by Gareth Thomas MP
Whilst Lord Ashdown’s review of humanitarian disasters, and how the government responds to them, is welcome, early signals as to how sensitively the government will take the recommendations appear to be mixed.
The extra money for British development organisations responding to disasters is welcome, as is the public support for Valerie Amos’ (the UN Relief Co-ordinator) efforts to improve the UN’s leadership to ensure a more co-ordinated response to disaster relief.
Much less positive however, is the apparent reduction in effort by ministers to ensure more international money is committed to the UN’s key disaster fund (the Central Emergency Relief Fund). No minister attended the key international meeting in December looking at how the international community responds to disasters.
Neither the US or France, who commit little or no money to the UN’s disaster response fund, appear to have received any recent public or private pressure from British ministers. Indeed, Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, answering questions in the House of Commons, gave no commitment that the government would organise international meetings; engage in serious capital to capital lobbying; or place the issue on the G8 or EU Council agendas.
Securing improvements to how we respond to disasters continues to be an urgent task, but it requires serious ministerial effort to secure progress. In short, whilst the government’s rhetoric is positive, more evidence is needed to demonstrate that they are putting in the work behind the scenes to achieve real results.
Gareth Thomas MP is Labour & Co-operative Member of Parliament for Harrow West and Shadow Minister for Higher Education and Science. He was previously Minister of State at the Department for International Development.