Humanitarian aid and Estonia

Humanitarian aid is a universal and fundamental expression of solidarity between people and a moral obligation. The provision of humanitarian aid, including participating in humanitarian missions, is an integral and important part of Estonia’s foreign policy. It is the Estonian Ministry f Foreign Affairs in cooperation with other state institutions that is responsible for the coordination and provision of humanitarian aid.

The provision of humanitarian assistance is a separate and important area of action in the Estonian development cooperation policy as defined by  the Strategy for Estonian Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid for 2016-2020,

In humanitarian aid, Estonia places importance on the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and independence, and establishing its funding decisions on the needs for assistance. For example, Estonia has recently provided humanitarian funding to assist with the crises in Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.

In 1998, not long after regaining independence from the Soviet Union, Estonia’s first voluntary contribution went to ICRC. This can be considered the moment, when Estonia became a donor and started supporting the global humanitarian system. In recent years, the Estonian humanitarian budget has been steadily increasing, currently reaching the yearly amount of 3.4 million EUR. Most of the Estonian contributions are given through United Nations organisations and funds (OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNRWA, CERF, WHO, WFP), followed by donations to ICRC and other international and national aid organisations.

The humanitarian aid that Estonia has provided in the past years has focused on providing relief to suffering caused by conflicts and emergency assistance after natural disasters. Estonia has helped to meet basic needs in various conflicts, for example in Ukraine, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, South-Sudan, Libya, Congo, Kenia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Bangladesh, and others. Estonia has also supported victims of natural disasters in Nepal, Haiti, Fiji, Iran, Turkey, India and Pakistan. When responding to such crises, the Estonian Government closely co-operates with international organisations and NGOs, which are often the leading agencies in delivering assistance.

Over the years, Estonia has achieved the capability to provide rescue and humanitarian aid that meet international standards, which allows Estonia to send the Estonian Disaster Relief Team (EDRT) to disaster areas. The Estonian Disaster Relief Team has proved specialists to both the UN (UNDAC) and European Union disaster assessment and coordination teams, which have the responsibility of giving an initial assessment of the scope of a crisis. Since December 2006, the Estonian Rescue Service is a member of the International Humanitarian Partnership.

In 2017, Estonia held the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the very first time. Our presidency’s motto  “Unity through balance” guided us also in the area of humanitarian affairs.

The Estonian Presidency ensured EU’s effective humanitarian assistance with special attention to protracted displacement, resilient and innovative solutions. The Estonian Presidency  focused, on the following areas of humanitarian affairs:

  • Effective collective response by the EU and its Member States to man-made humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Special attention to Level-3 protracted and forgotten humanitarian crises.
  • Food-security and food aid.
  • Highlighting the role of humanitarian action in the broader migration agenda and promoting the implementation of the EU’s new approach on forced displacement, Estonia facilitated the EU’s contribution to the development of the Global Compact on Refugees and Global Compact on Migration.
  • Addressing the root causes of irregular migration in a sustainable manner requires the cooperation of the EU in different policy areas, including humanitarian aid and development cooperation.
  • Promoting resilience, with a special focus on the humanitarian-development nexus, specifically in protracted crises.
  • Follow-up to the World Humanitarian Summit, with special focus on revising the international humanitarian system, humanitarian financing and localisation of aid, and maintaining the momentum to achieve and measure collective progress on the implementation of the EU’s and the Member States’ World Humanitarian Summit commitments
  • Estonia paid specific attention to innovation in humanitarian assistance, protection of civilians, respect to International Humanitarian Law and gender equality.