As European Union Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva visits Northern Ireland, Jim Nicholson MEP looks at the vital work of the EU in international development and humanitarian aid
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection of the European Commission (DG ECHO). It was established to deliver aid to those most in need, both inside and outside Europe, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion or political orientation – an approach based on the principles of humanity, impartiality, independence and neutrality.
Since the beginning there has been a special focus on helping victims of forgotten crises. These issues have remained fundamental during the 20 years of its existence.
Over the past 20 years DG ECHO has channelled around €14bn (£11.8bn) to victims of conflicts and natural disasters in over 140 countries. Since 2007 approximately €1bn (£850m) of aid per annum has been targeted to almost 150m people around the world. In 2010 DG ECHO's assistance – until then humanitarian aid was implemented through NGO partners, the Red Cross and the United Nations – integrated civil protection and the co-ordination of disaster response activities of member countries both inside and outside Europe.
Since 2009 I have been Vice President of the African Caribbean Pacific-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
In this role I am able to help drive forward EU policy in these regions, particularly in the developing nations where DG ECHO works and where the money directed undoubtedly saves countless lives, aids in vital regeneration following natural disasters or other crises and contributes towards the long-term development of some of the world's poorest nations.
In 2010 I led the European Parliament delegation to Haiti following the devastating earthquake which killed over 300,000 people and left nearly 1m homeless.
I have never seen such devastation anywhere before and during my visit I used my full efforts to ensure money and assistance from the EU was delivered as soon as possible to ease the burden on the many survivors who now found themselves without the basics; a home, food or clean drinking water. That is why I was delighted when a further €30.5m (£25.8m) was committed by the EU towards the continuing redevelopment of Haiti only last month.
While in Haiti I had the privilege of meeting many people working on the front line of crisis response and I was very proud that many of those were from Northern Ireland.
We have a long tradition of being generous with both our money and our time and countless volunteers from Northern Ireland have made and continue to make invaluable contributions in the area of international development and crisis response in extremely difficult situations.
I encountered this too on my visit to Uganda in 2011 where I viewed first-hand the fantastic work undertaken by local charity, Fields Of Life, as they work to build 1,000 wells across the country to provide clean and safe drinking water to many tens of thousands of those most in need.
At home of course Northern Ireland citizens are making their contribution to the developing world and responding effectively to crisis around the globe with almost 200,000 local people directly or indirectly involved with local charities here whether through volunteering, raising money or donating each month to a range of causes.
With this in mind I was delighted the EU Commissioner in charge of Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, has accepted my invitation and is visiting Northern Ireland today to meet with local people and organisations engaged in various projects and programmes around the world.
Charities both large and small from right across Northern Ireland including all the members of the Coalition of Aid Development Agencies (CADA) will have an opportunity to engage directly with the EU Commissioner and discuss the work of her Directorate-General.
Furthermore I hope that today's events will serve to highlight the important contribution made by Northern Ireland in this area, something we should all be aware of and be thankful for.