Government seeks international aid changes to help Caribbean hurricane victims

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Boris Johnson flew out to view to recovery efforts earlier this week
Boris Johnson flew out to view to recovery efforts earlier this week
14 September 2017 6:15PM

Britain has called for urgent changes to international rules on aid to allow UK development cash to be used to help victims of natural disasters like Hurricane Irma.

Downing Street has made clear that Prime Minister Theresa May is "frustrated" with rules set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development which exclude British overseas territories like Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands from receiving money from the aid pot.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel has written to the OECD's Development Assistance Committee calling for reforms to reflect the vulnerability of the Caribbean island states, which stand in the path of tropical storms like Irma.

"I have today written to the Development Assistance Committee asking them as a matter of urgency to develop options to ensure the aid rules reflect the needs of those impacted by natural disasters," said Ms Patel.

"We believe that the international rules should take into account the vulnerabilities of small island states.

"These rules were first established over 40 years ago. The world has changed dramatically since then, and we will work constructively with international partners to ensure the rules remain relevant and up to date."

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who returned on Thursday from a two-day visit to the Caribbean to view recovery efforts, said it was "natural" that Britain's aid money should be used to help those whose lives have been devastated by Irma.

"Anybody who's seen the effects of a hurricane knows it is absolutely catastrophic, awe-inspiring," said Mr Johnson. "I have never seen anything like it. It is like the destruction you see in images from the First World War.

"I think anybody with an ounce of compassion would like to see spending by our Government helping these people get back on their feet and getting these British overseas territories helped in the long term.

"Of course we are looking across Whitehall at ways in which we can make sure that our aid budget can be used in that way and I know that Priti Patel and all my colleagues are looking at how we can do that.

"That is absolutely natural and we are on that right now."

The UK has pledged a total of £57 million towards disaster relief and the public has helped to raise a further £1.3 million.

But an unnamed minister told the BBC the figure would have been significantly higher without strict international rules governing the allocation of the £13 billion aid budget, a claim disputed by Downing Street.

Mrs May's spokesman said the OECD rules do not "stop Britain dedicating the money needed for the hurricane recovery and reconstruction effort".

"The response would have been just as large and swift regardless of the aid rules," he said.

But he added: "The Prime Minister is frustrated with the rules as they stand."

The way Britain and 34 other developed nations spend their aid budget is governed by the OECD.

Countries are given a ranking according to need, which is intended to ensure the poorest countries take priority. The relatively high incomes of the British overseas territories affected by Irma means that they are excluded from receiving money from the aid pot.

The UK is committed to spending 0.7% of national income on aid under the rules set by the OECD.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "We began detailed work after the election to change the rules to prevent precisely these kind of scenarios."

He indicated the UK could be prepared to act alone if there was no agreement on changing the international rules.

Conservative MP Philip Davies labelled the OECD "out-of-touch morons".

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said: "It's bad enough that we have a bloated and wasteful and unaffordable overseas aid budget but it's even more ridiculous that we now learn that we cannot spend our overseas aid budget on our overseas territories."