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Instrument for humanitarian aid

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Instrument for humanitarian aid

The European Union's humanitarian aid provides emergency assistance to victims of natural disasters, outbreaks of fighting or other comparable exceptional circumstances.


Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/96 of 20 June 1996 concerning humanitarian aid [See amending acts].



The Regulation governs the implementation of all Union operations providing humanitarian assistance to victims whose own authorities are unable to provide effective relief. This is an important aspect of external relations and, by focusing on supplies and services, the policy aims to prevent and alleviate suffering. To ensure that policy is both effective and comprehensive, coordination between the Member States and the Commission is reinforced by cooperation with NGOs and international organisations.

Principles of humanitarian aid

Humanitarian aid is aimed first and foremost at the people in developing countries and covers not only short-term relief but also disaster prevention and reconstruction operations. Such operations last as long as is necessary and are targeted at the immediate requirements arising out of natural (e.g. flooding, earthquakes) or man-made disasters (e.g. outbreaks of war and fighting) and other exceptional comparable circumstances.

Activities covered by humanitarian aid

As a short-term measure (lasting a maximum of six months), humanitarian aid is primarily intended to:

  • save life during emergencies and their immediate aftermath;
  • provide the necessary assistance and relief to people affected by longer-lasting crises arising, in particular, from outbreaks of fighting or wars,
  • carry out short-term rehabilitation and reconstruction work, especially on infrastructure and equipment, in the post-emergency phase;
  • cope with the consequences of population movements by means of schemes to assist repatriation and resettlement where appropriate;
  • ensure preparedness for the risks concerned and use a suitable rapid early-warning and intervention system.

The aid can also be used to finance improvements in its implementation, e.g. preparatory feasibility studies, project evaluation, campaigns to increase understanding of humanitarian issues, greater coordination between the Community and Member States.


Humanitarian aid is grant-financed and non-refundable, and can cover items such as relief distribution, expenditure on external staff, the construction of shelters, etc.


A Union humanitarian aid operation can be initiated at the request of the Commission, NGOs, international organisations, Member States or beneficiary countries.

The Commission has three separate decision-making procedures available to it:

  • the delegation procedure: to speed up the response to sudden emergencies, the Commission has delegated powers to the Director of the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) for primary emergency humanitarian decisions within certain limits (maximum amount of EUR 3 million, maximum duration of three months);
  • the empowerment procedure: the Member of the Commission responsible for humanitarian aid is empowered to take decisions relating to emergency operations up to EUR 30 million for a maximum of six months as well as non-urgent decisions up to a maximum of EUR 10 million. These decisions are subject to a consultation procedure (cabinets, interdepartmental). Emergency decisions exceeding EUR 10 million and non-urgent decisions exceeding EUR 2 million require Humanitarian Aid Committee approval;
  • the written procedure for all decisions not covered by the delegation or empowerment procedures.

The Commission is also responsible for the appraisal, management, monitoring and evaluation of operations. In accordance with the committee procedure, it is assisted in this work by a committee of representatives of the Member States.

Aid may be provided by NGOs, international organisations and agencies, the Commission or specialist bodies from the Member States. The Commission plays a vital role in ensuring coordination between its activities and those of the Member States and consistency in the operations of international bodies and agencies.


In order to evaluate, and thereby improve, operations in this area, the Commission submits an annual report to the European Parliament and to the Council at the end of each budget year. The report contains a summary of operations financed, details of those participating in their implementation and a review of outside evaluation exercises. In 1999, the Commission also published an evaluation of all activities undertaken since 1996 in the framework of the Regulation.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 1257/96



OJ L 163 of 2.7.1996

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003



OJ L 284 of 31.10.2003

Regulation (EC) No 219/2009



OJ L 87 of 31.3.2009

Last updated: 04.06.2010