European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

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Civil-military relations in humanitarian crises

© WFP/Praveen Agrawal

Why is this important?

The changing nature of modern conflicts, natural disasters and crisis situations has gradually demanded various forms of civil-military coordination for humanitarian operations.

Certain humanitarian emergency and disaster situations may require capabilities only available from the military community. Such services include communications support, sea and airport repairs and operation support, fuel management, road and bridge repairs.

Civil-military coordination may also be needed in situations where the humanitarian and civil protection community does not have the assets or expertise to assist (e.g. strategic airlift, engineers). Examples of such cooperation include the 2010 floods in Pakistan, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the 2011 evacuation of third country nationals from Tunisia. More recently, the military's role in establishing the EU Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) system in response to the Ebola crisis was critical. Exceptionally, assistance by the military might also be required to ensure in order to create appropriate safety conditions to for humanitarian workers for delivering aid to operate in complex emergencies. Interaction with the military always depends on the context, and is a result of case-by-case consideration.

How are we helping?

The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) closely coordinates with the crisis management structures of the European External Action Service (EEAS). This collaboration ensures that whenever EU military assets are mobilised in support of humanitarian operations, this is done in accordance with the guidelines agreed by UN member states, international organisations, humanitarian actors and managed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

These guidelines aim at ensuring that the humanitarian space is not endangered and that humanitarian assistance abides by the principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality. By maintaining a clear distinction between the identities, functions and roles of humanitarian and military actors, civil-military coordination ensures the consistency of relief efforts, by avoiding duplication and, when appropriate, pursuing common goals (as for instance for the Ebola response).   

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