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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Responding to the humanitarian crisis, supporting recovery and promoting development: How Europe is helping Mali and the Sahel
"La crise humanitaire au Sahel" - Commission des affaires étrangères de l'Assemblée nationale / Paris, France
19 February 2013
Madame la Présidente, Mesdames et Messieurs les Députés, Mesdames et Messieurs,
C'est avec beaucoup de plaisir que j'ai accepté votre aimable invitation. D'une part, parce que je tiens beaucoup à notre dialogue permanent et amical avec la France en tout ce qui concerne la réponse aux crises. L'Europe est devenue une source importante d'aide d'urgence à travers le monde depuis les premières actions européennes d'aide humanitaire il y a vingt ans. Avec un budget annuel de € 1.3 milliards l'année passée, ayant assisté cent-cinquante millions de personnes en 2012, et avec des équipes spécialisées dans une quarantaine de pays en crise. Sur ce fond, le dialogue avec un Etat membre comme la France, avec une tradition particulièrement distinguée en matière d'action humanitaire, est pour moi très important.
D'autre part, je suis content d'être avec vous parce que je me suis rendu au Mali à deux reprises ces derniers mois. Avant et après l'intervention de la France. Et la différence entre mes deux visites était frappante.
J'étais au Mali pour la première fois en décembre dernier. La situation était plus que sombre. Le désespoir et le désarroi à Bamako étaient palpables. Et surtout, l'idée que l'on aurait pu attendre jusqu'en septembre 2013 pour une reconquête du Nord par les forces des pays voisins, et que les Islamistes attendraient tranquillement sans bouger, n'était jamais crédible.
Je suis revenu au Mali le 22 janvier, et j'ai effectué à la même occasion une visite conjointe avec le Ministre délégué au développement, Pascal Canfin, au Burkina Faso, et notamment dans un camp de réfugiés maliens au Nord du Burkina.
Lors de ma deuxième visite à Bamako, l'ambiance était évidemment transformée. Les défis et les menaces pour l'avenir restent énormes – et j'y reviendrai. Mais il y a également de l'espoir, et des opportunités. Et sans l'action de la France, cela ne serait pas le cas. Je tenais à le dire d'emblée.
Madame la Présidente, avec votre permission je continuerai en anglais, car mon français reste perfectible.
You have very kindly invited me to address you on the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel. And I am very glad to do so, because there is a wider Sahel crisis beyond Mali. With the third drought last year in seven years, and the return in of migrant workers from Libya putting an additional strain on many Sahel countries. In this context, Mali has "a crisis in a crisis in a crisis" – the conflict on top of the political crisis on top of the food crisis. Today, I wish to focus on this because it is uppermost on all our minds. But I also wish to share with you our thinking, and what we are doing, on the wider Sahel.
Let me start by giving you an overview of the humanitarian situation. Madam Chair, you have already set out the essential points. There are massive humanitarian needs in Mali. But for the most part, they predate the French offensive of 11 January. Last week, there were 167,000 refugees in neighbouring countries – of whom 22,000 had been displaced since 1 January. And there were 227,000 internally displaced persons in Mali – of whom 14,000 were displaced since 11 January. Moreover, up to one million people across Mali, directly affected by the conflict, have been in need of food assistance, and this since the crisis broke out last year.
All of that remains the case. The food situation in the North appears to be getting worse. The refugees are not going to come back overnight. Many may stay in the camps in neighbouring countries for months or even years. That was something your Deputy Minister for Development Pascal Canfin and I heard quite clearly when we met refugees in Northern Burkina, just across the border from Mali. So we need an integrated return strategy, balanced with continued assistance to neighbouring countries. We need to create opportunities for the refugees in their areas of return. But also make sure they have lives worth living for as long as they stay in the camps.
As for the situation in Northern Mali itself: when I was in Mali in January, the biggest issue was not even humanitarian needs as such. It was access. Fortunately the access situation has improved now. And I wish to applaud the way in which France has managed civil-military relations, and helped to "de-conflict" access to areas of conflict. This will remain very important for as long as military forces and humanitarians work alongside each other in Mali. But now there is a new challenge – the threat from mines and improvised explosive devices, and a general sense of insecurity around some towns. So not enough relief goods are getting in. In a few weeks' time, we could be facing a serious shortfall in food, in particular.
What the EU is doing
Let me just recap here what the EU has been doing to help Mali on the humanitarian front – and also share with you news on what we intend to do next. I announced an additional €20 million in EU humanitarian aid when I was in Bamako in January. This brings our total emergency assistance for Mali to €93 million, including
€ 15 m in food assistance from the European Development Fund. Today, we are adding another €22 million in humanitarian funding – bringing the total EU emergency assistance for Mali and refugees in neighbouring countries since the crisis started to €115 million, of which €100 million from our humanitarian budget and €15 million from the European Development Fund. And there may be a need for more.
What does this European assistance actually do on the ground?
We help cover the basic needs of 150,000 refugees in Burkina, Niger and Mauritania (water, food, shelter and protection).
We have helped NGOs maintain basic services to people in the North of Mali – thanks to the EU's help, some 80% of health centres in the North have remained operational since the crisis started last year. And after the crisis broke last year we helped with keeping the water supply going in Timbuktu.
We have enabled the Red Cross to provide food assistance to some 500,000 people in the North of Mali.
We have helped provide basic services for internally displaced persons in the South of Mali.
Last but definitely not least: we have supported a major effort to fight malnutrition. Last year, some 60,000 severely acute malnourished children throughout Mali received specialized treatment – and no less than 80% of this work was funded by the EU.
Of course we do not limit ourselves as EU to providing money, important though that is. We have a team of humanitarian experts on the ground – working with the UN, NGOs and the Red Cross, assessing needs, speaking up for humanitarian access.
I am here with you today to talk about the humanitarian situation. But I do want to mention the EU's action on the military, development and political fronts, too. The EU Training Mission for the Malian army was launched yesterday, and will be operational immediately. Politically, we have been very active in encouraging the adoption of the Road Map, and will stand by Mali as it embarks on the transition back to elective democracy. As for development aid, my colleague Andris Piebalgs last week announced the unblocking of € 250 million in EU development aid. This takes me on to my next point.
Transition / re-establishment of basic services
The next big job will be to ensure a smooth transition from our emergency aid to quick-start development assistance. We discussed this with EU development ministers, including Pascal Canfin, in Dublin last week. France is at the forefront of thinking on this. Getting public services re-started quickly in places like Timbuktu will be key – as a sign that the transition is working for all the people of Mali. In concrete terms, that will mean ensuring that the NGOs who have been providing much of the limited services in the North can hand over to a functioning public infrastructure and administration. In areas such as health, water, sanitation and electricity, but also in the justice sector.
I am determined to work closely with Andris Piebalgs on this, and also with the Stability Instrument, which has just made €20 million available for helping re-build state structures in the North. We have very good experience of working with our development colleagues in Cote d'Ivoire, where together with the Ivoirian government we initiated the "'Partnership for Transition". I want to see something similar in Mali.
Human rights situation in Mali
Apart from the humanitarian situation, the other big issue that worried me when I was in Bamako last month is the risk of human rights violations and revenge attacks as the Malian army takes over the North. I again raised this with the Prime Minister when I saw him in Brussels yesterday. The risk of human rights violations has materialized. And the bottom line here is: terrible things were done by the Islamists in the North last year. I heard about them myself when I met Malian refugees in Burkina. But two wrongs do not make a right!
So it is really positive that the EU Training Mission for the Malian army (EUTM) includes a very strong component of training on human rights and International Humanitarian Law. There is one other thing we need to do now, in addition to keeping the issue in the limelight: to put an international human rights presence on the ground. The UN has started putting a small human rights presence on the ground, and the EU is looking at funding human rights monitors – both international, and Malian NGOs. I hope this will move forward quickly.
The revenge attacks, but also the events in Bamako in recent weeks, highlight just how deeply divided this country is. The military offensive, necessary though it was, will not cure these divisions. The Tuareg issue has not gone away. We will need to see real humility from the authorities in Bamako. A real effort at reconciliation between North and South. We will need to be very supportive, but also very attentive. And we need to bear in mind that failure to address the underlying issues in Mali could also impact across borders on the wider Sahel region – which is extremely fragile.
Situation in the wider Sahel
That takes me to the situation in the Sahel as a whole. Which has been hit by massive food and nutrition crises again and again in recent years. Madam Chair, you mentioned some of the key figures in your introduction. Four million children under five suffering from malnutrition; at least 200,000 children under five dying from malnutrition or related causes every year. This is a scandal. Because it is preventable.
As EU, and working closely with other donors like France, we have actually been able to make a difference in recent years. Last year, we did manage collectively to avoid a major catastrophe. In 2005, an estimated 250,000 people died of famine in Niger alone. In 2010, around 50,000 people died of famine in Niger. In 2012, the number was probably insignificant.
So what has changed? A number of things:
First: we all acted quickly. In Niger, the first signals came in November 2011. And the government recognized without delay that it had a problem. Humanitarian and development actors then came in very swiftly.
Second, humanitarians and development actors both took action - together. As the EU, we put in €337 million in assistance to the Sahel crisis last year – roughly half of this humanitarian funding, and half of it development funding.
Third, there was a real recognition that we need to target the most vulnerable. The 20% of the population of Sahel who make up 80% of the victims when a crisis hits.
Fourth, we need to work on long-term resilience – not just short-term response.
That takes me to my last point. Andris Piebalgs and I last year started an international alliance to build resilience in the Sahel – AGIR Sahel. It was formally launched in Ouagadougou on 6 December, with France one of the key co-founders. We are now helping implement it on the ground.
The first step, now under way, is a mapping of who is doing what in terms of building resilience in the Sahel countries. We do not want to re-invent the wheel. A lot of good work is happening already. When I was in Burkina Faso, I saw an excellent pilot initiative to provide free healthcare for the most vulnerable – children under five years of age, and pregnant and breastfeeding women. This initiative has been shown to reduce under-five mortality by 13%. That is the kind of activity we want to replicate, if possible across the Sahel. If AGIR can do that, it will have made a big difference.
Madame la Présidente, tout comme pour le Mali – nous devons nous engager pour le Sahel dans le très long terme. Au-delà du moment où le Mali aura disparu des écrans de télévision. Cela demandera de la patience et de la ténacité. Mais je suis sûr que nous pourrons faire une différence. L'Europe ensemble avec la France, qui porte une connaissance et une affinité particulière pour cette région.
Madame la Présidente, je suis à votre disposition pour répondre à vos questions. Je n'ai parlé que du Sahel – mais je serais bien sûr aussi heureuse d'aborder d'autres sujets, comme la Syrie, ou l'Europe et la France font également de grands efforts sur le plan humanitaire.
Encore une fois, Madame la Présidente, Mesdames et Messieurs les Députés, je vous remercie très vivement de votre invitation.