Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection
The EU has a long-standing commitment to helping victims of man-made and natural disasters worldwide. Collectively, the EU and its Member States are the world's leading donor of humanitarian aid. EU assistance alone, excluding the bilateral assistance from its Member States, helps over 120 million people each year.
Since 2010, the European Commission has established a more robust and effective European mechanism for disaster response combining humanitarian aid with civil protection assistance.
The principles of humanitarian assistance
EU humanitarian assistance is based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. This means that aid is distributed to people in need regardless of nationality, religion, gender, ethnic or political affiliation.
EU humanitarian aid is present in all main crises, such as Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine, Ebola-hit West Africa and the Central African Republic. But the EU responds not only to the major events that make headlines. ECHO conducts an annual ‘forgotten crisis assessment’ to identify crises not receiving enough international aid to ensure that funding reaches also these crises, and to raise awareness in the international community.
The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has more than 400 aid professionals in over 40 offices worldwide, as well as around 300 staff at its headquarters in Brussels. This network allows the European Commission to react quickly when disasters strike. Field officers are able to be deployed immediately to the crisis area to carry out assessments of needs, and thus identify the sectors and areas requiring funding.
EU humanitarian assistance is implemented through partners on the ground, including United Nations agencies, NGOs and international organisations such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent. Humanitarian partners may be asked to provide anything from food, shelter to clothes, health care, water or sanitation equipment, to repair infrastructure or to give psychological support.
Some of the suffering caused by disasters can be avoided if communities are well prepared. While it is not possible to predict exactly when a cyclone, volcanic eruption or earthquake will strike, the areas subject to recurrent natural disasters are well known. The Commission funds an array of activities to help local communities better prepare for disaster, such as training, weather-resistant schools, early warning radio systems and anti-flood platforms.
In 2015, the Commission has launched the EU Aid Volunteers initiative which will provide some 18 400 citizens with the opportunity of contributing to humanitarian work around the world.
The EU Civil Protection Mechanism operates together with EU humanitarian aid to tackle the needs arising from a conflict or disaster around the world. Through the Mechanism, participating states (EU plus a number of other European countries) offer assistance in the form of civil protection teams and equipment to countries requesting help. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre monitors existing and potential crises around the clock, and serves as the coordination and communication hub for disaster response.
Between 2010 and 2014, the EU has responded to over 80 emergencies worldwide including the triple disaster in Japan, the civil war in Syria, forest fires and floods in southern and central Europe and the Balkans, the Ebola epidemic in west Africa and the conflict in Ukraine. Since January 2014, new legislation on civil protection lays the basis for the voluntary pooling of civil protection experts and material from the participating European states.
Since November 2014, Christos Stylianides is the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.