Hurricane Irma: UK will not spend foreign aid on disaster relief as overseas territories are 'too wealthy'

Government denies relief package could be five times larger

Harriet Agerholm
Thursday 14 September 2017 10:18 BST
The Govenment has denied its emergency response has been affected by budgetary considerations
The Govenment has denied its emergency response has been affected by budgetary considerations (Joel Rouse/Ministry of Defence handout via REUTERS)

The UK's £13bn aid budget cannot be spent helping its overseas territories recover from Hurricane Irma, the Government has said.

Instead, funding must be collected from other reserves across the Government, which have been described as "scanty".

But the Government has denied its emergency response has been impaired by budgetary considerations.

Anguilla, Turks, Caicos and the British Virgin Islands are all considered too wealthy to receive emergency funding from the budget, according to international aid rules.

The UK has so far pledged £57m to help fund the recovery effort following the deadly storm.

Theresa May initially vowed to give £32m, but promised another £25m after her government came under criticism for its initial response to the disaster.

Now, the Government is facing claims that five times more aid could have been sent to help the victims of the hurricane had it been allowed to dip into aid budget reserves.

An unnamed minister told the BBC: “These millions (donated by the government) are non-ODA,” he said, referring to a type of funding reserved for the poorest nations known as official development assistance. “Therefore they come from rather scanty resources.

”This great pot of ODA, necessary for development, needs to be spent on crises like this and we have to find a way of doing it."

The minister said the relief package could have been significantly higher.

A spokesperson for the Department of International Development confirmed the aid budget could not be used but denied this hindered its relief efforts.

The way Britain and 34 other developed nations spend their aid budget is governed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris (OECD).

Countries are given a ranking according to need, which is intended to ensure the poorest nations are given priority.

Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands do not qualify because as British Overseas Territories their incomes are too high.

A Government spokesman said: “This was an unprecedented disaster and it's absolutely right that the Government responded immediately to the needs of those affected. This was our primary focus and continues to be our priority.

“We are looking at how the current overseas aid rules apply to disasters such as this one.”

He said the Government was in conversation with the OECD about making the rules on sending aid to incidents such as natural disasters more flexible.

“For some time this Government has felt that these rules are not flexible enough for the needs of the complex modern world, and we are in talks with the OECD about adjusting these rules,” he said.

The British public have helped raise £1.3m for the victims of Hurricane Irma in the space of a week.

Over £650,000 has been donated to a British Red Cross Appeal, with the UK Government matching every pound.

The Government has pledged to match donations made by the public until the private donation total reaches £3m.

As well as emergency supplies, the British Red Cross has also sent six experts to help with the emergency response.

An estimated 1.2 million people have been affected by one of the most powerful storms ever to cross the Atlantic.

It hit more than a dozen Caribbean nations and island territories and killed at least 40 people/

The Red Cross has set up a Family Links service for people worried about relatives in a British Overseas Territory.

People can search a list of names or register their relatives' details, while individuals caught up in the hurricane can register as being “safe and well”.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson travelled to the region earlier this week, and said the extra money was needed “massively”.

But he denied the UK had been slow to react.

Hundreds of UK troops and 50 police officers have been sent to the British Virgin Islands, where around 100 “very serious” prisoners escaped from jail after the hurricane.

Mr Johnson said hundreds more troops were being deployed to the region, reaching 1,250 in the coming days.

Press Association contributed to this report

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