Tuesday, August 31, 2010

European Union :: Floods in Pakistan: hurricane season not over - more aid needed


EU Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva told MEPs in the Development Committee that the coming weeks could see the situation worsen in Pakistan owing to the weather. MEPs told the Commissioner that the EU's aid response to the devastating flooding needs to be more coordinated and visible on the ground.

Having just returned from Pakistan, Ms Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, told MEPs that "the situation may get worse despite the fact that the water has receded slightly over the last few days".

"I'm not sure we have seen the peak of the crisis. It is still expanding", she said, underlining the critical situation of 800,000 people who are unreachable at the moment because they are surrounded by water. The Northern region has been hit twice, by the conflict in Afghanistan and now by the floods.

According to latest Pakistani figures, 17.6 million are affected by the floods, 8 million are in need of immediate help and more than 3 million hectares of crops have been destroyed, the Commissioner informed MEPs. "There is a critical need for seeds and agricultural tools to plant the next season".

"Combining assistance (food, water, medication and shelter) with early recovery is what we are focusing on at the moment", she added.

Stronger aid coordination mechanism needed

During the debate, MEPs gave their unanimous support to the work done so far by the EU Commissioner but at the same time stressed the need for the EU’s response and aid to be more coordinated and more visible on the ground

"The EU needs a stronger mechanism of coordination", Ms Georgieva told MEPs, stressing that the current system of coordination between the European Commission and the Member States operates on a voluntary basis. The Union and its governments have in total pledged up to €230 million.

“A stronger mechanism would also improve the Union’s visibility as a whole”, said the Commissioner in response to questions by Gay Mitchell (EPP, IE), Charles Goerens (ALDE, LU) and Enrique Guerrero (S&D, ES).

Graham Watson (ALDE, UK) highlighted the need to find "more rapid ways to disburse the funds we have committed ourselves to". Ms Georgieva assured him that almost all of the €70 million the Commission has committed has now been contracted.

Pakistan’s debt and EU trade barriers

Jean Lambert (Greens/EFA, UK), chair of Parliament’s South Asia Delegation, raised the question of Pakistan's debt which is "greater than the aid that the country will receive". "We should envisage a possible cancellation of the country's debt or at least a moratorium for its reimbursement".

“The EU should lower its trade barriers to Pakistani goods", said Sajjad Karim (ECR, UK). This could help Pakistan face the heavy burden of reconstruction itself”. Mrs Georgieva said that "we are prepared for discussion on this issue but it takes two to tango".

Climate change and improving Pakistan’s resilience

Commissioner Georgieva also pointed out that Pakistan is regarded by climate experts as "extremely vulnerable to climate change". "We need to help strengthen Pakistan’s resilience for the future", she told Vittorio Prodi (ALDE, IT) and Kriton Arsenis, (S&D, EL).

Democracy and extremism

Lastly, to questions by EPP Members Andrey Kovatchev (BG) and Elmar Brok (DE) about possible exploitation of the situation by extremists in the region, the Commissioner said "If the aid reaches those who need it, this will work against extremism".

In the Chair : Eva JOLY (GREENS/EFA, FR)