by Miriam Awadallah
The recent creation of the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps (EVHAC) marks the start of a much-needed effort to boost the EU’s humanitarian assistance capabilities. The pilot program was launched in mid-June and seeks to engage approximately 100 young people in various projects that will aid vulnerable and disaster-struck parts of the world. These experiences will shape a formal EU proposal next year that will establish a permanent humanitarian volunteer program and highlight the EU’s role as the top humanitarian aid donor in the world.
The plan for the creation of EVHAC has been formulated over several years, beginning in 2003 under the Greek Presidency of the EU. It was then pushed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown last year. The EU “peace corps” is similar to the American Peace Corps, but differs in its approach. Whereas the American version engages volunteers in a wide variety of activities – ranging from teaching English to promoting an understanding of American culture – EVHAC will focus solely on providing humanitarian aid to civilians in disaster-struck regions.
Under the pilot program, volunteers will work with three different European NGOs on various projects in order to help the European Commission evaluate how its volunteers can best complement the efforts of these and other organizations. 21 volunteers will work with the French Red Cross on humanitarian aid operations; 30 with Save the Children, a British organization that focuses on providing relief to children in developing nations; and 40 volunteers will donate their time to Voluntary Service Overseas, an international development charity. Through working with these organizations, volunteers will be able to provide feedback to the Commission, which will then develop the policy for a full-fledged corps that will be proposed to the EU next year.
The world has experienced several major disasters recently, especially in developing nations such as Haiti, which fell victim to a devastating earthquake in early 2010. The EU has recognized the need for larger and more efficient responses to disasters, and the creation of EVHAC signifies its willingness to provide relief to disaster victims quickly and competently.
The creation of the EVHAC pilot program is a small but important step in the right direction by the EU. Recently, humanitarian aid groups have come under fire for responding too slowly to natural disasters. If EVHAC successfully completes trial period and expands into a full-fledged corps, it could play a major role in helping ensure that disaster-struck areas receive timely relief.
Miriam Awadallah is an Intern at the Streit Council. Photo credit: European Union, ECHO/Susana Perez Diaz (http://webtools.ec.europa.eu/galleries/echo/main.php?g2_view=core.DownloadItem&g2_itemId=4781)