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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
Q&A: How the UK responds to disasters
When disasters strike around the globe, governments are often criticised for offering too little money to help.

British rescuer in Muzaffarabad
Deploying rescue specialists with dogs is one way DfID can help

There were some complaints the UK government did not initially commit enough cash as news of the devastating earthquake in South Asia broke at the weekend. It says the amount provided will continue to rise as requests for help come in.

How does the British government decide how to respond to disasters abroad?

The BBC News website spoke to Peter Troy, a civil servant who heads the humanitarian response team at the Department for International Development (DfID).

Q: Why doesn't DfID put a sufficiently large sum on the table when news of a big disaster filters through?

It doesn't work like that, the response accumulates. At the outset we must gather precise information about what is happening, the totality of what is needed, and what the main priorities will be.

Through experience we will know that, for example, with an earthquake the main priorities will be search and rescue, shelter and health, but we need specific information.

A lot also depends on the effectiveness of the government(s) in the affected region in coping with the relief effort. Until we know that we don't know what our role will be. In this case Pakistan asked quickly for assistance, whereas India did not and probably won't at all.

Whatever help is provided has its own value - whether it's funds for others to use, direct operational support such as providing advisors or rescue teams, or materials such as tents and blankets.

We just get on and send what's needed. There is no budget as such - we draw from our contingency funds. All the money has to be channelled effectively and accountably.

While some money is "pledged" by government, for example to an appeal by the United Nations, the rest of what we do is an accumulative process of providing a response to requests for assistance as they come.

Q: What happens in the initial few hours?

There are many factors to consider. We do fast and extensive research into the situation. What's needed? In what areas of relief do we have a comparative advantage? There is little point in duplicating the efforts of other donors or encroaching on areas in which we know others have more expertise.

We also look at the fastest way of getting help to the area, for example we have stores in Dubai, Miami and England, but in some cases it will be quicker to provide money to buy materials in the region affected.

In this case we had a DfID office in Islamabad, which immediately put aside 100,000 to buy things locally. But this was reported as the department's response as a whole, which was not the case.

DfID staff are also dealing initially with offers of help coming in, some of which is appropriate and some of which is not. They all have to be logged and assessed.

Q: What about co-ordinating with others?

The UK is not acting alone - Pakistan has appealed to the world for assistance.

As a donor it's important to co-ordinate with what other donors are doing.

Within the UK we have also strong links with our Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), via the Disasters Emergency Committee, and are in regular contact.

The key thing is to make sure we are providing and sharing information with those other humanitarian organisations involved in the response.

As we are currently holding the EU presidency we have the added role of co-ordinating EU assistance, and have sent someone to Pakistan to take on that role on the ground.

Beyond that we are also keeping ministers and other interested parties informed and liaising with relevant government departments such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence.

Q: What happens after the initial emergency phase is over?

We are writing to EU ministers already with a view to thinking about the future and reconstruction efforts.

We also keep in close contact with DfID's own Asia directorate, which already has a 74m development programme in existence in Pakistan.

They will be thinking about how that programme will need to be reviewed, in light of events.

We try to create a seamless transition from the relief effort to the long term.


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