Brussels, 20 March 2003 - Following the news of military action against Iraq, Poul Nielson, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid has announced an initial allocation of €21 million in humanitarian aid. Mr Nielson said: "Our key objective is to dispatch aid as speedily as possible to the victims of this crisis. Obviously, the exact scale and nature of the humanitarian needs over the coming days and weeks are not yet clear but what we do know is that, even in the best case scenario, a lot of people are going to need help. Our initial efforts are focused on ensuring that basic relief items such as medical supplies, tents, blankets and food are available for populations displaced as a result of the fighting and for other vulnerable groups."
The aid consists of re-directing €15 million already allocated for Iraq in ECHO's 2003 budget plus €6 million earmarked in two fast-track decisions currently being prepared using the Commission's "primary emergency" procedure. One of these decisions (€3 million) will support emergency relief work inside Iraq while the second one (also €3 million) focuses on operations designed to cope with an potential flow of refugees into neighbouring countries and/or to assist in trans-border operations1.
The funds are being channelled through ECHO, the Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office. Its task is to provide assistance impartially to those most in need, in keeping with basic humanitarian principles. As is usual in emerging crisis situations, ECHO has been involved in extensive contingency planning.
Poul Nielson continued: "We are working very closely with our operational partners the UN relief agencies, the Red Cross/Crescent movement and a number of experienced European Non Governmental Organisations to ensure that the assistance reaches those who need it most. Looking ahead, it is evident that flexibility will be needed in responding to events and this has been built into ECHO's planning. I am ready to make a substantial request for extra resources from the general emergency reserve of the Community budget."
Commissioner Nielson urged the combatants "to do their utmost to limit suffering among the civilian population and to ensure that humanitarian agencies gain access to the victims of the fighting as speedily as possible." He added: "It is essential not to encroach on the humanitarian 'space' by muddling the roles, for instance, of soldiers and aid workers. It is also essential in this crisis that the role and mandate of international organisations is respected and they are put in a position to fulfil totally those mandates. We will support this approach, including through appropriate financing."
Iraq has faced a serious humanitarian situation even before the latest conflict, which is why ECHO has been active in the country for more than a decade. Since 1992, it has provided €157 million for relief and emergency programmes, complementary to the UN administered "Oil for Food" programme. The focus of its €13 million Global Plan for 2002 was on basic health and water/sanitation infrastructures, with particular attention for the most vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and the disabled, and on a target population of about seven million people.
Further Information on ECHO activities can be found on our website at the following address:http://europa.eu.int/comm/echo/field/iraq/index_en.htm
1 Further details of these decisions will be released once they have been adopted.