§ 3 38 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign arid Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the volcanic eruptions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Last Thursday at about 10 o'clock in the morning the Nyiragongo volcano near Goma in the DRC erupted. That evening the quantity and rate of lava flow from the volcano increased and further fissures opened up in Goma itself. Much of the town was engulfed and destroyed.
"Early reports suggest that about 100 people have lost their lives, but the death toll may rise further. Hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee their homes. Many crossed to Rwanda in the east to seek shelter in and around the town of Gisenyi. Others fled west in the direction of Sake inside the DRC. Some who were trapped in the town and under threat from the heat and from noxious gases have been helped to safety.
"The volcano continues to erupt and the whole area, including Gisenyi, is subject to continuing earth tremors. There also concerns that gases given off, especially deep in Lake Kivu, may be disturbed and could threaten the lives of civilians who remain in or return to the area.
"In spite of these dangers, many of those displaced are now moving back into Goma itself. Those affected naturally want to find out the extent of the destruction of their homes and property and to see what the chances of returning may be. It also appears that many would rather be in the DRC than seek refuge in Rwanda. Irrespective of where people choose to locate themselves, there is an urgent need for water and sanitation, healthcare, shelter and food. Cholera is a particularly serious threat.
"The response of the international community and of the Rwandan Government has been as follows. The Rwandan Government have already provided assistance to civilians trapped by the lava flows. The UN has redeployed resources from the DRC, and staff from Geneva, to lead the relief operation. MONUC, the UN peacekeeping operation in DRC, has made its logistical capacity available. The International Committee of the Red Cross and major international NGOs based in the area are already working to help those affected. The relief agencies have a presence and capacity on both sides of the Rwanda/DRC border and will be able to offer support where it is most needed—although the challenge will be considerable.
1344 "Appeals have been made to donors to help finance the relief operations. DfID has set aside £2 million to help fund the relief operation through Oxfam, Merlin, a UK emergency medical response agency, and the British Red Cross. We will also respond to the UN appeal. Oxfam has been asked by the UN to take on the role of providing water and sanitation, and a flight with equipment and supplies left RAF Manston on Saturday evening. That was paid for by DfID funding. Merlin will be providing healthcare to those affected. The organisation has considerable experience in the DRC and has a large and experienced team of Congolese professionals already present on the ground. The Red Cross will continue to deliver emergency help in Goma and Gisenyi.
"As the situation changes, DfID will continue to provide support to agencies already engaged on the ground and we stand ready to consider further help if necessary. Earlier this year, the ICRC received £5.5 million from DfID for its programme in DRC, including a significant element for humanitarian assistance.
"These two countries have already suffered a great deal from the conflict that has affected the region. This human catastrophe is another burden for the people of Goma to bear. I am sure the whole House will wish to express its sympathies to all of those who have been affected and who have lost loved ones".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. I apologise to her for missing the first minute of her speech. I was informed that the Statement would follow the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in the Northern Ireland debate.
Anyone who saw on television the weekend's harrowing scenes cannot fail to have been deeply moved. On behalf of these Benches, l should like to express our condolences to the many families who have lost loved ones. The region around Goma has suffered so many man-made problems that this natural disaster must be particularly hard to bear.
We welcome the £2 million announced in immediate aid to the victims of the volcano. Is that amount for short-term humanitarian aid only? Are the Government planning, in addition, long-term recovery assistance? Can the Minister also confirm the report in the Financial Times that the EU has announced £3.1 million of immediate emergency aid?
If refugees are now returning to Goma, as reports suggest, will the aid be in the right place at the right time? What is being done to provide aid to those who have returned home, given the lack of water and electricity within Goma?
This disaster has taken place in an area controlled by rebels. Past experience shows that where there are competing factions, competing donors and Competing aid agencies, strong co-ordination is needed. Is the 1345 Minister satisfied with the present arrangements? What role do the Government of the DRC and the Rwandan Government have in the humanitarian effort?
The volcanic eruption was, to a certain extent, predictable. Can the Minister say whether the new technology for measuring long episodes of seismic activity will be feasible in the long term to improve our response to such disasters? Finally, the Minister mentioned that gasses deep in Lake Kivu could threaten civilians in the area. Has any real measurement of this risk taken place?
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Lord Shutt of Greetland
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I should like to express our concerns, from a distance, at the appalling loss of life and devastation.
It occurs to me that there are three specific responses. There is the immediate response—referred to in the Statement—and the work of aid organisations such as Oxfam. Secondly, there is the long-term response. I should like an assurance that Her Majesty's Government are doing all they can in terms of the immediate and the long-term response to bring other nations, the European Union and the United Nations on board, so that the matter is taken extremely seriously and it is seen that the developed world has a real part to play.
Thirdly, I wonder whether out of tragedy may come opportunity. We have heard reference to the Government's "Africa concerns". Is this now an opportunity for the Government, having become involved in this specific issue, to see whether something can be done in terms of the politics of the area? Not only is there devastation; there is also the continuing dreadful dispute in the region. Is not this an opportunity to take hold of the politics as well as to respond to the devastation?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, the £2 million that has been announced is for short-term humanitarian assistance. Noble Lords will wish to know that we do not have a bilateral development programme with the Democratic Republic of the Congo because of the serious conflict in the country. However, we have contributed substantially to the humanitarian situation. The £2 million is part of that.
In terms of long-term recovery, we have a development programme with Rwanda to the tune of some £76 million over three years, 2000–2003. In December last year, the European Union considered approving a national indicative programme for the DRC which in the longer term would lead to bilateral assistance between the European Union and the DRC; but it is clearly dependent on progress being made in the inter-Congolese dialogue and the peace process in the DRC. So in terms of the long term within the DRC, we shall have to sit down and think about the implications of what has happened in Goma and how 1346 we might support long-term recovery in the DRC. As I said, currently we do not have a bilateral programme with the DRC.
On co-ordination, noble Lords will be aware that because of the conflict in the DRC different groups control different parts of the country. Therefore, the eastern DRC—the part of the DRC which borders Rwanda where Goma is situated—is controlled by the RCD Goma. We have to work with them and with the international agencies such as the ICRC and the UN. We are keeping a close eye on the situation. The Rwandan Government have been involved with regard to the move of the population from Goma into Rwanda. However, the bulk of the population has moved back to Goma and co-ordination becomes even more important. Goma has been a base for the UN peacekeeping operation. Humanitarian agencies have been based in Goma. That makes our job somewhat simpler.
As to aid being in the right place, we have aid agencies working in Rwanda and Goma so we are able to provide assistance
With regard to gases on Lake Kivu, noble Lords will understand that I am not remotely technical. However, although it is a possibility, the noxious gases about which we are worried have not so far been released. A technical team is keeping an eye on the situation. Noble Lords may also have seen press reports indicating that some of the equipment for monitoring volcanic activity was looted. We have had no confirmation of that.
Finally, on the Government's priority with regard to the new partnership for African development and working towards the G8 action plan for Africa, noble Lords will be aware that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is currently in the DRC—the visit has been long planned—with his colleague, Foreign Minister Vedrine from France. Part of the purpose of that visit is to ensure that French and British policy in the Great Lakes region is properly co-ordinated. Both countries consider the peace process extremely important. What is happening in the DRC has an impact on countries across the region. I am sure that peace and security will be a key element of any plan which is agreed on development issues for the African continent.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister two brief questions. First, did we have any early warning about the eruption? Some time ago I worked on early warning systems for famines. Are there any early warning systems for such eruptions? If not, would not they be a good idea?
Secondly, I often hear of ourselves and the EU giving aid to Afghanistan or the DRC. Do other individual members of the EU also give aid? If the Minister cannot tell me now, perhaps she will write to me.
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I asked the question on early warning systems. I understand that there has 1347 been some monitoring of the volcano in Goma. I am unable to say more about early warning systems but I shall write to my noble friend.
I regret that I did not answer the question on EU aid. The sum of 5 million euros—that may translate to £3.1 million; I have been unable to do the maths in the time—has been made available by the EU. In addition, individual member states can contribute. The Government of Belgium have pledged 1.25 million euros; the Government of France, 300,000 euros; the Government of Germany, 1.3 million euros; and Sweden 467,000 US dollars.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords, first, I declare an interest. One of my nieces is the head of the operations for relief and development in the Congo for the Irish charity, Concern, and may be in Goma today.
Pursuant to the question by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, when the Minister provides further information about the seismological resourcing and forecasting can the noble Baroness indicate whether the Government believe that those resources are adequately funded? Can she also clarify whether the volcanic monitoring equipment was looted before or after the eruption?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, as I said in answer to another question, I understand that the equipment was looted after the eruption but that has not been confirmed. It is an unconfirmed press report.
On the seismological issue, perhaps I may place in the Library of the House a letter answering questions raised by noble Lords.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the aid provided directly from the United Kingdom, which we all applaud, is separate from, and additional to, this country's share of the European Union aid which has also been provided?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I can confirm that. We have pledged £2 million. That is in addition to the money which has been pledged by the European Union.
§ Lord Stewartby
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the urgent, immediate and necessary support which is very much welcomed and also referred to recovery. Are we likely to make some contribution towards recovery, and on what basis? I have read reports that the volcano is continuously active and potentially exceedingly damaging. One has to ask the difficult question: is recovery or rebuilding a large town in an area so exposed to that risk the best way to recovery?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, when we have discussed humanitarian crises in the past, noble Lords have always been concerned about the recovery element. It is very early for us to know what any reconstruction effort may look like. The situation is complicated by the fact that we do not at present have a development assistance programme with the DRC because of the conflict which currently exists within the DRC, with different parts of the country being controlled by 1348 different groups. It is, therefore, too soon to say what might happen in Goma and what contribution, if any, the British Government might make.
I recognise that noble Lords are concerned about the issue. As soon as we have any further information, I shall share it with your Lordships.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, the Minister has answered in part my question. However, I should still like to ask it. It is fairly well known, alas, that this is an extremely divided country. How far does the writ of Kinshasa run in Goma? Will it be difficult for the Government to provide support without the risk that it will go straight into the pockets of Ministers in Kinshasa? I hope very much that all aid that we are giving is through international organisations. How will it be possible to discuss with the government at the head of the country the real problems which exist? I should like to know more about how we are dealing with that.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. We are channelling our humanitarian effort through NGOs. Of the £1 million that has so far been allocated from the £2 million total, some has gone to the Red Cross, some to Merlin and some to other organisations. The area of the DRC in question is controlled by RCD Goma and not by the Government of the DRC. That makes any discussion of long-term reconstruction difficult.
The Government are making efforts to look at peace and security in the area. We very much want implementation of the Lusaka agreement, which has a number of complementary elements within it, including the withdrawal of all foreign troops and the active involvement of the different groups within the inter-Congolese dialogue process. The next stage of that dialogue process will take place probably at the end of February in South Africa. In addition to that, we use every opportunity to engage in discussions not only with President Kabila and with leaders of the rebel movements, but also with the presidents of Uganda and Rwanda, for instance. Burundi has some interest because of the activities of the Interahamwe. Your Lordships will know that the conflict has also touched Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia.
The situation is extremely complicated. We think that the implementation of the Lusaka agreement is the best way forward and we shall do all we can to promote that.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, on the question asked by my noble friend Lady Park, is it not important that the Government, when rightly dealing with locally established NGOs in Goma, should also establish good relationships with whoever is in charge in Goma? Is it not the case that two or three years ago, when the latest civil war swept through Bukavu, further south at the southern end of Lake Kivu, a great deal of property was lost by NGOs which failed to take into account the views of their representatives on the ground who had made deals with the general in 1349 charge? Is it not important to deal with those who are effectively in charge and not allow ourselves to be deflected by amour propre in Kinshasa?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right. It is important in terms of co-ordination that we deal with the authorities that exist on the ground. RCD Goma plays that role in Goma at the moment. In addition to talking to its representatives locally about the current situation, we are engaged with them at a broader level on the wider process of inter-Congolese dialogue. We are well aware of the difficulties that exist and the importance of keeping a dialogue process going with all the different groups represented in the DRC. The dialogue process has been difficult at times. At the last phase the dialogue broke down, but we are confident that we shall make progress at the next stage.
It is important to point out that we see some of the tensions currently emerging through the dialogue process as positive signs, because at least the groups are talking. The difficulties are being discussed rather than the groups constantly going back to using violence and arms.