Belgium -Brussels – Humanitarian crises have increased in number, complexity and severity over the last 25 years. Today, an estimated 250 million people are affected by humanitarian crises worldwide. The ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and elsewhere have created an unprecedented level of humanitarian tragedy.
In Europe and in our neighbourhood, the refugee crisis still remains the most important challenge. And humanitarian needs are further exacerbated by the effect of climate change.
A lot has been done the past year to mitigate the suffering of vulnerable people and respond to the growing needs. Of course, we can never predict the unpredictable. But one thing is certain: 2017 will be another hugely challenging year for the global humanitarian community. In light of this, what are the main humanitarian priorities for next year?
Syria: Soon entering the 7th year of fighting, the Syrian conflict is without a doubt the largest humanitarian tragedy since World War II. More than 11 million people displaced inside Syria and beyond its borders. The horrific fighting in Aleppo alone has triggered additional massive displacements of civilians. Sadly, this conflict looks far from over.
The EU has responded to this unprecedented crisis from the outset. More than 9 billion Euros in assistance have been mobilised by the EU and its Member States. But humanitarian needs also extend to neighbouring host countries. Five million Syrians fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt.
In Lebanon, every fourth inhabitant is now a Syrian refugee. Over three million refugees are hosted in Turkey. This makes Turkey the host country with the largest refugee population in the world.
The Syria crisis will certainly continue to be a political and humanitarian priority in 2017.
Iraq: There is no question that Iraq is at a critical juncture. The battle for Mosul is still in progress and its outcome will determine the future of Iraq. The EU is at the forefront of the humanitarian response in Iraq with a total of 159 million Euros in 2016. The first in a series of planes delivering EU aid for Mosul have already arrived in Iraq.
The military campaign in Mosul is unfolding now but we have been preparing for months. I have visited the country four times since the beginning of my mandate to make sure that we were prepared to respond to the massive needs in Mosul and elsewhere in the country.
Through humanitarian aid, provided to all Iraqis regardless of their background, the EU is also contributing to the process of reconciliation. A difficult but necessary undertaking in order for the Iraqis to have a hopeful future.
Daesh, however, must be defeated not only militarily, but also on the ideological battleground. We must defeat the ideology of terror, cultural destruction, intolerance and division. This is paramount for national reconciliation in Iraq.
Africa: the Northeast Nigeria and Lake Chad crisis has been labelled by the UN as the “largest humanitarian crisis on the African continent”. Boko Haram violence is one of the main reasons that have led to this massive crisis, with acute under nutrition spreading.
Children are particularly affected. Access of humanitarian aid is a real challenge because of insecurity, with continued Boko Haram attacks. The EU has been very active in bringing this crisis to the international front and has advocated stepping up global support.
The situation in South Sudan has also worsened dramatically with escalation of ethnic violence. The abuses are perpetrated by all parties to the conflict and are often combined with atrocities against innocent civilians constituting a crime against humanity. The UN has already warned of the potential for genocide.
Refugee crisis: the refugee crisis remains the most important challenge Europe has faced next only to the financial crisis. Since January 2015, more than 1 million migrants and refugees have reached European shores. To respond to this crisis the EU has developed a comprehensive strategy which includes:
(a) The EU-Turkey agreement. Despite the criticisms and problems, the implementation of this agreement is key to tackle effectively the refugee crisis. Hence, EU and Turkey must continue and strengthen their cooperation on this front.
(b) The mechanism for Emergency Support inside Europe which aims at providing basic humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants in Member States whose capacities are overstretched.
The refugee crisis, however, is not only European. It is global and it requires a global response. No country can tackle it alone. Hence, one of the major challenges and priorities in 2017 is to strengthen our collective response and solidarity.
Education in Emergencies: All of us recognize that children are the most vulnerable victims of humanitarian crises. Every day these children are out of school means a step closer to risks: sexual exploitation, forced marriages, forced labour, forced recruitment, radicalisation. At the same time it means lack of prospects for the future and new lost generations. Something we cannot allow to happen.
Since the beginning of my mandate, education in emergencies has been one of my major priorities. Last year more than 2.3 million children have benefitted from our support in 44 countries affected by crises around the world.
In 2016 we quadrupled our support to this cause. In 2017 we will go even further: 6% of the EU’s humanitarian aid budget will support education in emergencies. This is my new commitment. Education is not a privilege. It is the right of every child across the world which has also become a basic need.
With challenges like these, in 2017 the world is likely to experience more conflicts and disasters. Needs already continue to increase dramatically while the resources for humanitarian assistance remain limited.
Therefore, we must adapt the way we provide aid in order to be able to respond swiftly and effectively. The humanitarian aid system must become more prepared, more coordinated and more flexible. This can be done by providing more predictability and reducing as much as possible administrative and bureaucratic barriers. Moreover, we must build new partnerships, such as those with the private sector, and stronger linkages between humanitarian aid and development.
2017 will be a determining year for the international humanitarian community. Time for action is of the essence.