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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
© WFP/Rein Skullerud
EU Humanitarian Aid

30th anniversary

Since 1992, the EU has helped alleviate the suffering of millions of people in more than 110 countries worldwide. This is done through the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department, which has funded and promoted humanitarian actions for 30 years.

people sitting in front of a truck with the ECHO name on it
ECHO Operations in Zagreb, December 1992
© European Union

The EU’s humanitarian office started its operations in March 1992, when the Kurdish refugee crisis was at its peak, Bangladesh was far from recovering from a deadly tropical cyclone, famine was looming in Africa, and tensions were high in the Balkans.

The setting up of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) in 1992 was a milestone in the path of European Union humanitarian policy. It was born out of the will to provide relief speedily and more effectively to victims of natural calamities and of conflicts in countries outside the European Union”, Manuel Marin, Vice-President of the European Commission between 1993 and 1999.

The different challenges at the time called for an adequate response from the international community, hence the creation of the EU’s humanitarian aid office. This way, the EU started to work with humanitarian partners on the ground to provide assistance to those in need.

Today, the EU, together with its Member States, is one of the world’s largest humanitarian aid donors.

Working with partners

During its first year of operations, the EU’s humanitarian office signed 100 agreements with humanitarian partners. Today, we work with more than 200 humanitarian partners, including European humanitarian non-governmental, international (including United Nations agencies), as well as specialised agencies from Member States.

In only one year, the EU’s humanitarian aid department organised more than 900 operations in the former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, Central Africa, Northern Iraq and Central America. We helped respond to natural hazards and human-induced disasters, as well as supported those affected by conflict and war.


Since the start of the EU humanitarian aid operations, the Commission’s department has been following the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Learn more.

image of paper sheet with the priniciples from 1992
Principles of the EU’s humanitarian aid office when it was funded in 1992.
© European Union

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  1. 1992

    The European Commission established its own Humanitarian Office in 1992. The aim was to serve the humanitarian cause more effectively through a since focal point from the European Commission to administer and coordinate the EU’s humanitarian assistance.

  2. 1993

    The EU’s Humanitarian Office improves its long-term partnerships with over 100 NGOs, by implementing Framework Partnership agreements for the first time.

  3. 1994

    EU humanitarian aid responds to the horrific genocide in Rwanda as over 800,000 people are massacred.

  4. 1997

    We appointed our first ‘Emergency Relief Coordinator’ to the UN, strengthening a bond that is unwavering to this day.

  5. 1999

    The EU allocated €812 million, its highest annual budget to that point, to respond to conflicts, in places like East Timor and Chechnya, and natural hazards like the 2 earthquakes that killed over 17,500 people in Turkey. 

  6. 2000

    We provided assistance to over 18 million people in 1 year; from those affected by conflict in Colombia, to those who suffered at the hands of flooding in Mozambique, and many more.

  7. 2001

    The crisis in Afghanistan, which the EU was already responding to for years, is greatly exacerbated by the events of 9/11.

  8. 2002

    EU humanitarian aid responds to widespread famine in Southern Africa, which emerges due to drought, the effects of the AIDs epidemic and inappropriate food policies.

  9. 2003

    The Iraq war, and continuing insecurity following the end of formal hostilities, generated significant new needs in a country already facing severe humanitarian problems. This is why the EU scaled up its humanitarian operations, providing over €97 million in humanitarian aid. The funding provided Iraqis with food, medical equipment, and clean water.

  10. 2004

    EU humanitarian aid demonstrated its commitment to the key humanitarian principle of neutrality when responding to violence in Sudan’s Darfur region, labelled at the time as “largest humanitarian crisis in the world” by the UN.  We allocated aid where it was most urgently needed without taking sides.

  11. 2007

    The effects of climate change are brought into sharp focus by devastating floods, storms and droughts around the world.

    In December 2007, a European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid was adopted by the European Union and its Member States. This Consensus set out a common EU vision, shared principles and well-defined operating rules for EU humanitarian aid.

  12. 2008

    In 2008, the EU brought relief to 120 million people in more than 60 countries with humanitarian funding totalling €937 million. This record amount reflected humanitarian needs that were then, and are still now, ever-increasing.

  13. 2013

    In November 2013, tropical cyclone Haiyan hit the Philippines and caused massive destruction, left thousands dead, around 4 million displaced, and affected over 14 million people. Teams of EU humanitarian experts were deployed to the worst hit areas within hours after the disaster to support relief efforts and assess the most acute needs.

  14. 2014

    The largest outbreak of Ebola ever recorded killed close to 10,000 people in West Africa. Complications including infection and death of medical workers challenged humanitarian responders. Nonetheless, the EU contributed over €1.2 billion in humanitarian aid and medical research to save lives during the crisis.

  15. 2015

    Protracted armed conflict in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and South-Sudan led to the highest level of forced displacement since the Second World War in 2015.

  16. 2016

    The EU put in place the Facility for Refugees to respond to short- and long-term needs of refugees in Turkey, the country hosting the most refugees in the world.

    In May 2016, the world's major humanitarian donors, including the EU, and aid organisations adhered to the Grand Bargain during the World Humanitarian Summit. The agreement aims to improve the way humanitarian aid is delivered by making it more effective and more efficient.

  17. 2017

    In cooperation with the European External Action Service and the Directorate-General for the European Neighbourhood (NEAR), we hosted the first Brussels conference on "Supporting the future of Syria and the region". This event has taken place every year since to work towards a political solution to the conflict.

  18. 2018

    Overall, more than 134 million people across the world needed humanitarian assistance and protection in 2018 – and more funding than ever before was required to help them. The Commission funded humanitarian aid operations for more than €1.8 billion in more than 90 countries in 2018.

  19. 2019

    We dedicated 10% of the EU’s 2019 humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies and delivered 35% of humanitarian assistance through cash transfers. EU humanitarian aid also worked to improve its standards for the inclusion of people with disabilities in 2019.

  20. 2020

    The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented global challenge in 2020. In total, EU humanitarian response to needs resulting from the pandemic amounted to €450 million in 2020.

    To respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic, the EU Humanitarian Air Bridge operations were launched on 8 May 2020, with the first flight to the Central African Republic. Since then, more than 80 flights have reached critical areas in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The EU has coordinated and financed the delivery of over 1,570 tonnes of material, consisting of humanitarian and/or medical aid.

  21. 2021

    In March 2021, a communication on the EU’s humanitarian action was adopted: “New challenges, same principles”.

    The Communication sets out how the EU, with its partners and other donors, can address the growing humanitarian needs more effectively, and provide a better enabling environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

  22. 2022

    As of June 2022, the European Commission has allocated €348 million for humanitarian aid programmes to help civilians affected by the war in Ukraine. This includes €335 million for Ukraine and €13 million for Moldova.

Message by Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič