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Mr Poul Nielson
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
Launch of The Annual Review of the Humanitarian Aid Office
Press room, 16 April 2002
I am happy to have this opportunity to present 'ECHO 2001', the latest Annual Review of the Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office, which details the work of ECHO during 2001.
The Review is intended to reach various audiences with a clear message about ECHO's activities in providing relief to those who are most vulnerable in crises, whether natural or man-made. We have a duty to inform the European taxpayer of what we are doing with their money. But this publication is also an important tool in highlighting European solidarity with the victims of humanitarian crises beyond the borders of the EU.
During 2001, between 15 and 20 million people across the world in over 60 countries benefited from ECHO-funded interventions totalling almost €544 million. (The chart shows the breakdown of assistance by region).
ECHO was called upon to respond to a number of natural catastrophes, most notably earthquakes in India, El Salvador and Peru and serious droughts in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The main focus, however, continued to be on man-made and therefore, by definition, preventable, tragedies. In the conflict zones of Afghanistan, Chechnya and the Palestinian Territories, the situation worsened towards the end of the year. The Commission responded promptly with a request to the Parliament and Council which was granted to get extra money to meet the new needs.
Other regions continued to be plagued by violence and chronic instability, often exacerbated by extreme climatic conditions. ECHO, therefore, maintained its commitment to the suffering populations of countries such as Colombia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi not to mention the largely forgotten plight of the Angolans and the Western Saharan refugees in Algeria.
Some war-torn areas saw a sharp increase in fighting, exacerbating the humanitarian situation, and others continued to experience a depressingly familiar cycle of violence. However, there were also positive developments. Sierra Leone enjoyed its first relatively peaceful year for almost a decade. The situation improved across most of the Balkans and the people of East Timor were finally able to look forward to a brighter future. In these and other crisis zones, there were still many humanitarian challenges which ECHO helped to address but improving prospects now allow us to anticipate the time when emergency relief work might be replaced by longer term development programmes.
It is worth emphasising that the European Union is the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world, accounting for about 50% of the total funding. Roughly half of this is channelled through ECHO with the remainder provided directly by the 15 Member States.
The sums are important, of course, but equally, if not more significant, is the effectiveness of the aid. In this context, there were a number of positive advances during 2001.
In sudden crises talking here mainly of natural disasters a key requirement is to get initial relief to the victims as quickly as possible. I should stress that ECHO's record in this respect has always been good but the introduction, last year, of the new "primary emergency procedure" gave the Commission what is effectively an immediate response capacity. The decision is taken and the aid can be dispatched - within 72 hours of the onset of the crisis. The procedure was used four times in 2001 to send vital assistance to victims of the Peru earthquake, the floods in Algeria, a hurricane which struck Belize and the escalation of fighting in Afghanistan.
My commitment to improving linkages between relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD) was reflected in a communication on this subject setting out practical measures to ensure an appropriate transition from emergency aid to longer-term assistance programmes. On the ground, the benefits of this "joined-up" approach are increasingly being seen in areas such as East Timor, the Balkans and Central America. In practical terms, where ECHO is phasing out in post-emergency situations, close co-ordination with Commission departments and other agencies working on rehabilitation and development is designed to ensure that the appropriate follow-up instruments are in place. This is important because it maximises the cost-effectiveness and impact of our overall assistance.
During 2002, ECHO is continuing to support humanitarian actions across the world. The table shows the main amounts already earmarked for countries and regions in crisis or which still face major needs in the aftermath of conflict.
You will see that the largest area of operations is around the crisis zone of the Great Lakes region of Africa where aid is being directed through three main programmes targeting the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and the refugee camps of Tanzania.
In Serbia and Montenegro, ECHO is scaling down its operations but significant support still needed to help hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees living there.
The table shows, once again, our commitment to "forgotten crises" which no longer attract much international assistance or media attention. We are providing significant support in Angola, Chechnya, Sudan and Tajikistan, as well as continuing to offer crucial assistance to Western Saharan refugees in Algeria. This is in keeping with the needs-based criteria which is fundamental to ECHO's interventions.
Since the beginning of 2002, we have seen both positive and negative developments in the global humanitarian situation.
On the plus side, the prospects have improved in Afghanistan, Angola and Sri Lanka although we certainly should not be complacent. Peace is a precious but fragile commodity in places which have known conflict and bitterness for so long. There are also still huge needs to be addressed, and it is vital that the international community maintain its commitment, even when the television cameras have moved on. Although enduring peace depends ultimately on the reconciliation of warring parties, we can do a lot to ease the process both through practical assistance for reconstruction and through diplomatic engagement with local actors.
On the negative side, the crisis in the Palestinian Territories is obviously high on the agenda. I am deeply concerned about the way in which basic principles of humanitarian law in particular regarding access to civilian casualties of the violence - are being flouted. Last week, President Prodi and I both called on the Israeli authorities to remove all obstacles that have been placed in the way of the UN, Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies who are striving to get help to the suffering population. I renew this call today.
It is not only in the Middle East that we face difficulties in getting access to victims. In Chechnya, aid agencies are also struggling to deliver vital relief in extremely difficult circumstances, and their efforts are frequently obstructed by the Russian authorities.
There is a point of general concern here that I want to underline. There is currently a worrying trend in which international humanitarian law is increasingly being disregarded. There are no circumstances which justify this and countries which purport to be democratic have a special responsibility in this respect. All States are obliged under international law to respect basic humanitarian norms. I am referring specifically here to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. Denying access to those who desperately need help is wholly unacceptable. To ignore the inalienable rights of individuals to assistance is an assault on fundamental human values and a step backwards for humanity.
The fact that natural disasters occur from time to time means that there will always be a job for organisations such as ECHO and the operational agencies that deliver the aid on the ground. Sadly, however, the global scale of humanitarian needs is greatly increased by the disasters that humankind inflicts upon itself. It requires a concerted international effort to transform the prospects of the millions of people who still live in the shadow of war. Europe, in particular, has a major role to play and the Commission takes its responsibilities seriously in this respect. We recognise that the solutions are not short-term ones, however, and in the meantime, the Commission, through its Humanitarian Aid Office, will continue with the vital task of helping those who are suffering most.