HL Deb 18 November 1998 vol 594 cc1271-3

2.54 p.m.

Lord Shore of Stepney asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they have taken to assist the government and people of Bangladesh to deal with the recent flood disaster; and what assessment has been made of their continuing needs and priorities.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the Department for International Development has agreed to provide £22 million to help with relief and rehabilitation projects for the poor; £1 million was given very quickly to non-governmental organisations to help them provide food, water, medicines and shelter; £11 million is being used to provide food grains through the World Food Programme; and £10 million is being allocated to agricultural rehabilitation and the restoration of livelihoods and infrastructure. The priorities for the next few months are to re-establish agriculture and to help poor people who have lost their assets.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The needs of Bangladesh are enormous, and it is difficult to identify the main priorities. Will the Minister comment on two particular needs that have been brought to my attention? I should declare an interest as chairman of the British Bangladesh All-Party Parliamentary Group. The first relates to the silting of the rivers, which allows for the rapid accumulation of flood waters and acts as a brake on their dispersal; therefore the dredging of rivers is of enormous importance. Will the Minister inquire as to the need for dredgers in Bangladesh to help deal with that problem? Secondly, she will know of the remarkable work done by the Grameen Bank in the area of micro-lending to very poor people. It has been reported that the bank is in need of a loan of some 100 million dollars in order to help it to extend its activities in Bangladesh. I should be grateful for any information on that too.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his questions. In response to his point on the silting of rivers, the department has not been involved in river dredging works in Bangladesh. However, we shall continue to press those agencies that are involved in such work. In addition, we are concerned in terms of the longer-term effects of environmental damage that there is sufficient scientific research into these matters. We shall be pressing on that matter too.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State recently met Dr. Yunus from the Grameen Bank and was involved in discussions about anything that the department might do. He is particularly interested in commercial loans. We are waiting for the department's offices in Bangladesh to come back to us on that matter.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the major causes of the main drainage rivers in Bangladesh silting up is deforestation in the Himalayas, not necessarily in Bangladesh itself? What plans do the Government have to help with replanting in those areas, so that soil is not washed down into the rivers of Bangladesh and indeed of West Bengal in India?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I said in reply to the supplementary question, we are examining environmental degradation. We are looking at sustainability in the long term.

The noble Lord may also be aware that one of our priorities at the recent climate change conference in Buenos Aires was to increase the assistance provided through the global environment facility. In addition, we are looking at greater scientific research on this matter.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, is it considered that relief aid from NGOs in the state of Bangladesh has been well spent?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are continually looking at our programme priorities and the ways in which spending is allocated in this area. We have looked at the effectiveness of what we are doing. We are in continual dialogue with NGOs and the government of Bangladesh on this matter.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the speedy responses of the Government and of the Bangladeshi resident NGOs enabled the Government of Bangladesh to manage the crisis very effectively? Does she also agree that there needs to be international discussion on the long-term management not only of Nepal's deforestation but also of the 23 Farrakha dam feeder canals? Can my noble friend tell the House whether efforts have been made to secure international dialogue on this issue?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the people of Bangladesh responded well to the exceptionally bad floods this year. The fact that few people have died from malnutrition and that there has been no serious epidemic confirms that arrangements were generally effective. With respect to the long term, we are in discussion with the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank with regard to infrastructure development.

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