33 European Commission response to the
east Asian tsunami
|Special Report of the European Court of Auditors concerning the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Response to the Tsunami
|Art 248(4) EC;
|Deposited in Parliament
|6 July 2006
|Basis of consideration
|EM of 19 July 2006
|Previous Committee Report
|To be discussed in Council
|To be determined
|Cleared, but further information requested
33.1 The Commission has a specific Directorate-General
Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid (DG ECHO) to
respond to humanitarian crises. It does not implement relief activities
directly, but works through partners which consist both of NGOs
and international organisations, including the United Nations
and Red Cross. According to its website, thanks to ECHO, humanitarian
action occupies a key position in the EU's external action, with
ECHO being "the world's main player in this field".
The website notes that, through ECHO funding, some 18 million
people are helped each year in more than 60 countries through
200 partners (NGOs, ICRC, and UN agencies like the UNHCR and the
WFP). It notes that ECHO spends more than 500 million a
year on financing humanitarian projects, the importance of which
"is due to the growth in the number of serious crises in
the world and reflects the EU's willingness to take on a leading
role in international humanitarian efforts".
33.2 The Court of Auditors Special Report is carried
out on the basis of Article 248(4) EC, which empowers the Court
of Auditors to submit observations, particularly in the form of
special reports, on specific questions.
The Court of Auditors Report
33.3 The report begins by recalling that, on 26 December
2004, an earthquake off the west coast of Northern Sumatra triggered
a massive tsunami causing widespread destruction in many countries
of the Indian Ocean, killing over 200,000 people, to which the
international community responded with over 5 billion of
humanitarian aid. In his helpful 19 July 2006 Explanatory Memorandum,
the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for
International Development (Mr Gareth Thomas) says that DG ECHO
committed 123 million (£85m) for humanitarian activities
in 2005 in Thailand, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia
(the UK share was 17%, or 21 mn/£14.4 mn). The Commission
funded activities through NGOs, UN agencies and international
organisations primarily the Red Cross. The initial 23
million funded emergency activities; the subsequent 100
million, approved in two later stages, was used to fund short-term
rehabilitation programmes in sectors such as shelter, livelihood
recovery, water and sanitation, and disaster preparedness.
33.4 On the basis of an examination of documentation,
interviews, two on-the-spot visits to Indonesia and Sri Lanka
respectively and a review of other audits and evaluations, the
Court explains that its audit examined the Commission's emergency
response and some short-term rehabilitation work consistent with
DG ECHOs mandate, but not longer-term reconstruction. The Report
includes the Commissions' response to the findings.
33.5 The main questions addressed were:
a) Was the Commission's response to the tsunami
sufficiently rapid and appropriate?
b) Were DG ECHO's actions effectively coordinated
with those of other Commission services, international organisations
and other countries?
c) Were DG ECHO's monitoring and control procedures
designed to ensure that projects implemented by partners were
relevant, timely and efficiently implemented?
d) Did projects implemented by DG ECHO's partners
achieve their expected results and were short-term rehabilitation
actions adequately sustainable?
33.6 As well as assessing DG ECHO's performance against
the rapidity and appropriateness of its response, level of coordination
with other Commission activity, whether its monitoring and control
procedures allowed partners to make relevant, timely and efficient
interventions, and whether projects implemented achieve their
expected results, the Minister says the Report also considers
the "application of the principles of needs-based assessment
and proportionality of response, one of the 23 principles of Good
Humanitarian Donorship agreed in Stockholm by donors, including
DFID and DG ECHO, in 2003".
33.7 Overall, the Minister correctly notes, the report
gives a positive assessment against the four identified criteria:
"It takes account of the special circumstances
of the tsunami, in which the generosity of private donors meant
that many organisations were funded to or even beyond
their capacity, whether or not they had experience of
working in the affected region. It commends DG ECHO for the rapidity
of its initial financial response and for the flexibility of its
procedures, which allows initial project design to be adapted
to changing needs or more accurate assessment of the situation
on the ground."
33.8 The Minister notes that the Court recommended
the following points, with the Commission's response in italics
following each point:
"(a) the Commission should consider the role
it could play in helping affected governments to manage donor
coordination more effectively;
The Commission fully recognises the importance
of national ownership in a disaster response and addresses this
issue both in its humanitarian assistance and in its development
"(b) the roles of DG ECHO and DG Environment
(Civil Protection Mechanism) should be clarified to ensure a coherent
The Commission fully endorses this recommendation.
"(c) a longer timeframe for emergency operations
should be considered in order to provide sufficient time for implementation;
The Commission considers that it is not appropriate
to change the regulatory base in order to extend the timeframe
for primary emergency and emergency humanitarian actions.
"(d) DG ECHO should strengthen its monitoring
system in order to include written feedback to partners following
monitoring visits, the development of comparative cost information,
an explanation of the implementing arrangements and information
on what has been done where;
The Commission will reinforce the monitoring system
to accommodate the Court's recommendations in the most appropriate
"(e) the difficulties of access to documentation
of projects implemented by UN agencies should be taken into account
in the context of the Financial and Administrative Framework Agreement
Following discussions with the concerned organisations,
this matter was clarified and the Commission gained access to
the relevant documents. The verification of Commission funded
projects undertaken by UN Agencies is a subject that was addressed
within the April 2006 meeting of the EC-UN FAFA working group."
The Government View
33.9 The Minister continues as follows:
"The UK is pleased to see the Court of Auditors
beginning to use the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship
in their assessment of the Commission's humanitarian assistance.
In this context, the Report notes that DG ECHO sometimes
funded against a standard emergency response proposal rather than
a proposal based on a detailed needs assessment. While we agree
to some extent with the Commission's response that it would have
been unacceptable to delay financing too long, the Secretary of
State for International Development proposed in his speech of
January 2006 on humanitarian reform that work needed to be done
on improving emergency appeals to reflect real immediate need.
"The report recommends that the Commission should
consider the role it could play in helping affected governments
to manage donor co-ordination more effectively. The UK agrees
with the Commission that a key part of its response must be through
developmental support to governmental disaster management structures,
as well as through short-term support to UN co-ordination structures.
The Report recommends that DG ECHO's monitoring reports
should have a greater focus on enumerating project activities
than on results achieved. The UK agrees with the Commission's
response that it does adequately cover project activities; we
think it is very important that DG ECHO should, like other
donors, focus on humanitarian impact. The report notes that in
a large UN programme the auditors visited, DG ECHO experts
were not able to say which specific activities were funded by
DG ECHO and had difficulty obtaining the information from
the agency. We note that another principle of Good Humanitarian
Donorship is reduced or more flexible earmarking; while agreeing
with the importance of transparency, we think that DG ECHO
should be encouraged to be more flexible rather than less
in its humanitarian financing.
"We agree that co-ordination between DG ECHO
and DG Environment (Civil Protection Mechanism) on immediate response
(humanitarian and civil protection) should be improved at Commission
level. As DG ECHO and its regional experts often have considerable
local knowledge of a disaster-affected country, whereas Member
States' civil protection teams may have limited international
experience, there is a strong case for Co-ordination and information
exchange at all levels."
33.10 Looking ahead, the Minister says that he expects
both the Development Cooperation and Civil Protection Working
Group to consider the report in the autumn.
33.11 Given the desperate circumstances at the
time, it is encouraging that the Court of Auditors' Report contains
so many positive features. Given also the unfortunate likelihood
of similar challenges in the future, we consider that the Report
should be drawn to the attention of the House.
33.12 Perhaps its most important conclusion relates
to the need for better clarification of the respective roles of,
and for better coordination between, DG Echo and the Civil Contingency
Mechanism. The implication of the Minister's remarks is that the
former should coordinate the work of the latter. In any event,
both the relevant Working Groups will be considering the Report
in the coming months. We should accordingly be grateful if the
Minister would inform us at an appropriate time of the outcome
of these discussions and, in particular, what arrangements have
been made in response to the Court's recommendations. Meanwhile,
we clear the document.
86 http://ec.europa.eu/echo/presentation/background_en.htm. Back