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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Impressions on Pakistan situation
European Parliament, Committee on Development
Brussels, 31 August 2010
Le soutien du Parlement Européen, et du Comité DEVE en particulier, est un élément clé des efforts de l'Union Européenne pour le Pakistan. La rapidité de l'accord pour les fonds engagés, de même que cette session extraordinaire, démontrent la solidarité du Parlement avec le peuple Pakistanais.
My aim today is to convey my impressions from my mission to Pakistan,
My impressions from Pakistan
First, I would like to recall the short but violent history of the floods that started at the end of July: the first flash floods occurred between 27 and 29 July and caused then the death of 1,200 people. My services, DG ECHO, reacted swiftly by adopting a first ad hoc decision of €30 Million on 31 July. This decision, though primarily intended for the conflict affected population in Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KPK) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), was used fully for the EU response to the floods.
Since then, floods have expanded, from the tip of Pakistan
The most difficult task is to reach those 800,000 people who have been cut off from the rest of Pakistan because of collapsed bridges and inundated roads.
When all these figures sink in, you get a sense of the operational challenges faced by the humanitarian organisations. They are focusing now on the obvious immediate priorities: water, sanitation, health, food assistance and shelter (mainly tents).
It is ironic that access to clean drinking water is utmost important in flooded areas, as it is the best way to avoid waterborne illness. So I particularly welcome the water-production units and water purification tablets that have been provided by the EU Member States, for which the European Civil Protection Mechanism, the MIC, played a crucial role.
Yet, I am not sure we have reached the peak of the crisis. Relief workers told me they have reached two million people with emergency assistance of food, clean water and medicine, but they acknowledged that the crisis is expanding faster than they can provide help. It seems to me that it may getting worse before it gets better.
Another strong impression I bring back from Pakistan is the fact that there are two disasters in one.
In the fertile plains of the South, people have lost their homes, but also their agricultural livelihood. In the North, the people displaced because of the conflict, which were already hard to reach for logistical and security reasons, have now to suffer much more due to the floods.
During my recent mission to Pakistan, I went precisely to the North, towards Peshawar, I met a young man, an Afghan refugee who lives in the village of Azakhel, in Nowshera district, which is north of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
He had escaped from war in Afghanistan to make a new life in Azakhel. But at the end of July the Monsoons arrived. His house was flooded together with the rest of the village. And when the waters receded they left behind a mess of bricks, broken wood and mud. Like many other victims of the floods in the north of Pakistan, he has been hit twice: he lost everything in the war and then he lost everything again with the floods. When he knew who I was he asked me in perfect English: “What is Europe going to do to help us?” For his village I had an answer – we were there to assess how a cash-for-work programme can help them rebuild, and relief is on the way.
At least the humanitarian workers can connect with the people in this village of 600 houses. But not all of the of 1.2 million homes destroyed are in a similar situation. This is why I stressed the importance of access on several occasions with the Pakistani Government, so that humanitarian workers can be close to those in need.
The next steps
This brings me to my second point: what have we done, and what are we going to do next.
I already mentioned that the EU's humanitarian response has been swift and significant. In addition to the €30 million adopted on 31 July, a new emergency aid decision of € 40 million has been announced, which brings the Commission's total funding to €70 million.
The European Civil Protection Mechanism, called the Monitoring and Information Centre/MIC, was activated on 6 August and sent a full team to coordinate MS' offers, which include purification water units (Sweden, Germany, Denmark), Health kits and medicines (Italy, Hungary), food units (UK) and other cargo (Slovakia, France).
I would like to warmly thank again the DEVE Committee for having exercised the right of scrutiny within a one-day deadline on the draft funding decision, which allowed scaling up the response from € 10 million to € 40 million. The prompt reaction of DEVE will allow the Commission to adopt the decision formally on 1st September and to allocate the funds swiftly to our humanitarian partners in the field.
The EU could move that fast because DG ECHO has experts on the ground, who were very quickly joined by sectoral experts both from headquarters and from other hot spots. Up to now, I have deployed a team of more than a dozen experts to coordinate our assistance with the UN and the Pakistani authorities. For example, they are in permanent contact with General Nadeem, a very hands-on and impressive former Pakistani General, who is in charge of coordinating relief efforts through its Natural Disaster Management Authority.
For some countries and organisations, the fact that figures were evolving every day made it difficult to gauge the extent of the disaster. And it is precisely the evolving nature of this "slow motion tsunami" that made the international response more timid in the beginning.
But the Member States sharply increased the amounts pledged in the recent days, to reach €160 million, which means that the EU and its Member States have contributed to more than €230 million. This makes it the first donor, in particular when looking at the UN appeal for US$ 459 million launched on 11 August, which is likely to be revised steeply upwards in the coming days.
But beyond the current humanitarian operations and conditions, I am equally, or even more worried about the mid and long-term consequences, which are going to weigh heavily on Pakistan. If the country has in the recent years increased the share of services in its GDP, its agricultural basis remains the backbone of its food supply and, above all, of its employment.
So, in this atypical catastrophe, we received a message loud and clear that early recovery starts now. This means that agriculture as way to restore livelihoods, and small-scale infrastructure have to be included in the immediate priorities. On agriculture, as water recedes, it is essential to provide very quickly tools and seeds to make sure we do not miss the next planting season. We also need to replenish the livestocks so that people can move towards productive activities. On infrastructure, our priority should be to connect the farmers to the markets, so that the economic circuit can resume as soon as possible. In these areas, Commissioner Piebalgs and I are working closely with the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, the UNDP and other organisations best equipped to address these challenges.
Relief prioritisation also involves structured targeting, as floods have different impact on the very different parts of Pakistan and their inhabitants. In this regard, children and pregnant women are the first recipients of assistance.
In the long run, Pakistan will need substantial help with reconstruction since the floods have washed away roads, houses, hospitals, schools. And it is important that this help will be delivered in a way that increases the resilience of Pakistan to natural disasters. It is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change (as well as massive earthquakes), and needs to work hard to be better prepared for when the next disaster hits.
Let me insist on this point of resilience, as this is something for which the EU has expertise, and has been at the forefront of international efforts to jointly mitigate the effects of climate change. DG ECHO has for example about 10% of its budget devoted to disaster preparedness. So I believe that the EU should exert some leadership on this part of Pakistan's reconstruction.
That could be part of the comprehensive strategy that will be discussed at the next Gymnich, and which HR/VP Ashton, Commissioners Piebalgs and De Gucht and I are preparing actively. This is important, as it will form the basis of our approach for the meeting with international partners at the UN on 19 September, and at the Friends of Democratic Pakistan on the 14/15 October.
The objective is bringing together the immediate and medium-term requirements for humanitarian aid, reconstruction and development plus how the EU can help Pakistan in the longer term economically to enable it to be a safe, secure, stable and prosperous Pakistan which is in the interest of the international community
All along reconstruction efforts, it will be important to stress that Pakistan's image would greatly benefit from clearer evidence of accountability. When I met with PM Gilani and with FM Qureshi, they were both well aware of this issue. They both asked for constructive suggestions from donors, and highlighted their democratic credentials and referred to initiatives to bring more transparency, such as a website tracing the use of funds received from the international community. I feel, however, that Pakistan will need our support to fully implement its ambitious economic program. It is indeed clear that the cost of rehabilitation will be far superior to the international community's contribution, which means that any sustainable reconstruction will have to be based on economic growth.
Lessons for the EU
After the 2005 quake, the fight against terrorism, and now the floods, I have the clear impression that this unrelenting misery could set Pakistan back many years. But in tragedies like these, we have to think hard about the way the EU organises itself to help its partners to build back a more solid economy.
First, this is one of most striking cases that make the impact of climate change abundantly clear to such an amount of people. Looking at the resulting costs, it is important to draw more attention to disaster preparedness, which is the best way to face increasingly erratic weather patterns and the resulting dramatic consequences.
Second, in a year that saw the earthquake in Haiti, drought in the Sahel that without reaction would have resulted in a famine, continued difficult situation in Sudan, and now Pakistan, there is almost no money left in DG ECHO's budget line. As in 9 out of the last 10 years, we have resorted to the emergency reserve, the remainder of this year, where there are no more funds before the end of the hurricane season, may prove challenging. We work hard to stretch every euro to the fullest, but we may have no choice but to revert to you.
Third, from the outset of the crisis, I have worked in close cooperation with the services of other Commissioners, and in particular with the HR/VP as we sent joint letters informing the MS, and encouraging them to do more. The HR/VP and I also were in close contact with the Presidency through Foreign Minister Vanackere, whose speech in New York at the General Assembly session on Pakistan on 19 August was very helpful in generating interest in the media. Yet, until then, our strong efforts had not been properly reported in the media, and comments were made about the EU's "slow response". More than ever, we need to reflect on the EU disaster response instruments, which will be the object of a Communication to be proposed in the coming weeks. We need to strengthen both the coordination and the communication of our response to disasters.
As humanitarian assistance will remain critical for the months to come it is my intention to continue to work in very close coordination with the HRVP and Commissioner Piebalgs and their services in order to ensure a fully consistent and effective response by the EU and a proper linkage between the relief, rehabilitation and development phases.
Indeed, as mentioned during the EU speech at the UN, it is in times of adversity that we realise that true solidarity is not only about words and convictions; it is also about actions that make a difference in the life of people. Let us now make sure that our solidarity is efficient, coordinated, and sustained.