As European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, I find myself in a world that is facing unprecedented challenges: Some 60 million people are either displaced in their own countries or refugees.
As one of the world’s largest donors of humanitarian aid, the European Commission has had to increase its annual aid budget to over 1.1 billion euros ($1.21 billion) for 2016, double what we spent just 10 years ago, and not including the billions in aid provided by EU member states. Some 70 percent of our budget goes to projects to help refugees and internally displaced persons, wherever they are.
Recently the world’s attention has been on the Syrian conflict and it implications for Europe. As the conflict enters its sixth year, the suffering of the Syrian people continues. Seldom have civilians been made to suffer such horrors, never have those trying to provide assistance been at such risk.
We call for respect of international humanitarian law; we request access to the besieged communities in order to provide humanitarian assistance; but above all, we demand that those fighting stop targeting hospitals, schools and humanitarian workers — this is unacceptable and can only be condemned in the strongest possible manner.
The arrival of over a million desperate people in Europe in 2015 alone shows that we can no longer pretend that crises in other parts of the world will not affect us directly. The commission and EU member states have already provided some 5 billion euros to assist those affected by the conflict in Syria and neighboring countries, with an additional 3 billion euros just made available to assist refugees in Turkey. We also need to reinforce European cooperation to allow in Europe those fleeing political persecution and war, so that the burden of caring for Syria’s refugees does not fall solely on its neighbors. The EU has a long tradition of providing sanctuary and it will continue to do so, not only to fulfil its international obligations, but because it is the right thing to do.
But it is not only a matter of more funding: The aid community must review the way we address crises. We need to move away from the six months “in-out” approach, toward a more comprehensive approach. For instance, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, occupied Palestinian territories, Somalia and Sudan, have had humanitarian appeals for more than 10 years. These protracted conflicts show that humanitarian aid, development aid and political solutions must go hand-in-hand to resolve these crises.
We can no longer afford a fragmented approach. We have a collective responsibility to save lives and prevent suffering. We also need to listen more to the people affected by these crisis. These are all among the top priorities for my mandate. That is why I welcome the United Nations secretary-general’s invitation to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey in May. The summit offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinforce the global partnership for principled and effective humanitarian action. We need concrete commitments at the highest political level. At the World Humanitarian Summit, we will convey the EU's approach to the UNSG’s “Agenda for Humanity.” The EU is ready to lead, but I call on all stakeholders to shoulder their share of the responsibility.
We must also recognize that refugee crises — now and in the future — will not only be caused by armed conflict. Climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, and lack of the rule of law, are all factors that are forcing millions from their homes.
Over the past year, we have seen the international community take important to strengthening disaster preparedness and resilience (Sendai) and address climate change (Paris). The current El Nino weather phenomenon has already made its devastating mark on communities in the Horn of Africa, southern Africa and the Caribbean.
In December last year, I announced an additional 125 million euros for rural communities affected by El Nino, helping communities survive droughts and floods and strengthen their ability to replant their crops, in turn making it less likely that these communities will feel forced to move.
In addition to the humanitarian assistance provided to Africa, the EU has launched a 1.8 billion euro Emergency Trust Fund for Africa helping to address the root causes of destabilization, displacement and irregular migration, by promoting economic and equal opportunities, security and development.
The issue of education in emergencies is another key priority, which I have personally committed to addressing as commissioner. It’s about building hope and sustainable futures. We cannot allow that entire generations are being lost due to the lack of education.
Therefore, we urgently need to step up investment in education facilities for refugees, be they in refugee camps or in local communities. I have decided to dedicate 4 percent (up from 1 percent) of the EU’s humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies. As a parent myself, I know how much parents everywhere value education, because it is the one real way we can offer our children a better life. We need to start building tomorrow, today.
I know too well that we will face many years of intense challenges to solve the current crises. But I also know that there is a way ahead. It is based on solidarity between people. The victims of natural and man-made disaster need assistance from those who are more fortunate, such as the European Union.
We must remain unwavering in our commitment to principled humanitarian aid and recommit to using the resources we have effectively. I am ready to lead the paradigm shift on the side of the EU and I call on all other organizations and institutions to commit to making the delivery of humanitarian aid more efficient and effective in the future. The World Humanitarian Summit must pave the road ahead, through strong commitment to real change and concerted action. The world expects nothing less.
Christos Stylianides is the European commisioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management. Prior to this, he was appointed as the European Union Ebola coordinator by the European Council. He previously served as a member of the European Parliament and government spokesperson of the Republic of Cyprus.
Subscribe to Devex Newswire
Top international development headlines emailed to you every day