HC Deb 14 December 1982 vol 34 c127 3.42 pm
Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

(by private notice) asked the Minister for Overseas Development if he will make a statement about the recent earthquake in North Yemen and if he will say what preparations the disaster unit in his Ministry has made in order to be able to answer such requests as may be received.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Neil Marten)

An earthquake, believed to have reached the intensity of 6 on the Richter scale, struck the densely populated Dhamar region of the Yemen Arab Republic yesterday. The earthquake lasted about 40 seconds and caused extensive damage to the town of Dhamar and 99 villages in the area. So far as is known, there have been some 2,000 casualties—dead and wounded.

The Yemen Arab Republic Foreign Minister has informed heads of mission that full details of the damage are not yet available. The Foreign Minister is arranging a fact-finding visit by helicopter to the area tomorrow, 15 December. The British ambassador will accompany him. There are no reports of deaths or injuries to British expatriates serving in the Yemen Arab Republic. I have asked the British ambassador, pending receipt of the specific requirements from the Yemen Arab Republic Government, to purchase any locally available supplies that he identifies as being necessary.

Mr. Barnett

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. The House will be relieved to know that members of British aid teams working in the area are safe. Can he confirm a particularly horrible disaster—the killing of 125 schoolchildren in one school? Can he confirm that an international appeal has been launched by the Red Cross in Geneva? Can he say more about the readiness of his disaster unit and of voluntary agencies such as Oxfam to respond to the situation?

Mr. Marten

I cannot confirm the horrible rumour that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We are awaiting details of the disaster. Communications are extremely difficult, as the Yemen Arab Republic Government said, because of the mountainous nature of the country. The disaster unit in my Ministry is poised and ready to fly out whatever the Government require, which will probably be tetanus vaccine, plasma, dressings, food, blankets and tents. We shall be ready to go when we get the request.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his prompt and expeditious attention to the problem will be much appreciated in the Arab world and will go a small way towards offsetting the immense damage that the Prime Minister has recently done to British-Arab relations?

Mr. Marten

Without agreeing with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I am grateful for the first part.