Select Committee on Public Accounts Third Report


The Department's contribution to the international response

5. Figure 1, which shows the rapid build-up and return of Kosovo refugees, indicates the scale of the humanitarian crisis in the region. As people left Kosovo in large numbers, the immediate priority was to provide shelter for refugees, relieve suffering and save lives. The Department's aid effort during the refugee crisis included: assisting in the establishment of refugee camps for 40,000 people in Macedonia; providing humanitarian supplies of food (about 4 million person days), tents, blankets and health kits (for 210,000 people for 3 months); organising over 60 airlifts of humanitarian supplies; and operating field offices in Albania and Macedonia to manage operations in the region, make local aid interventions and assist in the co-ordination of the international aid effort. Because substantial numbers of refugees lived with host families in Albania and Macedonia, part of the aid effort involved support, such as food and health services, for those communities.[4]

Figure 1: The build up of refugees from Kosovo

The number of refugees built up quickly, and dispersed quickly after KFOR entered Kosovo on 12 June 1999. Most refugees were accommodated in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Excludes refugees who left the region. By 9 June the Yugoslav government reported 60,000 refugees in Serbia, although this was not confirmed by the United Nations. Figures for displacement within Kosovo are not available.

Source: C&AG's report, Figure 2

6. A month after KFOR (the NATO peace implementation force in Kosovo) entered Kosovo the United Nations estimated that through spontaneous and organised repatriation, a total of 650,000 Kosovo refugees had returned to the province. The international aid effort then moved from refugee support to efforts within Kosovo to assist the refugees who returned, concentrating initially on work which could be done quickly to provide shelter, restore water and electricity and to encourage economic activity.[5]

7. The Department's field office in Pristina, Kosovo, was established just four days after the NATO air campaign was suspended and two days after KFOR troops entered the province. The Department played an active role in establishing the international presence in Kosovo. They provided communications and other office equipment to the UN Mission in Kosovo during their first week in Pristina. The focus of the Department's aid effort in Kosovo was on emergency rehabilitation and recovery. British military units, funded by the Department, carried out immediate repairs to a power station, water pumping stations and health clinics so that essential services could start functioning.[6]

8. Representatives of key international agencies involved in co-ordinating the aid effort told the National Audit Office that the Department's support had been appropriate and well targeted to cover demands. For instance, air handling and convoy teams provided by the Department had filled gaps in the capacity of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees organisation, and the Department's support had focussed on areas—mines, the health sector, water supply and electricity distribution—in which other donors had been less active. They also commented positively about the contribution of the Department's field offices. In particular, they had been on the ground promptly, they had helped co-ordinate the aid effort, and they had been able to start projects quickly because they had been able to act on their own initiative without referring back to headquarters.[7]

9. We asked the Department what lessons they had learned from the operation. They thought that this crisis had shown that an immediate response needed preparedness in terms of call-down contracts, experience of working closely with the military and rapid decision-making. The scale was such that at first international organisations found themselves less able to respond flexibly and quickly than a bilateral agency is sometimes able to do. The Department said that they found it easier to deploy capacity to the field than the international organisations because they had contracts in place, experienced people available and a history of delegated decision-making, backed up by robust systems. A division of labour was emerging whereby two or three major donors could respond quickly, and others would help sustain the longer term response.[8]

10. As regards co-ordination, the international system had been unable to provide authoritative centralised assessments of, for example, the numbers of refugees and where they were. Without this information the response had been fragmented and co-ordination had depended on who had the capacity on the ground. The Department wanted the international arrangements to be clearer, and they were now putting effort into their dialogue with the United Nations to set up information exchange systems. Within the UK, the Department told us that they were working closely with their colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office to bring together some collective capacity for responding, particularly to post-conflict situations.[9]

11. We asked whether the European Union was organised to carry out relief operations. The Department noted that the European Commission was the world's largest humanitarian contributor but because of its procedures it could take time for it to mobilise grants. There was a reasonable prospect of good co-ordination and co-operation among European Union members, but joint humanitarian action would probably slow things up. The Department had also put a lot of effort into strengthening the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and in Europe looked to the EC Humanitarian Office and the new EU Crisis Management Committee to provide co-ordinating mechanisms.[10]


12. The Department were at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo and neighbouring countries. Through the Crown Agents they were on the ground quickly, and made an immediate impact. They were active in providing support to the refugees in Macedonia and Albania; they were instrumental in co-ordinating the international response; and they provided practical support to the UN as it sought to establish itself in Kosovo. They also provided funds and practical support for a wide range of humanitarian relief projects in the region, including those run by the British Military. We commend all those involved for their efforts.

13. The international response to the crisis was fragmented and co-ordination depended on who had the capacity on the ground. There was a lack of clarity about the relative roles and responsibilities of the international organisations involved and their response was slow. The Department will need to press the United Nations to set up the required information exchange systems and to strengthen the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

4   C&AG's Report, para 1.11 and Figure 4 Back

5  C&AG's Report, paras 1.10, 1.14 Back

6  ibid, paras 1.15, 2.4, 2.6 Back

7  C&AG's Report, paras 2.15-2.16 Back

8  Evidence, Qs 68, 121-122 Back

9  Evidence, Qs 115-116, 118, 123 Back

10  Evidence, Qs 122-125 Back

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Prepared 14 February 2001