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Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Will he join me in congratulating UNICEF on its efforts to ensure that collections are co-ordinated? Although the media have not pursued things as vigorously as we would like, should not we appeal to the public to continue to collect funds and maintain a co-ordinated approach through UNICEF?

Mr. Khan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; she is right. The relief agencies are amazing. I met people who should be treated as heroes: UNICEF, Save the Children, Islamic Relief, Helping Hands and others are doing a fantastic job. But we have never seen a disaster on that scale, so even with the best will in the world and the best planning and organisation it was impossible to be as organised at the outset as we should have liked. It is now five weeks later, however, and we know the scale of the disaster so it is important to try to take steps to address it.

What can we do? In the short term, the priorities are clearly the emergency rescue and relief that have been mentioned. We also need early rehabilitation and
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reconstruction help, and I shall explain how I hope that our Government can help. First, on 19 November, a donors conference will be held in Pakistan. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, will attend and will ask for help from the international community. I hope that our Government do as they have always done and take the lead in putting pressure on other Governments to do more.

Secondly, eight weeks are left of our presidency of the European Union and of the G8. Over the past few months, we have seen how much we could do, by leading from the front, to make poverty history: an example of Britain using her influence and expertise to persuade other countries to do more. I urge our Government to use the influence and reputation that they have gained as president of the EU and the G8 to do much more; for example, we could persuade the EU to include Pakistan in its generalised system of preferences plus.

Thirdly, we could offer the same type of trade concessions as were rightly given to the areas affected by the tsunami disaster. We need to ensure that we help Pakistan stand on her own feet. Yes, Pakistan needs help immediately, but her people want fair trade. They do not want handouts; they prefer to earn their way out of the crisis. Every billion dollars of exports translates into 300,000 jobs in Pakistan, which has an impact on 1.5 million people, and shows how people can help themselves to recover from catastrophe.

I subscribe to the view that a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. As a member of the international family, we should be judged by how the victims of the earthquake disaster in south Asia are treated. I sincerely hope that DFID and the Government will lead the way in showing just how civilised and just we are.

2.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate him and other hon. Friends on taking the time to visit the region to see for themselves the scale of the tragedy that is unfolding in Pakistan, and for ensuring that the attention of the House continues to be drawn to the disaster, even though international media attention may have begun to diminish. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the generosity of the British public and the many British-based non-governmental organisations operating in the area.

Since the earthquake struck, with such devastating effect, on 8 October, the scale of the tragedy has become starkly and increasingly clear to us all. The Government of Pakistan's latest figures report that more than 73,000 people lost their life—other estimates put the figure higher, at some 87,000—with some 69,000 people suffering injury. In Indian-administered Kashmir, the death toll is reported at over 1,300 people, and some 4,500 people are reported to have been injured. In total, some 3.5 million people are affected, of whom 2.5 million have lost their homes. The 200,000 people living in difficult-to-access areas, including those above the snow line, are, as my hon. Friend rightly said, at
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particular risk as winter approaches. The priority now must be to ensure that those who survived the disaster receive the assistance that they require to support them through the winter months.

The principal objective of our response to the earthquake so far has been to support the immediate survival needs of the affected population and to continue the support into the spring, or longer if necessary. To date, we have allocated some £33 million of assistance for the immediate relief effort. We recognise the need for the international community to do more. Overall, I have to say, international assistance for the relief phase to date has been disappointing. We are the second largest donor to the relief effort. We are prepared to provide additional assistance while also urging other donors to increase their support to the relief needs at this critical point.

Our immediate assistance has included search and rescue teams; indeed, the first international search and rescue team to arrive in the affected areas was a British-based NGO whose visit we helped to fund. In addition to search and rescue, we have provided priority relief materials including tents, blankets and tarpaulins. We have helped to fund air transport, including helicopters, and programmed support to various United Nations agencies, to the Red Cross movement and to a series of non-governmental organisations. As part of our support to NGOs we have been funding flights for the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee. Indeed, to date we have funded some 65 flights for agencies of the DEC, costing some £3 million. In addition, £3 million of the £5 million that we have given to NGOs has gone to DEC agencies. Our aim is to ensure that the funding raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee from the British public, which I was pleased to learn today has risen to some £37 million, is spent on material and direct assistance rather than the commercial cost—which we are meeting—of the flights to send supplies to the affected region.

As I said, I greatly appreciate the valuable efforts made by the public and concerned people the length and breadth of Britain who want to respond to this terrible disaster. Wherever possible, we have sought to use available space on the aircraft for other agencies, and we have encouraged the Disasters Emergency Committee to collaborate with other charities that want to send support. By way of example, we provided support to Islamic Relief, providing it with the funding for some 10,000 tarpaulins, 20,000 blankets and 1,000 winterised family tents from the supplies of the Department for International Development, and have funded two Islamic Relief flights under the DEC airlift support that I alluded to earlier. Islamic relief is just one of many British-based NGOs doing a fantastic job in responding to the disaster.

The European Community's Humanitarian Office has contributed about £9.2 million to the relief effort and the European Commission has already pledged some £54 million towards longer-term rehabilitation and reconstruction. The UK's share of that assistance is around £11 million.

However, as my hon. Friend rightly made clear, the immediate situation remains critical. According to the Pakistani authorities, some 315,000 tents have already been distributed. The Government of Pakistan and the
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United Nations are confident that up to 300,000 tents will be delivered by the end of the month, but more and continuing assistance is needed.

The United Nations has developed a humanitarian action plan for November to target assistance to an estimated 200,000 individuals in the high valleys, as well as 150,000 people who are expected to settle in both spontaneously organised and planned camps. The focus of that plan is on emergency shelter, medical evacuations, the pre-positioning of food assistance for 700,000 people and the maintenance of mobile health units and vaccination services.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for talking about what we have done so far. People in the communities in my constituency have spoken to me about the plight that my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) has outlined today. My anxiety relates to the fact that we have all read in the newspapers about the escalating current need and how the money that has been pledged will simply not save those people. What more can we do in the House and outside to take the aid that is so desperately needed to those families and children?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right to suggest that more needs to be done, and I shall come to her specific question shortly.

It is crucial, however, that we continue to support the UN in the development of the humanitarian action plan to meet the immediate needs of those in difficult-to-reach communities. That plan, as well as what I have indicated already, includes the construction of 30 camps, the repair of vital damaged water supply systems and the installation of latrines, the establishment of temporary schools and the provision of heating and cooking facilities for 150,000 people in camps. Given the difficult access considerations, the plan also sets out the critical logistics requirements to reach affected populations.

One of the things that hon. Members can continue to do to help the relief effort, as well as urging their constituents to continue to consider whether they can give support to the appeal made by the Disasters Emergency Committee, is to focus the attention of the House and, we hope, the media on the continuing needs of the people of Pakistan devastated by the earthquake. We need to continue to try to do everything that we can to keep international attention focused on the disaster.

We have pledged £5 million to the United Nations flash appeal, but we are doing much more to support the UN. We have already provided about £10 million of direct and in-kind assistance to the UN, and we will provide further support in key sectors. Our support to the UN ranges from health, shelter, water and sanitation interventions, as well as supporting camp management, to vehicles, logistics, co-ordination and, importantly, helicopters.

Our military has been providing crucial logistical assistance. The Ministry of Defence, as the House will know, has provided three Chinook helicopters and airlifted rations and water from Kabul, using a C130 aircraft, as well as 40 tonnes of vegetarian rations from Britain via NATO. The MOD has also helped to airlift two Puma helicopters from Spain to Pakistan in
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support of the International Committee of the Red Cross. About 120 medical evacuations have taken place on flights to and from the affected areas. We have also contributed £2 million for the NATO air bridge to transport priority relief items from UN warehouses.

We have provided funding for a 75-man Royal Engineers light engineering unit to go to Pakistan next week. Among other tasks, the Government of Pakistan may ask the unit to repair bridges, clear roads and begin the rebuilding of schools, clinics, hospitals and other key critical facilities.

The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) rightly highlighted in his intervention the need to continue to consider how we can improve the ability of the international system to respond to such crises. That has been one of the issues exercising my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and is one of the reasons why we have argued during the past 12 months for the establishment of a central emergency revolving fund to provide quicker financial assistance to a variety of UN agencies. Instead of having to go around with the begging bowl, they will then have the assurance that, immediately a disaster strikes, they can get support on the ground where it is needed.

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