Czech Humanitarian Assistance, 1993–1998
by Blanka Hancilova, Institute of International Studies, Charles University June 2003

After the advent of democracy in 1989, the new Czech Republic suspended foreign aid (non-trade) for five years while government ministries were reorganised and the country underwent economic restructuring. The Republic re-instituted a foreign aid programme in 1995 – the first formerly Communist nation in central Europe to do so. This will likely reach $20 million in 1999. At the same time a number of Czech NGOs (ADRA, Caritas, People in Need Foundation) established their own fundraising and operational capacities in this area, and have provided millions of dollars in direct relief aid to crisis stricken countries in eastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia and territories of the former Soviet Union.

Today, foreign assistance in the Czech Republic is regarded as a crucial feature of its foreign policy. The main criteria for the provision of Czech foreign development assistance are the urgency of need, relations between the Czech Republic and the receiving country, the level of democratisation and adherence to human rights principles, and effectiveness of cooperation including control of the funds’ use. Foreign assistance is coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while authorised ministries run individual projects. However, there is no specific department dedicated to humanitarian assistance. The government has established a target for foreign aid expenditures of about 0.1% of GDP, the minimum level for OECD member states.

Humanitarian assistance is mainly provided in cases of natural disasters or when people find themselves threatened by war. A specific form of humanitarian aid involves aid to refugees in the Republic itself

Cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NGOs

Significant cooperation between the Czech government and NGOs in the area of foreign assistance began in 1995, when NGOs were first invited to participate in the implementation of government-funded programmes. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses a contract-based system for organising humanitarian aid through NGOs. However, documentation on projects is almost impossible to get, there has been no evaluation of any project, and no written account which sheds light on the experience of ministry employees concerning their collaboration with various humanitarian organisations.

General problems confronted by Czech humanitarian organisations

The financial situation of countries in transition is precarious, and the tradition of charity nearly non-existent. It is clear that the shortage of financial means for improving technical support and organisational structure is one of the major problems faced by humanitarian organisations in the country. State funds are intended exclusively for single projects; insufficient investment in the infrastructure of organisations has led to situations where organisations have not been able to introduce specialised training courses for their field staff. Given this situation, it is not surprising that humanitarian workers have only a vague knowledge of international humanitarian law and other related issues.

While a significant shift towards more effective collaboration between humanitarian organisations and the state has been made during the Kosovo crisis, problems in cooperation remain.

Geographical distribution of humanitarian aid

Regions of Eastern Europe and of the former Soviet Union are the focus of both non-governmental humanitarian organisations and state institutions. At present, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports just a few major humanitarian projects per year. Efforts are undertaken to spend all humanitarian assistance money available as the amount not used in a particular year cannot be transferred to the next one.

Since 1995, about US$1m (30-40 million CZK) has been released annually for humanitarian assistance. As mentioned earlier, this amount has been substantially increased in 1999 with an unexpected increase to assist the Balkans. However, this decision highlights the absence of a coherent strategy on humanitarian aid.

The future

In 1999 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs put forward several proposals aimed at increasing the effectiveness of Czech humanitarian assistance. Foremost, it proposed an exemption of humanitarian assistance on tenders and suggested that humanitarian agencies work within a system of accreditation. However, a detailed proposal on accreditation is not yet in preparation, so implementation would only come in one or two years time. Further, the ministry proposes the establishment of a fund for humanitarian assistance so that money not spent in a particular year can be rolled over. The need for a monitoring and evaluation system is also acknowledged.

However, a theoretical, strategic and systematic approach to Czech foreign aid remains elusive, and the decision making process haphazard. In recent years the government has requested assistance from USAID, the Know How Fund (UK) and other agencies to help it develop more effective mechanisms for targeting and implementing its aid programme, but these efforts have been severely hampered by political instability and ministerial in-fighting.

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