Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Tsunami Disaster: Statements.


12:00 pm

Mary Henry (Independent)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I welcome some of the points in his speech. It is very important that the delivery of aid will be monitored by the UN and that we will give assistance in this respect. While promises were certainly made regarding the Iranian earthquake in Bam, apparently only one fifth of the money promised turned up. I am extremely glad that the Government did not attempt to send the Army into any of the countries as some people had proposed. This would have looked very imperialistic and most of those countries have very fine armies. To send a small number of specialist personnel from the Defence Forces was much wiser. I am also very glad that we are co-operating fully with UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

I ask the Minister of State to co-operate with and encourage UNFPA in assisting maternity services in these countries. I was extremely distressed to discover that many of the deaths are due to tetanus. A very high percentage of people in the affected countries have not been vaccinated. Death by tetanus is appalling. We had done very well in reducing maternal mortality and neo-natal tetanus by helping UNFPA to distribute its birthing packs, which only cost approximately 25 cents. They consist of very simple things like a clean blade to cut the umbilical cord, clean tape with which to tie it and a clean piece of plastic on which the woman can give birth. The Minister of State should ask whether such equipment has been sent to the region in sufficient quantities, as pregnant women will give birth when the nine months are up. It would be terrible to think of losing so many women and babies due to tetanus. I had never thought of tetanus being a major problem in such a situation. However, with all the filth in which people are lying, it was bound to become a very serious problem.

I was very glad to hear the Minister of State say that aid to sub-Saharan Africa will not be cut. As he knows, that is very important to me. I have written to the Minister of State to ask if we could do something for Somalia, which is right beside Ethiopia, in which we have such very good programmes. I gather that President Museveni is trying to be as helpful as he can regarding the situation in Somalia. The newly-created Government in Somalia has asked for help and to date, as far as I can gather from the Internet, the response has come from South Africa, which has been very good, and a United States organisation, CARE. Further down the coast in Kenya and Tanzania, the Chinese are helping. Given that we have such good programmes right beside Somalia, we should be able to do some more. Just a few hundred people died in Somalia, as far as we know, but it has suffered from war, four years' drought and torrential rains. We should try to do something for its newly-established Government if we can. I ask the Minister of State to include such concerns on his list. Somalian fishing boats have been destroyed just as much as fishing boats in Sri Lanka.

Thailand has said it does not need outside assistance because it is one of the most prosperous countries in that region. I ask the Minister of State to examine the circumstances of the 20,000 or 30,000 Burmese workers in Thailand. I should submit an interest in this regard — we have made Aung San Suu Kyi a freeman of the city of Dublin. One of my sons helped to establish a strong support group, Burma Action Ireland, of which I am a member. The people of Burma have received great support from this country. Burmese workers in Thailand are afraid to come forward to get aid because some of them are there illegally. Perhaps some of the officials of our excellent diplomatic corps in Thailand can examine whether we can do anything for the Burmese workers. An initiative from our NGOs there could help them to receive some aid. I gather that the people in question are sheltering in the mountains, some of them with little food or supplies of any sort. They are afraid that they will be described as looters if they come down from the mountains with any possessions.

I note Senator Mansergh's comments about Mr. Sachs, who said that allocating 0.5% of our GNP is enough. Our embarrassment derives from the fact that the Taoiseach said at the United Nations that Ireland would donate 0.7%. Some people in developing countries might think we made the commitment because we wanted their votes to get onto the UN Security Council.


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