Our objective is for EU assistance and protection to reach the over 300 million men, women and children who find themselves caught up in the chaos of disasters every year.
Events such as conflicts, droughts and earthquakes trigger humanitarian crises around the world all too often. Every year, 300 million people are affected by natural disasters or man-made calamities. More than 42 million women, men and children have to leave their homes and seek refuge elsewhere – inside or outside their country. Many more find themselves without shelter, food, water or medical care.
One of my responsibilities is to channel European assistance to these people. Wherever the crisis may occur and whatever the type of intervention required, my team and I are rapidly mobilised to meet the victims’ vital needs while preserving their dignity.
Linked to this is my responsibility to ensure that political attention is focused on addressing the needs of people caught up in humanitarian crises. I consider that, at the heart of my job, I am a voice for the voiceless.
The European Commission is already one of the world's largest humanitarian aid donors. Since 1992, it has financed and coordinated humanitarian operations in more than 100 countries outside the EU. We do that through the humanitarian aid section of ECHO, which provides relief assistance that goes directly to people in distress, irrespective of their nationality, religion, gender or ethnic origin.
The humanitarian programmes funded by the Commission are implemented through partner organisations: United Nations relief agencies, members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Having a diverse range of partners with very different specialisations allows us to allocate our resources to the experts that are best-placed to deliver in increasingly complex crises all over the world.
European Humanitarian Aid is provided solely on the basis of need, without discrimination between or within affected populations. Our objectives are autonomous of political, economic or military objectives. The sole purpose is to relieve and prevent suffering.
In the area of Humanitarian Aid, the priorities are to provide more efficient aid, to develop a better response capacity and to improve coordination both within the EU and between international actors.
When a catastrophe strikes, it is important to know quickly what kind of help is needed where, and who can provide it. Swiftly matching the needs with available resources following a major crisis is one of my responsibilities. I do that through the European Civil Protection Mechanism. It coordinates 32 European countries’ assistance capabilities, including search and rescue equipment, medical services, temporary shelter and sanitation equipment.
This mechanism has provided immediate and well coordinated European assistance for a number of major global disasters, including the Asian tsunami in December 2004, Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005, and more recently the Earthquakes of Haiti and Chile in 2010. The mechanism was also activated for EU crises such as the L'Aquila (Italy) earthquake in April 2009, as well as for floods and forest fires.
At the heart of the mechanism lies the MIC (Monitoring and Information Centre), operated by the European Commission in Brussels and accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Any country affected by a major disaster – inside or outside the EU – can request assistance through the MIC. The Centre immediately forwards the request to a network of national contact points in the 32 participating states and then coordinates the available assistance.
In the space of a few hours, the MIC is capable of mobilising and dispatching small teams of experts to assess the specific, on-site needs and to coordinate assistance operations. The Commission can also co-finance the transport of equipment to the scene of the crisis.
To see the MIC operation room in action, go to our video gallery and click on the entry posted on 27 February 2010, shortly after the earthquake in Chile.
At a time of increasing needs and shrinking resources, the Civil Protection Mechanism reinforces the effectiveness of European solidarity, inside and outside of the EU. One of my priorities for this mandate will be to improve our disaster response capacity with a package of new measures.