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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Humanitarian Situation after floods in Pakistan
European Parliament Plenary
Strasbourg, 7 September 2010
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Thank you for putting Pakistan on the agenda.
I would also like to thank the European Parliament for your active contribution to EU response by having organised useful meetings at committee level and for having exercised your right of scrutiny very rapidly this summer, which allowed us to adopt financing decisions swiftly.
My aim today is to convey my impressions from my recent mission to Pakistan, to identify the next steps in our efforts, and to conclude with some lessons we can draw for the European Union.
My impressions from Pakistan
A strong impression I bring back from Pakistan is the fact that it is a very complex situation with actually two disasters in one.
Up North, there are 3 million IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and refugees, who had to flee from armed conflict only to now see their houses and camps being washed away. Further downstream, in the fertile plains of the South, the poor rural communities have lost their homes, but also their agricultural livelihood.
All in all, more than 20 million Pakistanis are affected by the floods across the whole country. More than 12 million people are in need of immediate aid. More than 1.8 million houses have been damaged or destroyed. More than 3.4 million of hectares were or are under water. There are reports of diarrhoea and cholera outbreaks. Our aid is therefore focusing on the obvious immediate priorities: water, sanitation, health, food assistance and shelter.
In the face of a disaster of such massive proportions, massive international relief assistance is needed.
EU action and the next steps
This brings me to my second point: what have we done, and what are we going to do next?
The EU's humanitarian response has been significant. The EU, that is the Commission and the Member States, has contributed so far a total of €231 million in immediate relief assistance, with €70 million coming from the Commission and € 161 million coming from the Member States complemented by in-kind assistance from 12 EU Member States, for a total value of €11 million. This makes it the first donor, in particular when looking at the UN appeal for US$ 460 million launched on 11 August, which is likely to be revised steeply upwards in the coming days.
Our assistance was swift: On 31 July, one day after the flash floods hit the north of Pakistan, the Commission took a humanitarian aid decision worth €30 million. The European Civil Protection Mechanism (MIC) was activated on 6 August and sent a full team to coordinate MS' offers. We have deployed a team of up to 18 experts to coordinate our assistance with the UN and the Pakistani authorities.
The coordination of in-kind aid from Member States brought us, for the first time, to make use of civilian strategic air lift capacity in coordination with the EU Military Staff. This has made it possible to ship rapidly much needed water-purification units, medicines and shelter.
But significant challenges still lie ahead of us: let me highlight the four main ones I gather from my trip there.
1) The humanitarian crisis is far from over. We may not have even reached the peak of the crisis. Relief workers in Pakistan told me they have reached two million people, but they acknowledged that the crisis is expanding faster than they can provide help. It may get worse before it gets better, in particular regarding epidemics.
2) Another challenge is about reaching out the poor and most vulnerable people - women, children, the elderly and handicapped - who live in remote and less accessible areas. The Commission has allocated most of its funding to its 26 partner organisations precisely with this aim in mind.
3) Bringing aid speedily is not only a matter of survival it is also a matter of preserving the stability of a country which faces significant security challenges. Popular discontent could easily grow into unrest and be manipulated by radical forces.
4) Parallel to the provision of emergency assistance, we must already look into recovery. 80 per cent of the flood victims were engaged in agriculture. This means that agriculture as way to restore livelihoods, and small-scale infrastructure, in particular that which connects farmers to markets, have to be included in the immediate priorities. This has to be done now or we miss the planting season and lose the next harvest.
Throughout, HR/VP Ashton and Commissioners Piebalgs and De Gucht and I have worked very closely, acting both on the political and assistance fronts. We have coordinated with the Member States notably in view of the next Gymnich, and the Friends of Democratic Pakistan meeting in Brussels on 14/15 October, but also in view of the preparation of the reconstruction phase and future international donors' conference.
Lessons for the EU
What lessons can we draw at this stage? I see 3 main points.
1) First, the Pakistan floods are one of most striking cases that make the impact of climate change abundantly clear. Looking at the resulting costs, it is important to draw more attention to disaster preparedness in our international cooperation. Increasing the resilience and preparedness of Pakistan and other countries prone to natural disasters, is a worthy investment which can mitigate the human and economic costs of future disasters.
2) Second, in a year that saw the earthquake in Haiti, drought in the Sahel, conflict in Sudan, and now floods in Pakistan, once again our budgetary situation is precarious as our own budget and the Emergency Aid Reserve are almost depleted. Because of the upward trend in the number and intensity of disasters, there is a widening gap in the EU's humanitarian budget, which must be taken into account when discussing the next financial perspectives.
3) Third, from the outset of the crisis, the EU has been on the frontline. But despite our early and significant mobilisation, the action of the EU as a whole – at least in the initial phase - had not been properly reported in the media. More than ever, we must spare no effort to further improve the efficiency and visibility of the EU disaster response instruments. As indicated by President Barroso this morning in his address, the Commission will come forward with proposals on this in the coming month.
Dear President, honourable Members, Pakistan has shown that EU solidarity comes not just in words but also in deeds. We should take collective pride in this as it is not only about saving lives but also upholding principles and values that are at the core of the European project and EU standing on the world scene.
I thank for your attention.
I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to brief you on the humanitarian situation in Pakistan. We are in a race against time and it is too early to tell whether or not we can avoid the emergence of a second wave disaster, consisting of wide-spread epidemics.
A number of things need to be done, on which the Commission, Council and the European Parliament need to work together:
In the short term, I will explore ways with my colleagues in the Commission to ensure that humanitarian aid keeps being delivered. In particular, we need to ensure adequate financing and good coordination. We must also push forward together with the Pakistani Government and other donors for an early start of recovery activities.
In the long run, we must review the way we work on two fronts:
First, the Union's disaster response capacity should be further strengthened to provide an effective response and to illustrate better that Europe is among the fastest and most effective actors when disaster strikes. I will present a proposal to this effect to you this autumn.
Second, we must upgrade the financial means at our disposal at a time when natural disasters increase both in frequency and intensity. Disaster risk reduction will be a big part of coping with this fact, but a matching budget is also needed if we want to remain effective.
Thank you very much for your attention.