The only substantive element in this Supplementary Estimate is the provision for disaster relief which will enable my Department to pay £100,000 to the Irish Red Cross in respect of medical supplies sought by the Soviet authorities for the relief of victims of the earthquake in Armenia last week.
The other items are simply normal transfers between subheads which have taken place during the year and which have to be brought to the attention of the Dáil when a Supplementary Estimate is introduced. They involve increased expenditure in respect of our contribution to the European Development Fund, and in respect of the Inter-Governmental Committee on Migration who handle the travel arrangements for refugees coming to Ireland under the series of Government decisions on admission of Vietnamese refugees to Ireland. It is not possible to predict exactly the demands on the various subheads in the Vote in any year given the nature of the programmes involved and the shortfalls in the two cases I have mentioned have been met from savings on other subheads. Details of the excesses and savings are set out in the covering statement before the House. Savings were possible because of favourable exchange rates. I might add that as a result of a carry-over of £627,000 approximately from 1987 expenditure on the bilateral aid programme for 1988 will be in excess of £10.5 million.
On Wednesday, 7 December 1988, the northern half of the Soviet Republic of Armenia suffered a major earthquake which caused massive loss of life and unprecedented damage to housing and infrastructure. The most recent official estimate for casualties puts the death toll at 55,000, with 10,000 more being treated in hospitals and a half million people left homeless. The total population of the stricken area is put at over 700,000. The major cities of the area have been devastated and other towns and villages have been almost completely destroyed. The city of Leninakan with 300,000 inhabitants is reported to have suffered 80 per cent damage while the city of Spitak, with a population of 50,000 people, has been virtually wiped out.
Just one week ago — last Thursday — the Minister indicated to this House that the Government would assist in any way they could should the USSR wish to have assistance. On 10 December 1988, following consultation with the Soviet authorities as to their needs, the Government decided that funds would be provided for the medical supplies requested by the Soviet authorities and that this assistance would be channelled via the Irish Red Cross Society who are working with the League of Red Cross Societies to Coordinate Humanitarian Assistance for Armenia.
The Irish Red Cross are also co-ordinating the efforts of voluntary groups and suppliers of medical products and are working closely with Aer Rianta at Shannon Airport who have also donated medical supplies and with Aer Lingus and the customs authorities. The airlift of supplies is being organised by Aer Rianta in close co-operation with Aeroflot, the Soviet national airline, which operates through Shannon.
I would like to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the relief effort from Ireland, as indeed from some other countries, is being carried out as a joint operation with the Soviet authorities who have kept us informed through our embassy in Moscow and their embassy in Dublin as to requirements. Free transportation is being provided on Aeroflot flights to Moscow. There the supplies are consigned to the USSR Red Cross for rapid transportation to the stricken areas of Armenia.
I would also like to take this opportunity to ask any group thinking of providing assistance to contact the Red Cross who have the list of the requirements as indicated by the Soviet authorities and who can arrange bulk purchases of the necessary supplies.
The extent of the catastrophe has triggered a massive international relief effort and many countries have allocated emergency funds for the provision of a range of relief materials while others have sent specialised rescue squads and earth-moving equipment to assist in the search for survivors trapped under the tons of rubble. The most recent information puts total moneys from the European Community and its member states at over £7 million.
The rescue operations, which have been complicated by low weather temperatures and the survival needs of the hundreds of thousands of homeless people, are still proceeding. However, the prospects of rescuing more people alive from the rubble have, I am very sorry to report, significantly diminished.
As manifested by the international response to the disaster, events of this nature serve to diminish the barriers between nations which reflect their adherence to differing political and economic systems and challenge us to transcend those barriers in the common name of humanity. This massive tragedy has brought great pain and grief to the people of the Soviet Union. We sympathise with those who have lost their families and friends, their homes and their familiar landscapes. By contributing to medical supplies which have been sought by the Soviet Union we are glad to be in a position to respond in a practical way to the crisis.