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EU humanitarian aid - large-scale, low-profile - 11/11/2008

A humanitarian aid worker interviews an Iraqi refugee. © EC

Every year, the EU's rapid aid response helps over 18m people deal with the fall-out of conflicts, natural disasters and freak weather.

"It was evening and you could hear the fighting. A man with a gun came and told us we had to leave." Shamiana, a girl from Qarabagh, 30 km from Kabul in Afghanistan, had to flee the village with her family. They walked for several days before reaching a refugee camp in Pakistan.

In the camp, workers from ECHOfrançais , the EU's humanitarian aid office, assessed the refugees' most urgent needs to make sure aid was used to greatest effect. They saw to it that the refugees had food, shelter, medical attention, drinking water and pyschological support - and made sure that families were kept together.

When a crisis breaks, ECHO must mount a rapid reponse - witness the €4m in aid already released to help the 250 000 people displaced by the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This year, the EU has allocated over €700mfrançais to humanitarian aid – more than any other donor. For reasons of neutrality and effectiveness, ECHO doesn't intervene directly but funds local initiatives through partner organisationsfrançais – a low-key approach that doesn't often make the headlines.

Four years on, Shamiana and her family are back in their village. They returned to find their house destroyed and the surrounding fields riddled with landmines. But they have received food aid from the EU, which has also provided funds for them to rebuild their house and paid for mine clearance.

As soldiers become more involved in delivering humanitarian aid, aid workers are not always seen as neutral in conflict situations and increasingly come under attack.

That doesn't deter Isabelle D'Haudt, who works for ECHO in Kabul. "It just makes what we are doing seem all the more relevant. We are there to make a well-focussed short-term impact - quickly. And we can't afford to get it wrong."

As well as giving humanitarian aid, the EU is working to reduce poverty through its development work - the focus of the European development daysfrançais to be held on 15-17 November in Strasbourg.

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