Humanitarian Aid

© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0812/Asselin

A woman feeds nutritional porridge to her son, during an information and growth-monitoring session, in the village of Tilli, Nord Region of Burkina Faso.

When disaster strikes, help is needed, and is needed fast. Helping the world’s most vulnerable populations in crisis situations is a moral imperative for the international community and can make the difference between life and death. Responding to this imperative, the European Union and its 27 Member States is the world’s leading humanitarian donor providing about half of global funding for emergency relief to victims of man-made and natural disasters. The aim of these actions is saving and preserving life wherever people are in need of relief, and preventing and alleviating human suffering, whilst preserving the integrity and dignity of populations affected by natural or man-made disasters.

The European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) was created in 1992 as an expression of European solidarity with people in need all around the world. In 2004, it became the Commission's Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid before integrating Civil Protection in 2010 to provide better coordination and disaster response within and outside the EU. Since its creation, the Commission, through ECHO has channelled around € 14 billion from the EU budget to victims of conflict and disasters in over 140 countries around the globe. For the past five years, an average of € 1 billion has been provided annually, helping nearly 150 million of the world’s most vulnerable populations hit by natural disasters and man-made crises.

Humanitarian aid is one of the two main tools at the disposal of the European Union (EU) to provide relief assistance to people outside the EU faced with the immediate consequences of disasters.

The EU’s humanitarian assistance is based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Every decision taken by the Commission must be in accordance with these four principles which are at the heart of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid . EU humanitarian aid is distributed without regard to any political agendas, and seeks without exception to help those in the greatest need, irrespective of their nationality, religion, gender, ethnic origin or political affiliation. This commitment to principled humanitarian aid is now also anchored in the Lisbon Treaty (Article 214 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

The other main tool is Civil Protection. Thirty-two countries, including all EU Member States, participate in a civil protection mechanism which provides assets such as search and rescue teams and equipment following a request from a country stricken by disaster. This mechanism is operated by the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) in ECHO.

The appointment of Kristalina Georgieva, in 2010, as the first European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response brought these tools together, strengthening the coherence of EU disaster response operations.

The European Union’s humanitarian aid and civil protection policies demonstrate commitment to supporting those inside and outside the Union in need of assistance when they are at their most vulnerable. Such assistance contributes to fulfilling one of the strategic objectives of the EU’s external action, as set out in Article 21 of the Treaty on the European Union.