After initial confusion, the EU’s response to Haiti’s earthquake was generous and effectively co-ordinated. Europe has not received sufficient credit for its humanitarian contribution.
The earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 stimulated a huge response from EU member states. This response was partially overshadowed by criticisms of a lack of clear EU branding for much of the aid operation, but the scale and speed of European action were impressive.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, a number of EU states sent separate assessment teams, which raised concerns about a lack of coordination. By late January, however, 24 EU member states plus Norway were contributing to relief efforts coordinated through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. France, Italy and Spain also fulfilled a request from the UN for 300 civilian police, and over 2,000 EU uniformed personnel were involved in providing relief to Haiti in 2010. Although the US and the UN took the lead in disaster management, EU personnel deployed rapidly and made a major operational contribution. Financially, EU member states made very large pledges to assist Haiti, passing the €1 billion mark in mid-March. The EU itself provided €330 million for short and long-term relief programmes. However, by the late summer concerns were raised that many European governments were failing to fulfil their pledges fast enough and there were also delays in disbursing funds in Haiti itself.
When cholera struck Haiti in the last quarter of the year, the European Commission again activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and provided additional funds to fight the outbreak. A smaller number of EU member states helped to deal with the cholera than contributed to the original earthquake response. Nonetheless, the EU’s overall performance in Haiti was broadly very positive, with member states accepting the need for coordination and the Commission providing the necessary framework for action alongside the UN. Criticisms that, for example, High Representative Catherine Ashton did not visit Haiti soon enough after January’s disaster missed the mark: the EU mounted a well coordinated if inevitably imperfect response to a chaotic situation.