Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Question 77: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed with his EU colleagues the degree to which a satisfactory and effective emergency response took place in relation to the Haiti disaster, if the precise procedures to be followed by the European Union in response to such disasters in the future if required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7231/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 83 together.
The earthquake of 12 January has been a devastating tragedy for the people of Haiti. It is estimated that well over 200,000 people have died. More than 1.2 million people are displaced, living in temporary shelters in and around the capital city, Port au Prince. A further 480,000 people are reported to have left the city and taken refuge in rural areas. Much of Haiti's key infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed.
It is agreed internationally that the United Nations should take the lead in the humanitarian response to such disasters and emergencies. In co-ordination with the United Nations, the European Union has taken decisive and comprehensive action to assist the people of Haiti. At the operational level, immediate support was provided through the deployment of search and rescue teams, and other expert personnel. EU member states and the European Commission quickly committed significant levels of emergency funding for emergency assistance, and airlifts of humanitarian supplies were organised.
On 18 January, the Monday after the earthquake, an extraordinary session of the EU Foreign Affairs Council was convened in Brussels to focus on the situation in Haiti. At the Council, the European Union pledged €122 million in humanitarian assistance, in addition to €100 million for the restoration of Government capacity in Haiti and €200 million for longer-term development. At its regular monthly meeting on 25 January, the Foreign Affairs Council reviewed the co-ordination of the European Union response, as well as contributions of member state military and security assets. In response to the needs identified by the UN, the Council agreed that the Union would provide a collective contribution of at least 300 police personnel to the UN stabilisation mission in Haiti, to be co-ordinated by the High Representative, Catherine Ashton.
The informal meeting of the European Council in Brussels last Thursday reviewed the EU response in Haiti. The Taoiseach and his colleagues were agreed that the European Union will have a key role to play in Haiti's recovery and rehabilitation over the medium and longer term. Together with the Haitian Government, the UN, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Commission is now participating in a comprehensive post-disaster needs assessment. When completed, this assessment will provide an important framework for international support into the recovery phase.
The Irish people have shown remarkable generosity in response to the needs of the people of Haiti. On their behalf, the Government has also played an important role, directly and as part of the overall European Union response. The details of that response are well known to the House.
Looking ahead, it is important that the European Union and the wider international community examine the response to the earthquake in Haiti and identify ways in which operational effectiveness could be further improved in future emergencies. The response in Haiti, for example, reflected many of the lessons learned in coping with the effects of the terrible tsunami in Asia in 2004. Ireland will ensure that the lessons learned from Haiti further strengthen the role the EU can play in future, in close co-ordination with the United Nations and other agencies.
In the context of the reconstruction of Haiti, it is important the funding provided be in the form of grants rather than loans. We should use whatever channels are available - whether through the Minister for Finance or the EU - to ensure that Haiti's outstanding debts to the International Monetary Fund are written off. Has an opinion been formulated with regard to the effectiveness of the rescue and reconstruction efforts in Haiti? Did we learn lessons as a result of the tsunami in 2004 or will it be necessary to learn such lessons in the future? Have the recommendations that were put forward in the aftermath of the tsunami been implemented? The Minister will have met representatives of the aid agencies and I wonder if they provided him with their views on that matter.
In the first instance, we have learned lessons as a result of the tsunami and its aftermath and not least in the context of the emergency relief fund that is now in place and that is ready to be used when disasters of this nature occur. The prepositioning of supplies, etc., is also an indication of lessons learned.
The fundamental difficulty encountered in Haiti related to the infrastructural challenges that arose. I refer here to the collapse of physical infrastructure, namely, the port and so on, and the very real problems that arose early on in the context of getting supplies into the country. Of critical importance - we will be obliged to reflect further on how to deal with matters of this nature in the future - was the collapse of Government capacity in Haiti. Members of the Government there and officials from Government Departments were wiped out by the earthquake. This had a devastating impact in terms of the capacity to organise rescue and relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Does it not reflect one of the great failures of United Nations reform that a civilian head of an emergency response unit was not in place in Haiti? My second question relates to the European media. The notion that there were serious infrastructural difficulties in Haiti which impeded the response to the disaster is partially contradicted by the fact that within 24 hours of the earthquake, 374 Cuban doctors - assisted by 400 Haitian interns - were providing relief to the people at two emergency field hospitals. The fact that this assistance has been available for a long time in Haiti proved an advantage.
Is the Minister not concerned that in the response of some European government, the emphasis shifted away from the importance of there being a civilian co-ordinator, responsible to the General Secretary of the United Nations, in place to co-ordinate the provision of aid? This deepens our previous discussions on the militarisation of aid, even emergency aid. Is it not evidence of an extraordinary blind spot on the part of the media that, with the exception of CNN, no one noticed the several hundred doctors who were able to provide care and man field hospitals within 24 hours of the earthquake?
I am sure the Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Peter Power, would be anxious to be of assistance to Members in respect of this matter. In that context, it might be useful to engage, at a later date, in a debate on the situation in Haiti-----
-----particularly in the context of how we might learn lessons with regard to how the aid was deployed, etc. I have read some first-hand accounts issued by aid agencies which indicate that a great deal of aid was brought into the country early on and was effective. However, there were infrastructural difficulties. Not least among these was that relating to the port, which was critical in the context of getting shipments of food and so forth into the country at an early date.
I am of the view that we should reflect on developing a coherent and cohesive approach, even from countries such as Ireland. I was taken aback by the plethora of organisations that were seeking donations from the public. Deputy Timmins and I have similar views on this matter. A more coherent, cohesive approach might be better overall in the context of harnessing the public's generosity.