03/2005: Antonio Cavaco

MARCH 2005

Antonio Cavaco
Directorate General Humanitarian Aid (ECHO),
European Commission (Brussels)


Assessing ECHO’s intervention strategy on refugees and IDPs in developing countries


Ü Eurasylum Ltd: With an annual aid disbursement of close to EUR 600 million, and a mandate to provide emergency assistance and relief to victims of natural disasters or armed conflict in any country outside the European Union, ECHO is today one of the world’s largest contributors to international humanitarian aid. Interventions related, directly or indirectly, to refugees and internally displaced persons account for a large proportion of ECHO’s total funding allocation. For example, around 35% of ECHO’s financial aid is directed to activities implemented by the ICRC, UNHCR and IOM. Since the early 2000s, ECHO has also been piloting a thematic funding approach to support the special mandates of key partners such as UNHCR, ICRC, UNICEF and OCHA. Could you briefly guide us through ECHO’s key intervention strategy, and some of its tangible results, in the field of refugee and IDP affairs internationally, particularly in relation to: the main mechanisms in place, such as ECHO’s Global humanitarian Needs Assessment (GNA) and Forgotten Crisis Assessment (FCA), enabling the identification of needs and the design of major programme/project responses, both thematically and geographically; the types of emergency/humanitarian activity supported and their main implementation mechanisms; the way in which actions are monitored and evaluated and the lessons learned incorporated into further project development; and some recent examples of project achievements typifying ECHO’s distinctive role in the conduct of emergency/humanitarian activities related to refugees and IDPs?

Ü Antonio Cavaco: ECHO’s intervention strategy has for its primary objective a focus on the areas of greatest humanitarian needs. One of the principles of this needs-based approach is to target humanitarian crises that receive low donor and media attention, termed forgotten crises or ‘neglected crises’. Another is to pay specific attention to the needs of children who are very often the most vulnerable among those in humanitarian need.

The objective of thematic funding is to reinforce the capabilities of international institutions, both UN and Red Cross, to face the rapidly changing geo-political, economic and environmental context in which humanitarian aid operates. The first thematic funding decision was taken in 2002. The context is becoming ever more challenging with: an increase in major natural catastrophes affecting hundreds of millions of people each year; the end of the cold war and the fall of the iron curtain, leading to the subsequent destabilisation of many countries; the militarisation and politicisation of humanitarian assistance; and demographic changes, which have left many states on the brink of disaster. The basic principles and values of neutrality, impartiality and independence are threatened.

Given the central role played by International Agencies, a reinforcement of their capacities can impact on the capacities of other actors. The implementing NGOs of the International Organisations can, in particular, benefit indirectly from the reinforcement of these capacities. Thematic contributions can therefore have a multiplying effect, by strengthening the global capacity response of the humanitarian community as a whole.

Thematic funding also reflects ECHO’s strong commitment to the Principles and Good Practices of Humanitarian Donorship, endorsed by the major international donors in Stockholm in June 2003, and which aim to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of humanitarian aid.

Thematic funding will benefit those international ECHO partner organisations with a specific mandate in their response to humanitarian crises. The following criteria are taken into account in deciding whether or not to fund activities under thematic funding:

Ø The likely impact of the proposed initiative on the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to the victims of humanitarian crises;

Ø The relevance of the proposal for the implementation of the partners specific mandate;

Ø The improvement or innovative nature of the activity introduced by the partners to reinforce their core capacities;

Ø The demonstration of partner’s operational capacity to implement the activity and the commitment to achieve results, and its past performances;

Ø The Partners willingness to share the results of this enhanced efficiency with the humanitarian community;

Ø By its budgetary impact, thematic funding can also contribute to the strengthening of the capacities of the partner to respond quickly to an unforeseen crisis and to create or develop a certain level of flexibility in its allocation of resources.

Thematic funding should, in principle, not be permanent or recurrent; it shall support a partner during a limited period of time and the partner is supposed to find alternative and durable sources of funding (in particular its own core budget).

Concerning ECHO’s geographical interventions, ECHO’s Global Needs Assessment (GNA) is a planning tool that ranks 130 countries and territories in a list of relative need using nine aggregated indicators. This provides a cross-country comparison to complement, but not replace, in-depth analyses made by ECHO’s country desks and field based experts. ECHO draws data from a number of sources including the UNHCR’s statistics on refugees. In the case of IDPs reliable data is hard to obtain, therefore ECHO compares three sources, the Global IDP Project managed by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the UNHCR and the US Committee for Refugees. ECHO takes the highest estimates (‘the worst case scenario’) for attributing scores to each country.

With regard to the Forgotten Crisis Assessment (FCA), ECHO defines as forgotten crises those situations where a high level of humanitarian needs persists but which receive little attention by way of donor contributions and media coverage. Four indicators are used to determine whether or not a situation is a forgotten crisis. The key indicators are: needs, net Official Development Assistance per capita, media coverage, and the assessment of ECHO’s units, based on contextual analysis.

The results of these exercises are reviewed by ECHO’s management in the preparation of the annual strategy. This review is necessary given the limitations of global assessments due to: the lack of key data at sub-national or regional level, (pockets of humanitarian needs can be overlooked); the fact that assessments are relative  the fact that one country is on rank 2 and another on rank 4 does not mean that this country is twice as badly off; GNA needs to be supplemented with factors such as the presence of other donors, access, quality of partners, etc. The annual strategy is further complemented by strategic programming dialogues with other major humanitarian actors.

The tangible results of humanitarian action are always difficult to demonstrate as very often the realistic achievement possible for a humanitarian intervention is to arrive at a situation for IDPs and refugees that is less worse than it would have been had the intervention not taken place. ECHO-funded interventions primarily concern medical and medical related matters (circa 50% of ECHO’s budget), then water and sanitation, nutrition and shelter. Tangibly, ECHO requires that its operations are independently evaluated against standard evaluation criteria that include relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability. These independent evaluations, which show a convergence of views that ECHO-financed operations are relevant to ECHO’s mandate, are mostly positive about ECHO’s performance. (However, bridging the gap of LRRD remains a challenge, I shall return to this below.) The monitoring by ECHO’s field based experts, perhaps the largest such worldwide network in the humanitarian sector, and the evaluation of ECHO’s geographical operations, are fed into the design of future funding decisions. The recent geo-political changes that have led to reductions in refugee and IDP numbers, particularly in Afghanistan and Angola, have found ECHO to be a responsive and flexible donor capable of adjusting quickly to changes at field level.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: In line with a general trend observed in most other donor agencies, which has also resulted from the need to facilitate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, significant progress was made by ECHO in the area of linking relief, rehabilitation and development (LRRD). Clearly, this is an area which has become intrinsically relevant to issues of forced migration, due to a decrease in refugee, and to a lesser extent IDP, figures over the past two years, and to the resulting increase in the number of returnees or resettled persons. ECHO has not only been active in introducing LRRD components at project design stage, including through the adoption of UNHCR’s 4 R approach (Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction); it has also been at the forefront of policy reflection in this area, including through the establishment of the LRRD/DPP Inter-service Group, the conduct of joint assessment missions with other Commission Services, and awareness raising measures such as the organisation of LRRD workshops involving European Commission officials and participants from the UN, the Red Cross and NGOs. Could you provide some recent examples of successful LRRD activities in the field of refugee/IDP affairs, describing their main mechanisms and outputs, and explaining the way in which their impact has been effectively secured and measured, given that, unlike relief operations, LRRD activities are not immediately self-sustaining or visible and that they require follow-up assessments and interventions over a longer period of time?

Ü Antonio Cavaco: The 2001 Commission Communication on Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development established the broad orientation that LRRD would not simply be achieved by the handing over of as many relief projects as possible (continuum), but that it would also require: (i) the management of LRRD activities with close complementarity (contiguum) at the levels of programmes/projects, country and actors involved; and (ii) for those countries where ECHO’s main sectors (health, health related, food security, water and sanitation and shelter) are not focal sectors in the other EC services Country Strategy Papers, to seek for complementarity with other donors, international organisations and international NGOs.

In February 2003, The Linking Relief Rehabilitation and Development/Disaster Preparedness and Prevention (LRRD/DPP) Inter-service Group was established to take stock of the follow-up of the 2001 Commission Communication on LRRD and to address issues related to LRRD in a more systematic manner. The main rationale for the constitution of the group was the acknowledgement that, although the policy framework for LRRD had been put in place with the Communication of 2001, there was no methodical assessment of operational results and achievements and no attempt to more rigorously address the issue.

The group is chaired by a senior official of Europe-Aid Co-operation Office and encompasses representatives from DG External Relations, DG Development, Europe-Aid Co-operation Office and DG Humanitarian Aid (ECHO). It was decided that the group should also deal with Disaster Preparedness and Prevention (DPP), as an important component of a broader concept of LRRD.

The Inter-service group’s main objectives are to assess the LRRD approach in relevant countries, and to identify obstacles and opportunities with a view to drawing recommendations for ensuring an effective transition from emergency aid to the normal development co-operation cycle. The establishment of the Inter-service Group itself can be regarded as the visible proof of a common concern and commitment of all external relations services to LRRD. The group was committed to a joint effort to achieve common positions.

The steps of the joint effort to date can be summarised as follows:

Ø the creation of the Inter-Service Steering Group (February 2003);

Ø an LRRD assessment in 8 countries and 2 regions (Angola, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, West Africa  epidemics – and Central America);

Ø a DPP assessment in 4 areas (Caribbean, Andean Community, Central America, South Asia); and
Ø the organisation of a LRRD workshop with 65 participants from the Commission, Member States, NGOs, UN and the Red Cross family.

The LRRD exercise has dealt with a concrete analysis in a selection of countries/regions from which ECHO is planning to phase-out or considerably scale down its operations in the next 18-24 months. The analysis has focused on health and food security sectors.

The Commission is reassessing its own operational tools and instruments to identify areas where linkages can be improved. The Commission’s objective is not to create new financial instruments to ensure a better linkage, but to improve existing instruments and their links where possible.

Some of the EC’s thematic instruments (i.e. those addressing broad sectoral issues) are particularly relevant in the immediate post-crisis situation and are relatively well-adapted for ensuring linkage. This is the case for rehabilitation and reconstruction, aid to refugees and internally displaced persons, food aid/food security, and demining. Others can be used in a complementary way, such as support to democratisation and respect for human rights, NGO co-financing and decentralised co-operation.

The alternative to merging instruments would be to continue to rely on the Country Strategy Paper (CSP) as the main tool to promote the coherence of different instruments within countries, and to ensure linkage, as previously described. CSPs should cover the main legal basis/budget line(s) for development assistance, and the separate horizontal instruments/global budget lines for specific post-crisis interventions.

Food aid and food security operations are good instruments for ensuring linkages as short term and long term aspects can both be covered. Thirty percent of the funding is provided for crisis operations (through WFP and NGOs). The remaining funding is used for structural support to food security policies, including support to establish the conditions needed to start longer-term reform processes.

Demining activities are important in a number of pre- and post-crisis situations, and can be an integral part of humanitarian aid, rehabilitation, reconstruction or development projects. Although life saving and human security elements are the core targets of mine actions, the socio-economic impact of antipersonnel landmines (APL) on populations, and their negative effects on efforts to reduce poverty and instability, cannot be ignored. It is therefore important that the APL issues be integrated into the CSPs and considered within the development cycle of the country.

As regards NGO cofinancing, the General Conditions issued in January 2000 foresee giving a priority to, inter alia, developing countries undergoing rehabilitation.

Council Regulations 975/99 and 976/99, the legal bases for human rights and democratisation activities (‘the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights’), provide for three possible areas of intervention: protection of human rights; democratisation; and conflict prevention and dealing with conflict consequences in terms of human rights, in particular through support to civil society organisations but also international organisations. These Regulations foresee accelerated procedures for financing projects under EUR 2 M in emergency situations. They can therefore be deployed rapidly in pre- and post-conflict situations, and complement other EC activity.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Issues of coordination and synergy among humanitarian agencies have been raising increased concern among public and private donors internationally, as was recently illustrated, for example, by the Tsunami disaster in South-East Asia. In its document Aid Strategy 2005 (22/12/2004), ECHO has recognised that better understanding of different mandates and responsibilities, as well as good co-ordination, is the key to put scarce resources to the most efficient use for the victims of humanitarian disasters. Over the past couple of years, internal co-operation among different European Commission services has been strengthened, and coordination agreements with various UN agencies have been finalised. As importantly, the Constitutional Treaty has foreseen that in the areas of development cooperation and humanitarian aid, the Union shall have competence to take action and conduct a common policy; however, the exercise of that competence may not result in Member States being prevented from exercising theirs. In the area, more particularly, of refugee and IDP affairs, how would you assess the quality and effectiveness of existing coordination systems, both between ECHO and the Member States and between ECHO and other non-EU bi- and multilateral donor agencies? Given also ECHO’s adherence to the 1994 Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief, and its position regarding the neutrality of humanitarian assistance, what are the specific areas in which the Member States, rather than ECHO, would appear to be institutionally or technically more able to take the lead, for example as regards (military) conflict prevention measures and the development of early warning systems?

Ü Antonio Cavaco: I consider the quality and effectiveness of existing co-ordination mechanisms between ECHO and the Member States as being of a reasonable level. Not only do we have the regular meetings of the Humanitarian Aid Committee, information is also exchanged by means of the so-called 14-point system (exchanges of data and statistics). As for the co-ordination with non-EU bi- and multilateral donor agencies, each year, as a part of the annual process of defining ECHO’s strategy, ECHO holds strategic programming dialogues with UN and Red Cross bodies and also with representatives of the US administration. All parties to these dialogues have praised their merits.

The need for rapid and coherent co-ordination is matched by the need for accurate and timely information in times of conflict or major disasters. However reliable, information is usually hard to come by. In protracted, complex emergencies, a constant flow of updated and relevant information is essential to enable informed decisions to be made by those providing assistance and by the victims of these emergencies alike. In a sudden-onset emergency, the quick assessment of needs, the creation of emergency maps and the matching of needs with available resources improves the transparency, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the response, thus avoiding under spending and over spending alike. Effective humanitarian assistance is dependent on timely and accurate information. The faster the humanitarian community is able to collect, analyse, disseminate and act on key information, the more effective will be the response and the greater the benefit to affected populations, and the needs can be better met. ECHO considers that OCHA’s information systems are pivotal for the humanitarian community, including also ECHO as a major humanitarian donor in its decision making procedure. Therefore ECHO has used thematic funding to assist OCHA to improve its information systems.

The final question that you have raised relates to the specific areas in which the Member States, rather than ECHO, appear to be institutionally or technically more able to take the lead for, example as regards (military) conflict prevention measures and the development of early warning systems. The European Council conclusions at Feira and Goteborg emphasise the development of capacity to deploy Member States resources in the fields of police, rule of law, civil protection and public administration. These resources will be an important complement to the existing resources that the Community is able to mobilise through its external assistance programmes (private sector, NGOs, the UN system and other international organisations). Nevertheless, Feira-type interventions will, by their nature, be exceptional and transitional measures that, in financial terms, are likely to constitute a relatively small part of the overall package of EC assistance to third countries in crisis. They must, therefore, be considered in the context of the wider conflict-prevention, relief, rehabilitation and long-term stabilisation and development assistance delivered under Community instruments in the period leading up to a crisis, during the crisis and post-crisis.

EU crisis management, to be effective, will need to marry the full range of political and legal instruments at the disposal of the Union. However, Humanitarian Aid cannot be subsumed to the political logic of crisis management; it delivers aid solely on the basis of need. The nature of the crisis, the historic pattern of political and economic ties with the country concerned and the specific crisis-management objectives adopted by the EU will determine how the other instruments are used.