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Aid budget rules did not hamper hurricane relief effort – Government

The Government has denied claims that five times more aid would have been sent to help victims of Hurricane Irma if it had been allowed to use cash from the aid budget.

So far, the UK has pledged a total of £57 million towards disaster relief, and the British public have raised a further £1.3 million on top of that sum.

But an unnamed minister told the BBC that the figure could have been significantly higher.

Hurricane Irma’s trail of destruction

They claimed strict international rules governing the allocation of the £13 billion overseas aid pot meant British Overseas Territories were not eligible for the cash.

A spokesman for the Department of International Development confirmed that the aid budget could not be used but rubbished claims this had hampered the relief effort.

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 countries take priority.

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

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma

The 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.

A source close to the matter said it was untrue that more money and troops would have been sent if the Government could use the aid budget.

The source said: “These are British people in British territories and in times of need we will stand by them, absolutely nothing held us back in getting help to them.

“Our response was based on need alone.”

On Wednesday the Government pledged an additional £25 million to help the rebuilding effort on top of the £32 million already promised.

Meanwhile, the British public have helped raise £1.3 million 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 £3 million.

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 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 claimed at least 40 lives.

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”.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel said: “The overwhelming generosity of the British people provides hope where there is despair, and by matching pound for pound public donations to the British Red Cross Appeal, the Government will double the difference Britons can make to the lives of those affected by Hurricane Irma.”

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.

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