Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (8, 9)

Phil Hogan


7 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian situation in Iran following the December 2003 earthquake; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4240/04]

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Kathleen Lynch


74 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian aid the Government has provided or plans to provide to help the Iranian people to cope with the devastating impact of the recent earthquake there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4191/04]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 7 and 74 together.

It is now over six weeks since the city of Bam was devastated by an earthquake which claimed more than 40,000 lives. In this interval the people of Bam, of whom 75,000 were made homeless, have started to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. However, the scale of the disaster was so great that the rebuilding and full recovery of the city of Bam is expected to take years. On the day the earthquake struck, 26 December last, I allocated €1 million in humanitarian funding for the rescue operation and for immediate humanitarian needs. A further €2.3 million in emergency fundingwas allocated by the European Community Humanitarian Office.

Some €500,000 of the Irish funding was delivered to the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, IFRC, and the remaining €500,000 was provided to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, for onward disbursal to effective humanitarian organisations on the ground on a needs basis. Ireland has been commended by the United Nations for being one of the first donors to deliver on its pledge.

The view of donors, international humanitarian agencies and international NGOs is that the local authorities in Iran, with the assistance of the local Iranian Red Cross, responded exceptionally well to the humanitarian crisis resulting from the disaster. The emergency response phase has ended and international assistance will be required for the medium to long-term post emergency rehabilitation phase.

In early January, a UN assessment mission took place in Bam. This assessment formed the basis for the UN's emergency appeal launched on 8 January by the Iranian national authorities, the United Nations Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, OCHA, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The appeal requested a total of $31 million for shelter, food, water and sanitation. The long-term rehabilitation of Bam and surrounding areas is expected to cost between $700 million and $1 billion.

Further assistance for Bam from the Government is likely in the coming weeks. The main areas of need are pre-fabricated housing, water and sanitation. The rebuilding of health facilities and schools is another urgent requirement. I intend to take a best-practice approach in channelling funding through a national mechanism in Iran that will give the appropriate local authorities a degree of flexibility in determining rehabilitation priorities. This route would ensure local ownership of the recovery process, reduce costs and support the local economy.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will he inform the House of the latest estimated number of deaths? The figures mentioned were between 30,000 and 50,000, which would make it the highest death toll from an earthquake for more than 25 years.

On the problems faced by the Iranian Government in the region and given the extent of the disaster, is the European Union considering taking special collective steps to try to help the region recover and rebuild? Given the extent of the problem and the terrible devastation caused, will the Minister of State agree that something exceptional needs to be done? Will he inform the House if such an approach is being considered by the European Union Council of Ministers?

On the estimated number of deaths, the figures available to me suggest that more than 40,000 people were killed. It was a major disaster. I understand that the last major earthquake in the region was in 1990 when 30,000 people were killed and more than 70,000 were made homeless. There is a good infrastructure locally, thanks to the local Iranian Red Crescent. There is a very good tradition in Iran and other neighbouring countries of back-up assistance being provided speedily.

The needs are huge. Following the search and rescue phase, which is over, aid workers are putting in place semi-permanent facilities, specifically pre-fabricated housing, for the many people who have had to endure freezing temperatures, especially at night. The rebuilding of the city will cost approximately $1 billion.

We will work closely with our EU colleagues and use our Presidency to ensure that the EU plays its part. We keep in close contact with the European Union. I said that €2.3 million was provided under the European Community Humanitarian Office. We have been working and will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the enlarged Union to ensure that continued assistance is provided. It will be required well into next year and the years ahead.

I understand there are dangers within Tehran where the potential for earthquakes and the gas supply could give rise to further disasters of this nature. I do not know whether this is a matter for the Petersberg tasks in terms of humanitarian aid. What specific vehicle within the European Union will be the correct one to use? Will the European Union make available to the Iranian Government its expertise and advice to minimise potential disasters in the region?

The Deputy is correct in saying that this area is prone to earthquakes. Part of the recovery process will be to ensure that structures in the area are earthquake resistant and that those involved in the process, including the European Union, will bear that in mind. The process involves the UN and the European Union working together in this regard.

The Deputy may be aware that there were some reports of a lack of co-ordination between the UN and the EU. On my direction and as part of the Presidency, we became involved in Dublin in ensuring that the UN OCHA and the European Commission officials were brought together. I assure the Deputy that this will lead to better co-ordination in the months ahead. The aspects of the disaster referred to by the Deputy will be borne in mind. During our Presidency, we will ensure maximum co-ordination between the UN and the European Union.

Will the Minister of State agree that it does not assist western relations with Iran when President George W. Bush describes it as belonging to an axis of evil? Will he agree the remarks were regrettable and that we should try to improve our relationship with Iran?

As part of the European Union, we have our own relationship with Iran. We support the work of the IAEA on the nuclear question. We are anxious, as part of the European Union, to develop relations with Iran.