Statement by Minister of State for Overseas Development Mr. Peter Power T.D., Meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, 24 August 2010, Pakistan Floods
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Statement by Minister of State for Overseas Development Mr. Peter Power T.D.
Meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, 24 August 2010
I would like to begin by thanking the Chairman, Dr. Michael Woods, and Committee for taking the initiative of convening this meeting. I would also pay tribute to the work of Ambassador Hashmi who has worked tirelessly to mobilise aid and facilitate access for humanitarian aid and aid workers into Pakistan. I met with the Ambassador last week, in the early stages of this disaster, to discuss the response of her Government and the international community and the contribution that Ireland can best make.
Chairman, I am profoundly concerned by the current humanitarian crisis in Pakistan and it behoves us to use all opportunities at our disposal to continue to raise awareness in all quarters of the scale of this disaster and the need for a global response. We simply must give this catastrophe the urgency it demands.
I returned on Friday last from New York where I addressed the UN General Assembly on behalf of the Government at an emergency meeting on the situation in Pakistan. I appealed to the international community to wake up to the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis facing us.
Over 1,400 people have lost their lives.
15 million people have been affected by the flooding. This may rise even further.
This is an extraordinary scale by anyone’s reckoning. It is stretching the capacity of our global humanitarian mechanisms to respond.
The damage to infrastructure has seen us rely on mules and donkeys to deliver life-saving aid. While the Pakistani Government and the international community have made dozens of helicopters available, this simply is not a sustainable way to deliver assistance to millions of people.
The UN World Food Programme, to which Ireland contributes significantly, needs to feed six million people, its largest caseload this decade. It has already reached two million providing them with food for a month but that leaves many people, especially children, at risk of starvation.
The international community learnt many lessons from its response to the Asian tsunami and considerable improvements have been made to emergency response mechanisms. The United Nations instituted a cluster system to provide greater clarity of the needs in an emergency and to assist our collective coordination to meet them. I am proud that Ireland played a role in introducing these improvements. This system is now being used in Pakistan and while not everything is working perfectly, the benefits of the Cluster System are clear to see. When I visited Haiti last month I saw this system in operation and working effectively.
However, new humanitarian emergencies such as the scale of destruction and loss of life we experienced in the Haiti earthquake and the current situation in Pakistan continue to challenge our ability to deliver the required response.
The needs of the people of Pakistan are not complex - clean water, food, shelter and medicines. Delivering this aid to where it is needed is where the complexity arises. The nature of much of the terrain, the persistent flood waters, the scale of the devastation and affected population, the damage to essential transport infrastructure and the effects of conflict and insecurity are all combining to complicate the delivery of essential aid.
The rains and flooding continue and will persist into September, further complicating the relief effort.
In terms of the coordination of the humanitarian response, the Government of Pakistan is rightly taking the lead. However, I would emphasise to this committee the vital role which the United Nations needs to play in working closely with the Government of Pakistan in coordinating the global response. It is vital also to ensure that appropriate assistance is provided to all those in need, as soon as possible, as well as ensuring that there is no duplication of aid or gaps in the response.
Coordination and cooperation provide us with the best strategy for an effective humanitarian response and anything less will result in further loss of life. I saw at first hand in Haiti the vital importance of delivering aid in a coordinated manner. The work done by the United Nations, in this regard, is invaluable. Ireland contributes very significant funding to the UN agencies involved in this effort, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs or OCHA, the World Food Programme and UNICEF. On Thursday I had a detailed meeting with the person coordinating the global response, John Holmes, the head of OCHA.
We must also remain aware of the enormous challenges faced by individuals caught up in this crisis. People are understandably desperate to provide for their families, to help feed their children and to rescue those still trapped by the rising flood waters. It is our responsibility to help them.
Furthermore, I would appeal to all those responding to continue to observe international humanitarian principles to ensure that those in need receive the most timely and appropriate assistance. Adherence to these principles is the best way to ensure that aid reaches those most in need.
The Government and public have already contributed generously to the humanitarian response and the funds continue to arrive in support of our Non-Governmental Organisations. As of late last week, the Irish public had donated €2.5 million which is an extraordinary response given the challenges we face ourselves at present.
The Government has prioritised in recent years the pre-positioning of emergency assistance to enable the fastest possible release of humanitarian assistance by our partners in the event of a sudden onset emergency such as the floods in Pakistan. This strategy has been implemented by pre-positioning funding with a number of key NGOs and through annual contributions to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, the CERF. The CERF enables the UN to immediately access resources to assist in sudden onset emergencies such as this. Since 2006, Ireland has provided €73 million in funds to the CERF, including €20 million in 2009. Our pre-positioning of this money has provided the United Nations partner agencies with the necessary flexibility and early resource mobilisation which is vital for their initial response.
In addition, since 2007 we have pre-positioned emergency non-food items through a partnership with the WFP. These supplies have proven invaluable in providing early and speedy humanitarian assistance. Last week, I authorised the release of a consignment of tents from our stores arrived in Islamabad for distribution through the International Organisation for Migration. I will be adding to these supplies this week.
Ireland is also working with our stand-by partner agencies, such as the UN Refugee Agency and the UN World Food Programme, to support their operations through the provision of personnel from our Rapid Response Corps. I am pleased to inform you that a member of the Dublin Fire Service, and trained as part of the Framework for Emergency Management, is being deployed this week as part of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, UNDAC, carrying out needs assessments in Pakistan.
Ireland has provided further resources to a number of key responding partners in this emergency. We have provided funding support to some of our partner NGOs such as Concern and Trócaire. Ireland also prioritises the coordination role of the United Nations and we have provided targeted funds to UNOCHA for their response.
I was able to announce a more than doubling of Ireland’s humanitarian assistance to €2 million in total at the UN late last week. My officials are currently examining the allocation of these funds with implementing partners on the basis of needs assessments on the ground in Pakistan. I would emphasise to the committee that this is our initial humanitarian response for the relief phase of this emergency and compares favourably with other countries. Further funding will be provided once a comprehensive Post Disaster Needs Assessment has been carried out.
This year started with the devastating earthquake in Haiti. We continue to work closely with our partners in that country to ensure the recovery is as effective and comprehensive as possible. Humanitarian disasters do not respect annual calendars and we are now faced with a further enormous challenge in the flooding situation in Pakistan. I am grateful, once again, to have the opportunity here today to continue to draw attention to the scale and nature of this appalling crisis.
We still have the opportunity to save lives in Pakistan.
I would like to assure the committee that assisting and facilitating the humanitarian response in Pakistan is a key priority for me as Minister. I believe the global community will be measured by how we respond to the enormous humanitarian needs of the Pakistani people in this time of unprecedented crisis.