Europe in the World

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Improving Europe’s humanitarian assistance: lessons from Haiti and other crises

11 May 2010

Ross Mountain, Director General, Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA) described how DARA’s Humanitarian Response Index (HRI) evaluates good donor practice. The latest report shows that EU Member States’ performance is mixed: Nordic countries, the Netherlands and the EU’s Humanitarian Aid Organisation (ECHO) perform consistently well, while others, such a Portugal, perform less well. Some countries face legislative funding barriers and difficulties in separating humanitarian assistance from foreign policy or ensuring policy coherence between humanitarian and development assistance.

ECHO’s’ key challenges are: to find a common voice for humanitarian advocacy and diplomacy; to differentiate between humanitarian assistance and a political/military response; to improve the quality and coherence in European humanitarian and cooperation assistance; to coordinate different EU government approaches; and to insist all assistance is politically neutral.

The Haiti earthquake demonstrated the need for greater coordination between donors, and more investment in local capacity, disaster preparedness and risk-reduction.

Johannes Luchner, Head of Unit for Central and Eastern Europe, NIS, Mediterranean countries and the Middle East, (ECHO) said Haiti’s disaster was of a different magnitude from those ECHO usually deals with and a learning experience for all. An Article in the Lisbon Treaty relates to humanitarian aid, and one must ensure it is always independent of military or political action, although at times the military has to protect citizens and humanitarian actors.

The Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Kristalina Georgieva is the main interlocator with the UN, the Red Cross and NGOs, and ECHO’s new joint role is to disburse humanitarian aid and protect civilians. This will streamline operations and strengthen responsibility, and while ECHO wants to strengthen local capacity in some countries, in crises like Haiti, the UN should be the interlocutor with the government.

In Kathrin Schick’s, Director of VOICE (platform of humanitarian NGOs), view the EU should be proud of its role in dispensing humanitarian aid in Haiti. The disaster occurred just as “new portfolios” were being opened in the European Commission, so the different Director-Generals were still working out their roles.

She found the HRI a useful tool, and said states appeared to show relatively little willingness to put in place disaster prevention or preparedness measures, which are essential in fragile states. At the EU level different EU departments could work together – for example, cancelling countries’ debts after major disasters, and should link relief, habilitation and development. NGOs are also working to improve coordination and set up a body for this in Haiti.

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