Brussels, 13 January 2003 - The European Commission has recently taken a series of humanitarian decisions worth almost €17 million covering disaster prevention and relief activities in various crisis zones. The assistance is channelled through the Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), which comes under the authority of Commissioner Poul Nielson.
Disaster prevention and preparedness - €6.36 million
The funding under this decision is to help vulnerable communities living in Southeast Asia and Central America prepare for natural disasters. The projects funded by ECHO's disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO) are designed to reinforce local capacity for disaster management. The projects will run for about a year, and will include actions such as establishing early warning systems, training courses for local staff and volunteers, and awareness raising. In South East Asia, ECHO funds will be targeted in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand all of which are prone to cyclones, floods, forest fires and drought. The Central American countries covered by this decision Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica - can be affected by drought, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding and landslides.
Indonesia - €2 million
Since 1997, Indonesia has experienced a series of environmental, financial, political and social problems giving rise to significant humanitarian needs. Ethnic and religious conflict in a number of regions has forced more than 1.3 million people to flee their homes. In 1997, drought attributed to the El Niño phenomenon caused widespread suffering. A further moderate El Niño effect is predicted for 2003 with potentially disastrous consequences for vulnerable populations.
This decision targets internally displaced people (IDPs) and families particularly threatened by drought. For IDPs, information centres will be established enabling them to learn more about their rights and about possible resettlement options. Support is also being provided for research and training focusing on the protection of women and children in conflict-affected regions. As regards the drought problem, funds have been allocated for the construction or rehabilitation of water/sanitation systems and for the distribution of tools and seeds to families most at risk.
Vietnam - €0.95 million
Since July 2002, parts of Vietnam have been badly hit by tropical storms, landslides and flooding. Almost 170 people were killed in flash floods and more than 280,000 homes were flooded. Crops were devastated and schools destroyed. The government made land available to the victims in safer areas but not all affected families were able or willing to move and in some of the new settlements, opportunities for economic activity are extremely limited.
Funds allocated under this decision will be used, among other things, to improve water and sanitation facilities. Education on personal hygiene and nutrition is being offered to flood-affected households with the aim of reducing epidemics. The decision also has a component for surveys designed to obtain a clearer picture of the situation in resettlement areas so that aid and protection work can be focused on those who are most in need.
Myanmar - €1.5 million
Myanmar (Burma) has been affected by internal conflict since 1988 and now faces a growing humanitarian crisis as infrastructures and public services continue to deteriorate.
Fifty six percent of Burmese have no access to health care and clean water is not available for four in ten of the population. A quarter of the people are living below the poverty line. Infant mortality rates are very high.
People living in conflict zones are particularly vulnerable. Forced labour, the threat from landmines and general insecurity have prompted many to flee to refugee camps on the border with Thailand.
This decision will fund the provision of safe drinking water to 49,000 inhabitants of the Thongwa township in Rangoon as well as measures to protect vulnerable people in conflict zones and to improve their living conditions.
Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia - €2 million
These three countries in coastal West Africa have been affected by conflict for the last 13 years. Although the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone has improved significantly since the civil war ended two years ago, Liberia has experienced renewed fighting prompting new refugee movements to the neighbouring countries.
There are still around 40,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea, many of whom wish to return home. Currently, they are forced to take a circuitous route back to Sierra Leone involving an eight day journey. Some of the ECHO funds will be used to upgrade a more direct transport facility across a river, thus allowing the travelling time to be reduced considerably.
There are also some 42,000 Liberian refugees in camps in Sierra Leone. ECHO is financing the provision of basic health services in these camps to prevent epidemics and malnutrition.
In addition funding is being provided to construct shelters, latrines and water points in Sierra Leone.
Assistance is provided both to returnees from Guinea and to refugees from Liberia.
Burmese refugees in Thailand - €0.5 million
Myanmar (Burma) has been affected by civil unrest since 1988 and during this time; the number of refugees along the Thai/Myanmar border has risen from around 10,000 to 143,000. The refugees are not permitted to leave the camps and are thus wholly dependent on aid for their basic needs. A recent study has shown that the overall diet in the camp is extremely poor and chronic malnutrition rates are high.
This decision will finance the provision of a basic food basket for 30,000 refugees, as well as the supply of cooking fuel.
Nepal - €1.675 million
This decision aims to help the people of Nepal affected by fighting between Maoist insurgents and government forces. The conflict, which began in 1996, intensified at the end of 2001 following the assassination of King Birendra.
The economy, including the once lucrative tourism sector, has been badly hit while attacks on infrastructure have disrupted trade and communications.
ECHO's funding will be used to support protection activities for harassed and intimidated populations with an emphasis on re-establishing family contacts and promoting international humanitarian law. The decision also has a health component covering the purchase of medicines and equipment for hospitals and clinics, and training for medical staff.
Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua - €2 million
Since 2001, these four central American countries have suffered from abnormal weather patterns. In some areas, drought has destroyed 95% of crops while elsewhere, heavy rains have led to widespread floods. Most of the people in the affected areas depend on subsistence agriculture and it is estimated that up to 1.5 million farmers and their families face the prospect of food insecurity.
The irregular weather patterns are expected to continue, with the predicted onset of El Niño in the coming months. The region is also suffering an economic downturn due, among other things, to reduced coffee prices.
The main focus of the ECHO funding is nutritional support and monitoring for the most vulnerable sections of the population (children, pregnant and breastfeeding women).