EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Eric Chevallier, Director of the Crisis and Support Center of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Eric Chevallier – Director of the Crisis and Support Center, MEAE – has a long experience of crises and humanitarian action. At the end of the recent National Humanitarian Conference in Paris and at a time when the CDCS’s organization and resources are increasing, we asked him a series of questions for readers of Défis Humanitaires. We thank him for this exclusive interview.


 

Alain Boinet: The 5th National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) was held on December 17th from Paris by video conference. What is your assessment of the conference, in terms of organization and participation, as well as of the 4 round tables on: the impact of anti-terrorist measures on humanitarian aid, IHL and access to aid, the humanitarian-development-peace triple nexus and climate?

Eric Chevallier:

I draw an objectively positive assessment of this, for several reasons. Firstly, this CNH has been maintained despite the pandemic. Of course, the adjusted format in terms of physical participation may have generated some frustration, which must be heard, but this should not invalidate the success of this event.

Secondly, it is the result of a partnership dynamic, a co-construction between the State and humanitarian actors that was remarkable. This approach, and this is very important, really worked, because it was conceived, as soon as the steering committee was set up, in a joint and equal manner. In addition to the work of this steering committee, two other processes were also established, also on a parity basis. On the issue of banking access first, but also on the specific issue of the protection of humanitarian personnel following the tragic events that affected ACTED and all of us on August 9, 2020. These three dynamics converged towards the CNH.

The third element of the success of the CNH is the level of participation (more than 500 people) and representation. At the request of the humanitarian actors, this last one has been raised compared to previous editions, with notably the presence for the first time of a President of the Republic, in this case President Macron, who insisted on maintaining his participation in spite of the situation (Emmanuel Macron tested positive at Covid-19 the same day, editor’s note), of course Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, but also several Nobel Peace Prize winners, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Marc Lowcock, and the President of the ICRC, Peter Maurer. The participation of the President of the Republic marks the interest in these issues at the State summit and the administration’s willingness to get involved.

Fourth, the contributions of the roundtables and plenary presentations were very rich.

The time has now come to follow up on the CNH and implement what was decided during the conference, and from this point of view, I am very pleased that we can now count on an interministerial mechanism to follow up on the 17 commitments made by the President of the Republic. This will make it possible to involve all the ministerial actors concerned in the implementation of these recommendations. The humanitarian actors, who will, of course, remain associated, will remain vigilant. I know this and I understand it perfectly.

Statement by the President of the Republic at the 5th National Humanitarian Video Conference, ©Judith Litvine/MEAE

A.B: As you just pointed out, this is the first time that a President of the Republic has presided over and concluded the CNH since its first edition in 2011. This is a positive signal for the humanitarian community and a milestone in a long process in its relations with the public authorities. What are the main commitments announced by the Head of State?

E.C:

The President of the Republic made 17 commitments that can be grouped into 7 main themes. The first concerns development issues and special drawing rights. Then there is the question of the budgets devoted to emergency action (humanitarian action and stabilization) with the objective of reaching 500 million euros by 2022, which is part of the humanitarian strategy of the French Republic, enshrined in a decision of the CICID (Interministerial Council for International Cooperation and Development). Moreover, the consideration of environmental issues in humanitarian aid is a theme that deserves to be developed and that comes from the humanitarian actors themselves. Another point is the preservation of the humanitarian space, with a certain number of measures at the national level, of course, but also at the European and international levels, and for which the President would like France to play a leading role. Another theme is that of banking access, which we know is a major issue. Then there are the issues of strengthening respect for IHL, which will take different but complementary forms. Finally, the last point is the fight against impunity for attacks against humanitarian workers.

A.B: Humanitarian actors have clearly perceived the advances and progress contained in the declaration of the President of the Republic. However, there are also some regrets and expectations. Indeed, after 3 years of consultation with the public authorities, there has been no significant progress on the issue of bank transfers made difficult by the sanctions regime and anti-terrorism measures. Similarly, humanitarian NGOs were hoping for an exemption in the French penal code based on International Humanitarian Law.  There is therefore disappointment and also concern about the consequences that this could entail as a risk for humanitarian actors. Are we going to take up these files again to move forward?

E.C:

To say that the President of the Republic has not responded to these issues is not accurate.

When we look at the 17 commitments, a certain number concern bank access, asking that in the next six months concrete modalities be clarified. This is what we are working on, and it is part of the action plan for which the President of the Republic has given guidance. It remains technically complex. We hope that this will constitute concrete and operational progress, and that is what the President of the Republic has asked the interministerial dynamic to do.

As for the inclusion in the penal code, and given a number of implications and constraints, the choice was made for an instruction from the Minister of Justice to be sent to the Public Prosecutor’s Office with a view to making them aware of this specific issue.

This may not be exactly what some NGOs wanted, but it is an important concrete measure with real implications.

AB: The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Action, Mr. Janez Lenarcic, proposed that all donors should align themselves with the principle of non-screening of the final beneficiaries of aid, as is the practice of the CDCS but not the French Development Agency (AFD). How could this proposal be concretized at the international level?

E.C:

Again, this is part of the 17 presidential commitments. On the subject of humanitarian aid, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) allows the European Union, but also the United Nations and the ICRC, to respect the principle of non-screening of final beneficiaries. The President of the Republic has unambiguously and forcefully stated that this is France’s position. A more complex area is that of aid that is not qualified or qualifiable as humanitarian. At this level work continues.

A.B: Is it the context in which this aid is implemented that constitutes a discriminating criterion between screening and non-screening?

E.C:

I let the work continue on this subject.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at the National Humanitarian Conference, December 17, 2020, ©Judith Litvine/MEAE

A.B: The President of the Republic confirmed the commitments made to increase France’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 0.55% of RND in 2022, including 500 million euros for humanitarian aid. In this perspective, what was the amount of the Emergency Humanitarian Fund (FUH) in 2020, what will it be in 2021 and what will be the distribution between humanitarian aid, stabilization, programmed food aid and international organizations (NUOI).

E.C:

Within this confirmation of ODA objectives, the President of the Republic confirmed the commitments to triple humanitarian aid between 2018 and 2022 – with an increase from 150 million euros in 2018 to 500 million euros in 2022. There are three main budget lines for this humanitarian aid. They are essentially channeled through the FUH managed by the CDCS, the Programmed Food Aid, and the support to the United Nations Agencies through two other directorates of the Ministry, the DGM and NUOI, with roughly the same envelopes. The increase is very clear, and we have gone through the initial finance law from 150 million euros in 2018, to 287 million in 2020, then to 330 million in 2021, with the objective of increasing to 500 million euros in 2022. As far as CDCS is concerned, there’s a really significant increase, since in 2020 we had an initial budget of 80 million euros, and the breakdown for our budget in 2021 is 110 million euros.

CDCS South Pacific Humanitary Stockpile, ©CDCS

A.B: At the CNH, Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, pointed out that 235 million people needed humanitarian aid this year, compared to 168 million in 2020, an increase of 40%. For his part, David Beasley, executive director of the WFP, said he feared a “famine pandemic” and specified that 270 million people will face extreme hunger in 2021. Will we be able to meet these needs and what is CDCS’s strategy and priorities?  Which countries are you most concerned about?

E.C:

Indeed, everyone is struck by the intersection of these two curves that are on the one hand the increase of means, and on the other hand the restriction of humanitarian space and the actors’ capacity to act. The pandemic has considerably aggravated the intersection of these curves. Attempts must be made to mobilize more resources and increase effectiveness and efficiency. This requires addressing a number of issues related to humanitarian space. This brings us back to the other subjects addressed by the President of the Republic, but also to subjects that have been at the heart of the preparation of the CNH and in particular the round table on the lessons to be learned from the pandemic: pooling of resources and localization. This will be one of the cross-cutting priorities of CDCS’s action this year. Pooling must be made a priority, and the CDCS will continue to support initiatives that go in this direction, such as the work carried out by the Humanitarian Logistics Network – which, in this very dark period, has been a remarkable success in terms of pooling logistical resources by NGOs – supported by France and the European Union.

European Humanitarian Airlift with the Humanitarian Logistics Network, ©CDCS

A.B: A year ago, CDCS launched an evaluation of the FUH (Emergency Humanitarian Fund), the results of which have just been made public. What are the results of this evaluation and what changes can be expected in terms of strengthening CDCS, multi-annual financing and is there a risk that the FUH will lose its real capacity for reactivity recognized by all the actors?

E.C:

This is an important question. I think it’s positive that, since I took office as CDCS director in the fall of 2018, we have been working hard to strengthen accountability. This is a sine qua none condition for increasing resources, without ignoring the impact this has on the work of humanitarian aid workers. To this end, we have created an audit and evaluation unit that allows us to work both internally and externally. Then we wanted to go further by calling for an external evaluation of the tool that the FUH represents with a steering committee chaired by Benoit Miribel, whose work I would like to commend. I think that this is part of a transparency that is imperative, and that it allows us to be more effective and efficient. A certain number of proposals were presented during a remote meeting attended by around 100 people, which shows the interest of all the players in this subject. We are working on each of these proposals to see if and how we can implement them. They are each being studied very seriously.

To answer the question on multi-year funding, I stressed, during the restitution meeting, the need to be very careful to find the right “crest line” between injunctions that may seem contradictory. Indeed, the evaluation – which was also conducted in the field and questioned many actors – stressed, to their satisfaction, the reactive, flexible and rapid nature of this tool. These are essential criteria and qualities that are consubstantial with the FUH, with the advantage for humanitarian actors of being able to then go and seek other funding. However, I hear the recommendations calling for multi-year programming and more planning with other tools, particularly within the nexus framework. But this must not be done to the detriment of the recognized qualities of this emergency fund. This is why I speak of the “crest line”, and this is why I say that all the proposals will be seriously analyzed in the light of these sometimes seemingly contradictory injunctions, at least on the surface.

Humanitarian aid sent to Lebanon in August 2020, ©CDCS

A.B: Benoit Miribel stressed, during the recent public restitution of the FUH evaluation, that whenever there was complementarity between civil society and public authorities, there was great progress. Thus, 10 years ago, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, of whom you were the special advisor, entrusted Benoit Miribel and me with a report entitled “Analyses and Proposals on Humanitarian Action in Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations”. This report contributed, in conjunction with the CDCS, to major progress for humanitarian action in France, with the creation of the Humanitarian Action Group, the National Humanitarian Conference and the Humanitarian Strategy of the French Republic (SHRF). However, a reform of ODA has recently been launched which includes humanitarian aid. In addition, the Strategy of the French Republic expires in 2022 and a new phase of this Strategy for the period 2023-2027 is to be anticipated. Isn’t it time to make this ODA reform coincide, if not coordinate, with the updating of the humanitarian strategy (SHRF) and its means?

E.C:

This CNH was held at the halfway point of the French humanitarian strategy, and we still have at least 18 months to draw the necessary lessons. I would like to remind you that in Parliament, the discussion of the development bill put forward by Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is underway. It was a long-awaited bill, which in the current context was not necessarily self-evident, and is now on the agenda of the National Assembly and the Senate. I do not wish to pre-empt the parliamentary debate. I believe that today we must give parliamentarians the opportunity to take up this humanitarian issue. I was struck very positively by the strong involvement of several parliamentarians who are very involved and very knowledgeable about the issues at stake in the preparation and conduct of the CNH. This is a strong signal for humanitarian aid and development.

Eric Chevallier in Sinjar (Iraq) on the construction site of the future operating block – October 2019, ©CDCS

A.B: Would you like to complete this interview by concluding it?

E.C:

I will conclude on a perhaps more personal note, to say that I am very happy to have taken over the leadership of the CDCS in the fall of 2018. I find that we are in a rich period from the point of view of humanitarian action and dialogue between the State and non-governmental actors. The challenges are certainly greater, but the opportunity to work together is increasing, and to do so with respect for each other. I know the humanitarian world from the inside, although it is no longer my function today, and that is why I can understand the current challenges. We can work together while naturally respecting each other’s missions, perimeters and identities. We’ve made a lot of progress from this point of view when you look back at the previous decades, during which there was a form of misunderstanding. I believe that we have collectively broken down a number of preconceptions and postures that were an obstacle to true dialogue and the construction of a partnership. This does not prevent each of us from defending our identity and concerns in a clear, frank and constructive manner. When I leave the CDCS, it will be with the deep satisfaction of having, I hope, contributed to the densification of this dynamic. There is still a long way to go, but it is a positive and notchy evolution, which should be a barrier to an undesirable backtracking. To do so, we must maintain a dialogue of trust, again sincere and frank. I’m relatively confident on this subject, because if we’ve been able to do all this for three years it’s because there is a formidable team within the CDCS that has become more professional and has taken ownership of these issues with a concern for rich and constant dialogue. It is a capital that will not be lost. And I would like to thank the CDCS team, especially the one in charge of humanitarian and stabilization issues, for the commitment, dedication and absolutely remarkable work that has enabled us to move forward.

Who is Eric Chevallier?

A graduate of the University of Paris V – School of Medicine and Sciences-Po Paris, Eric Chevallier has nearly 30 years of experience in French diplomacy and in the field of crises and conflicts.

He was Ambassador to Syria from 2009 to 2012, then Ambassador for Syria from 2012 to 2014 following the closure of the Embassy, before being appointed Ambassador of France to Qatar. From 2007 to 2009, he worked as special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Previously, he was Director of International Missions for the NGO Médecins du Monde. He was also successively Deputy Delegate and National Coordinator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for French aid to tsunami-affected countries. He has also held the positions of Deputy Director for International Crisis Follow-up at the General Secretariat of National Defense, Special Advisor to the Minister of Health, Special Advisor to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Technical Advisor to the Secretary of State for Health, Delegate General of the NGO Aide Médicale Internationale, member of the UNAIDS creation team, and Program Manager at the International Children’s Centre.

Eric Chevallier was named Knight of the Legion of Honor in 2012.

EMERGENCY HUMANITARIAN ACTION AND STABILIZATION IN CRISIS ZONES

 The two missions of the CDCS are the security of French citizens abroad on the one hand, and humanitarian response and support for stabilization on the other. The humanitarian response aims to meet the vital needs of populations facing large-scale crises.  Stabilization support is provided to support post-crisis recovery in post-conflict contexts, to meet the needs of populations and to support the recovery of the State.

 KEY EVENTS IN 2020

  • A total executed budget of 126 million euros in 2020 (compared to 92 million euros in 2019)
    • 3 million entered in the initial 2020 finance law (compared to ’45 million in 2019).
    • 7 million euros of additional appropriations granted during the year to meet specific humanitarian needs or political priorities (presidential program for Syria, consequences of Covid-19, fund to support victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East).
  • 250 projects financed in 31 countries.
  • 86 NGOs financed, out of more than 100 public and private partners.
  • Significant support to French NGOs, which receive nearly 70% of the funding granted to NGOs.

Humanitarian Challenges: Assessment 2020, Outlook 2021.

The purpose of this site is to promote and strengthen humanitarian action, to shed light on the link between humanitarian and geopolitical issues and finally, to identify and document the major challenges which are as many threats, such as the Covid-19 epidemic.This assessment and these perspectives are of course not exhaustive. Rather, they seek to highlight some facts and trends and, in conclusion, to illustrate the action of this site which intends to be a humanitarian actor in its own way.

Water distribution and Covid-19 safety precautions, Myanmar, 2020 / ©Solidarités International

Assessment 2020

To get to the heart of the matter, the two major facts that mark 2020 have been the global spread of the Covid-19 virus from China and the continuation, if not the deterioration, of the main conflicts. Let us also mention the 5th National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) in Paris on December 17th to which all the articles are devoted in this edition.

The year 2020 will go down in history as the year of Covid-19. Appeared at the beginning of the year (December-January), the virus then spread rapidly on a global scale.

According to the WHO, as of January the 5th of 2021, there were 84 million cases and 1,800,000 deaths worldwide. While the most worrying prognoses have fortunately been thwarted in Africa, where health systems are weakened, there are 64,790 deaths and 2,280,488 cases, nearly half of which are in South Africa. Currently, the pandemic is most deadly in Europe and the Americas.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates the economic losses at $1 trillion and, while the most developed countries have succeeded in mobilizing the resources necessary to protect their population, this is not the case for 6 billion human beings, including a large and unskilled workforce, highly dependent on the informal economy.

The other humanitarian front is the one of the major crises that have not diminished – quite the contrary – and none of them have been resolved: whether it is Yemen on the brink of famine, the Middle East and particularly Syria, or northeastern Nigeria. Nothing positive either for the Rohingyas in Myanmar and Bangladesh or in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo where chaos is thriving. As for the Sahel, the military and security situation continue to deteriorate and is leading always more populations into vulnerability.

©Réseau Logistique Humanitaire

In this chaotic context, humanitarians aid workers have been facing the interruption of almost all air transport, the closure of borders and thus supply chains. They had to show resilience, adaptation and innovation. This is why the NGOs of the Humanitarian Logistics Network (Réseau Logistique Humanitaire – RLH), in complementarity with the World Food Programme (WFP), set up a European humanitarian air bridge with the help of the Crisis and Support Center (Centre de Crise et de Soutien – CDCS) of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the European Commission with ECHO. It enabled to organize 42 flights to priority destinations, to transport 1208 passengers and 785 tons of freight. Adaptation is a key word for humanitarian action, which must draw all the lessons learned in 2020 in order to implement them in 2021.

Let us recall that at the end of 2019, the United Nations (OCHA) launched a call for $29 billion for 2020 to help 168 million people, 22 million more than the previous year. Since then, Covid-19 has greatly increased the most basic needs.

Outlook 2021

“The Covid-19 pandemic changed the landscape of humanitarian response by making 235 million people dependent on international aid. This is a 40% increase over the same period last year,” according to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

According to David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Nobel Peace laureate in 2020, “the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to trigger another ‘pandemic’, that of famine”. He adds, “A total of 270 million people will face extreme hunger in 2021. He also points out that about 3 million children die of hunger and malnutrition every year in the world.

In fact, an increasing number of populations are at risk in countries already facing serious humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Burkina Faso, Southern Sudan, Northeastern Kenya and Afghanistan and the Sahel are very vulnerable. Syria will still be at the forefront of basic needs with an additional 2 million people to be assisted.

Flood in Central African Republic, 2019 / ©Solidarités International

This crisis overlaps and accelerates another one, that of refugees and displaced persons in the world. While the average number of refugees and displaced persons was 40 million between 1990 and 2010, this figure will rise to almost 80 million in 2019 and is expected to increase further as a result of a virus bringing vulnerabilities, tensions and conflicts.

While none of the major conflicts are on the way to appeasement and resolution, we fear that some may even lead to famines as in Yemen. The explosion in the port of Beirut, the war in Nagorno Karabakh, the serious risk of an intensification of the conflict in Afghanistan, which is experiencing a chronic shortage of cereals, are early signs of deterioration which have clearly led the UN to launch a record appeal of 35 billion dollars for 230 million people in need in 2021 against an appeal of 29 billion dollars last year.

But will the mobilization of financial resources get along with the urgency of the needs? Many voices are worried, including that of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres, and fear “terrible cuts” given the economic losses and massive investments in social protection in OECD countries that are the main donors of international aid.

And since the vaccine is arriving and vaccination is starting, especially in the most affected countries, vaccination in the most fragile and exposed countries must already be planned according to this or that mechanism, in particular the one set up by the World Health Organization (ACT, COVAX).

In such a situation, which will last – and no doubt worsen over time this year – humanitarian aid is the life insurance for populations at risk and it must work quickly and effectively.

What added value for the 5th National Humanitarian Conference?

During the 5th National Humanitarian Conference held on December 17 in Paris in the presence of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the latter asked the crucial question “what is most urgent”?

Mark Lowcock answered without hesitation “famine and aid to the most fragile countries. The European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Janez Lenarcic, prioritized “the impact of Covid-19 on the world economy and the social consequences”. For Philippe Jahshan, President of Coordination Sud, which brings together humanitarian and development NGOs, “the emergency is the supply chains and the mobilization of massive financial resources to avoid the worst”. As we can see, these priorities are intertwined and complement each other.

If we try to briefly summarize this NHC, knowing that we will come back to it in the next edition at the beginning of February, we can say that the main expectations of humanitarian NGOs were the following:

  • That the Covid-19 crisis serve as a spurt for the anticipation of crises, prevention, mutualization and reinforcement of complementarity between international and national actors.
  • That the budgetary commitments for ODA (0.55% of GNI) and humanitarian aid (500 ME) be met in 2022.
  • That International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and independence be respected and that access to populations in danger be allowed.
  • To refuse the screening of aid beneficiaries under IHL, for the access of aid and the security of humanitarians in the field of crises.
  • To limit security screening of providers, partners and staff at the beginning of each new program and then on a regular basis of 2 to 3 times a year depending on the case.
  • To strengthen humanitarian-development synergy in conjunction with local actors without being in charge of peace, which is the responsibility of political decision-makers.
  • That all humanitarian actors take fully into account in their action the fight against climate change, for the environment and biodiversity.
  • That humanitarian actors benefit from an exemption from the anti-terrorist laws that put them at risk and that French criminal law integrates IHL.

After noting that impunity was becoming the rule and that security was deteriorating dangerously for humanitarians, Emmanuel Macron declared “France will be your ally”.

The President of the Republic made the following commitments:

  • Re-commitment to Official Development Assistance, a moratorium on the debt of African countries, and the issuance of monetary drawing rights. Following the recent G20 summit, France will organize a Summit on the financing of African economies in May 2021 in Paris.
  • It supports the creation of a post of special correspondent to the UN Secretary General for the preservation of humanitarian space.
  • He proposes the creation of a joint technical commission to strengthen the investigation of crimes against humanitarians.
  • That a solution be found within the next 6 months to facilitate NGO bank transfers and the publication of a “Pedagogical Guide”.
  • The President asked the Keeper of the Seals (the French Lord Chancellor) to send a circular to all public prosecutors’ offices in France to make them aware of the IHL that applies to NGOs.
  • He evoked an improvement in the exemption from sanctions for NGOs, on a case-by-case basis, in the face of anti-terrorist laws.
  • He reiterated his commitment that France will devote 0.55% of its GNI to ODA in 2022 on an increasing trajectory, as well as a budget of 500 ME for humanitarian aid.
  • In this 48th edition of Défis Humanitaires you will find several articles on the CNH and we will come back to it in our next edition at the beginning of February.

And to conclude, assessment and outlooks for the Défis Humanitaires website.

As a site publishing these articles, analyses, interviews, we also wish to share with you a summary of our achievements in 2020 and our projects this year.

In 2020, we published 13 editions and 51 articles written by 30 authors. The number of readers was 33,529 for 21,370 in 2019 and 11,116 in 2018. This tripling of the number of readers is a good indication of the interest generated by Défis Humanitaires and we thank you and the authors for their contribution.

The 10 most read articles were about the NHC, the protection and exemption of humanitarians from anti-terrorist laws, Covid-19, the Sahel, the humanitarian’s security and demography in the Sahel.

This year, we plan to update and promote the site’s model, strengthen the editorial staff, improve the photos, publish a monthly edition and, finally, publish the 2nd edition of the Study on French humanitarian NGOs abroad for the period 2006 – 2019.

But let’s be frank, in order to achieve this, we need your financial support. To continue and develop after 3 years and 48 editions, this free site now needs some financial resources. You will find the presentation of this project for which we thank you in advance for your donation on HelloAsso.

I present you my best wishes for you and your loved ones for the new year.

Alain Boinet.