EU unveils new humanitarian aid tools amid pressure on donors

The EU will set up a new European Humanitarian Response Capacity to intervene directly in humanitarian crises, as part of a revamp of its humanitarian aid policy, announced on Wednesday (10 March). [European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr]

The EU will set up a new European Humanitarian Response Capacity to intervene directly in humanitarian crises, as part of a revamp of its humanitarian aid policy, it announced on Wednesday (10 March).

Under the plan unveiled by the Commission, the new facility would be tasked with offering logistical assessments, supporting initial deployment and procurement, and stockpiling, transporting and distributing relief items, including COVID-19 vaccines in fragile countries.

Unveiling the proposal, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and crisis management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said the new instrument would be used when traditional humanitarian delivery mechanisms are ineffective or insufficient.

“In a world where the footprint of crises is expanding rapidly and the principles of humanitarian aid are being challenged as rarely before, the EU’s global responsibility as a humanitarian actor has never been more important,” said Lenarčič.

“We need to deliver better, by boosting the efficiency and impact of our humanitarian action. We need to be able to react with full force as soon as crises emerge,” he added.

Elsewhere, the Commission said it would continue to ensure that international humanitarian law is “fully reflected in EU sanctions policy including through the consistent inclusion of humanitarian exceptions in EU sanction regimes”. The EU executive also noted that breaches of humanitarian law are making the delivery of aid more difficult.

For example, in January the EU suspended €90 million of aid to Ethiopia after complaining that the government is not allowing emergency aid to reach refugees in the war-torn Tigray province, where government forces have been fighting rebels since November.

According to the United Nations, almost 235 million people will require some form of assistance in 2021, an increase of 40% from 2020 and a near tripling since 2014. In 2020, UN humanitarian appeals increased to almost €32.5 billion — the highest figure ever owing also to the impact of COVID-19 — while only €15 billion was provided in funding.

Germany and the European Commission are the largest single humanitarian aid donors behind the United States, but the contributions from most other member states, with the exception of Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, are very small.

In a nod to this, the Commission said it would aim to persuade “certain member states” to increase their contributions, adding that “there is substantial scope to expand the list of donors and enhance the contributions of existing donors.”

However, aid budgets are under severe pressure as governments count the cost of the COVID pandemic on their public finances, with many expected to significantly cut their aid spending.

Alluding to that budgetary pressure, Commissioner Lenarčič said that “regrettably, needs rise to an all-time high but the global donor base remains disturbingly narrow.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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