Cyclone Idai

20th March 2019

Andrew Mitchell secures a Government statement on Britain’s help for those caught up in the cyclone disaster that is afflicting southern Africa.

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on Britain’s help for those caught up in the cyclone disaster that is afflicting southern Africa.

I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing shock at the loss and devastation following the deadly cyclone Idai across southern Africa.

Alongside the Met Office, we have been tracking this cyclone and supplies were pre-positioned in Mozambique. We have so far committed £6 million to respond to immediate needs. I am pleased to inform the House that more tents and thousands of shelter kits have now landed in Mozambique.

We have teams on the ground in each of the three countries affected, including humanitarian and relief experts. We are working with other international partners, including the UN and the Red Cross, to address immediate needs across the three countries.

This massive disaster has swept across southern Africa, affecting in particular three Commonwealth and suspended Commonwealth countries. The United Nations has made it clear that hundreds of thousands of people are affected and that this is heading towards being the worst weather-related disaster to hit the southern hemisphere.

The President of Mozambique says that 1,000 of his citizens have perished, and, as we have seen graphically on our televisions from the reporting by the BBC’s Fergal Keane, the important port city of Beira has been flattened, with almost all port structures destroyed and the collapse of bridges and roads.

In Malawi, nearly 900,000 people have been directly affected, with many having lost everything. The dangers confronting those caught up in this disaster include the loss of everything they own; the difficulty of getting food and medicines through to those affected; and the spread of waterborne diseases including cholera owing to the contamination of the water supply. The risk of starvation and famine is very real, with harvests destroyed and livestock drowned.

I am sure the Minister agrees that the UK has an important role to play given our acknowledged international leadership in this area, and she has set out some of what we have already done. The strong support and generosity that we know exist all across the UK for stepping up immediately when these hideous so-called natural disasters take place is worth bearing in mind, and so too is the huge repository of expertise that exists within the Department for International Development and British non-governmental organisations and charities. That expertise, which is respected all around the world, was greatly boosted by the report on Britain’s international emergency response so brilliantly undertaken by the late Lord Paddy Ashdown.

Will the Government note that the search and rescue response so far has been much slower than in the crisis in 2000. One of those who is today in Beira who was also there in 2000 says that the response then was 10 times as great for a much lesser disaster. Thousands of families remain stranded. A huge global response is now required and the UK has a key leadership role to discharge in that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this urgent question, which allows me to echo the sentiments that he expressed so eloquently about our solidarity with the people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe who have been hit by what the United Nations has described as potentially the worst-ever cyclone in the southern hemisphere. My opening remarks alluded to the role played by the Met Office, which has been helpful in predicting the likelihood of the landfall location, allowing us to pre-position some food supplies, medicine, cholera kits and shelter and to help to secure a response.

My right hon. Friend rightly mentioned the UK’s leadership in the area. We have shown leadership by being one of the first to announce additional funding to address the disaster. He will know that we already have experts deployed on the ground, and he will have heard from his contacts that the Disasters Emergency Committee will shortly announce a further appeal. The UK is a playing a crucial role in assisting both our Commonwealth and suspended Commonwealth friends and in providing leadership. I was in Beira only last month and can testify to the strength of not only the bilateral relationship between ourselves and the people of Mozambique, but the link between Beira and the city of Bristol.