The European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response says that with the financial assistance of the European citizens, the EU Commission is providing humanitarian assistance and aid to more than 150 million people in more than 90 countries.
According to Kristalina Georgieva, the civil war in Syria is the worst humanitarian disaster our world is experiencing, and that it will take many years for the crisis-hit country to recover and get back to normal situation.
“I am afraid the situation [in Syria] will continue to worsen in the coming months. Even if a political solution were to be found quickly, the country has been virtually destroyed. It will take years before it can recover and before the refugees can go back home. Children are bearing the brunt of the Syrian war. No child should have to witness what too many of these young people – the future of their country when it finally emerges from conflict – have seen,” said Ms. Georgieva in an exclusive interview with Tehran Times.
Kristalina Georgieva is a Bulgarian politician and economist serving in the second college of Jose Manuel Barroso Commission. She was appointed as Vice President and Corporate Secretary of the World Bank Group in 2008, but in 2010 announced her resignation to start her career in the European Commission. She was named the EU Commissioner of the Year by the European Voice newspaper in 2010 for her contributions to the crisis-hit people in Central African Republic, Haiti, Chile, Pakistan, Somalia and other countries in the world.
Ms. Georgieva frequently travels to crisis zones across the five continents and oversees the allocation of financial and other humanitarian assistance to people affected by natural disasters, malnutrition, wars and other problems that have made it impossible for them to have a comfortable and peaceful life.
Tehran Times conducted an exclusive interview with Ms. Georgieva and asked her some questions about the humanitarian problems currently ahead of people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and especially the people of Syria. What follows is the first part of the interview.
Q: When you took office in February 2010 as the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, several human disasters had happened and the whole world was experiencing a state of turmoil and unrest. Between 100,000 and 316,000 people were killed in the January 2010 catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, the massive earthquake in Chile had destroyed a great deal of the country’s civilian infrastructure and the floods in Pakistan had caused irretrievable damages to the people’s livelihoods. What role did the EU Commission play in facilitating the supply of humanitarian aid to these countries? What measures had you adopted to respond to these crises in a proportionate manner? Overall, what decision had the European Union made for helping the crisis-hit countries?
A: The crises which marked the beginning of my mandate were grave and were followed by other equally grave ones: the drought and hunger emergencies in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, the triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear breakdown) in Japan, the hunger crisis in North Korea, the conflicts in Libya and Syria, the most recent storm in the Philippines. So, it has been a challenging time, testing the global humanitarian system and putting a strain on aid resources.
I have not forgotten Haiti, Chile and Pakistan: not just because these were the first challenges I faced as Commissioner, but also because our support for the most vulnerable people affected by these disasters has continued until the present day. Chile has recovered: it is a country that is well-prepared for earthquakes and even though it was hit by a far larger earthquake than the one in Haiti, there were fewer victims and less destruction - a very strong argument in favor of preparedness!
In Haiti, the earthquake was just the latest tragedy after decades of poor governance and under- development. Since the earthquake, the European Commission has given €210 million in response to the disaster. Our aid has helped provide food, water, sanitation, basic shelter and healthcare. We have supported the response to the cholera epidemic. Currently we are working on linking relief, rehabilitation and development assistance, preparing to pass the baton of humanitarian aid to longer term development assistance.
Our work in Pakistan continues as well, in support of the victims of disasters and conflicts. In the last five years, we’ve given close to €450 million to humanitarian projects in the country, including for displaced people and Afghan refugees.
So our assistance to these crises has been adequate both in the days and months immediately after the crisis, and in the longer term. Haiti and Pakistan are both examples of the need for joint planning and common priorities between the humanitarian and development communities. Only by working together can we help poor and disaster-hit countries recover and develop.
Q: For the recognition of your remarkable reactions to the humanitarian crises of 2010, you were named the “Commissioner of the Year” by the European Voice magazine. What was your primary reaction to this selection? I think this choice makes your responsibility more important and more difficult. What’s your viewpoint on that?
A: Awards are a responsibility and they inspire you to work even harder in order to justify the trust that others have placed in me.
The award was not just recognition of my work; I saw it as a tribute to the many Europeans who perform humanitarian work, often in harsh conditions. They are the heroes who deserve our applause and our gratitude for their service to humanity.
Q: Could you please elaborate on the current humanitarian missions of the EU Commission across the world? Which countries are currently receiving the commission’s humanitarian assistance and funding plans? What’s your assessment of the success and achievements of these programs?
A: Thanks to the generosity of European citizens, this year the European Commission is able to provide humanitarian aid for nearly 150 million people in more than 90 countries.
We act where our assistance is most needed. One of the crises on which we are working intensively at the moment is the disaster in the Philippines, caused by Typhoon Haiyan in November. More than 11 million people were affected and are still struggling with the consequences of the record storm. The Commission sent expert teams, provided satellite mapping, coordinated and co-financed the transportation of European material aid and released financial assistance.
Syria is also on top of our agenda and we are helping both inside the country and in the neighborhood where our assistance is reaching refugees and their host communities with life-saving support. The European Union has committed more than €2 billion for this crisis. Of course I pray for a political solution, but even if this were to happen tomorrow, the humanitarian consequences will remain one of our biggest challenges in 2014 and beyond.
The Sahel region of Africa is another hot spot where we continue to be active with generous humanitarian aid. The poorest households are still struggling to recover from the drought and hunger crisis of 2012. For many, the situation has been exacerbated by the conflict in Mali. Our humanitarian aid focuses on treatment of severely malnourished children and on building the capacity of the local communities to withstand future crises.
Alongside these big crises which are often in the spotlight, there are the invisible ones, the so-called forgotten crises where international attention does not match the needs and the suffering. We do not forget these crises and continue to support their victims. One such is taking place in the Central African Republic, a humanitarian catastrophe which has been ignored by the world for too long. We allocated €20 million to help the victims of this crisis in 2013, with the hope that our relief assistance will be followed by stabilization and peace.
We operate in very difficult environments, but our aid is making a difference. We are able to track the results of our aid through the Commission’s global network of field experts who are our eyes and ears on the ground.
Q: One of the problems that the children across the world face today, as you noted in your writings, is the mal-nutrition and under-nutrition which claims the lives of 8,000 children every day. Aside from promotional and cultural programs, what plans do you have to tackle this crisis? In your view, how is it possible to help the undeveloped and impoverished nations provide sufficient food for their children?
A: Our planet produces enough food for all of us, but it doesn’t reach all who need it. We lack balance - some parts of the world have surpluses and throw food away, while in other places, there is never enough to eat. This is an unacceptable reality in our age of wealth and advancement. We have a moral obligation to change this.
The European Commission is working hard to put an end to hunger and malnutrition. We’ve harnessed the potential of our humanitarian aid, development assistance and political will and we are working together with the best partners: organizations that have the expertise to deliver aid and to make a difference on the ground.
The challenges are changing and our assistance evolves with them. We focus on the most fragile countries where under-nutrition is the biggest killer. But our ambition is not just to fix the immediate problem: feeding the hungry - but also to help bring about structural changes so that fewer people fall into the trap of malnutrition in the first place. This is why our food assistance policies are designed so that they contribute to long-term food security, so that they stimulate local economies and contribute to development.
We work hand in hand with the best nutrition professionals, but also with another group of key partners: mothers, local doctors and nurses, community leaders and other key figures in the country where our assistance is delivered.
In my work I have seen both the terrible face of under-nutrition: the face of a very sick child - and the alternative - the faces of children in Mali and Chad, in Somalia and Myanmar, whom we have managed to help bring back from the verge of malnutrition. So I know this battle can be won if we all fight it together.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the humanitarian situation in Syria? As you have pointed out in your speeches, more than 1 million Syrian children have fled the country, the majority of the 600,000 school-age children have not gone to their classes for more than 2 years, and above all, more than 100,000 lives were lost in the bloody civil war in the Arab country. What are the EU Commission’s plans for helping the crisis-hit Syria? Is there any way to rescue the unlucky children of Syria and alleviate their pains?
A: This is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today and I am afraid the situation will continue to worsen in the coming months. Even if a political solution were to be found quickly, the country has been virtually destroyed. It will take years before it can recover and before the refugees can go back home.
Children are bearing the brunt of the Syrian war. No child should have to witness what too many of these young people – the future of their country when it finally emerges from conflict – have seen.
In your question, you mentioned some of the staggering consequences of this war on children. Both those inside Syria and the refugees in the neighborhood are suffering and the chance of a better future is diminishing. There is a real risk of a lost generation of Syrian children which will blight not just their lives but also the future of their country when the time surely comes to rebuild their nation. A lost generation would have security consequences that go beyond Syria and the region and which will be in nobody’s interests
We are working with the UK and UNICEF to address this and prevent a lost generation of Syrian children and we have created a program called “EU Children of Peace” aimed at helping bring education and safety to the child-victims of war. Syrian refugee children are one of the priority groups we target with this program.