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Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian aid means the aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made crises and natural disasters. Humanitarian aid is aimed at ensuring that crisis-affected communities return to a normal life as soon as possible.

Humanitarian aid is provided in compliance with international law, including, international humanitarian law, and the following main principles of humanitarian activities:

  • Humanity – human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found; the purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life, health and dignity of human beings;
  • Neutrality – humanitarian aid must not favour any side in an armed conflict or other dispute;
  • Impartiality – humanitarian aid must be provided solely to affected populations or their groups on the basis of needs, without discrimination on the grounds of nationality, race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, political beliefs or other features;
  • Independence – humanitarian objectives must remain separate from political, economic, military or other objectives.

The United Nations plays the leading role in coordinating the provision of international humanitarian aid. In case of a misfortune caused by a natural disaster or armed conflict, the United Nations immediately starts to provide humanitarian aid to the injured. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) led by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator plays an important role in this work. Besides its other operations, the OCHA provides the latest information on emergencies around the world and mobilizes funds for the provision of urgent aid. Every year the OCHA initiates around 15 applications to international donors in order to satisfy the needs of 40 million people affected by disasters. The United Nations seeks to ensure that the provision of aid would be fast and smooth and that funds are channelled to where they are needed most through the network of international organisations: the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and other non-governmental and intergovernmental humanitarian organisations, including the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The EU humanitarian aid is managed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), which provides support by funding humanitarian organisations, agencies, humanitarian non-governmental organisations, etc.

In 2007, the EU Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission signed the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid (the text of the document is available in the Lithuanian and English languages), which outlines the common objectives, fundamental humanitarian principles and good practices that the EU as a whole should pursue in this domain. The aim is to ensure an effective, high-quality, needs-driven and principled EU response to humanitarian crises. Since the adoption of the Consensus and its Action Plan, humanitarian aid has become institutionally and legally a full-fledged policy domain of the EU, building upon almost two decades of operational experience. For the first time, humanitarian aid is given a separate legal base in Article 214 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The European Union, i. e. EU Member States and the European Commission, is the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world.

  • Humanitarian aid is an important operational instrument of EU external policy;
  • The use of non-military instruments defines the place and role of the EU in the global context and gives the value added and authority;
  • The primary purpose of humanitarian aid is to provide unconditional assistance where it is needed to save lives or health of people affected by natural disasters or armed conflicts;
  • Humanitarian aid must be based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independency, i.e. the autonomy from political objectives or calculations;
  • Upon its accession to the EU, Lithuania undertook to respect the EU’s fundamental principles and the provision of humanitarian aid is one of these principles.