The EU is the largest humanitarian aid donor in the world, providing over 50% of the global total through a range of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies. This support is consistently rated by EU citizens as the most important part of the EUs broader mission. However, this year there has been a severe shortfall in the total amount of funding that has been delivered by EU member states, due to disagreements about the 2014-2020 budget.
The Guardian newspaper reports that the shortfall amounts to around half of the EU's annual aid budget. Walter Schwarzenbrunner, the resources director at the EU's humanitarian aid and civil protection directorate (DG Echo), estimates that the final deficit could reach €480 million, if more money is not received soon. This funding gap could leave aid programmes around the world severely underfunded, and cause additional suffering to the people who rely on them.
Kathrin Schick, director of Voice, an umbrella group for aid NGOs, tells the Guardian that the EU funds helped 120 million people in 2013. Predictability, she says, is essential for NGOs, adding that “you can't postpone aid payments very long, as you can only buy medicine with the money you have.” NGOs who rely on EU funding are getting increasingly worried about the impact this funding gap could have on the ability to operate effectively, as are many who work within DG Echo and other directorates.
If a solution is not found, EU officials have confirmed that DG Echo would not be able to provide normal levels of emergency aid if a crisis occurred now, and after July it will not be able to offer any. Even the core regions that DG Echo works in, such as South Sudan, Syria and the Central African Republic, could be affected if the shortfall is not dealt with.
Dealing with the shortfall
To limit the impact of the funding gap, DG Echo has begun to prioritise its core operations whilst postponing payments to smaller NGO programmes and those considered non-vital. For smaller NGOs this will be challenging and in extreme cases may force them to stop operations altogether.
The EU's broader development directorate is working to funnel some money to DG Echo, and are also attempting to draw on some reserve funds that may be available for the 2014-2020 period. Despite the effort going into addressing the funding gap, DG Echo seems to be, as one EU official puts it, “stuck between a rock and a hard place” at the moment.
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