Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report

38 European Community emergency and humanitarian aid



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COM(06) 441

Commission Report: Directorate General for Humanitarian Assistance (ECHO) Annual Report 2006

Legal base
Document originated4 August 2006
Deposited in Parliament22 August 2006
DepartmentInternational Development
Basis of considerationEM of 5 September 2006
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


38.1 The European Union as a whole (i.e., the 25 Member States and the Commission) is one of the world's main humanitarian aid donors; the Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) is the service of the European Commission responsible for this activity.

38.2 The table gives a breakdown of ECHO expenditure over the last five years:[91]
In millions of euros 2000 20012002 2003 20042005
Community budget 489523 522587 518631
Initial budget 471473 442442 490496
Additional funds 1850 80145 28135
Lomé Convention-EDF 321 1714 5223
Total 492544 539601 570654

The Commission Report

38.3 The document fulfils the requirements laid down by the Development Council in 1993 that the Commission should report annually on emergency and humanitarian aid activities through the European Community Humanitarian Office (now DG ECHO). It gives a detailed account by region and country of the humanitarian assistance provided in 2005 to support activities in over sixty countries — a 14% increase over 2004, largely attributable to the tsunami response (which alone totalled €122.8 million/£83 million), leading to the first time in recent years in which spending in Asia and Central & South America (40%) overtook that on the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific region (37%). Individual country reports in the annex set out assessment of needs, ECHO's objectives and achievement against objectives.

38.4 The report draws attention to DG ECHO's use of two methodologies to support its decisions on funding allocations:

—  its global needs assessment methodology, which it uses to identify the geographical areas in highest need according to nine humanitarian indicators; and

—  its methodology for identifying "forgotten crises" (areas of high need combined with low donor support). The report notes that 48% of DG ECHO's funding was allocated to forgotten crises in 2005 (an increase from 42% last year).

38.5 The report also notes ECHO's continued involvement in the Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) initiative and its promotion of a "principled approach" to the provision of humanitarian aid — "independence, impartiality, neutrality and the objective assessment of need".

38.6 On the Commission's approach to wider humanitarian reform issues the report simply notes that DG ECHO followed developments closely and that the Commissioner spoke on the subject to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) in Geneva in December 2005. It notes the Commission's own initiative, following the tsunami, to increase its numbers of field experts in order to boost emergency surge capacity (the capacity for emergency staff deployment) in the sector.

The Government view

38.7 In his 5 September 2006 Explanatory Memorandum, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (Mr Gareth Thomas) says that, in November 2004, the UK participated with other Member States in formal discussions with DG ECHO on its global humanitarian strategy for 2005, and in successive months on individual Global Plans (country strategies) and Emergency Decisions to be funded under the strategy. "In our view, DG ECHO's strategies were generally appropriate to the situation on the ground, and have been developed in consultation with other relevant actors."

38.8 He supports the Commission's attention to financing forgotten crises, and recalls that "the Secretary of State's reform speech of December 2004 called for DG ECHO to consider becoming the financier of last resort for neglected emergencies. While DG ECHO have declined to take on this role formally, their practice of formally identifying and prioritising such crises for funding is welcome." He continues as follows:

"We would have liked the report to be more explicit on the Commission's approach to humanitarian reform. Commissioner Michel's speech to the IASC identified four specific areas where he considered reform was needed: increasing overall humanitarian funding; ensuring equity in response to humanitarian crises, particularly to forgotten or neglected crises; improving emergency response capacity; and improving risk reduction and preparedness strategies.

"We agree with the importance of these areas, and support most of DG ECHO's actions in these areas — for example, the provision of 'thematic' or capacity-building funding to some of the major agencies to support emergency preparedness by prepositioning supplies. However, we think the Commission as a whole could do more on disaster risk reduction; and we would have preferred to see DG ECHO fund increased surge capacity within other humanitarian organisations rather than increase their own field capacity — which we consider to have been about promoting European visibility on the ground. We would also like the Commission to have contributed to the UN Central Emergency Revolving Fund as a means of supporting swift action by UN agencies. We continue to discuss these issues with DG ECHO."

38.9 The Minister says that the UK's share of expenditure in 2005 was approximately 17%, (€114m, or £77m).

38.10 He concludes by saying that "the report may be considered by the Council Development Co-operation Working Group and the European Parliament's Committee on Development. No dates for these consultations have yet been announced."


38.11 The picture painted is generally encouraging. But the likelihood is of more, not fewer, humanitarian crises, which by their very nature require the most rapid and effective response rather than "promoting European visibility". We would therefore have liked to have seen more evidence of the Council getting a grip on some of the areas in which both the Commissioner and the Minister would like to see changes made, rather than the impression of drift and low-level attention that emerges.

38.12 We should therefore like the Minister, when he submits next year's Report, to report on what has been done to address these issues.

38.13 We now clear the document, which we report to the House because of the level of interest in the subject matter.

91   See en.htm for this and other details of ECHO activities. Back

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