Doc. 10437

26 January 2005

Europe and the Tsunami Disaster

Opinion1

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population

Rapporteur: Mr Michael Hagberg, Sweden, Socialist Group

I.       Conclusions of the Committee

1.       The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population fully endorses the draft resolution prepared by the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.

2.       It does not propose amendments to the draft resolution as the primary concerns of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population have been adequately reflected.

3.       The scale of the disaster and the experience of dealing with it have highlighted the need for a wider analysis of Europe's response and responsibility to humanitarian disasters and catastrophes, whether natural or man-made. In the light of lessons learned from the consequences of the Tsunami disaster, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population supports in particular the call for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to examine further Europe's response and responsibility towards humanitarian disasters, both within and outside of Europe.

II.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr Michael Hagberg

1.       Introduction

1.       The world has been shocked by the scale of death and destruction wrought by the Tsunami disaster that swept the coastline of the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004 touching not just different countries but also continents apart.

2.       The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, in view of its responsibility for humanitarian issues, has a particular duty to show solidarity with all those affected by the disaster.

3.       Your rapporteur is conscious of the wealth of information available on the disaster. In this opinion he has chosen not to recount the events and humanitarian responses that have unfolded since 26 December 2004. Instead he has chosen to focus on what he considers to be essential action that needs to be taken.

4.       Through this opinion, the Committee expresses from the outset, its condolences and sympathy to all those affected by the tragedy. It also expresses its gratitude to all those who have thrown themselves into the relief work or who have made generous financial and other aid donations.

2.       The scale of the humanitarian disaster

5.       As indicated in the main report of the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, the scale of the humanitarian disaster is unprecedented. Over 280,000 people have died and there are estimates of up to 5 million persons having been directly affected. Two continents and over a dozen countries have been hit by the Tsunamis. Whole families have been lost, livelihoods destroyed, infrastructures washed away.

6.       The scale of the disaster is matched only by the scale of the needs of those who have survived. Priorities, in terms of medical aid, water, food and shelter, still have to be met. Disease remains a threat, even if some of the original fears of epidemics are subsiding. Orphans, the aged, those with disabilities, those suffering the immense psychological burden of the disaster all need help. Women and young girls may be particularly vulnerable and have specific needs. There are a large number of pregnant women affected by the disaster and fears of sexual exploitation of women and girls remain a real threat. Many of these emergency needs are now being met by humanitarian agencies working under the co-ordination of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), including major partners of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)). Independent humanitarian agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), another major partner of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, are also working in close co-ordination with OCHA to meet emergency needs of survivors.

7.       With many of these emergency needs now being met priority has to be increasingly put on kick-starting daily life in the affected areas. Schools have to re-open and function, basic infrastructure has to be put into place and people must be able to start earning their living, whether they be fishermen/women, farmers, street vendors, shopkeepers, workers in the tourist industry, civil servants or other. In designing such assistance, particular attention should be given to the needs of women in order to ensure that they can participate and benefit on an equal footing in the recovery process.

3.       Issues of concern

8.       Taking into account the geographical spread of the disaster, the extent of the damage, the number of people affected, the sums of aid in question, the political dictates in play, it is not surprising that there are a host of issues of concern that have to be tackled.

9.       The Committee is particularly concerned that aid should reach all concerned. Civil conflicts in Indonesia and in Sri-Lanka should not be allowed to prejudice aid efforts. Those countries that have been reluctant to accept aid or assistance should examine their stance on this issue to ensure that the best interests of the victims are taken into account.

10.       Disease remains a threat even if initial fears have not materialized.

11.       Catering for the needs of children is an issue of priority. Identification of children, and immediate care of children is a primary concern. Adoption procedures will ultimately have to be tackled. Children have to be able to return to their classes. Trafficking of children is a threat that needs to be guarded against.

12.       The lengthy process of building lives, livelihoods and communities needs to be tackled. Small grants are required to get people going economically. Larger sum, including insurance payments are needed promptly to start rebuilding infrastructure, including tourist infrastructure. Unless action is swift, the risk of large-scale displacement of persons exists, with possible migration flows of persons from seaside areas to the cities and highlands in search of a livelihood and perceived greater safety.

4.       Action required

13.       The scale of aid necessary to cope with the aftermath of the Tsunami has required that one organisation takes on a central role in co-ordinating efforts. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has taken on this role and it should be given the full support of all national and international actors, whether at Governmental, Non-Governmental or Inter-Governmental level.

14.       The statistics speak for themselves. Over $4 billion dollars have been pledged of which the United Nations has confirmed the availability of $756 million. Donors from around the world have shown great solidarity in pledging unprecedented sums. They must, however, now dig deep into their pockets to make sure that these pledges are paid up.

15.       The aid must continue to reach those in need, including those without fresh water, food, homes; those who are injured, suffering illness or disease; those who cannot care for themselves such as children, the aged and the disabled. The aid must move swiftly into a second phase, namely to assist the victims in re-establishing their lives and livelihoods and to start tackling the rebuilding of destroyed infrastructures. Governments in the region affected must facilitate the process of distribution of humanitarian aid and not restrict the movement of those seeking to distribute it.

16.       The world is watching the aid operation. States and their citizens who have given generously are entitled to transparency and accountability as to how the funds are used. Governments receiving this aid and international organisations and civil society actors distributing this aid, all have a responsibility to make sure that it is used effectively and efficiently. This is important not only for the victims of the Tsunami disaster, but also for the victims of future disasters who will not be able to draw on the generosity displayed in the wake of the Tsunami disaster if donors feel the money has not been used for good purpose.

17.       Funds have to come from somewhere and hard choices have to be made by donors as to where they are to raise the money. What is clear is that these funds must not be diverted from other humanitarian disasters or tragedies, whether in Africa or in other parts of the world. Furthermore, some guarantees are needed to ensure that indirect assistance, such as suspension of debt repayment, releases funds nationally for the Tsunami disaster rather than ending up being used on other national causes.

18.       While the Tsunami was a natural disaster, the impact could have been reduced had certain precautions been taken. The lack of any form of early warning system for the region, the absence of safety education of those living in coastal areas, the destruction of natural barriers, whether they be mangrove forests or other, uncontrolled habitation on the sea-front, all undoubtedly contributed to the loss of life and property. Safety measures for the future need to be put in place to help prevent against the consequences of Tsunamis wherever a risk is present. Vulnerable regions need early warning systems. Valuable experience can be gained from Japan and other countries that have been involved in setting up early warning systems. Safety education needs to be provided to those persons most at risk.

19.       While prevention is better than cure, when a disaster hits one has to be able to respond. Rapid reaction to humanitarian disasters is essential. Europe now has to examine its own capacity to respond. Civil rapid reaction teams are needed, including key emergency workers such as medics, police, fire fighters, and water and sanitation experts. Current discussions by European Union Ministers for the creation of a European rapid reaction force are to be welcomed. Proposals to strengthen the European Commission capacity to react promptly are to be encouraged.

20.       The Tsunami disaster is an opportunity for us, as Europeans, to do some soul searching about our response and responsibilities towards humanitarian disasters. When we consider the number of people dieing from malnutrition across the world every day we have to ask ourselves if we are doing enough for the other humanitarian disasters across the world, which in terms of scale dwarf the numbers of victims of the Tsunami disaster but largely remain without much international attention and commitment. We have to examine carefully our response to the target level of 0.7% of GDP for overseas development assistance and ask ourselves whether we are doing enough? Perhaps one lesson we will bring back from the Tsunami disaster is that we can have the will and the capacity to do more to alleviate humanitarian disasters around the globe.

21.       The Tsunami disaster has brought to the forefront the need to examine Europe's response and responsibility towards humanitarian disasters. The Parliamentary Assembly should be encouraged to take up the challenge of examining this issue further. Full support is given to the proposal for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to examine in greater depth Europe's response and responsibility towards humanitarian disasters both within and outside of Europe.

5.       Conclusions

22.       Your rapporteur concludes by recalling the Committee's condolences and deepest sympathies to the millions of persons affected by the tragedy.

23.       Your rapporteur in these conclusions wishes to highlight the following action that needs to be taken:

–       Unequivocal support has to be given to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its central role at the heart of the relief operation.

–       Donors need to ensure that pledges made are fully paid up.

–       Aid has to reach those most in need; those without fresh water, food, homes; those who are injured, suffering illness or disease. Particular attention must be paid to vulnerable groups such as those who cannot care for themselves including children, the aged and persons with disabilities. The aid must move swiftly into a second phase so as to assist the victims in re-establishing their lives and livelihoods and to start tackling the rebuilding of destroyed infrastructures.

–       Transparency and accountability are essential for the aid programmes. Governments, international organisations and civil society have important responsibilities in this respect that have to be met.

–       The aid for Tsunami victims should not lead to the reduction or drying up of funding for other humanitarian causes.

–       Safety measures, including early warning systems and educational measures, need to be put in place to lessen the dangers of Tsunamis in areas where they may occur. A civilian capacity to be able to react rapidly in the event of a disaster needs to be secured at a European level.

24.       Your rapporteur is of the view that lessons have to be learned from the consequences of the Tsunami disaster and that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe can contribute to this through a more general examination of Europe's response and responsibility towards humanitarian disasters within and outside of Europe.

Reporting committee: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population

Reference to committee: Reference No. 3050 of 24 January 2005

Opinion approved by the Committee on 26 January 2005

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Lervik, Mr Neville, Ms Kostenko, Ms Sirtori-Milner


1        See Doc. 10428 tabled by the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.