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Six months after the tidal wave in the Indian Ocean, the European Union and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) met in Luxembourg to take stock of the international assistance provided to the affected region. The monitoring of Europe’s commitments, the results of the lessons to be learned for the future, and the evaluation of transparency in terms of funds management were the objectives of the meeting.
At a joint conference with Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, and Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, Jean-Louis Schiltz, Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, discussed different lessons learned from the work in the affected regions:
"The humanitarian operation after the tsunami is the largest humanitarian operation ever carried out. It was effective. At the base we had immense solidarity from our populations and the various governments. We included the United Nations as co-organiser of today’s meeting, represented here by Jan Egeland and the UN/OCHA. If the humanitarian operation was effective, it is first and foremost due to the fact that the coordination worked.
The first conclusion I would like to draw from the experience of the past six months: The coordination worked from the very outset between the United Nations and the European Union, among the EU Member States, and between the Member States and the European Commission. The entire international community very quickly accepted the fact that the United Nations had to be the lead for the coordination of this huge solidarity effort.
Point two: What we have here is an exceptional solidarity effort that also necessitates exceptional efforts in terms of accountability, for which we have set up a certain number of mechanisms to make it possible. We know who promised what at the international level, and whether the promised funds were disbursed and arrived at their destination, which is one of the challenges of the reconstruction phase.
Point three: The crisis triggered by the tsunami benefited from adequate coverage of the needs. That means that if we consider that all of the funds promised for now and the years to come, if we consider the scope of the needs, we can say today that we have adequate coverage for all the needs. This cannot be said for every crisis.
For the humanitarian programs and reconstruction combined, the EU’s total commitment amounts to 2.3 billion euro: 585 million for humanitarian work and 1.735 billion for reconstruction. When I speak of the European effort, I am referring to the efforts made by the Member States and the Commission.
In terms of disbursements in 2004 and 2005, we have European commitments for the humanitarian phase of roughly 517 million euro. Of this amount, 434 million has already been disbursed, or 85%.
In terms of the reconstruction, for 2004 and 2005 we have commitments for 1.295 billion euro. Of this amount, only 111 million euro has been spent, only 9% of the commitments.
I would like to learn three lessons from the characteristics I just described in regards to the tsunami crisis.
The challenge now is to ensure that the accountability mechanism we have successfully put in place for the humanitarian phase is equally successful for the reconstruction phase.
Lesson two: coordination. This has worked well and it was accepted that the United Nations had to take the lead in the humanitarian phase. I think that this must be the rule for all crises due to natural disasters.
In this context, we have seen that military equipment has been an additional asset. All humanitarians agree that, without military equipment, the response would not have been what it was. But whenever the opportunity arises, we stress that when soldiers intervene in the first phase to support humanitarian efforts, they must do so while observing the humanitarian principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality.
Lesson three: We have seen that the needs are being adequately covered, but in the first few days after the crisis we observed that there were occasional difficulties getting funds released quickly enough. That is why Jan Egeland suggested setting up a Fund that would enable the UN-OCHA to act immediately at the site. The Luxembourg Presidency supports this idea that provides more predictability and makes more funding available in the first days following a crisis.
However, I would note that if all the needs are being covered adequately in the regions affected by the tsunami, this is not true for all the other crises. We still have a certain number of forgotten crises.
One final word about reconstruction: It started off slowly and the pace was different in every country. In the coming months - and the British Presidency has committed itself to this - we must strive to recreate the efficiency characteristic of the humanitarian phase, and at this point that is not happening. A call will be issued to the countries receiving aid so that they will take the initiative and submit their reconstruction plans."
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