Public Accounts Committee Press Notice

1st PAC Report 2006-07

Tsunami: provision of support for humanitarian assistance

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"When the first reports came in of the terrible tsunami disaster of Christmas 2004, the Department for International Development responded swiftly and impressively. Senior officials and ministers went straight back to their desks to deal with the unfolding emergency, the experienced emergency response team was activated immediately and practical aid started to flow to the devastated areas within 24 hours.

"It is clear now, however, that the Department still has some lessons to learn. Nearly a year and a half after the disaster, it still had no idea whether some £9 million pounds of the nearly £53 million it donated to agencies had been spent or not.

"The Department must make sure that the organisations who were given grants provide audited evidence that the money was actually spent on the victims of the disaster. And if money is lying in bank accounts, doing nothing, then, where appropriate, it must be recovered."

"The UK public was exceptionally generous, with large amounts of money and quantities of items being donated. Not all of the items were of practical use, however, and the Department should find ways of giving the public better advice on the best ways to provide disaster assistance.

"When disaster strikes on a large scale, a host of national and international agencies descend to provide aid. My Committee has noted and supports the Department for International Development's desire for the UN to coordinate these bodies better."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 1st Report of this Session, which examined the Department for International Development's Performance following the tsunami and the subsequent action taken to obtain assurance that the funds disbursed for humanitarian relief were properly spent and accounted for.

On Sunday, 26 December 2004, an earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred under the Indian Ocean off the western coast of Sumatra. The earthquake triggered a series of tsunami (large sea waves) which devastated coastal and immediate inland areas in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and coastal areas of a number of other countries bordering the Indian Ocean. Across the region some 300,000 people died, including 141 Britons. Many more were injured and some 1.6 million people were displaced or otherwise affected by the disaster.

When disasters occur, lives can be saved by the prompt provision of appropriate assistance to the areas affected. The Department's response to the tsunami disaster was both rapid and impressive, and ensured that appropriate assistance was delivered to survivors.

The government committed £75 million in humanitarian assistance to the victims of the tsunami. By May 2006 - some 16 months after the disaster - £64.1 million had been spent either directly by the Department or through grants to third parties. But some £9 million of the grants given to third parties remained unspent, and were sitting in bank accounts earning interest.

Focusing on the lessons learnt from the tsunami, there are areas where the Department and the international community may be able to improve the effectiveness of the response to future disasters. In the context of their work in the UK, the Department need to continue to work with partners in the humanitarian relief sector to develop further that sector's capacity and to help provide a wider choice of partners with which to work when future emergencies occur. And, as the Department recognise, they need to develop a more systematic framework for working with the Ministry of Defence which would enable more efficient utilisation of military personnel and equipment in disaster areas.

In the international context, the Department need to continue to work with the international community to raise the level of awareness of their eight-point plan for the reform of the United Nations' humanitarian aid system, and so to influence the implementation of beneficial change.

Notes for Editors

1. Contact details for requests for further comment from Mr Edward Leigh are provided below. ISDN facilities are available for broadcasting purposes.

2. The full text of the Committee's Conclusions and Recommendations is attached to this press notice.

3. This report can be accessed via the internet from around 11.00 am on the day of publication.