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European Commission Directorate General - Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

The 2008 edition of the Tsunami Glossary includes information on the establishment of global intergovernmental coordination groups for tsunami warning and mitigation, and improves the definition of terms.

ECHO’s task is to ensure goods and services get to crisis zones fast. Goods may include essential supplies, specific foodstuffs, medical equipment, medicines and fuel. Services may include medical teams, water purification teams and logistical support. Goods and services reach disaster areas via ECHO partners.

Since 1992, ECHO has funded humanitarian aid in crisis zones of more than 85 countries via its partners. Its grants cover emergency aid, food aid and aid to refugees and displaced persons worth a total of more than €700 million per year.

The Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission (ECHO) was established in 1992. Thanks to ECHO, humanitarian action now occupies a key position in the European Union's external action. ECHO is the world’s main player in this field.

Through ECHO funding, some 18 million people are helped each year through 200 partners (NGOs, ICRC, and UN agencies like the UNHCR and the WFP).

The EU aims to make its aid to third countries struck by natural disaster or conflict more effective and more humanitarian. ECHO reflects this desire. Its assistance is based on the humanitarian principals of non-discrimination and impartiality, which sets it apart from other types of aid given by the European Commission. 

European Civil Protection

Community co-operation in the field of civil protection aims to better protect people, their environment, property and cultural heritage in the event of major natural or manmade disasters occurring both inside and outside the EU.

The international role that European countries are playing in the provision of civil protection assistance is increasing one emergency after the other. Both past, but especially recent disasters such as the 2004 South Asia tsunami, the 2005 US hurricanes and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, bear witness to this.

EU institutions and EU member states have over time increased their reliance on co-operation for the provision of civil protection assistance in order to be as effective as possible on the site of a disaster. There is clear added-value in working together. Such co-operation allows for the pooling of resources, maximising the collective European effort on site.

The management of natural and manmade disasters is a clear example of the value of action at Community level, where national responsibility for dealing directly with disasters remains unchallenged but is facilitated and assisted through sheer collective effort.

The fundamental approach to an effective civil protection operation relies on three key modes of action: Prevention, Preparedness  & Response.

The European Commission is responsible for supporting and supplementing efforts at national, regional and local level with regard to disaster prevention, the preparedness of those responsible for civil protection and the intervention in the event of disaster.

The Community mechanism for civil protection

The Community Mechanism for Civil Protection has a number of tools intended to facilitate both adequate preparedness as well as effective response to disasters at a community level.

The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) is the operational heart of the Mechanism. It is operated by DG ECHO of the European Commission and accessible 24 hours a day. It gives countries access to a platform, to a one-stop-shop of civil protection means available amongst the all the participating states. Any country inside or outside the Union affected by a major disaster can make an appeal for assistance through the MIC. It acts as a communication hub at headquarters level between participating states, the affected country and despatched field experts. It also provides useful and updated information on the actual status of an ongoing emergency. Last but not least, the MIC plays a co-ordination role by matching offers of assistance put forward by participating states to the needs of the disaster-stricken country.

The Common Emergency and Information System (CECIS) is a reliable web-based alert and notification application created with the intention of facilitating emergency communication among the participating states. It provides an integrated platform to send and receive alerts, details of assistance required, to make offers of help and to view the development of the ongoing emergency as they happen in an online logbook.

A training programme has also been set up with a view to improving the co-ordination of civil protection assistance interventions by ensuring compatibility and complementarity between the intervention teams from the participating states. It also enhances the skills of experts involved in civil protection assistance operations through the sharing of best practices. This programme involves training courses, the organisation of joint exercises and a system of exchange of experts of the participating states.

Civil protection modules are made of national resources from one or more Member States on a voluntary basis. They constitute a contribution to the civil protection rapid response capability called for by the European Council in the Conclusions in June 2005 and by the European parliament in its Resolution in January 2005 on the tsunami disaster. Thirteen civil protection modules have been identified by the Commission together with Member States.

For more information visit the EU DG ECHO web page