The future of humanitarian response, according to the EU

The Emergency Response Coordination Centre, operating within the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, serves as a coordination hub and has the capacity to deal with several simultaneous emergencies in different time zones, around-the-clock. The European Commission recommends the development of a comprehensive one-stop IT platform for humanitarian effectiveness. Photo by: Ezequiel Scagnetti / EU / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

European aid groups welcomed the European Commission’s latest communication calling for a makeover of the present setup of the global humanitarian response, but the devil — as always — is in the detail.

In the communication, “Toward the World Humanitarian Summit — A Global Partnership for Principled and Effective Humanitarian Action,” the multilateral donor identifies two main priorities. One focuses on keeping with humanitarian principles; the other on ensuring “effective humanitarian action.”

Under each priority is a set of recommendations that while most humanitarian actors agree with, are challenging to implement, particularly in places of conflict. For example, the commission suggests humanitarian actors engage in dialogue with parties involved in a conflict to “ensure access to assistance, protection and security,” and calls on governments to provide a “safe and secure environment for humanitarian action.”

Despite current calls for access and safety, aid groups still are struggling to reach all affected populations in places like Syria and Yemen. In the latter, some aid workers have themselves been targeted and killed.

But the fact that the EU has prioritized providing safe and secure environments for humanitarians to deliver aid is a welcome step, according to Kathrin Schick, director of the Voluntary Organizations in Cooperation in Emergencies, a network of humanitarian aid groups based in Europe.

“The communication rightly points to areas that are a collective challenge to the humanitarian community, both for humanitarian [nongovernmental organizations] and donors like the EU. Ensuring populations’ access to humanitarian assistance and improving aid workers’ security are critical areas that remain difficult in a large number of crisis-affected areas,” Schick told Devex, reiterating the importance of both access and security receiving attention at next year’s World Humanitarian Summit.

World Vision meanwhile argued that while the commission sets out “ambitious recommendations” for the future of the humanitarian aid architecture, it does not empower vulnerable groups like children and young people, who are often the main “beneficiaries” of aid, to also become “agents and respondents in national emergencies.”

The organization also highlighted humanitarian groups’ current struggles in their capacity to respond given insufficient financial resources. One need only look at U.N. coordinated appeals to see the gaps between humanitarian needs and what donors pledge in support.

“Donors, such as the European Commission and [its] member states, must examine more closely the impact of their diverse and complex funding systems on the effectiveness of humanitarian action,” Schick noted.

The humanitarian network Voice, along with other aid groups, is currently studying the possible implications of the recommendations, Devex has learned.

The result of an ‘extensive, two-year process’

The communication was drafted based on an “extensive, two-year process,” according to official EU sources.

This included worldwide consultations during events related to the World Humanitarian Summit, as well as position papers and studies by EU partner humanitarian organizations, and international discussions within the commission, particularly its humanitarian aid arm ECHO. The EU Commission’s own experiences in recent years as it responded to natural disasters, conflicts and pandemics, such as the Ebola outbreak, were taken into consideration as well.

The commission also reportedly took into account the views shared by various stakeholders — member states, NGOs, think tanks, academics, and campaign and lobby groups in public consultations. One example: stakeholders’ comments in the EU’s “fit for purpose” survey in 2013. There, they answered questions such as whether the commission should develop, alongside EU member states, common reference policy guidelines per humanitarian sector, as well as a common set of key indicators and measurements of results.

The majority of responders said yes to this particular question, which is now included in the commission’s communication recommendations.

“The humanitarian community should develop a comprehensive on-stop IT platform which should work as a repository of shared data on needs, capacities, risks, financial allocations, vulnerabilities, shared quality markers, common results indicators, evaluations and research,” the communication reads.

But not all appears to have made it to the recommendations. According to EU sources, the priorities and recommendations were agreed based on several criteria: They must respond to current challenges, be system-relevant, and relate to areas where the EU can bring added value to fill in the gaps.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.