Floods, earthquakes, droughts, conflicts, and wars have devastating consequences: populations flee to save their lives, houses are destroyed, children become orphans, healthy people disabled. This is a reality in many countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
For more than 100 years, Caritas organisations from the European region, today members of Caritas Europa, have been involved in emergency situations where victims try to survive and build up a new life again. If we account only the major emergencies with more than 10.000 victims, in 2003 Caritas was confronted with 36 different crisis-situations.
The work in the field is mostly carried out in partnership with Caritas local organisations. If the crisis occurs in an area where there isn't any Caritas organisation, teams composed of representatives of the European region together with members of other regions of Caritas Internationalis are set up to assist the victims.
The long experience shows that synergy is very important. Members working in coordination and cooperation with each other can optimize the use of their resources and work more effectively in the short as well as in the long term.
In 1995 members began to meet in Brussels for coordinating their efforts. They focused especially on the work with the European Union including the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO). After the reorganisation in 1998, the International Cooperation Department was created. Accordingly, the "Emergency Forum" became an important instrument for the emergency work of Caritas Europa.
The Emergency Forum is an annual meeting, which aims to improve the instruments at core of the Caritas crisis response. One of the main outcomes has been the set up of mixed "Emergency Response and Support Teams (ERST)", composed of experts from different members. While the first six weeks are mostly devoted to the victims' survival, these teams also have the task of preparing long-term, sustainable support activities. The ERST missions are not only a European issue and can be joint also by representatives of other regions of Caritas Internationalis.
Following the strategic plan for 2005 -2010 "To live solidarity and partnership in Europe and in the world" the Humanitarian Aid Commission is in charge of shaping the Caritas Europa humanitarian aid policy. It is composed by humanitarian aid experts from member organisations and coordinates members' activities with regard to this working area.
When it comes to an emergency, the Humanitarian Aid Commission organises the European contribution to the global response of Caritas Internationalis. This includes coordination of donors, deployment of the ERST and monitoring the situation in the crisis area for further action. For instance, if the local Caritas organisation is missing the necessary resources to implement the standards agreed upon or if adequate local structures are not available, a "Support Team for Emergency Response (STEP)" is to be created for operating long-term projects.
Caritas Europa collaborates regularly with: