The EU has a long-standing commitment to helping those in need. In the 20 years since the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) was created, it provided €14 billion in humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict and disasters in 140 countries.
The principles of assistance
Offers of humanitarian assistance are based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. This means that aid is distributed regardless of nationality, religion, gender, ethnic or political affiliation.
ECHO has more than 400 people in 44 field offices in 38 countries as well as staff at its Headquarters in Brussels. This allows the EU to react quickly when disaster strikes. Field officers are able to go immediately to the crisis area to carry out needs assessments. They then monitor the implementation of EU-funded humanitarian projects. ECHO is currently headed by Kristalina Georgieva.
Working with partners
Projects are implemented through partners, including United Nations agencies, NGOs and international organisations such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent. They may be asked to provide anything from food or shelter to clothes, healthcare, water or sanitation equipment, or to repair infrastructure or give psychological support or other assistance.
But it is not only the major events that make headlines worldwide to which the EU responds. ECHO conducts an annual ‘forgotten crisis assessment’ to identify those in need, to ensure funding reaches them, and to raise the profile of this crisis within the humanitarian community.
Some of the suffering caused by disasters could be avoided if communities were prepared. While we cannot predict exactly when a cyclone, volcanic eruption or earthquake will strike, we do know where they may happen: for instance the Caribbean, Central America, South East Asia and Bangladesh. ECHO funds an array of initiatives to help local communities prepare for disaster, such as training, weather-resistant schools, early warning radio systems and anti-flood platforms.
From 2014, the EU will have voluntary humanitarian aid corps in action around the world. Fully trained before deployment, the volunteers will support the development of local capacities and bring in the skills needed in a particular situation.