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5. Humanitarian Aid

The European Community Humanitarian Aid Office or "ECHO" as it is known, provides humanitarian aid from the EU to developing countries. In 2006 its budget amounted to €671 million, 48% of which went to the ACP States. ECHO provides emergency assistance and relief to the victims of natural disasters or armed conflict.

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

Since it started in 1992, ECHO has funded humanitarian aid in more than 85 countries. 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 allocation of ECHO funding is based on an assessment of the humanitarian needs of the population affected by a crisis, according to a global methodology that ranks countries according to their vulnerability and to the presence of a crisis. The EU also pays special attention to "forgotten crises", i.e. emergency situations receiving low media coverage and little international aid.

For example, at an international donor conference in Brussels in April 2009, the EU pledged an additional €48 million in humanitarian assistance to Somalia - a country that has had no central government for nearly two decades. Somalia remains a complex emergency, as aid agencies continue to reach an estimated 3.2 million people suffering from a combination of famine, conflict, drought, floods and disease.

EU humanitarian aid is non-political and neutral in that it is intended to go directly to those in distress, irrespective of race, religion or political convictions. While humanitarian aid is supposed to provide relief to the most vulnerable, ECHO has throughout its existence been accused of being too politicised and interventionist.

The leading international think tank the International Crisis Group argued in a 2001 paper that where resources are limited and greatly outstripped by needs, political elements almost inevitably enter into the process by which humanitarian priorities are established.

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