House Of Lords Debates The Adequacy Of Aid Given To St Vincent

Photo L-R Earl Charles Chetwynd -Talbot-Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad – Lord George Foulkes

(By Ernesto Cooke) – The House Of Lords held a heated debate on April 14th on whether the support given to the Caribbean Island of St Vincent, as the ongoing eruption of La Soufriere continues, is adequate.

St Vincent and the Grenadines received independence from Britain six months following the eruption of the La Soufrière volcano in April 1979; it was among the last of the islands to get independence from Britain.

St Vincent and the Grenadines though no longer a colony of Britain remains an active member of the Commonwealth of Nations. As yet no other Commonwealth country has indicated their position on whether the aid given by Britain thus far is adequate in the present circumstances.

St Vincent Needs Help Now – Earl Charles Chetwynd-Talbot 

The Earl Of Shrewsbury and Waterford Charles Chetwynd-Talbot said he lived on the island of St Vincent as a teenager and described the island as a most magical place with delightful people.

“I experienced a hurricane there and was on the island for the 79 eruptions; it is not a wealthy place with the main source of income tourism and agriculture which has been devastated by this natural disaster”.

Earl Chetwynd-Talbot told the house of Lords St Vincent will take a long time to recover along with neighbouring islands.

He further stated that Agriculture is facing a long road to recovery due to the thick covering of volcanic ash.

“We must help these islands in any possible way we can, whether it is financially or military personnel or a combination of both, we must help them all”, Earl Chetwynd-Talbot said.

In responding, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad said the Government is working on providing any support at this time.

“We are working with authorities on the ground whether, through technical support or long term support, I visited Montserrat and saw the impact of a volcano which erupted 20 years ago, so there is long term support which we will seek to provide, and I can assure noble lords we will do just that”. 

Devon – What Sort Of Direct Contact Is Ongoing

Joining the discussion was the Earl of Devon, who sought to ascertain what kind of direct contact the UK Government had made with any NGO’s working on the ground in St Vincent.

“In particular, what about local churches who are hosting evacuees, Marion House in Kingstown and St Vincent Girls High School”.

In answering, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad said the primary contact has been through the International Red Cross relief efforts.

“In terms of specific liaisons on the ground, we are working directly with CEDMA and St Vincent government authorities”.

 Is The UK Considering A Resettlement Scheme For Vincentians 

Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith of St Albans, whose diocese is home to many Vincentians, sought answers on if people were forced to evacuate from the country, whether or not the Government would consider temporary resettlement schemes for those with family links in the UK.

Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad responded by saying that he recognizes the churches role; however, he said he spoke with the High Commissioner on Sunday morning about the vaccine roll out on the island and how the church can assist.

On the long term issue, we will continue to engage the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines about their medium and long term requirements, Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad said.

What Is The UK’s Role In The Environmental Fallout

Lord Collins of Highbury, in his contribution to the debate, said it’s not just a humanitarian response. Still, at the request of the islands, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, the UN is now developing and implementing a debris management plan to clean up the ash and promote environmental health and safety.

Lord Collins sought to know if the Government is working with the UN in this regard.

Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad said the UK government is working with all agencies; however, he reiterated that the lead agency in terms of disaster response is CEDEMA.

 “And we are working very closely and constructively on all elements short term, medium-term and long term responses”. 

What Of Wildlife And The St Vincent Parrot

Lord Randall of Uxbridge said his concern was about the wildlife on the island, more so the national parrot and what assistance is being given to any NGO to ensure its survival.

In response, the Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad said the UK Government recognizes the issue of biodiversity in climate change.

He said the chairmanship of COP26 had made some recommendations which he will take forward.

Lord Foulkes Of Cumnock – Thousands! – Why Not Millions

Lord Foulkes Of Cumnock passionately said in the case of Montserrat, the UK Government sent out response teams and committed millions to long term help, not thousands.

The UK has provided an initial £200,000 via the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to support the regional response through the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

Cumnock said, “Are Vincentians going to be the first victims of the cuts in DFID funds.

Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad noted that immediate emergency funding was given to the St Vincent government and stated that they are not sending out direct support because the UK government has invested since 2017 in CDEMA.

” We have done this so that any response can be as effective and coordinated as possible”.

Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad said they are also through the Caribbean Development Bank supporting road-building in St Vincent, and those kinds of long term infrastructure support will continue.

Earl Charles Chetwynd-Talbot And Lord Foulkes Of Cumnock were particularly passionate about the help St Vincent should receive; however, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad stressed during the debate that all monetary assistance would go through CDEMA.

The multi-island state of St. Vincent and the Grenadines remains one of the relatively new tourist destination locations in the Eastern Caribbean by European tourists, but this is set to change with the advent of the announcement that Virgin airline is scheduled to commence direct flights from the UK to it’s recently built Argyle International Airport. 

The first Virgin Atlantic flight is expected from London Heathrow starting June 2021.

As this story was written, La Soufriere erupted explosively, early layman observation shows that the ash was much darker than in previous explosions.

Further Reading

The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by appointment, heredity or official function. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Members of the House of Lords are drawn from the peerage, made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal.

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