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I understand that long-term monitoring has been undertaken on the volcano and that a team was due in the area just after the time when it exploded. It is obviously difficult to predict volcanic eruptions with great certainty. However, a team of vulcanologists, a geochemist and a seismologist is in the area. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the concern about the rapid release of CO 2 and methane gas and the threat that that poses for the population, especially those at the lowest levels along the side of Lake Kivu.
On the conditions of camps in Rwanda, the hon. Lady will be aware that the Government of Rwanda announced their intention to establish a number of camps to accommodate those who at that stage had moved into Rwanda in the direction of Gisenyi. Given the substantial movement of people that appears to be taking place back into Goma, clearly the overwhelming priority is to ensure that relief and support and provided in the places where people now find themselves.
I share the hon. Lady's concern about the need to do more on the provision of water. According to an initial assessment in the latest situation report by the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the water intake stations on Lake Kivu and for the Goma power plant were undamaged by the eruption. However, the distribution systems, pipes and wires have suffered extensive damage, and more will have to be done to provide for people's water needs, wherever they happen to be.
I am afraid that I cannot confirm the reports about those who may have been involved in looting, but clearly there is concern about security. In the midst of such a catastrophe one would be concerned about security anyway, but the history of conflict in the region adds to that concern. It is important that all who have been party to that conflict pay attention to the need to support those who are suffering in the current emergency.
Overall co-ordination of the relief effort is the responsibility of the UN assistant emergency co-ordinator, who arrived in Kigali the afternoon of 20 January. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the fact that the Government of the DRC are not in control of the area; it falls under the control of the Rassemblement Congolais Democratique, or RCD. It was questionable whether there was an authority in the town before the catastrophe, and that is much more difficult to determine now, but every effort is being made to ensure that those who can contribute to the relief effort are working together as effectively as possible. As I said in my statement, however, the situation is extremely difficult, and there is a large scale of need to be responded to.
As the hon. Lady will be aware, the Foreign Secretary is visiting the region. I am certain that he will take the opportunity to discuss with all those who are assisting in the relief effort ways in which we might be able to help further to relieve the suffering of those who have been affected.
Secondly, will the Minister pursue the question of the pipes? The carbon situation of Lake Kivu is obviously crucial, and we can do something about it. Do we have the expertise, which is available in this country, to make an assessment of what is happening to the Kivu gases, particularly CO 2 ?
It may be inappropriate, but may I ask a third question? At the Edinburgh international book festival I chaired the meeting for Jane Goodall. The area affected by the catastrophe is one with important world-class wildlife, including not only chimpanzees but much other fauna. Human casualties obviously take precedence, but what is being done, if anything, about the environment?
Hilary Benn: I am happy to confirm to my hon. Friend that aid is going directly to the agencies, because it is most important that we should assist those on the ground. In Goma, Merlin and Médecins sans Frontières already have two clinics operating. One was opened at the weekend, when there were about 6,000 people waiting for assistance. The Save the Children Fund is already distributing non-food relief. The World Food Programme has delivered two trucks of food today and plans moresix trucks are on their way. That is an incomplete account of what is happening because information is coming through slowly, but it demonstrates that work is already under way to help people in Goma. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is most important to send aid direct to the agencies.
Secondly, further assessment will need to be undertaken of the geology and chemistry of the interaction between the lava flows, the lake, CO 2 and the other issues to which my hon. Friend referred. I will consider his suggestion that we investigate whether any expertise available in the UK might be of assistance. I can tell him that the results of a Lake Kivu water sample are expected later today.
Finally, my hon. Friend is right to raise the impact on wildlife. There is concern about the broader impact of the volcanic flow on the countryside surrounding Goma as well as the disruption in Goma itself. Estimates suggest that 30 to 40 per cent. of the town has been destroyed. However, we need to deal with things in order of priority; I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that the first priority must be to help people who are currently living in the most difficult circumstances.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I too welcome the statement and thank the Minister for allowing a copy of it to be made available to me. I join the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) in sending sympathy to the people of that area; I know a little bit about it, having been to Rwanda. Considering the civil war that has been raging in the area for many years, I cannot think of a greater hell than the one that those people are experiencing. It is difficult to believe what they must be going through and what they have gone through.
With people fleeing from Gisenyi back into Goma, how will the aid flow? Will our Government provide more money to the rebel-held territory of Goma and the NGOs operating there to help the refugees coming back, or will we rely on some sort of transfer from Rwanda? I am unclear about how that aid will flow. Will the Minister give a little more detail about disaster preparedness, which we are all keen to talk about in the House? Does he feel that we were prepared for this disaster, and what effect will the whole thing have on the course of the civil war in that area?
Finally, as a veteran of the disaster in Montserrat, following the eruption of the Soufriere volcano and the lessons learned then, could the Minister comment on the scientists' ability to detect what will happen in future in that region? Many hundreds of thousands of people in the area are in danger from further eruptions, ground splits and all sorts of natural events that could happen in the next few weeks. Is the Minister satisfied that we are investing enough in vulcanology? Is the appropriate equipment available to send to that area, and is the security available to protect it so that, hopefully, we can prevent lives from being lost?
Hilary Benn: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words about the speed of the DFID response; I will make sure that they are passed on to the officials responsible. As she and the whole House will be aware, sadly we have had a lot of experience of having to respond to emergencies. My first experience, when there was an earthquake in Peru shortly after I was appointed Minister, demonstrated clearly to me that well organised systems are in place to ensure that we respond in the most practical way by directing money at people with resources on the ground; they can deliver help to those who need it as quickly as possible.
We will, of course, give help to those agencies which can offer support in the places where people find themselves; we clearly need to do that. As we have seen in the past two or three days, the great movement of population one way now appears to have become a movement of the population back into Goma, which creates considerable challenges for the aid agencies. I am confident that in time they will be able to respond, but that movement makes circumstances more difficult, for reasons that the hon. Lady will well understand.
As for whether I am satisfied that everything was in place, the honest truth is that in such circumstances there are always lessons to be learned. To some extent, these eruptions are unpredictable. As I said, I understand that monitoring was occurring, but I am advised that one can never entirely predict when a volcano may erupt. I am sure that those with responsibility for that monitoring will reflect on the experience of the past few days and see what more can and might be done.