EU to Focus Aid on Resilience, Proactive Response to Natural Disasters

BRUSSELS, Belgium

The European Union on October 3 released a new policy document that calls for greater cooperation between its emergency and development arms to increase countries’ resilience to disasters like drought, flood, and food insecurity.

"Unexpected natural catastrophes, food crisis or economic shocks can seriously undermine the results of our work in developing countries," The Guardian newspaper quoted Andris Piebalgs, the EU commissioner for development, as saying.

"We need to focus our actions towards tackling the root causes of recurrent crises rather than just dealing with their consequences. This is not only more efficient but also much cheaper."

Piebalgs’ comments echo the conclusion of a report from international development charity Islamic Relief earlier this week, whichfound that prevention was both more effective and less costly than providing emergency relief after disaster strikes.

The EU estimates that for every euro spent in increasing prevention of disasters, four or five are saved in disaster-relief spending.

One region where the policy will be is the Sahel area of West Africa, where a severe drought has left nearly 18 million people suffering from food shortages. “It proposes a roadmap for better coordination of humanitarian and development aid so as to protect the most vulnerable people in the Sahel when drought hits again,” the policy document states.

The EU in June 2012 established the AGIR-Sahel initiative in coordination with UN agencies, governments and other development agencies. It is currently implementing five projects in the region that build resilience.

One such project is in Burkina Faso, where the European Commission is supporting a “cash for work” program where some 1,200 villagers are being paid to build embankments around what will become rice fields. These embankments are meant to capture and hold rainwater for future harvests.

The new policy document comes just days after the EU Court of Auditors released a report that questions the viability of EU-funded water and sanitation projects in several African nations, citing poor long-term financial and technical support that jeopardizes hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.

The European Court of Auditors reviewed 23 projects in six nations and found that in many cases, the projects were not sustainable and fewer than half were meeting the needs of beneficiaries.

The audit shows that only four of the projects investigated generated enough revenue from tariffs to cover operating costs. Three three others were funded with government aid. For the rest, the auditors said, there were “no formal commitments” to support infrastructure once the EU-funded portion of the projects were completed.

The auditors’ report comes at a potentially pivotal time with politicians struggling to cobble together a more austere EU-wide budget for 2014-2020 while at the same time meeting their promises to increase spending on overseas aid -- with greater focus on the least developed countries.

The World Bank this week also announced support for a drought management program in the Sahel region. On October 2, the bank approved $203 million USD for the “Niger Basin Water Resources Development and Sustainable Ecosystems Management Program,” which contributes to the Kandaji Program that increases food, electricity and economic opportunities.

“Kandadji is a transformational development project that will deliver significantly more opportunity to communities, more food, water, and electricity, and less poverty in the poorest region of Africa,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region. 

“As African countries look to sustain and boost their high growth rates while improving their development prospects, projects like Kandadji can be game-changers for a continent looking for significantly more irrigation and electricity, as well as better health, education, and economic opportunities for its growing population of young people.”

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