COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES
COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT
Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid – ECHO
Operational Strategy 2009
The European Union's humanitarian aid policy reflects its founding principles – solidarity, tolerance and respect for human dignity. Humanitarian aid, while not a crisis management tool, is one of the pillars of Community action for countries affected by natural or man made disasters as well as by complex emergencies(1). Through its activities in disaster areas and through its active contribution to promoting respect for and adherence to International Humanitarian Law, the European Commission has asserted itself as a major player in international humanitarian aid. Today it is one of the main donors in operations providing assistance, relief and protection to populations in third countries affected by humanitarian crises.
The Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid (DG ECHO) is the service of the Commission which is responsible for implementing the humanitarian response to emergency situations, complex crises and forgotten crises. Its mandate, described in the Council Regulation of 20 June 1996(2), gives it the task of saving and preserving lives, reducing or preventing suffering and preserving the integrity and dignity of populations in distress. By fulfilling this mandate, DG ECHO has always maintained its adherence to the fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law, namely humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Indeed, its action is based on an objective evaluation of needs.
Since its creation, DG ECHO has adapted its strategy and its priorities to different humanitarian situations in order to improve the effectiveness of the aid provided to populations in distress. In the current geopolitical context, the major challenges which the international humanitarian community has to face are numerous. The main challenge is to protect a threatened humanitarian space and to promote adherence to International Humanitarian Law by all the parties involved in an armed conflict. Another challenge is the need to ensure the coordination of a growing number of humanitarian actors in order to bring effective and appropriate aid to those in need. With a view to promoting the principles and good practices of humanitarian action, DG ECHO has accepted, on behalf of the European Commission, the co-chairmanship of the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative for the year 2008-2009.
The signing of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid by the Presidents of the Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission on 18 December 2007, followed by the adoption of the action plan for its implementation on 29 May 2008, is a considerable step forward for the European Union which has finally given itself a common set of values, principles and objectives intended to strengthen the coherence of its overall humanitarian action. Significantly, the Consensus and its action plan stress the importance of the principle of diversity of the implementing partners – the United Nations, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and non-governmental organisations and, as such, recognise that each of these bodies has comparative advantages in the response to specific situations or circumstances.
The effort of coordination of the European strategy on humanitarian aid and of ensuring its coherence will also be strengthened by the setting up of a specific working group of the Council on humanitarian and food aid. This group will meet regularly from 1 January 2009 as a forum for debating and discussing humanitarian situations and issues.
4.2 Middle East and Mediterranean
Occupied Palestinian Territories
In spite of the resumption of political negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, there are increased restrictions and bans on movements and the construction of the separation wall in the West Bank and around East Jerusalem continues. Similarly, Israel keeps up the blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed on this part of the Territories following Hamas taking power in June 2007. Since the closure of the crossing points with Israel, the isolation of the population of the Gaza Strip remains one of the major concerns. This blocking of key imports (in particular of raw materials intended for the agricultural and industrial sectors) and exports have resulted in the collapse of the economy and have created dependency on humanitarian aid for a growing proportion of the population. Furthermore, in many parts of the West Bank the population remains economically vulnerable. In the areas most affected by the restrictions on movement, there are violations of basic rights such as access to health and the confiscation of agricultural land.
In this context of permanent crisis, pledges made at the Paris Conference in December 2007 are starting to materialise on the ground through development projects. Furthermore in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority is increasingly assuming its responsibilities by implementing reforms. These positive developments are enabling DG ECHO to start reducing its programmes in the water sector where other Commission services have not only launched rehabilitation projects but have also started to build new infrastructure. The same applies to1 the health sector where the competent ministry is assuming some of its responsibilities again.
Therefore, the link between emergency and development should be re-established. Nevertheless, in order to safeguard the household economy and to maintain protection mechanisms, humanitarian aid will continue to be given to the most vulnerable populations of the West Bank and Gaza in 2009 in the following sectors: assistance to households through food aid and food security, as well as through income-generating activities; health, water and sanitation, psycho-social aid, protection and coordination. DG ECHO will finance projects which are part of this where the multi-sectoral response is preferred.
Finally, DG ECHO will propose specific operations intended to promote International Humanitarian Law, stressing the importance of respecting humanitarian space. It will also support operations conducted by its partners in this area.
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
The situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has not improved. Almost half a million Palestinians in this country (10% of the population) have no social or civic rights and have only limited access to public services in the areas of health and education. In spite of the decision of the Lebanese government to limit the legal impediments for access to more than 70 types of jobs, it is unlikely that these measures will yield results in the short term. 53% of the refugees live in poor conditions in 12 official camps and in a number of unofficial camps. Furthermore, in 2009 a large proportion of the 30,000 former inhabitants of the Nahr El Bared camp will stay displaced. The most vulnerable people live in precarious shelter and poor hygiene conditions, only receiving very little attention from the international community. Consequently, DG ECHO’s humanitarian aid will continue, in particular in the sectors relating to rehabilitation of shelter, health, psychosocial aid, water and sanitation, job opportunities, assistance to vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and the disabled, as well as in the areas of protection and coordination. This involvement should lessen over the next few years with the gradual rebuilding of the Nahr el Bared camp and neighbouring areas in which other Commission departments are involved.
1 In collaboration with other stakeholders, the Member States and the Commission intend to draw up action plans for Fragile States, aiming to bring concrete improvements in the following areas: political sphere; coherence between actions with diplomatic, humanitarian, security and development aims; effectiveness of aid.
Document Type: French text, Working document
Document Source: European Commission, European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO)
Subject: Assistance, Economic issues, Humanitarian relief, Refugees and displaced persons, Security issues, Situation in Lebanon, Social issues
Publication Date: 20/11/2008