Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid and crisis response, will soon present a political proposal to reinforce the EU's capacity to respond to crises, the European Commission said yesterday (16 August). The announcement appears to represent a response to recent calls from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, inspired by the unprecedented floods in Pakistan.
On 15 August Sarkozy sent a letter to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso arguing that the recent earthquake in Haiti, fires in Russia this summer and the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Pakistan – where millions of people are suffering from unprecedented floods – require total EU mobilisation.
"For obvious humanitarian and political reasons, Europe should manifest its solidarity with the Pakistani population in a visible way. The interest of Europe is to help the development and the stability of this country," Sarkozy writes in the letter.
More than two weeks after floods first plunged Pakistan into chaos, the waters are still rising across the southern plains of Sindh province, Euronews reported. Meanwhile, the death toll from the flooding is now at 1,463, the National Disaster Management Authority said on Sunday (15 August).
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Saturday (14 August) that as many as 20 million of his countrymen had been affected by the flooding.
At the same time, agencies report that help has reached only a handful of those affected, and resentment over the lack of governmental and international help is reportedly strengthening the position of Taliban insurgents and weakening the country's authorities.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was in the flood-affected areas on Sunday and appealed to the international community to provide unprecedented assistance.
The EU can do more in committing to cover the immediate humanitarian needs to a greater extent, in coordination with its member states and the UN, Sarkozy writes. He further called on the Union to draw conclusions from the recent disasters and put in place a genuine European crisis response capacity, based on the national capabilities of EU countries. France will soon table proposals in that sense, he adds.
Commission spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas told journalists yesterday that a Commission paper regarding Sarkozy's proposal would be made public immediately after the summer recess.
Since Commissioner Georgieva took her post, she has constantly announced her intention to table political proposals to reinforce Europe's crisis response capacity, Tarradellas said.
Indeed, Georgieva presented her ambitions in that sense at her confirmation hearing in the European Parliament last February (EURACTIV 04/02/10).
She has been actively working on the issue since her first day in office, has consulted several member states and the European Parliament and is going to come up with a paper on boosting Europe's capacity to respond to civilian crises immediately after the summer. So work is quite advanced, Tarradellas said.
Asked to disclose details of Georgieva's draft, her spokesperson said that at this stage he could only say that the philosophy was that the existing mechanism by which the European civil protection mechanism operates should be reinforced.
Under this mechanism, the affected member states call on other EU countries for solidarity, while the European Commission plays a coordinating role. The Commission receives offers from the member countries providing help and transmits these to the member state or third country in trouble, he explained.
As for assistance to Pakistan, Tarradellas said that Georgieva had interrupted her holiday due to the humanitarian crisis and was working from Brussels. He said the commissioner had thus far allocated 40 million euro to Pakistan, which in his words made the Commission the biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Pakistan at this time.
Asked if this aid would prove insufficient considering the situation on the ground, Tarradellas explained that the assistance was provided according to expert advice and absorption capacity on the ground.
The tragedy in Pakistan is so big that Europe will certainly have to continue to provide aid and have presence there, he said. But he insisted that the UN should lead the humanitarian effort in Pakistan.
Tarradellas also said that the increasing number of natural disasters were a result of climate change. Asked specifically if the floods in Pakistan were a consequence of climate change, he retracted, saying that was a question nobody could answer.