The EC has announced an initial grant of €21 million (about US $22.3 million) in humanitarian aid following the commencement of military action against Iraq.
According to an EC statement, the aid consists of redirecting €15 million already allocated for Iraq through the EC's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) 2003 budget, plus €6 million earmarked in two "fast-track" decisions currently being prepared using the EC's "primary emergency" procedure. One of these decisions (€3 million) would support emergency relief work inside Iraq, while the second (also €3 million) would focus on operations designed to cope with a potential flow of refugees into neighbouring countries and/or to assist in trans-border operations.
Addressing a news conference in Brussels on Thursday, Poul Nielson, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said ECHO was working very closely with its operational partners - UN relief agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and a number of European NGOs to ensure the assistance reached "those who need it most".
"Looking ahead, it is evident that flexibility will be needed in responding to events and this has been built into ECHO's planning," he continued. "I am ready to make a substantial request for extra resources from the general emergency reserve of the Community budget."
In addition to urging combatants "to do their utmost to limit suffering among the civilian population, and to ensure that humanitarian agencies gain access to the victims of the fighting as speedily as possible", he called for a clear distinction between the roles of military and humanitarian actors.
"It is essential not to encroach on the humanitarian 'space' by muddling the roles, for instance, of soldiers and aid workers," he stated. "It is also essential in this crisis that the role and mandate of international organisations is respected and they are put in a position to fulfil totally those mandates." He added that the EC would support this approach "through appropriate financing".
Nielson noted that the ECHO office in the Jordanian capital, Amman, which is the regional hub of its operations, had been reinforced, and there were now seven field experts mobilised to cover Iraq and neighbouring countries. Furthermore, several missions from ECHO's offices in Brussels and Amman had been in Iraq and neighbouring countries over recent weeks.
The EC statement recalled that Iraq had been facing a serious humanitarian situation even before the latest conflict. Since 1992, ECHO has provided €157 million for relief and emergency programmes, complementary to the UN-administered Oil-for-Food-Programme.
More information on EC assistance