|The Courier N° 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid - Country Reports: Soa Tomé- Principe- Senegal (EC Courier, 1992, 96 p.)|
|Peter POOLEY and Sandiago GOMEZ-RETNO, first acting Director and new incoming Director of the European Community Humanitarian Office, ECHO|
· The setting up of ECHO marks a new departure in the European Community's humanitarian aid work. Why has the Commission decided to adopt this new approach ?
- The reasons why ECHO has been set up are, I think, very clear. It is there to improve the Community's emergency humanitarian relief system in terms of both quality and quantity, while at the same time making the public more aware of what the European Community is doing in that field. The Commission's objective was to make the twelve-member Community, and hence the international community, better able to respond to exceptional circumstances. Obviously the Commission's decision also makes for better international coordination between the European Community States on the one hand and, in particular, the United Nations specialised agencies on the other. So there are two aspects to the Commission's decision: improving organisation and rationalising Community resources in the field of emergency humanitarian relief, and an external aspect involving improving worldwide coordination in that field.
· In practical terms, what will your Office be doing to make the Community's humanitarian aid operations more effective ?
There are four factors in the decision setting up the Office which will make the Community's humanitarian relief work more effective:
- the decision to give a single department administrative
responsibility for all operations
- the increase in the Community's capacity for direct intervention i
- the improvement in coordination between Member States, NGOs and the specialised international agencies
- the fact that it will be easier to mobilise the requisite budgetary resources in the event of a major crisis.
· And more visible?
- Yes, I do think we should not only be acting and responding to urgent needs but also making sure that people know what the European Community is doing in difficult situations. That means that ECHO will have to take steps to explain what it is doing and supply information. But as you can see, the very fact of setting up ECHO and of its being there will mean that the increasing part the European Community is playing in the humanitarian relief field can be made more obvious and more tangible.
As Director of ECHO I will be very sensitive to the need to explain what we are doing, as I have found out from my recent experience in Africa that the general public sometimes, or indeed often, do not know what their countries are getting from the European Community.
· Is ECHO just a coordinating body, or is it taking on new responsibilities and moving into new areas?
- ECHO is absolutely not just setting out to be a coordinating body. To begin with, the Office will have the capacity to carry out humanitarian relief operations where emergency management is needed. At a later stage, it will be able to launch its own pilot projects in direct intervention.
· ECHO has been up and running since April this year. What has it been doing so far?
- The effort put in by the Commission officials responsible for planning ECHO and bringing it to life deserves the highest praise. All of them are Commission officials who are highly devoted and committed to their work. I will now be working alongside them, a fact of which I am very proud. I will be slotting myself into a team which has already done a great deal of work. As I sit here m Harare answering your questions, I can assure you that I wish I were already back in Brussels with the team. I should also like to pay tribute to Peter Pooley, who as we speak is still my Deputy Director-General and also a friend, for the work he has put into making the establishment of ECHO a success.
· What are the main problems it faces ?
- I do not think the problems we will have to face will come from within ECHO or the rest of the Community structure. Those problems, I regret to say, will come from outside and will arrive on our doorstep without any advance notice.
ECHO, in other words, will have to work flat out to organise itself as quickly as possible so that It can cope to the best of its ability, with the hazards of nature and human recklessness.
· The name ECHO suggests a rapid response. How fast can you mobilise your resources and deliver help where it is needed ?
- I wish I could say: 'In two minutes!' But the real answer is this - watch us and pass judgment on us in a few months, because ECHO, and therefore the European Community, will obviously be judged on the basis of how swiftly we act and how effective we are, as I am well aware.
· As the Commission's Delegate in Zimbabwe you will have seen for yourself the effects of the exceptionally severe drought in Southern Africa. Does ECHO have anything new to offer by way of help in that kind of emergency ?
- By the terms of the Commission decision, ECHO is competent to act in the area of emergency food aid. With the backing of its experience in combating large-scale famine, the Commission through ECHO and the other departments involved, will do its best to make the instruments it sets up in emergency situations of that kind even more effective and appropriate.
· The demand for humanitarian assistance has grown considerably over the last three years, especially in Africa. Do you think that trend will continue? If so, will your Office be able to keep providing help at present levels?
- I am more or less certain, unfortunately, that the demand for humanitarian assistance and relief will go on growing, firstly because international disasters are not going to be stopped in their tracks by the 'threat' of intervention by ECHO and secondly because mankind has not learned the lessons of the past. Nor does the instability which reigns throughout the world at the moment make one excessively optimistic.
· Does the Community have to set any priorities when deciding who is to receive humanitarian relief? Are there, in other words, particular parts of the world, or types of situations, which automatically receive help before others?
- I firmly believe that the world's misfortunes cannot be classified on a scale of priorities according to where they occur or what particular type of situation is involved.
That does not automatically mean that we will be able to step in everywhere. I wish we could, but I am also aware of the limits on what we can do.
· Does the Community impose any conditions on the recipient countries?
- Actually I think ECHO means the very opposite of what is implied by the word 'conditions'. Can one really impose prior conditions on people who are destitute suffering and m despair? No, I do not think we can.
· Will there be any change in the Community's relations with its partners in the international humanitarian aid community - both donors and operators ?
- Yes, there will be a major change, in the sense that one of ECHO's priorities will be making qualitative and quantitative improvements in our fraternal relations with the other private or public bodies and organisations fighting to alleviate human distress.
· What are your plans for ECHO's future ?
- The plans are very clear. For me, together with my colleagues in ECHO, it will mean meeting the targets set for us by the Commission. That's easier said than done. But those are the kind of responsibilities I like!
Interview by Robert ROWE