It’s important we join global aid efforts at disaster sites

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A t first sight, it appears almost dynamic and derring-do – like something from the movies. The phone on a Hampshire GP’s desk rings. She’s told that there has been an earthquake and her help is needed. In next to no time she’s on the other side of the world, joining a hastily-formed team in the effort to find survivors.

As Wickham doctor Deirdre Dunbar points out today, however, the reality was far grimmer.

Having answered the call for help, she found herself in a team retrieving bodies from the wreckage of buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

As an experienced medic, she would have known even as she set out on her hurriedly-arranged assignment that this was likely to be the case. Life is seldom like the movies.

Yet the assistance she and others like her have given the people of New Zealand remains invaluable.

Dr Dunbar and nine Hampshire firefighters were among the United Kingdom International Search and Rescue team who flew out to help after the devastating earthquake.

They were joined by experts from countries around the world who, at little more than a moment’s notice, dropped everything to join the rescue and relief effort. Their work in swiftly and professionally retrieving bodies from collapsed buildings will have brought enormous comfort to relatives of the victims of the earthquake and to the New Zealand public at large.

Some still question whether the UK should provide assistance overseas. They point to millions of pounds of aid being given to countries like India and China, which have space projects and nuclear programmes.

But surely no-one can fail to appreciate the importance of us helping a international disaster scenes, wherever they may be. We are lucky that major natural catastrophes are rare in Britain. But if, for instance, the Thames were to flood calamitously, imagine how grateful we would be for help from any quarter.

In times of disaster, we should see ourselves as part of a global community in which people like Dr Dunbar have a key humanitarian role to play.