From left: Elisabeth Rasmusson, General Secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Kristalina Georgieva, Laura Shields, António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Emma Bonino, former Member of the EC in charge of Humanitarian Aid and Wolf-Dieter Eberwein, President of VOICE. Photo: European Commission
EU celebrates 20 years of humanitarian donorship
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Gunhild Forselv (26.03.2012)
The EU has proved itself to be a principled donor allowing humanitarian agencies like NRC to continue to operate according to the humanitarian principles and to deliver aid to even more people in need’, says NRC’s Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson as ECHO marks its 20th anniversary.

The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Directorate-General (ECHO) marked its 20th anniversary in Brussels this month. The celebratory event was opened by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Kristalina Georgieva.

'European solidarity is strong and tough times bring out the best of our people. This is good news for the hundreds of millions – children, men and women – who fall victim to devastating conflicts and natural disasters. They rarely have access to the high corridors of power and yet thanks to this solidarity their voices are heard and their needs are met,' said Commissioner Georgieva.
 

Kristalina Georgieva, Member of the EC in charge of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. Photo: European Commission
 
The event fostered discussions between leading figures from the humanitarian community including the past and present European Commissioners in charge of humanitarian affairs, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jakob Kellenberger, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, and the Secretary General on the Norwegian Refugee Council Elisabeth Rasmusson. Discussions focused on the EU and its members’ role in helping vulnerable people in crises and how crisis response has evolved in the last two decades as well as on changes and challenges the future brings for the humanitarian community. 
 
Focus on humanitarian principles

Nearly every member of the high-level panel mentioned the importance of principles as a foundation for humanitarian action. Georgieva noted the importance of principles to the way ECHO seeks to deliver aid in her opening address, while Kellenberger stated that the principled approach is important in dealing with challenges to access. Guterres praised NRC’s work in this regard, claiming that “the work of NRC on the ground in Somalia is proof that the principled approach works.” Emma Bonino, former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, suggested that there is a slippery slope with regard to principles and that as soon as one begins to compromise on these, there will be limits to who aid can be delivered. Rasmusson noted that donors need to understand that the principled approach is a necessity, and that principles are tools, not dogma. 


Photo: European Commission
 
The world’s largest humanitarian donor

Contributing more than 50% of the overall humanitarian assistance that flows through official aid channels, the European Union is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid. The European Commission is responsible for managing almost half of the amount. Its relief operations are coordinated by the Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

‘In 1992 ECHO was a small office with about 40 people. Today, we have about 300 highly dedicated staff at the headquarters and over 400 people working in over 40 field offices around the globe. I would like to pay homage to their hard work, dedication and courage,' said President Barroso.

ECHO is one of NRC’s most important donors, supporting programmes in 16 countries as well as global projects of strategic importance to upholding humanitarian principles. ECHO’s contribution to NRC’s efforts is crucial in countries like Somalia, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the moment NRC is the only Norwegian NGO receiving ECHO funds.


Links:

 ECHO @ 20 website

 ECHO's anniversary movie

 Speech by José Manuel Durão Barroso 

 Speech by Kristalina Georgieva 

 Photo Gallery from the Launch of the 20th anniversary of ECHO
 


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