Government should have been ‘better prepared’ for Hurricane Irma, say MPs

Posted On: 
7th March 2018

The Government has “lessons to learn” over its response to hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated much of the Caribbean last year, MPs have warned.

British troops take part in the clean-up operation on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos Islands
PA Images

Theresa May defended ministers as having acted “swiftly” amid the disaster in September, which left dozens dead and battered territories including Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands.

The Prime Minister went on to pledge £70m of taxpayers' money to help rebuild British islands in November, with a further £300m of loan guarantees.

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However in a report, the Foreign Affairs Committee said while they welcomed the Foreign Office’s commitment to identify assets that could help in future natural disasters, it was “regrettable that this had not been done previously as part of wider crisis planning”.

“Given the Caribbean’s vulnerability to hurricanes we would have expected the FCO already to have had a good understanding of the resources available and an agreed collaborative international strategy in place,” they wrote.

The group say while they welcome the input of Government funding, greater UK investment in cooperation with the Territories on improving infrastructure "might have been more cost-effective".

Among their recommendations is an international strategy for disaster relief and for clarity on whether British islands will continue to receive EU-funded development assistance after Brexit.

The MPs also criticised ministers for being “heavily dependent” on naval assets and say the disaster should help inform the renewal of its future surface fleet.

Tom Tugendhat, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “The work of all those involved in the rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes and since, are to be commended.

“However, ministers need to offer the UK’s Overseas Territories a more structured response in any such future event.

“The Overseas Territories in the Caribbean were known to be vulnerable to the risk of hurricanes. With six territories in relatively close proximity, the FCO should have an agreed, collaborative, international strategy ready to go.

“Access to development aid, help with recovery, resilience-building activity – there is still much to be done by the Government.

“The [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] should also consider whether the relationship between Government and the UK’s Overseas Territories requires attention. The Committee intends to return to this issue later this year.”