on the ground can spot-purchase what is required locally.

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