As my internship in Brussels is coming to an end, my work for the thesis is slowly picking up speed – slowly. Brussels is actually a good place to work with Disaster Management since the EU is the world’s biggest donor for humanitarian aid with more than a billion Euro every year.
The money is dispersed through DG ECHO, a Directorate General of the European Commission. Even though they have stuff in the field, they do not have their own projects, but fund the projects of partners (such as red cross organisations, UNEP, UN OCHA, etc.). I was lucky enough to get to talk to some people working with this process.
While there are many documents and procedures, evaluations and implementation plans, environmental sustainability is mentioned only very seldomly. On the one hand, you can understand the rationale that in humanitarian aid, work has to be done really quickly in order to rescue and protect the lives of many people. Environmental planning takes time, which the organisations often simply do not have. On the other side it is obvious that a misguided recovery can leave the population in a more vulnerable spot, with a more pressing poverty, than before (e.g. if deforestation for reconstruction takes away the livelihood activities, or water pollution from construction activities becomes a health hazard for the community). Also the evaluation reports of the EU acknowledge that in the future their procedures would have to pay more attention to the environment.
An example where this already happened is gender sensitive aid. All projects funded by the EU have to explain in which way they take into account the special needs of men, women, boys and girls, as well as old people. The analysis and mitigation of gender-specific problems is then rated in a “gender marker” and has significant influence on whether the project receives funding or not. As gender is just like environment a so-called “cross-cutting issue” that is relevant in every traditional aspect of humanitarian aid (shelter, livelihood, water, sanitation, etc.), this development can be a role model for the uptake of environmental issues in the same way.
WIth only a couple of days left in Brussels, I look back grateful for this opportunity, and look forward to returning back to Lund in March and then, afterwards, finishing my thesis in Monterey California in April and May. More disaster management from my side is soon to come.