Oral statement to Parliament

Statement to House of Commons on the Pakistan floods from Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

COPY PENDING

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the floods in Pakistan. I am sure that Members of all parties will wish to express their profound sadness at the terrible suffering and devastation that the catastrophe has caused. Our thoughts are with all those families, both in Pakistan and here, whose lives have been touched by this terrible natural disaster.

It is now nearly a month since the devastating floods hit Pakistan, and it is almost impossible to describe the magnitude of what has happened. Ten years’ equivalent of rainfall fell in one week, and subsequently a wall of water has travelled 1,200 miles down the country. Some 12.5 million people are in need of immediate assistance and 1.2 million homes have been damaged or destroyed. More than 1 million head of livestock have been lost and 3.5 million hectares of standing crops damaged or lost. The estimated cost to Pakistan’s economy this year alone is $4 billion.

Britain will continue to do everything we can to help. I am particularly concerned about the potential for a secondary humanitarian public health crisis due to the slow draining of waters from Sindh province and parts of Punjab, the lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities, and inadequate health facilities to treat the outbreak of water-borne disease. I have discussed all those concerns on a number of occasions with the United Nations Secretary-General, and he has assured me that the UN, working with partners on the ground, will do all it can to respond to the threat.

I am pleased to be able to say that the UK has been at the forefront of the international community’s response to the disaster and was the first major country to come to Pakistan’s support in significant scale in its hour of need. The Department for International Development has sent 3,500 all-weather tents to provide shelter for up to 10,000 people. More plane loads of aid quickly followed, providing tents, shelter kits, water containers and blankets to help many thousands more affected by the floods. We have drawn upon all resources available to the Government. The Royal Air Force has flown in five plane loads of relief, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the contribution of our armed forces in this crisis.

Our assistance to date includes help for 500,000 malnourished children and pregnant or breastfeeding women through the provision of high-energy food supplements, treatment for severely malnourished children and the training of health workers. We are providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for 800,000 people, and have prioritised clean water and health interventions in Punjab and Sindh. Our support is helping to provide hygiene kits for more than 500,000 people and is being channelled through Save the Children, Concern and Oxfam. We are also providing shelter for up to 40,000 households through the Pakistan Red Crescent movement and working closely with Islamic Relief.

In addition, I am pleased to announce the overnight arrival in Karachi, in Pakistan, of the first of three new flights delivering DFID relief goods. It will bring much needed water purification units, pumps and water tanks to assist those in desperate need of clean drinking water. The other two flights will carry a range of items, including water carriers and shelter kits. We are also starting emergency production lines in two factories in Pakistan to produce hygiene kits and water containers that will help stop the spread of water-borne diseases in southern Pakistan, and are helping to set up an emergency field operation and co-ordination base camp near Sukkur to provide a base for relief workers in the middle of the worst flood-affected area.

My Department has also brought forward a bridge rehabilitation programme as part of the recovery effort. The first 10 bridges left Tilbury docks last week and will arrive in Karachi later this month. That assistance will help to open access routes and reduce the pressure on much-needed air assets.

Soon after the flooding started, I travelled to Pakistan with my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Warsi to see for myself the devastation. I visited the town of Pir Sabaq in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and saw the 12 foot-high watermarks on the remaining walls of the houses. It is not easy to imagine the terror and panic that must have affected particularly older, less mobile people and children as the mountain of water swept through the town. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan last week made a similarly deep impression on him. During our visits, the Deputy Prime Minister and I discussed the situation with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, as well as with representatives of UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and donors.

Following my visit to Pakistan, I went immediately to attend the UN General Assembly special session on the Pakistan floods, to support the UN Secretary-General’s appeal. The initial response of the international community was woefully inadequate. I used that meeting to encourage other nations to contribute more and announced the doubling of the UK’s contribution to the relief effort to £64 million. We have consistently worked to co-ordinate the effort of the donor community and on the ground with Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, under the experienced leadership of General Nadeem. The Pakistan authorities, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society and local and international agencies, including many brilliant British non-governmental organisations, have worked tirelessly throughout. We will continue to work closely with all partners to ensure that the response is as effective as it can be.

I should like to assure the House that my Department has throughout been committed to transparency and achieving value for money. We have not simply signed a cheque and handed it over. Our contributions to this humanitarian crisis have been based on detailed and rigorous assessments of needs on the ground. We are working night and day to ensure that every penny spent achieves a meaningful output that alleviates the suffering of the victims of this disaster. We have recently put a floods monitor on DFID’s website to enable everyone to see where and how British aid is being spent to help those affected by the floods in Pakistan. All the UK’s humanitarian assistance is provided through impartial agencies or through goods in kind.

I should also like to express my profound gratitude and respect for the unstinting hard work and skill shown by all British Government officials-both in DFID and from across Whitehall-throughout this emergency.

In addition to the UK taxpayer’s contribution, the British people have once again demonstrated their compassion and generosity. I am sure all hon. Members will wish to join me in commending the magnificent response from the British public, who have committed more than £47 million to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. We continue to urge people to give, and to give generously, to that appeal.

Our commitment is not just for the current emergency relief phase but also for the long haul. We will remain at Pakistan’s side to help people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We will also support the longer-term reconstruction needs, such as schools, health clinics and other essential infrastructure, which are being considered as part of the bilateral aid review of our development programme.

Although the floods have been a terrible tragedy, their aftermath offers a genuine opportunity for Pakistan. It is an opportunity for the international community to come together and provide exceptional support to Pakistan in its hour of need, but equally, the situation offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Government of Pakistan to drive forward a radical economic reform agenda that could make a real difference to the future of the country.

The UK and Pakistan are bound together by bonds of history and family, which underline our support for Pakistan in good times and in bad. The Pakistani diaspora living in Britain ensures that our two countries remain closely linked. This bond will remain strong over the coming months and years, as we work together to help Pakistan to recover from this unprecedented catastrophe.