The UK Government was ill-prepared to help British overseas territories after hurricanes wreaked havoc in Caribbean, MPs have said as thousands of island citizens are still without proper living facilities.
The lack of an international disaster relief strategy when Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck last September was “regrettable,” the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said.
It also voiced concerns about the Government’s ability to respond to future natural disasters amid furthet cuts in the Royal Navy.
The overseas territories of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands were caught in the trail of devastation left by Irma while Maria hit the Commonwealth island of Dominica.
Mounts Bay – the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship which had been stationed in the region since July – arrived in Anguilla two days after the storm made landfall, bringing humanitarian supplies and disaster relief teams.
But it was another two weeks before a joint military task force on the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean reached the disaster zone.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Josephine Connor, former adviser to the chief minister of Anguilla, told Sky News “the Government’ response was appaling” and it had left people on the ground feeling like “third-class citizens”.
The committee said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had accepted there were “lessons to be learned” and called for the development of an international disaster relief strategy for the region.
“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,” it said.
HMS Ocean has since been sold to Brazil for £84m and the committee said the FCO should ensure the needs of overseas territories were considered in decisions about the future of the navy and assets were dedicated to the disaster response role.
Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said: “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.”
The FCO said the destructive force of Irma and Maria was “unprecedented” and it had faced one of its “most complex crises” in modern times.