Documents considered by the Committee on 18 March 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


26 EU humanitarian assistance

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionCleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the International Development Committee
Document detailsCommission Staff Working Document: General Guidelines for Operational Priorities on Humanitarian Aid in 2015
Legal base
DepartmentInternational Development
Document numbers(36609), 16902/14 + ADD 1, SWD(14) 345

Summary and Committee's conclusions

26.1 The general guidelines for operational priorities on humanitarian aid in 2015 examines the humanitarian aid operations for 2015 of the European Commission Directorate for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), sets out an indicative budget allocation and frames the Commission humanitarian policy focus.

26.2 It outlines commitments in a number of key policy areas: Resilience; Development and Protracted Displacement; Disaster Risk Reduction; Innovation; Aid effectiveness; Gender and Age; Education; and Food assistance (see our previous Report for full details[56]).

26.3 The 2015 EU budget for humanitarian aid, food assistance and disaster preparedness is €909 million, to be allocated thus:

—  50% for Africa;

—  24% for the Middle East and European Neighbourhood;

—  14% for Asia and Pacific;

—  6% for Central & South America and Caribbean;

—  3% for Worldwide disasters (small scale disasters facility, epidemics); and

—  3% for Complementary operations (Response capacity building, information and communication, training, Children in Peace education initiative, operational guidance development).

26.4 In her Explanatory Memorandum of 4 February 2015, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (Baroness Northover) said that, as the world's second largest humanitarian donor with a strong field expert network, ECHO's humanitarian programming "has a huge impact on global humanitarian outcomes", and that she will continue to work with ECHO and other Member States to ensure greater complementarity of approaches. She underlined her department's close working relationship with ECHO and its strong involvement in many of these policy areas, noting that:

"Work on building disaster resilience, enhancing global humanitarian response capacity, promoting respect for international humanitarian law and principles and engaging with the UN and other humanitarian actors on pushing for reform through the 'Transformative Agenda'[57] remain mutual priorities. The UK is supportive of the Commission's engagement in these priority areas."

26.5 The Minister also supported the 2015 budget allocation, which she described as rational, based on a comprehensive needs and risk analysis and as respecting commonly agreed humanitarian principles (see our previous Report for full details[58]).

26.6 When the Minister's predecessor (Lynne Featherstone) submitted the 2014 counterpart, she referred to another key component in this area of endeavour — the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, which is all about putting in place the foundations for the Commission and Member States working more closely together to ensure the most effective implementation of EU humanitarian aid. The then Minister outlined the findings of an evaluation of its effectiveness; and further outlined her objectives in the discussions that were to take place under the Italian Presidency concerning the nine recommendations in the evaluation (see paragraphs 26.16-26.19 below for full details). The Committee accordingly asked her, when submitting the 2015 operational guidelines for scrutiny, to outline how these negotiations had developed, and to report on the extent to which the Commission had been able to follow and implement the 2014 priorities and approach, particularly with regard to the gender and resilience components.[59]

26.7 The Minister did not do so. We therefore asked her to provide this further information and, in the meantime, retained the document under scrutiny.

26.8 The Minister now:

—  reports that limited and inconclusive discussions were held under the Italian Presidency on the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, meaning that the previous action plan has been extended and discussions will continue during the Latvian Presidency;

—  says that the next EU annual report on its commitments on Resilience (as set out in the 2012 Resilience Communication Commission and the June 2013 Action Plan) is due out in the next few weeks; in the meantime, she illustrates ways in which Resilience is also now more systematically integrated into European Development Fund programming; and;

—  on Gender in Humanitarian Assistance, recalls that the Commission's objective is to improve the quality of humanitarian assistance, through actions that effectively respond to the specific needs of women, girls, boys, men and elderly women and men, who will have different needs during a crisis; and that it has thus introduced a Gender-Age Marker in January 2014, which uses clear criteria to assess how strongly all ECHO-funded humanitarian projects integrate gender and age: given this, and that the last DFID MAR update[60] noted progress both on resilience and gender, the Minister is assured that "ECHO is taking these issues seriously", but will nonetheless "continue to monitor progress and hold them to account accordingly".

26.9 We look forward to receiving the next EU annual report on its commitments on Resilience in due course.

26.10 In the meantime, the Minister having now provided the information that was lacking in the first instance, we now clear the document.

26.11 We also again draw these developments to the attention of the International Development Committee.

Full details of the document: Commission Staff Working Document: General Guidelines for Operational Priorities on Humanitarian Aid in 2015: (36609), 16902/14 + ADD 1, SWD(14) 345.

Background

26.12 Humanitarian aid provided by the EU is a competence exercisable by both the Member States and the European Union. Between them, the EU and its Member States are the largest humanitarian donors in the world.

26.13 The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO, or DG ECHO) aims to save and preserve life, prevent and alleviate human suffering and safeguard the integrity and dignity of populations affected by natural disasters and man-made crises. Headquartered in Brussels with a global network of field offices, ECHO aims to ensure rapid and effective delivery of EU relief assistance through its two main instruments: humanitarian aid and civil protection. By bringing together the two under one roof in 2010, the Commission has sought to build up a more robust and effective European mechanism for disaster response both inside and outside the EU. Since 2010, ECHO has operated under the mandate of the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

26.14 Based on international humanitarian principles[61] and as set out in the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid,[62] the EU provides needs-based humanitarian assistance with particular attention to the most vulnerable victims. Aid is channelled impartially to the affected populations, regardless of their race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation.

26.15 The EU provides needs-based humanitarian assistance to all major crises zones around the world including Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, as well as countries facing post-conflict instability, such as C¼te d'Ivoire. The EU also plays a similar role in assisting and raising awareness of "forgotten crises" — often protracted crises that no longer capture the media and international community's attention. EU humanitarian aid covers areas such as: food and nutrition, shelter, healthcare, water and sanitation, and others. Aid, funded by the EU, is carried out in partnerships with international organisations and humanitarian NGOs.[63]

26.16 When the Committee considered the 2014 "Strategy for Humanitarian Aid: General Guidelines on Operational Priorities" at its meeting on 8 January 2014, it noted that it was keen to hear from the then Minister (Lynne Featherstone) about whether she and her Department continued to consider ECHO (as she had put it on the previous such occasion) "very good value for money", and whether ECHO had made progress in those areas in which DFID's 2011 Multilateral Aid Review (MAR) had said that there was still room for improvement.

26.17 We accordingly found it gratifying that the Minister was able to report favourably on the areas in which DFID had wanted to see further progress, including adopting a new gender and gender-based violence policy.

26.18 The Minister noted the centrality in the process of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, and that an evaluation was to be assessed in mid-2014. We asked her to write before the summer recess about the findings and of the assessment thereof.

26.19 In her letter of 17 July 2014, the then Minister noted that the evaluation report included a range of conclusions grouped under three headings:

—  harmonisation, complementarities and the role of ECHO;

—  quality of aid; and

—  coherence with other forms of aid.

26.20 She said that the evaluation's general findings were that although the Consensus and, to a lesser extent, the Action Plan that flowed from it, were well known at headquarters level amongst EU institutions and EU Member States, this did not typically extend to the field level, or to non-humanitarian headquarters departments. Most Member States cited the Consensus as one of the determining factors in the evolution of humanitarian aid policy and practice over the period evaluated, but most agreed that increased cooperation between EU Member States and EU institutions had primarily happened through information exchange in the Council Working Group on Humanitarian Aid and Food Aid (COHAFA). DG ECHO's primary added value was promoting humanitarian principles and good practice through its global presence, critical mass of funding and the technical expertise of its staff on the ground. Overall, the evaluation found that the amount of funding for EU humanitarian aid remained stable over the evaluation period, despite growing global humanitarian needs.

26.21 The Minister expected the evaluation's nine recommendations to be discussed amongst EU Member States and with DG ECHO, through COHAFA, during the Italian Presidency. The Government's guiding principles in these discussions would be:

·  "To avoid the duplication of existing and mandated humanitarian coordination mechanisms led by the UN;

·  "To protect the valuable role of DG ECHO as a humanitarian donor and promoter of best practice within the EU and beyond; and

·  "To ensure that any strategies, implementation plans or mechanisms have real impact on EU humanitarian aid effectiveness and do not detract from operational priorities."

Our assessment

26.22 We drew the Minister's timely and informative update to the attention of the International Development Committee.

26.23 We also looked forward to hearing from the Minister about how these negotiations had developed when she submitted the 2015 operational guidelines for scrutiny, as well as reporting on the extent to which the Commission had been able to follow and implement the 2014 priorities and approach, particularly with regard to the gender and resilience components.[64]

The Minister's letter of 24 February 2015

26.24 The Minister now deals with this request as follows:

EUROPEAN CONSENSUS ON HUMANITARIAN AID

"Limited discussions were held under the Italian Presidency and were inconclusive. As a result the previous action plan has been extended and discussions will continue during the Latvian Presidency. This status quo has limited implications on the three UK concerns:

1.  "Avoiding duplication of existing and mandated humanitarian mechanisms led by the UN.

2.  "Protecting the role of DG ECHO as a humanitarian donor and promoter of best practice within the EU and beyond.

3.  "Strategies, implementation plans or mechanisms that have real impact on EU humanitarian aid effectiveness and do not detract from operational priorities.

"On 1, the current ECHO position remains that they do not assume a co-ordination role when UN mechanisms are in place; on 2, the roll out of the previous action plan ensures this; and on 3, the 2015 humanitarian aid staff working paper and proposed budget allocation ensure aid effectiveness and operation priorities are safeguarded.

RESILIENCE

"EU commitments on Resilience are set out in the 2012 European Commission Resilience Communication and the resilience Action Plan agreed in June 2013. The EU is acting on its resilience commitments and reports annually on progress — its 2014 report is due out in the next few weeks. Both ECHO and DEVCO see resilience as a mechanism for improved aid effectiveness, risk-informed programming, flexibility, and for building accountability to populations at risk of disasters.

"ECHO has introduced a Resilience Marker which grant-holders are required to report against. It also requires all ECHO projects to consider opportunities to integrate resilience. Strategic assessments to determine how resilience is integrated into projects have been carried out in a number of risk-prone countries (Nepal, Bangladesh, Haiti, Zimbabwe Yemen, Mali and CAR). ECHO, DEVCO, and Member States have engaged on these processes in-country. The majority of ECHO 2014 Humanitarian Implementation Plans identify how ECHO can contribute to longer term resilience strategies. Resilience is also now more systematically integrated into European Development Fund programming.

GENDER

"A Commission Staff Working Document on Gender in Humanitarian Assistance: Different Needs, Adapted Assistance, was adopted on 22 July 2013. It outlines the Commission's approach to gender and gender-based violence in humanitarian aid. The objective is to improve the quality of humanitarian assistance, through actions that effectively respond to the specific needs of women, girls, boys, men and elderly women and men, who will have different needs during a crisis.

"To improve policy coherence, ECHO introduced a Gender-Age Marker in January 2014. This uses clear criteria to assess how strongly all ECHO-funded humanitarian projects integrate gender and age. ECHO is supporting projects that target women who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in various countries, including in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Given the above and that the last DFID MAR update noted progress both on resilience and gender, I am assured that ECHO is taking these issues seriously. We should however continue to monitor progress and hold them to account accordingly."

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-third Report HC 219-xxxii (2014-15), chapter 1 (11 February 2015); also see (35720), 17399/13: Ninth Report HC 219-ix (2014-15), chapter 35 (3 September 2014) and Thirty-first Report HC 83-xxviii (2013-14), chapter 13 (22 January 2014).


56   Thirty-third Report HC 219-xxxii (2014-15), chapter 1 (11 February 2015). Back

57   Recent large-scale humanitarian crises, like the Haiti earthquake and floods in Pakistan, were judged to have revealed major weaknesses and inefficiencies in the global relief response, which led to a decision to address the problem through the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), which brings together the main operational relief agencies of the UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, and international NGOS. IASC consulted host governments, affected communities, relief partners and contributing governments and to the requests from the general assembly for more efficient and well-coordinated international response to major disasters, and produced what is known as the Transformative Agenda, focusing on three key areas:

o Leadership of the international humanitarian response to support a countries own relief efforts;

o Accountability to all our stakeholders;

o Coordination structures, needs assessments, planning and monitoring. Back

58   Thirty-third Report HC 219-xxxii (2014-15), chapter 1 (11 February 2015). Back

59   See (35720), 17399/13: Ninth Report HC 219-ix (2014-15), chapter 35 (3 September 2014). Back

60   Multilateral Aid Review Update 2013; Back

61   The principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence are grounded in International Humanitarian Law. All Member States have committed themselves to them by ratifying the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Humanity means that human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, with particular attention to the most vulnerable; Neutrality means that humanitarian aid must not favour any side in an armed conflict or other dispute; Impartiality means that humanitarian aid must be provided solely on the basis of need, without discrimination; and Independence means the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from political, economic, military or other objectives; see http://ec.europa.eu/echo/en/who/humanitarian-aid-and-civil-protection/humanitarian-principles for full information. Back

62   The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid was jointly agreed by the Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission in 2008, with the aim of confirming their collective commitment to the principles underpinning EU humanitarian aid, to enhance existing commitments for good donor practice across the EU, in partnership with other humanitarian stakeholders, and to put in place the foundations for working more closely together to ensure the most effective implementation of EU humanitarian aid in the years to come; see http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/thematic/consensus_en.pdf for full information. Back

63   See http://ec.europa.eu/echo/en/who/about-echo for full information about ECHO. Back

64   See (35720), 17399/13: Ninth Report HC 219-ix (2014-15), chapter 35 (3 September 2014). Back


 
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