HL Deb 15 September 2004 vol 664 cc1167-9

2.43 p.m.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further assistance they and the European Union are giving to relieve the devastation caused by the recent floods in Bangladesh.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, DfID's programme for Bangladesh in 2004–05 is £100 million. Of this, £20 million has been allocated to respond to the recent devastation caused by the floods. An additional £5 million has been added to this to bring the total DfID spend on flood relief and rehabilitation to £25 million. More funding will be added to the Bangladesh programme if necessary to accommodate the £20 million we have spent on the floods. The European Commission has contributed 2.9 million euros and is considering further funding.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. First, does she share my disappointment that the target of 210 million dollars under the United Nations Bangladesh flash floods scheme has not been met by quite a long chalk so far? Will she encourage our EU partners and friends in the United Nations to ensure that it happens? Secondly, in the light of global warming, will she ensure that the United Nations and the European Union invest more money, especially in community-based disaster preparedness schemes, so that when such disasters happen, lives, livelihoods and property can be saved?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I share my noble friend's disappointment. Our contribution to the UN appeal constitutes about 20 per cent. Of course we will continue to encourage our partners to contribute. With respect to my noble friend's other point, yes, we must encourage the UN, the EU and the international community more generally to take environmental issues seriously. Global warming is leading to increasing glacial melt in the Himalayas and larger volumes of water discharging through the rivers into Bangladesh. So global action, which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister urged on the international community earlier this week, is very much needed.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, apart from the disastrous floods and our assistance, what steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to make certain that the Bangladeshi Government give their full co-operation in the investigation of the 21 August grenade attack on the British High Commission?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that there have been a number of what appear to be politically motivated attacks in Bangladesh over a period of time. In one of those attacks, our High Commissioner was indeed wounded. A commission has been established; we are awaiting the result of that commission.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that, despite the very generous assistance provided by Her Majesty's Government, in the words of the World Food Programme, Bangladesh needs more than band-aid solutions to the problems of persistent flooding. She will be aware that floods causing this level of devastation are happening with greater frequency now. What steps are the Government taking to help the Bangladesh Government with infrastructure improvement, flood relief and to build up the skills and assets of the country in the longer term?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: not just international action but regional action is needed, as well as action in Bangladesh itself. With respect to regional action, countries such as China, Nepal and India need to work together to reduce deforestation and soil erosion and therefore to decrease the impact of floods downstream on Bangladesh. Bangladesh itself needs to improve its water management, for which money is available not only from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, but from the Dutch Government. We have made it absolutely clear that we will support water management programmes, but they must be country-led. One thing that we must do is persuade the Bangladeshi Government to make that issue a priority.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's comments on regional action being an important solution for the longer-term solution to flooding in Bangladesh. Is she aware that just to go back to where Bangladesh stood before the flood requires £7 billion at least? Can she say something about how the UK Government intend to address that issue and encourage their international partners? Is she further aware that the UN representative, having received death threats, recently left the country and then returned? Is she satisfied with the level of security available and does she feel that the terrorist action in Bangladesh is hampering or preventing distribution of the money that has already been given by the British Government and other governments?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend's efforts to support the relief efforts in Bangladesh. With respect to recent political events, there has been a series of bomb blasts and terrorist threats across the country, targeting the opposition and religious minorities. As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, there is an investigation commission, which was due to report in three weeks, but that has now been extended by a further three weeks. We are awaiting the report of that commission. We will continue to make every effort that we can to ensure that the people of Bangladesh receive the humanitarian assistance that they require.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does the Lord President agree that the Bangladeshis are a lovely people and that they deserve any help we can give them?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I totally agree that we need to give as much support as we can to the people of Bangladesh.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the latest appalling experience in Bangladesh is a grave indication of the cost to the poorest people in the world if we do not get climate change under control? Does it not increase the responsibility of industrialised countries, such as our own, to commit themselves to the most effective policies possible in stopping the generation of global warming?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, of course we need to look at climate change and environmental factors. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made this issue a priority for our presidency of the G8 next year. But it is also important to remember that some regions in the world are subject to environmental disasters which, although related to climate change, do not relate only to climate change. Therefore, we not only need to deal with the climate change issue; we also need to ensure that the people of those countries have the right kind of skills and the right kind of support to manage disasters more effectively.