Interview of Véronique Andrieux, General Director of WWF France

Sécheresse en Ethiopie après 3 saisons des pluies manquées. ©EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Alain Boinet: We are happy to welcome Véronique Andrieux, the general director of WWF France. The WWF or WorldWide Fund for nature is an international non-governmental organisation created in 1961 working for the protection of the environment and sustainable development. To start of the interview, can you tell us the main priorities of WWF?

Véronique Andrieux: Our mission is threefold. The first is to warn about the climate and biodiversity crisis with the help of experts and through particularly salient reports, notably the “Living Planet” report. The second area is the protection and restoration of the living world, ecosystems and those who depend on them, particularly wildlife, but also local communities with sustainable management of natural resources.  These are field projects, whether in Metropolitan France, in the overseas departments or in what are known as biodiversity hot spots such as the Congo Basin, the Mekong River, or Indonesia, Brazil and Madagascar.  Finally, the third axis is transformation: acting on systemic transformations that are the structural causes of ecosystem losses and erosion of life. In this area, we work with the government, local authorities to change public policies, but also with companies and other private actors in the financial sector to transform their business plans.

AB: You previously held various position in humanitarian and development organisation. In what ways, based on your experience, do you see links between humanitarian, environmental and developmental work?

V.A.: I have been doing this work for about twenty-five years and witnessed the impacts of climate change on local people, especially when I went to the field. For example, in the Andes, more than 20 years ago, we were already seeing climate disruption on ocean currents and what it meant for the rainy season and crops. In Yemen and the Sahel, climate change is causing more frequent and longer droughts and a constant rise in temperatures which make some areas uninhabitable and/or can be a factor in tensions and conflicts for natural resources. Another example is the extractive industries, in Latin America which pollute the soil and water through their massive use of chemicals. In French Guyana, water pollution with mercury (banned by the Minalata Convention) leads to diseases in local communities.  These are just few examples of unsustainable resource management that shows that putting the environment at the centre of human development programmes, and vice-versa, is the only suitable solution.

That is why, the triple-nexus climate-biodiversity-human development is at the heart of our actions at WWF, through adaptation and mitigation measures such as nature-based solution (protect ecosystems to address climate change, food insecurity, water supply…). In the face of the climate and biodiversity crisis and its devastating effects on human development and accelerating inequalities, it is essential to break out of silos and fragmented approaches. This dichotomy between development and environment cannot hold, since the environment is the essential foundation for human development. Studies show that 80% of the SDGs are threatened by the climate crisis.

A.B.:  As you mentioned climate change, what action is WWF taking to tackle it? Are we in an emergency?

V.A.: Totally! We used to tell ourselves that issues linked to climate change and the deterioration of biodiversity were elsewhere: the situation in the Amazon is terrible but it is far from us, extreme temperatures in Pakistan and the Sahel, the rise of waters in various region is terrible, but again, it is far from us. Today, we can no longer ignore the problem or push it away, the climate issue is now and here! This is a slow onset crisis.

At the moment, in France, we are experiencing violent wildfires, heat waves, hail, and drought which clearly show that are in an emergency situation. For this reason, we not only need to reduce the factors that could cause those crises, but also act on adapting and preventing those situations. In some cases, the agenda is set around the loss and damage as our adaptation capabilities are limited and it becomes to late to save the situation.

At WWF, we propose solutions at the systemic and sectoral levels. There is a major problem of climate and biodiversity coherence in public policies. For example, France funds more subsidies for fossil fuels than for renewable energies. Continuing to direct public money towards climate-damaging subsidies rather than towards sustainable economic activities locks us into a carbon-based model and diverts resources that are essential for the transition. There is therefore a need to act on these systemic issues. WWF has proposed a “climate and biodiversity pass”, which would screen public policies and state budgets to ensure their compatibility with France’s and the European Union’s climate and biodiversity commitments. In addition, we propose sectoral measures for France in the areas of transport, agriculture, housing and energy. It is the entire software and matrix of production and consumption that must be radically and profoundly revised.

Sécheresse en Ethiopie a cause du phénomène El Nino. ©EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A.B.:  The war in Ukraine completely shook the energy sector (hydrocarbons, gas) with the reopening of coal-fired power stations and with the revival of nuclear power as the only stable alternative. How do you analyse this situation and how to tackle it?

V.A.: For us, Ukraine has accelerated certain issues and could be a window of opportunity for certain fundamental transformations both in terms of energy and the food system.

As far as energy is concerned, and beyond the emergency measures that are absolutely necessary, it will be necessary to focus on the threefold approach: renewable energies, energy efficiency and sobriety. The government is working on an energy sobriety action plan. This is a good thing, as we will have to consume less (and not just this winter, but over the long term). At the same time, one of the major levers of energy efficiency should be tackled: a broad plan for the energy renovation of buildings (complete renovation of 700,000 homes/year in France). We must not forget that more than 12 million French people are in a situation of energy insecurity and that it is necessary to support them. In terms of renewable energies, France is the only European member state not to meet its commitments (19% vs. 23% target in 2020). In the framework of RePowerEU (the European Commission’s plan to make the European Union independent of Russian fossil fuels), some projects that are currently on hold could be unblocked. However, care must be taken not to forget the biodiversity and social criteria. For example, wind turbines should not be placed in Natura 2000 areas or in bird nesting or migration areas.

Regarding the food system, the main driver is to review our diet and reduce the consumption of animal proteins. We eat twice as much animal protein as recommended by the health authorities. We recommend replacing it with more vegetable proteins. 2/3 of the cereals consumed in Europe go into livestock feed and only 17% for human consumption; 60% of the land is used for animal feed production (with a low efficiency or conversion factor for some sectors). The hierarchy of land use must be reviewed and priority given to food production for the population.

We are faced with a contradiction when the European Union claims to be a food-producing power when in reality it has relocated a significant part of its ecological footprint to third countries and is the second largest importer of deforestation behind China. Products resulting from deforestation or the conversion of ecosystems are found in our food (indirectly, when the meat we eat has been fed with Brazilian soya from deforestation, for example) and in agrofuels. This is why WWF is pushing for binding legislation to ban the marketing of products derived from deforestation or ecosystem conversion in Europe.

A.B.: Another area on which the WWF is very committed is that of the protection of rivers. Faced with the consequences of climate change and the increase in water pollution due in particular to demographics but also to the development of lifestyles, what initiatives are you taking?

V.A.: On this question, we work on two complementary approaches: biodiversity and ecological footprint.  On the biodiversity side, WWF created different initiatives such as “Free Flowing Rivers” for the renaturiation of risers and the dismantling of infrastructures including micro and small dams that ultimately provide very little energy, fragment rivers and prevent species from migrating. There is also work to restore wetlands, which act as a buffer areas in the event of flooding, thus protecting local communities. In France, WWF is working in Camargue and the Brenne region for years now.

As far as the ecological footprint is concerned, our societies have an extremely intensive agricultural model that consumes freshwater (agriculture uses 70% of the world’s available freshwater, mainly for irrigation). This is why, in view of the successive years of drought and the historic drought in France this year, it is crucial to move towards a much less water-intensive and therefore more sustainable agricultural model. Today, much of the water is used to irrigate cereals, the vast majority of which will be used to feed livestock, while populations and biodiversity are short of water. The position of livestock feed in land and water use will have to be reviewed, and priority given to uses and production for human populations.

Aide humanitaire de l’Union Européenne en Amérique Centrale suite au inondations dues aux ouragans ETA and IOTA. © Alianza por la Solidaridad, 2020 (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A.B.: The Ukrainian war could lead to, using Antonio Guterres’s words, a “hurricane of hunger”. Isn’t it urgent, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, to set up a global plan?

V.A.: I don’t think there is one action that will solve the problem but rather a range of actions. Emergency measures such as those carried out by the WFP are crucial. In the medium/long term, we need to act on diets by reducing our consumption of animal proteins, reduce food waste, stop deforestation practices, return to more resilient endemic crops, and develop agroecology (increase the organic area, less pesticides and nitrogen fertilisers, crop diversification, etc.). With our monoculture system, we have destroyed the diversification of plants that exists in the world and that is absolutely necessary for agricultural resilience and sovereignty. The aim is therefore to reduce the dependence of African and Middle Eastern countries on Europe and to create a foundation of resilience in these countries. Rather than importing wheat, promote local and sustainable production of cassava, sorghum and millet flour – endemic crops, adapted to the environment and more resilient to water stress – as several African countries are already doing in response to the crisis. Investing in this sovereignty also means restoring the millions of hectares of degraded land.

A.B.: The Earth now has eight billion human beings and by 2050 the African population will have grown from 1.1 billion to 2.1 billion. How can we meet these demographic needs, dare we speak of a demographic explosion that could have an impact on the world situation, while acknowledging that the continent requires phenomenal development needs?

V.A.: This issue touches on the inequalities that arise from this climate crisis. Today, Africa is the continent that emits the least greenhouse gases and that suffers the greatest effects (along with parts of Asia) of climate change. We can therefore see inequalities between the different regions of the world on this subject. But beyond the inequalities between regions of the world, there is also the question of inequalities between types of population. If we take for example the global elites, on a planetary scale that is, their consumption patterns on 1% of the population represents 20% of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. On the other hand, if we take 50% of the poorest population, they are only responsible for 16% of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. So it is not just a demographic issue, it is above all a question of consumption patterns that must be rebalanced. There is a clear correlation between the level of wealth and the level of emissions. The question then is how can we ensure that the global elites make their lifestyles more sober? From my point of view, it’s more a question of how to ensure that these global elites, wherever they are, have a more responsible way of living and consuming, and that their roles and responsibilities at the societal level are also highlighted. And so in reality it’s not the population increase in Africa that is going to increase greenhouse gas emissions on its own. Studies show that the millions of people who have been lifted out of extreme poverty in recent decades have had little impact on the increase in GHG emissions (around 1%). A final question is how to make a strong Human Development Index compatible with a low carbon footprint, as is the case in Africa. I think that the richest countries have a responsibility to reduce the pressures they have on biodiversity hotspots and on the relocation of production. They must establish technology transfers in poor countries to avoid using fossil fuels when renewable energies are already available. There is also accountability to be made on financial actors, for the green taxonomy (the European Union’s classification of economic activities that are sustainable and compatible with the ecological transition) to be more respected and probably increased in a few years. Public and private financial institutions must also align their investment portfolios with the green taxonomy.

Finally, there is a need to address the issue of economic indicators: focusing on GDP as the largely dominant metric perpetuates the blind spot of nature’s value, leading to the ecological crisis we find ourselves in. It is essential to complement the inadequacy of GDP and other economic growth indicators with an ecological footprint indicator, such as the Day of Overshoot, which measures the carbon footprint, forests, agriculture, fisheries, etc. of human activity in global hectares.

Discussion entre Stephanie Mehta, Peter Sands, Bill Gates, Francis de Souza, Helen E. Clark, Paul Kagame à Davos en mai 2022. @Paul Kagame (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A.B.: You have previously held several leadership positions in both humanitarian and environmental organisation. What key lessons and advice on governance and strategy can you draw from your experience?

V.A.: I would say that there is above all a direction to follow, and that we must not disperse ourselves. We must not lose the soul of the field and I personally think that one of the big risks of the different NGOs is bureaucratisation. When procedures multiply and become more sophisticated, this can become a brake on action on the ground, the localisation of aid and innovation.

I think it is important to preserve our DNA as a civil society, as activists, as social and environmental justice activists. We have the legitimacy of years of quality work in the most complex fields, tangible achievements and results, solid technical expertise, and action in the general interest. Our strength lies in our science-based and evidence-based knowledge over time. Focus on the quality of our programmes, to achieve impact and make a difference. We must rely on diversity, a plurality of views and backgrounds, agility, risk-taking and innovation to better navigate the more volatile, disruptive and uncertain contexts that now constitute our daily lives.

Finally, we need to facilitate the emergence of new types of leadership, based on values such as courage, care, self-awareness, humility, inclusion and power-sharing — in my view, more in tune with the aspirations of our sector and our time.

Alain Boinet: To end this interview, would you like to add anything?

Véronique Andrieux: We are becoming aware that the era of the “open bar” of natural resources is over. We will have to adapt very quickly to the era of scarcity, which is galloping in and becoming the new normal. Sobriety applies to energy, but also to water, forests, fisheries, and natural resources as a whole. This is the meaning of the Day of Exceeding which this year arrived on July 28th for the world and on May 5th for France. By increasing the ecological deficit every year for the past 50 years, we are putting ourselves in danger. It is urgent to integrate ecological footprint markers into the management of the country, the economy and agriculture.


Further resources:

Webite WWF France 


Biographie de Véronique Andrieux

Véronique Andrieux is a specialist in international development.
She holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from ESADE in Barcelona and postgraduate degrees in Development from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris and in Public Policy from the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. She was Regional Director for South America and the Caribbean and West Africa at Oxfam. Previously she was Senior Adviser on Development Policy at the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was also Senior Adviser at the Club de Madrid. She has had field responsibilities in Latin America, West and Central Africa and the Mediterranean. She has led several evaluation and planning processes and represented the Spanish government in various multilateral working groups on official development assistance. She then joined Action Against Hunger in 2016 as Executive Director. She has written various publications on international development, including: “Better Aid: A necessary condition for development”, “Contributions for a European Development Policy under the Spanish EU Presidency” and “Policy Coherence: an urgent agenda for Development”. Véronique has been Director General of WWF France since August 2019. The World Wide Fund for Nature, the world’s leading environmental protection organisation, has been working for 50 years to preserve natural environments and the most threatened animal and plant species, by striving to mobilise all stakeholders in society.


Interview with Maria Groenewald, Director of VOICE

Alain Boinet : You are the new director of VOICE (Voluntary Organisations in Cooperation in Europe – Coordination of Humanitarian NGOs in the European Union) based in Brussels. Thank you for this interview. Could you first introduce VOICE to our readers? 

Maria Groenewald : Hello Alain! First of all, I would like to thank you for this invitation. It is an honor for me to be the new Director of VOICE and to participate as such in this interview.

VOICE is the network of humanitarian organizations in Europe. It has 80 members in 18 European countries. A common value unites us all, that of the respect of humanitarian principles and International Humanitarian Law. The strength of our network lies in the diversity of our members who work in different sectors, with different means, different structures… Together, we represent the main humanitarian interlocutor with the European Union, in particular with DG ECHO.

Alain Boinet : You participated in the first European Humanitarian Forum (EHF) from March 21 to 23 in Brussels. What do you think of this initiative of the French Presidency and the European Commission with DG ECHO, how did this Forum go and what are its concrete responses to the extent of the urgent needs for humanitarian aid?

Maria Groenewald : Firstly, VOICE welcomes the organization of this first European Humanitarian Forum. It was a good opportunity to highlight the importance of humanitarian aid, its principles and its challenges. These moments are important because they allow us to show external actors, especially political ones, that humanitarian aid concerns us all. The events in Ukraine illustrate this. According to the United Nations, more than 274 million people in 2022 will need humanitarian aid. That’s not counting the 15.7 million Ukrainians in need since the beginning of hostilities. It is imperative to talk about this, to have discussions, at the political level, about humanitarian aid and its challenges.

Secondly, many of our members appreciated this moment of face-to-face meeting after two years of covid period. It was a moment of networking between NGOs but also with political actors, the European Commission, DG ECHO… However, the discussions were a bit limited in terms of participation, debates and spontaneous exchanges. The format of the forum should therefore be reviewed to allow for more exchanges. Also, although many important topics were discussed, the choice of topics was not done in a sufficiently participatory manner.

At VOICE, we would like to collaborate more closely with DG ECHO and the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the preparation of the next Forum in order to bring the NGO perspective, to propose a more participatory approach and to lead to concrete commitments from the main actors. We would therefore like to exchange ideas well in advance of the event on the most relevant topics to address in order to really move things forward. Obviously, all topics are important but focusing on certain topics could also be more effective.

Maria Groenewald (left) Director of VOICE, Dominic Crowley (right), President of VOICE, and MEP Barry Andrews (middle), in a meeting on the margins of the European Humanitarian Forum 2022

Alain Boinet : Humanitarian funding is not sufficient to meet the needs identified this year, which concern 300 million people at risk in the world due to a crisis (conflict, disaster, epidemic).  On average, 40% of the funds needed for emergency aid are missing! What was the European Commission’s response to this issue at the EHF and what should we do ourselves?  

Maria Groenewald : This is a major issue, but also one of the most complicated.  It is all the more important when we observe in recent years a continuous increase in the number of people in humanitarian need – a much faster increase than the increase in funding. It is therefore essential to work together to find solutions and exchange innovative ideas.

At the European level, DG ECHO has again increased its budget for humanitarian aid for the year 2022. Furthermore, the issue of broadening the donor base is one of DG ECHO’s priorities, and as such, the topic was also addressed during the forum. It is therefore positive to see that the issue is widely recognized by DG ECHO and that advocacy efforts to broaden the donor base are being implemented. This remains a very difficult task and VOICE would like to see more efforts from the Member States which, in our opinion, have a non-negligible potential to increase humanitarian funding. The capacities of our network, and the presence of our members in the different countries of the EU, could allow us to participate in an effort of argumentation and persuasion.

In parallel, and although the increase of humanitarian funding by donors remains a sine qua non condition to face the growing humanitarian needs, we are engaged at VOICE in a reflection on the modalities of use of these funds. Our Grand Bargain 2.0 working group is addressing this topic, and our VOICE Policy Resolution 2021 has focused on this issue. How can we operate more effectively in humanitarian action? Because the big question is: how can we invest the means at our disposal in the most efficient way? This is also the reason why, for the next forum, we would like to see more discussions inviting NGOs and other actors to think about innovative ideas in the context of the question of the optimal use of limited funding and the impact of humanitarian actions. One example is digitalization.

Alain Boinet : The President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, has declared the European Union to be the largest humanitarian donor in the world. What is DG ECHO’s budget in 2022? 

Maria Groenewald :

The EU budget for humanitarian aid in 2022 is 1.8 billion euros, a figure that has increased since last year. By 2021, the European Commission was the second largest public donor in the world, behind the United States.

VOICE insists every year in its advocacy with the European Union that special attention be paid to the humanitarian budget. We know that every year the humanitarian needs increase. The allocated budget must therefore be coherent and increase as well.

Although the increase of the budget in 2022 is a positive sign, there remains the question of the distribution of these funds between the humanitarian crises and the different parts of the world.

President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the European Humanitarian Forum in March 2022 @European Union (Yasmina and Djamel Besseghir, 2022)

Alain Boinet : Among the issues on the Forum’s agenda was the development of European humanitarian response capabilities. There was talk of ready to intervene teams, pre-positioned equipment, possible air and land bridges. Does this mean that DG ECHO is planning to become operational or rather that it wishes to develop such capacities with its current partners, as was the case during COVID 19 with the Humanitarian Logistics Network and the air bridge set up to deal with the interruption of air transport at the time? 

Maria Groenewald : Most of our members are NGOs certified with DG ECHO and have been working closely with them for years. This Humanitarian Partnership (formerly the FPA – Framework Partnership Agreement) with ECHO is necessary to have the right to submit a proposal to receive funding for the implementation of a humanitarian project.

VOICE has regular exchanges with ECHO as we also have the task of being the main interlocutor between ECHO and the partner NGOs for all technical and operational issues within the framework of this Humanitarian Partnership. In this respect, we are always open to innovative ideas and approaches in order to work better together and to continue to respond to crises as quickly as possible.

Regarding the humanitarian airlift that you mentioned, it is an idea that originated with French NGOs, including some VOICE member NGOs. We are very excited to see that ECHO continues to use this means of operation which greatly assists our members in solving logistical challenges in a timely manner. However, this ‘European Humanitarian Response Capacity’ has so far a mixed record with VOICE, although it is important to note that this tool is not yet fully developed and deployed. It is therefore necessary to wait a little to know the real impacts of these operations.

According to VOICE, it is not necessary for ECHO to become an operational operator, because the NGOs are the first to respond in the emergency to various crises. Our members, international NGOs and their national partners are experts in this field. However, there are also positive points in this cooperative approach. For example, an increased contribution from DG ECHO for pre-positioning of stocks to reduce logistical challenges once a crisis starts is a positive idea. However, it is important for us to stay in regular contact with ECHO on this issue, to make sure that there is no duplication of existing mechanisms.

European Humanitarian Forum in March 2022 @European Union (Yasmina et Djamel Besseghir, 2022)

Alain Boinet : One of the major issues discussed at the Forum was that of local capacity building. In the final declaration of the Forum, there is mention of a consultation process on this subject. What is the agenda of this consultation and how will VOICE and the partner NGOs participate in it?

Maria Groenewald : Indeed, we were happy to see that the topic of localization was very present during the forum. It is an important topic for most of our members who, as you said, already work closely with their local and national partners.

Moreover, the development of these new guidelines and the consultation process that accompanies it are not a surprise, since they were announced in March 2021, when the Commission’s Communication on humanitarian action was published. We are very pleased that DG ECHO has decided to prioritise this topic through the launch of this consultation, which we hope will be inclusive and transparent.

VOICE has 2 working groups that deal, among other topics, with localization. First, there is the Watch Group, the working group in charge of topics related to the Humanitarian Partnership, and the Grand Bargain 2.0 working group. We are going to participate in this consultation because as you mentioned, there are already working cultures between our members and their local partners, good examples of collaboration that we could build on and learn from. This would allow us to put in place a localization approach supported by DG ECHO. It is also important for us to initiate a cooperative approach between different NGOs, national and international, to work better together. I personally believe that we need each other. Of course, there are still many barriers to implementing equitable partnerships. However, we should not see each other as enemies but as partners who need to find new ways to work better together, in a cooperative manner, building on each other’s expertise. I hope that DG ECHO’s new guidelines on localization will move in this direction.

The Vanderbijl Park refinery of iron and steel giant ISKOR in South Africa. Farmland bordering the industrial area. 2007. Photo : © John Hogg/Banque mondiale (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Alain Boinet : Climate change and its consequences for populations in crisis situations is a major concern for humanitarian actors. Several reference documents have recently been published on this subject. But what initiatives and measures are planned to respond to the consequences of climate change in the field?  

Maria Groenewald : Climate change and resilience in humanitarian aid was the 2nd most common topic, along with localization, in the forum discussions. Moreover, this major topic, beyond the humanitarian sector, is, compared to other topics, a little less difficult to address with a donor such as ECHO, as there is a consensus on the gravity and urgency of the situation. Indeed, the number of refugees and internally displaced persons due to climate change is alarming, not to mention the frightening forecasts for the years to come. Moreover, 11 French NGOs, including several members of VOICE, issued a statement after the forum in reaction to the launch of the Donors’ Statement on Climate and Environment. We mentioned their statement in our own post-forum statement, as we particularly support their demands: additional funding to address these challenges is imperative. We must continue to discuss this issue, especially in the context of the next forums, which must result in clear commitments from the Member States and the European Commission. The unanimous recognition that we cannot ignore the climate emergency any longer is good news, but it is only a first step, the next one being to discuss the financial means.

Finally, it is necessary to clarify that while we are ready to do our part, as international NGOs, with the support of humanitarian donors, we are not the solution to this climate crisis. I don’t think that is what is expected of us. However, the climate issue is at the heart of VOICE’s advocacy strategy with the European Commission because each euro invested in anticipation actions is 1 euro that will not be spent later on humanitarian aid. VOICE also hopes that DG ECHO will continue to be more committed to supporting these anticipatory actions, with additional financial means, without impacting on the other lines of the humanitarian budget.

Alain Boinet : Among the recommendations of this document published by the 11 NGOs you mentioned, it is stated that “we invite the European Commission to set up an accountability mechanism through annual public reporting for which the European Humanitarian Forum could be the venue.  What do you think of this proposal? 

Maria Groenewald : We fully agree with this proposal. This mechanism seems to me to be necessary because by improving transparency, it will influence decisions on the distribution of funding. In theory, all the figures are available online. But in reality, it is not easy to understand the current state of DG ECHO humanitarian funding and the source of this funding. There is also a lack of information on the logic behind the distribution of the amounts. Why this amount for the Sahel, this amount for Asia or this amount for Latin America?

This discussion is all the more relevant in the context of the crisis in Ukraine, where significant amounts have been mobilized. We welcome the deployment of financial aid from the European Union and DG ECHO for the crisis in Ukraine, but this should not reduce the budgets for other humanitarian crises, including long-term crises, which are sometimes forgotten.

So every effort towards more transparency is an effort that VOICE welcomes, in particular to hold donors accountable. We must ensure that the interests of the people receiving humanitarian aid are at the heart of all decisions.

Alain Boinet : The war in Ukraine and its dramatic consequences for the population, the reception of numerous refugees in neighboring countries, the consequences on food security in many countries, particularly in the Near and Middle East and in Africa, leads to an exceptional international humanitarian mobilization. But the budgets have already been voted while Ukraine must be helped while not abandoning anyone in the other ongoing crises. How to act with the European Commission and other donors in order not to forget anyone? What can and must VOICE and its partners do for this?  

Maria Groenewald : This is obviously a complex issue, but it is a crucial one. The crisis in Ukraine has clearly shown that the European Union and DG ECHO are actors that can react quickly and mobilize the additional funding needed to deal with a crisis that few people had anticipated even 3-4 months ago. We would like to see this speed of action and financial commitment applied to other current and future crises.

Delivery of aid by cargo plane from France to Moldova, coordinated by the EU’s civil protection mechanism. © Union européenne, 2022 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Of course, the impacts of this crisis extend far beyond Ukraine. It is also affecting neighboring countries that are hosting refugees, and rising prices are particularly threatening food security in other parts of the world. VOICE plays a role in influencing the agenda at the political level, including on this last point. For example, the topic of the relationship between hunger and conflict was not on the initial agenda of the European Humanitarian Forum 2022. After a meeting between our members and the Deputy Director of DG ECHO, Michael Köhler, in November 2021 where we pointed out the absence of the topic, the organizers of the Forum – DG ECHO and the French Presidency of the EU Council – agreed to add the topic “Hunger & Conflict” to the agenda. In the meantime, the conflict in Ukraine has broken out, and it has become even more topical to discuss this topic during the Forum.

So yes indeed, we are the main interlocutor between certified NGOs and ECHO to discuss all the technical issues but the biggest part of our work is to ensure a space for the most important topics at the heart of the debates here in Brussels with DG ECHO and the member states and to influence the way they are discussed. Promoting humanitarian aid and engaging more member states are also part of our objectives. This new crisis in Ukraine and its global effects shows that humanitarian aid is not something that only concerns a small group trying to help people in need. No, it is something that concerns everyone, and in particular all Member States.

Finally, about the issues around International Humanitarian Law, which is sometimes questioned a little bit, I think we have to use every possible opportunity to explain systematically what International Humanitarian Law is and why it has to be respected, in any crisis, war or confrontation, because the implementation of humanitarian aid is based on and depends on this law. It is also important to understand that it is not a question of solidarity. Everyone feels solidarity with Ukraine for good reasons. But respect for IHL goes beyond that, our NGOs are obliged to follow the principles of humanitarian aid to ensure that this aid reaches the people in need. That is the ultimate goal of our action, the rest is politics. As you said earlier, we are not political actors but humanitarian actors and everyone has to play their role.

Alain Boinet : How would you like to conclude this interview? 

Maria Groenewald : There are 3 important points for me. First of all, we at VOICE are ready to continue the dialogue with DG ECHO and the Member States on all the topics we discussed during the forum because they are major topics, but also to allow for continuity and follow-up of the statements made at the forum. We need to make sure that the discussions turn into actions on key topics such as localization, the search for alternative donors, the issue of climate finance, more cooperation for more efficiency… We need to maintain the link between the 2022 and 2023 forum and start the next forum by discussing our progress on the different topics.

Secondly, it is essential to continue, together, the promotion of the respect of International Humanitarian Law and humanitarian principles. The recent events in Ukraine have clearly shown that these principles are being called into question, which puts our colleagues working in the field at risk.

Finally, the question of European Union sanctions and anti-terrorist measures is a major issue. We do not question the necessity of such measures but they must not prevent humanitarian organizations from implementing their actions in a rapid and efficient manner.

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Who is Maria Groenewald ? 

With over 15 years of experience in the NGO sector, Maria Groenewald has developed strong advocacy and project management skills in both the humanitarian and development fields. After studying political science, communication science and sociology in Germany and France, Maria started her career working for Johanniter International Assistance, where she gained extensive field experience in Africa. Maria then joined Plan International Germany, where she held various positions for more than ten years, including Head of Humanitarian and Development Programs in Asia. In the four years prior to joining VOICE, Maria was based in Brussels as Senior Resource Mobilization Manager at Plan International Germany with a focus on funding and relations with DG ECHO and DG DEVCO (now DG INTPA).

Specialized in humanitarian and development programming, nexus, activity development, resource mobilization, programming related to children’s rights, humanitarian partnership (in particular with DG ECHO) and the Grand Bargain, Maria joined the VOICE secretariat team in February 2021 as Program Coordinator. She became Acting Director in July 2021, before being appointed as the new VOICE Director in November 2021.

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