Dark spots on EU humanitarian aid spending

Visit by Kristalina Georgieva, Member of the EC in charge of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response to Jordan. (EC Audiovisual Services). A baby and a happy mother are basics on occasions like that.  God knows what happens to them next.

Visit by Kristalina Georgieva, Member of the EC in charge of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response to Jordan. (EC Audiovisual Services). A baby and a happy mother are basics on occasions like that. God knows what happens to them next.

The European Commission published an announcement on Thursday 10 January to inform us all, “Where the European Commission’s humanitarian aid will go in 2013”. A lot of people went through the text and what they got was just general information on how much money will go to a number of Sub Saharan African countries.Only one number per country (the amount to be spent) is revealed and that was all. No information was given about who will receive the money or goods and how they are going to be distributed on the spot.

There are many reports however by independent sources saying that the goods being distributed under western humanitarian aid banner appear in the black markets of the countries’ in question and this as a standard practice. In total the annual budget of EU’s humanitarian aid can reach as much as €1.3 billion, as it did last year. Let’s see how superficial the Commission’s information is, by following the two more important parts of the announcement.

The first part goes like that: “The European Commission has just adopted its plan for the allocation of over €661 million in humanitarian aid funding for 2013. This so-called World-Wide Decision on Humanitarian Aid will be the financial backbone of the Commission’s humanitarian aid operational strategy for 2013. The Commission will fund humanitarian interventions run by more than 200 of its partner organisations in nearly 80 countries or regions.

Based on an in-depth assessment of the needs of the most vulnerable populations in the world, the five largest humanitarian operations will be in the Sahel region of West Africa, including further response to the conflict in Mali (€82 million), Sudan and South Sudan (€80 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (€54 million), Pakistan (€42 million) and Somalia (€40 million). All of these are large-scale, protracted crises resulting from conflict, food shortages or both. Geographically, the largest portion of aid will go to sub-Saharan Africa to which €344.5 million, representing 52% of the Commission’s pre-programmed humanitarian funding, is targeted”.

That is all one can get about how €344.5 million of our money will be spent. For those who have experience how things are functioning in sub-Saharan Africa, this information says nothing at all, if it is not intentionally elliptic so as the Commission can have it the way it wants. This does not necessarily mean that there are dark points on the way the Commission is doing its business.

For those who have experience of similar matters however, the problem lies on what is happening after the EU humanitarian aid lands in those countries or after the money is pocketed by international organisations specialising on aid distribution. Who is responsible of distributing it on the spot, and more importantly how it can be safely transported to the far-away places, where aid is badly needed and be handed over to those whom it is meant by Brussels to reach?

The Commission’s announcement takes care only of what the European taxpayer is going to spend and it goes like this: “In addition to the €661 million that the Commission has allocated to the most intractable humanitarian problems around the globe, reserve resources are available during the year for unpredictable crises and disasters. In 2012 the entire reserve was used due to major disasters in the Sahel region of West Africa, the escalation of the conflict in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, all of which caused renewed violence against civilians and displacement. These additional emergency responses brought the total amount of humanitarian funding from the Commission to nearly €1.3 billion in 2012, the Commission’s highest ever annual spending on humanitarian aid”.

With €1.3bn one can turn sub-Saharan Africa upside-down and despite the huge character of this amount there isn’t exact information about how it is spent. No tables, no any other detailed information. Going through the official documents on EU’s humanitarian aid one finds a lot of talk on principles, international law, good humanitarian donorship practice, acceptance of United Nations coordinating role and all that, but nothing concrete on how all that money is spent. It is probably certain than on the Commission’s ledgers the accounts are in order but it is not at all easy to have a look on that.

The Court of Auditors however can and has published its observations on how the EU’s taxpayer money is spent on humanitarian or other kind of aid in a large number of recipient countries. The Court observes that testing a sample of transactions of that kind 33% of them were “affected by error”. This means that one out of three transactions may contain dark spots. Of course the Court of Auditors has access only to European Commission’s books and not of those of recipient countries or of the intermediating organisations. One can imagine what may be found there if there is anything written down.

Another observation that the Court of Auditors makes is with reference on the way the EU’s aid money is spent in cooperation with other international bodies implicated in the aid business. The court calls those contributions as “fungible”.

In any case nothing is clear when one starts digging in the way the EU aid money is spent and this affair leaves a lot of room for negative thinking.

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