HL Deb 24 January 2005 vol 668 cc998-9

2.45 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many water purification units held either by water companies in the United Kingdom or by the Ministry of Defence have been sent to the areas devastated by the recent tsunami.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, we are unaware of any MoD-owned water purification units being asked for or provided to the countries affected by the recent tsunami. However, Royal Navy engineers assisted with the repair and refurbishment of desalination plant in the Maldives. We are aware that water companies have independently supplied 56 water purification units to Sri Lanka to date.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno

My Lords, while I am grateful for the Minister's Answer, it is also disappointing. Is he aware of, and happy with, the contribution of the United Kingdom? I was informed in a Written Answer in November that the MoD held 187 water purification units and that the water authorities held 170, yet only 56 have been sent. Is the Minister content that we have done all we can to meet water needs in this area of tremendous catastrophe?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am afraid I cannot agree with what the noble Lord is suggesting. The response from the UK has been absolutely superb at all levels. Indeed, I think the noble Lord should bear in mind that what matters is what is asked for by the agencies which have a lead in the area, whether they be the World Health Organisation, UNICEF or the individual governments concerned. No request has been made to DfID, as the lead department, for water purification units. If there had been, and DfID had asked the Ministry of Defence to supply some of its own units, then that is what we would have done.

Lord Naseby

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I returned from Sri Lanka and the Maldives yesterday? I should like to place on record the thanks from the President of Sri Lanka and the President of the Maldives for the response of Her Majesty's Government and, in particular, for the work that the Royal Navy did at Batticaloa in Sri Lanka and for restoring the generators in the Maldives. That said, our country does not have a formal aid programme to the Maldives. Is the Minister prepared to review the situation so that there is a formal aid programme? If he were to ask for information on Vilufishi and Muli, I suspect that the noble Lord would discover that both those islands still need water purification.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for passing on the thanks of those to whom he has spoken. On his second point, I understand that DfID is making assessments for the long term, and no doubt the matter that he raises will be assessed as well.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, I join in congratulating the Government on the speed of their response. Impressed as we all are by the enormous public response, is my noble friend aware that some companies in the industry are saying that there is a case for DfID carrying out urgent evaluation of new technical solutions now on the market and capable of mass production which are medically much more reliable than the traditional water purification technologies? That is particularly important in parts of Indonesia where sewage systems, having collapsed, are contaminating fresh water supplies.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I was not aware of the cases that he mentioned. I know that DfID is assessing what we can do in the long term and any suggestions for improvements in those items will also be considered.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, in the light of the tragic case of the dalits—the so-called low-caste Indians denied food and water and shelter in camps for tsunami survivors—will the Minister confirm that efforts will be made to ensure that aid is given regardless of race, class or political affiliation?

Lord Bach

Yes, my Lords; of course I can give that assurance to the House. It is an important assurance and we stand by it.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, perhaps the Minister can help me and many other people. When aid is gathered together either here or overseas, who co-ordinates to which country it should go and, when it gets there, who makes sure that it gets to the right people and does not fall into the wrong hands?

Lord Bach

My Lords, as far as concerns the tsunami, the United Nations has the lead responsibility to co-ordinate the aid and make sure that it gets into the right hands.