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Kristalina Georgieva : “We have to strengthen the European response to crises”

The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection was in Paris on Wednesday April 21st to meet ministers Bernard Kouchner (Foreign Affairs) and Alain Joyandet (Cooperation and Francophony). Objectives : to get French support for the Commission proposal for more effective, coherent and visible action. We took the opportunity to ask Ms. Kristalina Georgieva what her plans were and to give us an overview of European action in Haiti.

Touteleurope : More than three months after the earthquake, what is the European Union doing in Haiti ?

On January 12 2010, an earthquake that reached 7 on the Richter scale hit Haiti. In response, the European Union committed to providing aid of more than 422 million euros, divided between immediate humanitarian assistance (122 million euros, 30 million of which came from the Commission and 92 million from the Member States) and development aid for the medium and long term (300 million euros not including the individual contributions from member states), which will, among other things, help establish government capacity to function efficiently.
Kristalina Georgieva : The European Union was very responsive in Haiti both in its rapid response to the earthquake and to long-term reconstruction.

On the humanitarian front, the European Union is still providing aid three months after the earthquake. The Commission has also quadrupled humanitarian assistance in Haiti.

Immediately after the earthquake, we committed to providing more than 30 million euros for this assistance. When it became clear that humanitarian requirements would remain necessary for at least another year, we added another 90 million euros.

Our actions have three parts :

We are first working with partner organisations that were already rooted in the country before the earthquake. In fact, humanitarian conditions were already in a bad way before the catastrophe.

This partnership is really useful because these organisations, such as the Red Cross and associations who receive funds from Solidarity Haiti, have a long humanitarian tradition and know the country well. To this, we must of course add more specific organisations such as Handicap International as many people were injured in the disaster and are now handicapped.

Secondly, we are working on ‘decentralisation’ of the country. We were the first to say that aid and humanitarian support must follow population movements and be present where the people are. We must not confine ourselves to Port-au-Prince just because it would be easier to distribute aid to one place.

A lot of people who lost their homes are leaving Port-au-Prince (although we are making efforts to help those who can stay there). Furthermore, the earthquake also hit the towns of Leogane, Jacmel etc. and many regions have been affected.

We are also encouraging our development colleagues to guide these people by providing them with work particularly in the areas of rural development, agriculture, building reconstruction etc.

In this way, we are helping to ‘decongest’ Port-au-Prince. Many people have already said this but let me repeat it : we must not reconstruct Haiti as it was before because one of the biggest problems was the concentration of activities in Port-au-Prince such as electricity, jobs and schools. We need therefore to use humanitarian aid for long-term reconstruction.

Thirdly, we are working on emergency planning with the approach of hurricane season (from June onwards). Stocks are effectively used up - not only in Haiti but in the Dominican Republic too.

We must prepare emergency supplies so that these two countries are ready for hurricane season. It is very important to think of the Dominican Republic as a source of aid but also it may be exposed to the same risks as Haiti.

Yet the persistent view that Haiti will only need assistance while the Dominican Republic supports the burden may lead to us missing the incredible opportunity we have to bring these two countries closer together.

Lastly, and it is equally important, we are very proactive about coordinating aid, including in Haiti. We do our utmost to act in terms of what each party can bring and to be clear on what exactly the Commission of Humanitarian Aid is doing in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Leogane and what it is doing with regard to displaced populations..

We are a voice that resonates but not only a voice. We show using precise examples what can be done. For example, with regard to humanitarian aid we support the UN’s ‘Cash for Work’ programme which provides jobs in reconstruction. We also support local agriculture rather than imported food.

On development, we support long-term agriculture by ensuring that the country becomes less dependent on imports.

On the whole, the European Union is respected because it is aware of both short-term and long-term objectives.

TLE : What lessons can be learned from the European action in Haiti ? Is the creation of a European Civil Protection Force still on the agenda ?

The establishment of a European Civil Protection Force is an idea that re-emerges when there is a natural disaster (the Tsunami in 2004, the fires in Greece, the earthquake in Haiti etc.). It was again proposed by the European Parliament in February 2010 with a strong majority. This would enable the Union to bring together the necessary resources to provide emergency humanitarian aid in the 24 hours following a disaster.
KG : We are aware that with the probable increase in earthquake intensity in the future, the EU’s coordinated response must also be strengthened.

We must concentrate in particular on the total coordination of rapid response between Member States and the Commission. In difficult circumstances, this coordination has been relatively effective.

However, the visibility of our actions has not been as successful. We can do better and we must make efforts to prepare for the most effective civil response, or even military response, possible.

On the specific question of the European Civil Protection Force, I will be in a position to answer this question in a few months. We have launched a process with Member States emphasising the lessons learned during the last crisis.

We are in the process of evaluating what the needs and options are as well as how we can get the best possible results. We want the European response to disasters to be efficient, coherent and visible. This means better coordination and better deployment of EU capacities. Whether or not we need a special European force will depend on in-depth analysis of the needs and capacities of the Member States that can be organised and deployed.

TLE : What was the objective of your visit to France on Wednesday 21 April ?

KG : The goal of this visit was the get France’s support for this efficient, coherent and visible EU response to natural disasters. France has itself got remarkable organisation skills in this field. It strongly supports the need for visible and effective actions by the Union.

To be precise, this visit had four objectives. One was concerning crisis management so I visited the Service de protection civile (Civil Protection Service) and the Crisis Centre of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of France.

We also wished to present to key stakeholders and civil society with the Commission’s new portfolio on humanitarian aid and civil protection

Furthermore, we wanted to have French input into greater European Union action in response to crises.

Finally, we thanked France and French organisations for all that they did and all that they are doing in Haiti. Indeed, I met a doctor, firemen and a captain from the Civil Protection Service of France who had all been in Haiti as well as ministers, of course, who have been so generous to Haiti. It was a very enriching experience.

TLE : What are the Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection’s plans ?

KG : With regard to humanitarian aid, we have two major financing projects. Firstly, we are concerned about current crises that do not necessarily get the same visibility as the Haiti disaster. We must be sure that people get help even when the cameras are not there.

Secondly, we have made several financial decisions in expectation of serious famines which are starting in countries such as Niger. We want to make a decision before the crisis occurs. We have been proactive in making financial decisions before the famines occur and this facilitates our reaction. For example, we are very closely monitoring the situations in Darfur and Gaza and we are continuing to finance these regions.

To find out more :

European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO)

External cooperation in Haiti - EuropeAid

CV of Kristalina Georgieva

Entretiens de Bernard Kouchner et d’Alain Joyandet avec Kristalina Georgieva, Commissaire européenne - Ministère des affaires étrangères et européennes

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