HL Deb 16 September 2004 vol 664 cc121-4WS
Baroness Amos

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 14 September 2004 I provided the House with an oral Statement on the impact that Hurricane Ivan was having on a number of islands in the Caribbean. I would like to update the House today, in advance of the recess, on the latest situation and the international relief effort being undertaken. I will provide a further Written Statement following the return of the House.

Hurricane Ivan has now passed through the Caribbean and is in the Gulf of Mexico. It was downgraded to a category 4 hurricane and made landfall along the United States coast on 15 September. It took one week, from 7 to 14 September, for the hurricane to travel from Grenada, to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and finally western Cuba, causing over 60 deaths and severe damage along its way.

The situation in Grenada continues to be serious. The latest reports from the island indicate that 37 people died and over 300 were injured as a result of the hurricane. Two-thirds of the population (60,000 people) are reportedly affected and it is estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 people are living in shelters. The range of figures reflects that many of these shelters are private houses of which there are up to 200. Electricity supply continues to be a problem and piped water is available to only about a third of households across the island. In the mean time water tankers are operating, but fuel is in short supply. This is hampering both transport and emergency electricity generation. The main hospital is working and sustained only minor damage. Drugs are in short supply as the main stock was destroyed. Other hospitals on the island suffered more extensive damage. There is a dawn to dusk curfew following the looting that occurred immediately after the hurricane had hit the island.

The relief operation is scaling up quickly but continues to face problems with co-ordination and communications. The emergency operation centre building was destroyed in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane but was brought back into operation by the efforts of HMS "Richmond". It is now fully operational with assistance from the regional Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency and a recently arrived United Nations disaster assessment and co-ordination team. Roads and airports are now open. Distribution of food and other relief items is proceeding slowly, in part due to fuel shortage and in part due to the scale of properly assessing where need is greatest. The United Nations team will help in prioritising the delivery of supplies. Communicating with the population is also a constraint. There are only FM broadcasts operational, and these do not reach the whole island. The two dependencies of Carriacou and Petit Martinique have yet to be assessed.

As I reported to the House on 14 September, the Department for International Development delivered plastic sheeting for 1,400 families and water containers for 11,000 people on 11 September and made an immediate contribution of some £83,000 to the Pan American Health Organisation. We have since made a contribution of £132,000 to the preliminary appeal for Grenada of the International Federation of the Red Cross. The Pan American Health Organisation and the International Federation of the Red Cross are both active in Grenada. The Pan American Health Organisation has deployed medical personnel and vaccines. The International Federation of the Red Cross has sent a number of relief flights with basic relief items, including shelter materials. The Department for International Development is continuing to monitor the situation closely, in particular the level of medical supplies on the island, and will consider providing further relief assistance as needs become clearer. We are in daily contact with the Pan American Health Organisation concerning health needs.

The United States Agency for International Development has provided plastic sheeting for 25,000 people and other relief items in Grenada. The Canadian International Development Agency has approved support of £211,100 and the European Community's Humanitarian Office has approved an allocation of £1.03 million for Grenada. The bulk of this allocation will go towards the Red Cross operation and Oxfam who are assisting with emergency water and sanitation work. The United Kingdom's share of this European Community support is about £200,000.

The two-person humanitarian assessment team sent to the region by the Department for International Development arrived in Kingston, Jamaica on 13 September. On 14 September, they met with representatives from the Government of Jamaica, national and international organizations, and other donors. They report good co-ordination between the Government's Office for Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, the Jamaican Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the United Nations disaster assistance and co-ordination team. Joint rapid assessments are under way with several areas of the island already identified as the most severely affected. These areas include Westmoreland, Claredon, Morant Bay, May Penn and the north-east Blue Mountains. It is not thought that there is widespread devastation but there are a number of pockets of devastation.

Until the assessments are completed, exact figures are difficult to come by but there are reported to be 200 to 245 shelters open, serving between 4,000 to 13,000 residents across the island. Water is the key issue in many of the hardest hit communities. Food stocks in the Blue Mountain region were reported as running low. Heavy flooding in the surrounding area is delaying assessments. As an interim measure, the Government of Jamaica through their defence forces have airlifted an initial stock of food to the region. The Red Cross has also delivered relief supplies. Although most of the hospitals are operational, they report a lack of power and water supplies with much of the ground water contaminated. The Pan American Health Organisation is working with the Ministry of Health to identify specific needs in the health sector and resolve these problems. A number of non-governmental organisations have undertaken preliminary assessments to address short-term relief needs. The Department for International Development has received requests for funding support from Save the Children, Oxfam and ADRA. These proposals are being urgently considered.

The Department for International Development assessment team arrived on the Cayman Islands, from Jamaica, on 15 September. They are assisting the Government in undertaking urgent humanitarian needs assessments, which will determine what further urgent supplies are required. Initial estimates indicate 15–20 per cent of residential houses completely destroyed and 20 per cent with major damage. The Department for International Development had already responded to an earlier request for assistance by procuring 3 million water purification tablets, 50 chainsaws, 500 camp cots for children and 5,000 pieces of plastic sheeting. These supplies are on their way to the island, with our first relief flight arriving today. The International Federation of the Red Cross is also planning a relief flight.

The Governor is concerned about maintaining security on the islands and is looking to obtain additional security support. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is considering the request. The Governor is not aware of medical supply problems but the assessment being undertaken will confirm these and other needs. The main concern appears to be water supply and the need to deliver water purification tablets, which the Department for International Development is supplying. A water trucking system is being set up. HMS "Richmond" sent a 17-person party on shore on 14 September. They have repaired generators, attended to damaged buildings and have been providing food distributions. Of a population of 42,000, approximately 3,000 people remain in shelters.

Food supplies are being delivered to all shelters. The airport on the island is now fully operational and busy with both passenger and cargo aircraft. This has enabled 30 dialysis patients needing emergency dialysis and ongoing care to be airlifted to the United States by Cayman Airways. Shops have reopened. The Caribbean Utilities Company will support restoration of power supplies.

Ivan swung past the western edge of Cuba late on 13 September as a category 5 hurricane. One and a half million people had been evacuated from the area by the Cuban authorities, with 300,000 people placed in shelters. The western area of Cuba is sparsely populated and there have been no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or serious damage to buildings. It is mainly a tobacco-growing area but planting does not begin till next month so limited damage is expected on tobacco crops. Its impact on agricultural installations and housing in coastal areas is to be reported. Airports have reopened and children are expected to return to school this week.

The Ministry of Foreign Investment and Economic Co-operation is forming an assessment team to inform the Government of needs. Cuba prepared itself well ahead of the hurricane and fortunately appears to have been spared the full force of the hurricane, and national emergency services have mobilised rapidly to distribute food and non-food items to displaced people.

While Hurricane Ivan has passed out of the Caribbean, hurricane warnings remain in place for the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Residents and tourists have been evacuated from areas likely to be affected by strong winds and waves. No reports are yet available on the impact on the Yucatan Peninsula but damage is likely to be contained.

Further information on the continuing relief effort to affected islands will be made available via the Department for International Development website www.dfid.gov.uk. This will include details of how concerned members of the public could help via relief agencies.