European Union External Action

Humanitarian & Emergency Response

26/05/2016 - 15:29
Policy - Activity

The EU is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid, providing assistance to crisis zones, countries facing post-conflict instability and countries dealing with ‘forgotten crises’.

The European Union is committed to helping victims of man-made and natural disasters worldwide. It helps over 120 million people each year. Collectively, the EU and its constituent countries are the world's leading donor of humanitarian aid. Yet EU aid accounts for less than 1% of the EU's total annual budget – just over €2 per EU citizen.

When the EU offers emergency assistance, it does so respecting humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. This means aid is distributed without any political considerations, and regardless of nationality, religion, gender, ethnic or political affiliation of the people who need help.

The Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), hosted by the Commission, coordinates and supports in-kind assistance (teams and equipment, such as search and rescue or field hospitals) provided inside and outside the EU through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Humanitarian aid

The EU works in all major crisis areas, including SyriaSouth SudanUkraineEbola-hit West Africa and the Central African Republic, and in countries facing post-conflict instability, such as the Ivory Coast. It helps save lives, reduce suffering and protect the security and dignity of those affected.

The EU has been providing humanitarian aid since 1992 in over 140 countries. Though its annual budget for such operations is limited at under €1 bn, it helps some 120 million people every year.

The EU helps raise awareness of 'forgotten crises' – often protracted crises which have escaped the attention of the media and the international community. Recently, it has helped focus attention on the humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic.

In line with the EU’s partnership approach, humanitarian aid is channelled through over 200 partner organisations and agencies on the ground, including:

  • non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • international organisations
  • Red Cross societies
  • UN agencies.

The EU also actively supports volunteering in support of such partner organisations, with the EU Aid Volunteers initiative (2014 – 2020) enabling some 18,000 Europeans to volunteer in EU-funded projects worldwide, and supporting the training and capacity-building of NGO staff.

Civil protection

The EU, through its Civil Protection Mechanism, plays a key role in coordinating responses to crises in Europe and worldwide. The Emergency Response Coordination Centre monitors existing and potential crises round the clock.

It coordinates contacts between the country concerned, experts in the field and the countries participating in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The Mechanism currently includes all 27 EU countries as well as a number of partner countries. Participants' offers of help are matched to needs.

The emergencies the EU has responded to include those created by military conflict, natural disasters such as forest fires, earthquakes or floods, and disease epidemics.

The EU also supports cooperation for:

  • Disaster prevention
  • Risk assessment
  • Preparedness & planning - including more regular joint training and exercises for European civil protection teams.
  • Voluntary pooling of experts and know-how from various EU countries.

Who does what

While the EEAS facilitates overall coordination of external action, such as human rights, security, stability, conflict prevention, the European Commission, via its Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), is responsible for the response to humanitarian crises and emergencies. It delivers humanitarian aid and it coordinates the provision of civil protection assistance from the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.