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DFID's response to STWR's article: ''The Tsunami and the Brandt Report


A response to Mohammed Mesbahi's article 'the Tsunami, the Brandt Report' and other matters - from Christine Edwards of the Department for International Development.

Dear Mr. Mesbahi,

I must once again apologise for the delay in responding to your email about the Tsunami, the Brandt Report and other matters.

We agree with your comment that the generosity of the public in donating funds to the Disasters Emergency Committee campaign has been remarkable. The amount of correspondence we have received in response to the disaster has also been heartening. You will probably be aware that the UK Government, through DFID, has now committed £75 million towards the immediate UK relief effort in the countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. We have also provided £14.8 million through our share of the European Commission's response. We will also make a significant contribution to reconstruction needs.

We have focused our immediate effort on support to the United Nations Humanitarian Organisations, the Red Cross Movement, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and a range of practical actions, such as delivery of urgently needed relief items including water, water containers, tents and blankets and plastic sheeting. These have been in response to specific requests from Governments of affected countries or from the UN and advice from DFID teams on the ground. DFID is committed to making funding decisions based on assessments of humanitarian needs, and the Department will respond proportionately across all such crises. I attach our most recent situation report, detailing how the funding has been allocated to date.

It is clear that now the immediate relief phase has passed, there will be a massive need for assistance to get people's lives back to normal by rebuilding infrastructure - roads and telecommunications, schools and hospitals, water and sanitation systems - and helping to rebuild peoples' livelihoods. We are already in close touch with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and other organisations which will be leading this longer-term work. As G8 President we will work to ensure that the governments concerned have the support and funding that they need. At the same time, please be assured that this effort will not divert assistance from DFID's other development programmes.

You mention that more needs to be done to reduce the impact of disasters such as the Tsunami. The World Conference on Disaster Reduction, held in Kobe in January, organised by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, was an opportunity to draw together governments from different countries to try and get consensus and commitment on a Framework for Action. The Framework contains strong references to the importance of developing progress indicators and considering the effects of climate change, as well as promoting the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction into Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

DFID has recently employed a Scientific Adviser, Gordon Conway, who is looking more closely at the scientific aspect of earthquakes and how they might increase (as well as where they might occur specifically) in the future. Sir David King (from the Office of Science and Technology) is also leading a 'natural hazard working group', at the request of the Prime Minister, which DFID is engaged with. This is a group of scientific experts who will explore where future risks lie and what the UK might be able to do about them. However, we are keen within DFID to ensure that any scientific advice is not detached from what is needed on the ground. While important, this so-called 'hard' scientific knowledge is useless if it is not disseminated to those who need it.

Post-tsunami there has been much discussion about what we can do to prevent such a disaster happening again. Many countries have put forward proposals to set up an early warning system (EWS) and details should be made clearer, such as who should lead, what type of system, where will it be placed etc, at the UNESCO/IOC (International Oceanographic Commission) meeting at the beginning of March.

The UK's position on setting up an EWS, regarding what type of system it should be, is as follows:

(i) It should not just focus on tsunamis, but should address all hazards, particularly those which happen frequently, such as floods, hurricanes, typhoons etc;

(ii) It should be accessible to those who need it i.e. communities at the local level;

(iii) The most effective warning systems are those which are not necessarily high-tech and expensive, but those which are understood by people at the local level and used by them on a regular basis so that everyone is aware of how to respond and how to alert people. The 'communication cascade' is key to ensuring people are prepared quickly and are able to respond.

However, we are concerned that early warning is not the only solution to reducing the risk of disasters in the future. Wider disaster risk reduction (DRR) must be addressed which includes promoting good governance to encourage investment in DRR, strengthening of building codes, raising public awareness through formal and informal education, looking at alternative livelihoods which are sustainable and environmentally conscious.

We are currently working to try and integrate DRR into DFID country assistant plans (CAPs) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. While this is already happening in some areas, there is still a long way to go. We will be developing a DRR Strategy over the coming months, in consultation with wider DFID, and this will be informed by the Scoping Study on Disaster Risk Reduction, which was published at the beginning of the year (also attached).

You may also be interested to know that Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for International Development, in a speech made on 15 December proposed that the international community establish a substantial new humanitarian fund from which United Nations humanitarian coordinators can draw funds early on, when a crisis threatens or occurs. He proposed a new fund of $1 billion per year, under the control of the UN Secretary General, to which DFID would be prepared to contribute £100 million per year. For the full text of this speech see the DFID website under 'speeches' at:

The UK is also one of the strongest supporters of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN agency which is responsible for coordinating response to such crises. In addition to contributing to its appeals, we have provided bilateral funding to boost the agency's capacity in its coordination role and improve the impact of its work in its core functions. From 1999 to the end of March 2005 DFID's core funding to OCHA will total £23.4 million.

You also mention debt in your email. Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for International Development, announced on 4 January that Sri Lanka has been added to the list of countries eligible for the UK's multilateral debt relief initiative. I attach a press release of his statement, which announces that under this initiative the UK will pay 10% of its debt service costs to the International Development Association (IDA). In addition, our debt section have informed us that on 12 January 2004, the Paris Club - an informal group of official creditors - agreed not to expect payments from tsunami-affected countries until a full debt sustainability analysis has been carried out by the International Financial Institutions. Following that assessment, and in consultation with affected countries, Paris Club creditors will consider what further steps are necessary.


Christine Edwards

Public Enquiry Point
Department for International Development
Abercrombie House, Eaglesham Road, East Kilbride, Glasgow G75 8EA
Tel: 0845 300 4100 (local call rate) or +44 (0) 1355 84 3132 / Fax: +44 (0) 1355 84 3632