Brussels, 26th January 1995
Emergency humanitarian aid worth 5 million Ecu will soon be on its way from the European Union to people fleeing the fighting centred on the Autonomous Republic of Chechnya in the Russian Federation. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is coordinating a relief operation in the region, called on the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) to support its action, and the European Commission gave its go-ahead this week.
The ICRC, which has been active in the region since the end of November, has produced an overall programme to aid all those in need following the fighting and is coordinating the activities of up to 18 national Red Cross Societies. Its mandate is to bring aid to those on both sides of armed conflict and because of this neutrality ECHO granted aid worth 310,000 Ecus to help fund ICRC's earlier action in the region on 23 December. This funding was spent mainly on plastic sheeting for emergency shelters.
The latest funding, which includes sums for the British, Dutch and German National Red Cross Societies as well as ICRC itself, will help pay for emergency assistance during the worst of the winter. Over the next six months, the ICRC and the Red Cross family will supply and distribute food, basic medical supplies, shelter and clothing to people who have fled their homes. In all, the ICRC estimates that over 400,000 people have been affected, including thousands of elderly people, orphans and hospital patients.
Some people have left the capital, Grozny, for the countryside within Chechnya itself. Others have fled to neighbouring Autonomous Republics, mainly Daghuestan and Ingushetia. Many of those displaced have found shelter with friends and relatives, but the resources of such hosts are now being stretched beyond their limits.
ECHO is committed to making available humanitarian aid on a non-political, neutral basis. It is monitoring the situation in Chechnya closely, and it expects to make further grants soon to the Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations when needs have been identified and means of delivery guaranteed.
BACKGROUND : ECHO
In recent years, the world has faced major crises in humanitarian terms (Kurdistan, Bangladesh, famine and civil wars in Africa, Eastern and Southern Europe, including former Yugoslavia and Albania) which highlighted a need to improve the response of the international community and, in particular, of the European Union to both natural and man-made disasters.
Since 1970 the European Community has considered humanitarian aid to developing and other third countries as an important part of its responsibilities. It saw that in order to respond more efficiently to these crises it must coordinate and concentrate resources. It became evident that an effort to provide immediate, efficient appropriate and better coordinated help to countries and people who needed it was an imperative. Hence the decision on 6 November 1991 creating ECHO, at the initiative of European Commission Vice-President Manuel MARIN.
The mandate received by ECHO from the Commission was to take full responsibility for a coherent administration of the following tasks (outside the borders of the Community) which had previously been carried out by several services within the Commission:
(a) Humanitarian Aid
(b) Emergency Food Aid
(c) Prevention and disaster preparedness activities
Apart from concentrating and re-organising the Commission's internal resources, increased efficiency was to be achieved through better external coordination with the Commission's partners (NGOs, UN agencies and international organisations), closer relations with Member States, disaster preparedness and readiness to engage in direct actions if other solutions were not available or inadequate.
The Commission formally created ECHO on 1 April 1992; the organisation become fully operational at the beginning of 1993. In order to carry out the various aspects of its mandate and respond to the numerous crises during 1993 with a total allocation level of around 600 million ECU.
For 1993 alone, around 600 million ECU (i.e. approx. 700 million USD) has been allocated for humanitarian aid to : ex-Yugoslavia (63.4 per cent), the rest of Eastern europe (0.1 per cent), ACP countries (16.1per cent), the republics of the former Soviet Union (8.2 per cent), Iraq (3.4 per cent), the rest of Asia (3.2 per cent), Latin America (2.0 per cent), and North Africa (3.6 per cent).