Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Priority Questions.

Overseas Development Aid.

4:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 5: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the shortfall on international contributions to the United Nations appeal for Pakistan; the reason for such a shortfall; and the measures he intends to take by way of international pressure to ameliorate this situation as far as the European Union and the international community are concerned. [33558/05]

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Ireland was among the first countries to respond to the appalling disaster in South Asia. Within a few hours of the earthquake, €1 million was pledged towards immediate relief efforts in northern Pakistan and the surrounding regions. As the casualty figures rose dramatically, our response was increased to €5 million, placing Ireland as one of the highest donors to the disaster on a per capita basis. Ireland's rapid contribution has been warmly and broadly welcomed.

Ireland's pledge to the disaster has been fully committed. It is essential that pledges are honoured so that vital assistance can be delivered to save lives. Approximately €1.5 million of our assistance has been allocated to key UN humanitarian agencies, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme. Over €2.5 million has been allocated to non-governmental organisations such as Concern, GOAL, Oxfam, Plan Ireland and Trócaire, which are active in the provision of essential services on the ground. These services include the provision of food, health services, shelter, water and sanitation.

Logistically, this disaster is one of the toughest challenges faced by the UN and the international community. Some 15,000 villages were affected and many are in areas which are difficult to reach. We are continually monitoring the situation in the region and officials from my Department will conduct a technical mission to the areas affected to meet with our partners on the ground and to report on the issues facing the region. Ireland will be represented at the reconstruction conference planned to take place in Islamabad on 19 November next.

The updated UN "flash appeal" for the region has called for nearly $550 million in funding for immediate relief needs. A little over €130 million has been pledged to date. Some of the pledges made by donors have yet to materialise into confirmed contributions. Even if all the pledges are confirmed, that still leaves a very considerable shortfall. I support President Musharraf's call for more generous assistance, specifically from Islamic, EU and OECD states. I have stressed the urgency of the provision of further aid and the importance of honouring pledges to my EU counterparts at a meeting of EU Development Ministers which was hosted by the British Presidency in Leeds in the past few weeks.

It will take much analysis and probably the benefit of considerable hindsight to understand why one crisis may generate huge public support while another suffers a shortfall. We may never know the full answer to this. The international community's response to the tsunami disaster was overwhelming and very generous. However, there are many humanitarian crises in the world at any one time. They generate various levels of support. Regrettably some become "forgotten" crises. That is why Ireland is a strong advocate of the principles and good practice of good humanitarian donorship or GHD. By leading donors, including Ireland, this initiative seeks to ensure the response to humanitarian crises is based purely on needs assessment and allocated according to the principles of independence, neutrality, humanity and impartiality.

Ireland also supports the moves by the UN to strengthen the international response to humanitarian crises. The number and scale of natural disasters this year reinforces the need for global resources to be mobilised and deployed rapidly to bring humanitarian relief on a large scale to anywhere in the world. Ireland has been actively focussing on how we can better respond to such emergencies.

Internationally, Ireland supports the enhancement of the UN's central emergency relief fund and I have pledged €10 million to that end.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This will create a new grant-based fund that will allow UN agencies to respond more immediately and effectively in the face of a sudden on-set of a disaster. Work is also continuing at EU level to improve civil protection and rapid response capability through the tsunami follow-up action plan. The further development of rapid response capacity must complement and support the UN's primary role as coordinator in humanitarian disasters. At the national level, we are examining ways in which the Government's response to disasters and emergencies can be enhanced through a more operational role. That work is being actively pursued.

With regard to the contribution of other donors, the UN financial tracking system maintains information on donors' contributions to UN appeals and more broadly on donors' contributions to particular emergencies. According to the information available to my Department in relation to the South Asia earthquake, the per capita donor contribution to date is set out in a table which I have made available to Deputies.

Per capita humanitarian grant comparison table.
Country Population Contribution %
Qatar 860,000 20,000,000 23.26
Sweden 9,000,000 18,801,000 2.09
Ireland 3,600,000 5,000,000 1.39
Norway 4,600,000 4,267,000 0.93
Denmark 5,400,000 4,839,000 0.90
Netherlands 16,400,000 12,056,000 0.74
Switzerland 7,500,000 3,274,000 0.44
Canada 32,800,000 12,983,000 0.40
Australia 20,000,000 7,675,000 0.38
United States 295,700,000 97,044,000 0.33
Finland 5,200,000 1,202,000 0.23
Japan 127,400,000 24,340,000 0.19
Belgium 10,400,000 1,965,000 0.19
United Kingdom 60,400,000 10,665,000 0.18
Turkey 69,600,000 10,254,000 0.15
Greece 10,700,000 1,574,000 0.15
Saudi Arabia 26,400,000 3,263,000 0.12
Austria 18,200,000 2,236,000 0.12
Italy 58,100,000 6,929,000 0.12
Malaysia 23,950,000 2,380,000 0.10
Germany 82,400,000 7,715,000 0.09
France 60,650,000 3,606,000 0.06

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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My question concentrated mostly on the international response and while I appreciate the Minister of State's detailed comments on the Irish response, it is on the international response I would like to ask him some further questions.

The reality, which requires little analysis, is that $550 million has been sought, and of that, as the Minister of State noted, $133 million has been pledged. Of that latter figure, $84 million has been received. That is where we stand. We now have 3 million people on their 30th night of living in the open with a specific request for their needs of 100,000 to 200,000 tents. The death rates, though we cannot judge their accuracy, are not below 175,000 with 70,000 injured. That needs further analysis and there are questions of remoteness.

The issue is that of the international community's response which is running at less than 25% of Kofi Annan's appeal. While it will be interesting to compare one set of responses to another, there has been an outrageous neglect in terms of the response, which represents a moral challenge.

Europe has been very good at responding. I am not pointing a finger, but the additional €80 million being suggested by the European Commission is conditional on approval by the Council of Ministers in the European Parliament. Has that approval been given? The issue is simply one of the European Commission responding to the international outrage at the huge shortfall on this very obvious appeal.

We can identify the needs and the costs involved but help has not been provided, nor has there been movement with regard to the tents required by 2 million people. Are the mechanisms for approval in place? The Minister of State referred to the November conference but that will be too late. The figures for reconstruction are welcome and will be valuable in the spring but it will be too late by then for hundreds of thousands of people. Funding is needed now for an immediate response. While I support the Government on its proposals to the UN for emergency mechanisms to respond to disasters, the misery of the response on this occasion is atypical.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I share the Deputy's utter frustration in this regard. I do not wish to be seen as patting ourselves on the back but Ireland has responded consistently and rapidly to every humanitarian crisis of 2005. As the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, insisted at the beginning of the year with regard to the tsunami, we have diligently tracked these pledges and held countries to account so that promises are honoured and the delivery of money is not delayed. We deliver in a timely manner so it is a cause of frustration to us that some countries which pledge do not deliver and some do not pledge. Why have some people been timely in responding to other crises but not with regard to the events in Pakistan?

I met Pakistan's ambassador to Dublin, who pleaded with me to put pressure on other donor countries, including other European countries, to provide money to help these people who, as the Deputy noted, are in a desperate and unconscionable situation. I have decided to write to my European Union colleagues and to other countries which have not contributed to this appeal to put them under pressure.

Last Monday, the Minister attended a meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers, at which Jack Straw, in his role as President of the Council, put further pressure on our European colleagues to provide money. This task is not easy because evidence of previous crises suggests that certain countries specialise in making pledges but do not deliver on them. We have asked, at OECD and UN level, that such response be tracked and reported on.

I cannot shed light on the Deputy's query on the European Union's €18 million but I can revert to him on the matter. The Commission has a stand-by response fund of €5 million which can be spent immediately without needing to consult the mechanisms referred to by the Deputy.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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A proposal has been made for at least €80 million and we await the response of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Generally speaking, the European response is good. The Minister made strong representations at every level in terms of equipping Europe with a more appropriate and speedy civil response mechanism. He consistently identified such a priority at meetings throughout this year and we intend to follow that up.

It is frustrating that not everyone is like us in providing money. Alongside the Nordic states and the UK, we are part of a like-minded group of countries which is performing well. These circumstances are mirrored in the wider development scene. Europe is delivering on long-term development financial assistance in terms of target dates for the achievement of 0.7%, but other countries, including wealthy G8 members, cause me deep despondency by not delivering on percentage commitments.

I made a pledge in New York with regard to the central emergency relief fund and we will back it if a proper mechanism is devised. Such a fund is badly needed because it is criminal to assign to the UN the primary role in responding to these types of human and natural disasters if the organisation is not funded to respond in a timely manner. We are moving to address that matter.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Can we fast-track the response to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament with regard to the €80 million?

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I will inquire of the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Mr. Louis Michel, whether that can be done and will revert to the Deputy. As Europe has its own ways of working, I am reluctant to give a firm commitment on that matter.