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In Tacloban, seven months later

June 5th, 2014


Last time I came to the Philippines it was to bring massive assistance from Europe to help people here survive the impact of the most powerful typhoon ever recorded to have made landfall. This super-typhoon, known as Haiyan in the world and as Yolanda in the Philippines, killed more than six thousand and severely affected the lives of eleven million people.

Back then I travelled by helicopter to Tacloban, the place of most dramatic destruction. I could see the difference between the areas the typhoon spared and those hit by its unbelievable strength — Paradise on one side, Hell on the other. And then we landed, right next to ruins of what used to be someone’s home. A car took us to Tacloban’s centre, crawling between piles of debris and lines of body bags, the most terrible evidence of what had taken place. Read the full entry

The Floods: “Niste sami – You are not alone”

May 27th, 2014
Commissioner Georgieva in Belgrade

Commissioner Georgieva in Belgrade seeing the impact of the Balkan floods. Photo credit: European Commission

I will never forget the scenes of the floods across Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia: a deluge of rain of truly Biblical proportions which within a matter of hours wrought the greatest damage there since the region’s terrible wars of the 1990s. Now back from my visit to the region, my heart is full of sorrow for the people who have lost relatives, homes and livelihoods, but also admiration for the courage and kindness they have shown over the last week – and a strong determination to mobilise more help for the thousands of people who need it. Read the full entry

Trouble travels

May 8th, 2014

For my third visit to the Central African Republic (CAR) in ten months I had the privilege of meeting Catherine Samba Panza, the Transition President. We met in Brussels recently and I was keen to get her first-hand impressions of doing what I can only describe as the world’s toughest job.

The Transition President is a former mayor of the capital Bangui and was elected by parliament in January as a non-partisan head of state until national elections can be held by February next year. Before the meeting our arrival at the international airport made a strong impression on me because of the tens of thousands of displaced people camping out within its secure perimeter. These are people who fled here at the height of the fighting and who are now reluctant to leave because they still fear the widespread violence which is rippling through this vast, sparsely populated and beautiful, fertile country. Read the full entry

A new camp in the desert

May 5th, 2014


Satellite imagery in recent years has uncovered scores of ancient settlements in the Arabian sands of the Middle East, exciting archaeologists and promising to enrich our knowledge of the region’s culture and history.

I wonder what future generations will make of the new “monuments” that are being built today in those same arid regions which are just as visible from space. A new refugee camp has just opened in Jordan to accommodate the never-ending flow of Syrians seeking refuge from the tragic civil war which is slowly but surely tearing their country to pieces. Read the full entry

Why we need to think again about how we deal with humanitarian crises

March 19th, 2014


2013 saw some of the worst humanitarian crises in living memory. As the Syrian conflict enters its fourth year the refugee crisis it has generated in the region has become the greatest humanitarian challenge in a generation. In Central African Republic and South Sudan, existing deep-rooted humanitarian problems have been magnified by ongoing ethnic and political violence.

We need to face the reality that an urgent shift is needed in the way we respond to humanitarian crises. Read the full entry

Three years of fighting, a river of tears

March 14th, 2014


I have been in Iraq where the number of refugees from the war in Syria continues to climb, just as it does in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. We are entering the fourth year of fighting and there is no end in sight to this madness.

Syria is the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our times, with more than nine million people on the move not out of choice but for the simple motive of survival. That’s more than 6.5 million people forced to flee inside Syria and another 2.5 million who’ve decided that if they want to live they need to cross their country’s borders and seek refuge among neighbours. Try to imagine what it would be like for

40 per cent of the population of your country Read the full entry

Hello, EU Aid Volunteers!

February 25th, 2014

Today brought good news: the European Parliament gave overwhelming support to the creation of EU Aid Volunteers. In the presence of volunteers from the pilot projects who had come to speak about their experiences and to promote the programme, Members of the EP approved it with 88% majority – exactly mirroring the support voiced for it by European citizens, 88% of whom told us through Eurobarometer that they look forward to having EU Aid Volunteers in action.

This means that from April, when we expect the final “yes” of the Member States, the set-up of the initiative can start and the first volunteers can be selected and deployed from next year. We envisage that, in the next five years, around 20,000 people will take volunteering opportunities – ranging from deployment in vulnerable countries, through office work, to online support. Read the full entry

What After Homs?

February 20th, 2014

Source: Freedom House

A temporary ceasefire in Homs has allowed for the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid inside the Old City. For a first time in the madness of Syria’s civil war there has been a glimpse of what passes for “normality” in conflict zones: UN vehicles driving in and out, bringing help and hope to desperate people. This war has been so terrible for so long that I fear we are losing our perspective on what normality is.

It is not normal to take 14 months for the UN to negotiate a humanitarian pause in Homs. It is not normal for aid convoys to be shot at on their way to Homs. It is not normal that at least 240,000 people are trapped in besieged areas and another three million in places where fighting prevents the regular delivery of aid. It is not normal for humanitarian workers to be fair game for fighters from both sides. Read the full entry

CAR: some hope amid the bad news

January 29th, 2014

I first travelled to the Central African Republic (CAR) last July; since then, I’ve been trying hard – together with France and Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator in particular – to drum up attention for this chronically ignored, chronically impoverished country.

The destructive potential of religious tensions was on my list of concerns back then and sadly, my fear became a reality: violence between Muslims and Christians has escalated to horrible proportions since December, plunging CAR into a humanitarian catastrophe with massive population displacement, a dramatic health crisis, egregious violations on human rights and a looming food crisis. Read the full entry

Kuwait Two

January 19th, 2014

I am back in Kuwait after a year of the conflict in Syria going terribly wrong. Since the first humanitarian fundraising conference took place here in early 2013, the number of Syrians in need of assistance has quadrupled, the refugees in the neighbouring countries have increased five times, and, with the health system in shambles, polio has returned. In response, we in the European Commission delivered seven-fold on our first Kuwait pledge – $1 billion against our $136 million commitment. Sadly, even with contributions at record levels we are not nearly close to meeting the needs, because of the enormity of the crisis, but also because access inside Syria over this last year has worsened. Read the full entry