Although humanitarian aid is not explicitly mentioned in the EU Treaties, Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/96 of 20 June 1996 provides a clear definition of the European Union's policy in this area.
The EU has been involved in humanitarian aid operations since the late 1960s. In an effort to make the system more effective, the European Office for Emergency Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) was set up in 1992 as a decision-making centre to improve the administration and coordination of humanitarian aid. ECHO finances operations throughout the world, working through a series of partner organisations which implement its humanitarian aid in the field.
Since 1992, ECHO has funded humanitarian aid in more than 85 countries. In 2000, its grants covered emergency aid, food aid and aid to refugees and displaced persons worth a total of almost ECU 485 million.
In addition to its core task, ECHO is involved in a number of related activities:
- Carrying out feasibility studies for its humanitarian operations.
- Monitoring humanitarian projects and setting up coordination arrangements.
- Promoting and coordinating disaster prevention measures by training specialists, strengthening institutions and running pilot micro-projects.
- Organising training programmes and giving its partners technical assistance.
- Raising public awareness about humanitarian issues in Europe and elsewhere, through actions carried out directly or indirectly.
- Financing network and training study initiatives in the humanitarian field.