Humanitarian aid is a fundamental way to express universal solidarity among people as well as our moral obligation, which is why providing humanitarian aid and participating in humanitarian aid missions is a vital part of Estonia’s foreign policy. The Foreign Ministry is responsible for providing and coordinating humanitarian aid. For participation in humanitarian aid missions, the Foreign Ministry works closely together with Ministry of the Interior, Estonian Rescue Service and Estonian Red Cross.
The provision of humanitarian aid is prescribed as one of Estonia’s international activities by the “Principle of Estonian Development Cooperation” approved by the Riigikogu on 15 January 2003. Humanitarian aid as a separate sector is also addressed in detail in the “Strategy of Estonian Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid 2016 - 2020” (PDF).
The legal basis for giving humanitarian aid is provided by regulation nr 8 of the Estonian Government from 21 January 2010, “Conditions and procedure for the provision of development assistance and humanitarian aid”  (see §§ 12 and 13). The manner and scope of providing humanitarian aid is decided by the foreign minister in accordance with § 13 of the aforementioned regulation. The same provision states that the ministry shall assess each need for humanitarian aid separately and provide aid in a way that is most needed in the particular situation in line with the activities of other bodies providing assistance.
Humanitarian aid donations to international organisations
In 1998, Estonia made its first voluntary donation to an international humanitarian aid organisation, namely the unbiased and independent International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This could be considered the moment when Estonia began to consciously support the functioning of the global humanitarian aid system as a donor.
For years, Estonia has increased its support for the UN and Red Cross, the central contributors of the global humanitarian aid system. A major portion of Estonia’s humanitarian aid is allocated to UN aid organisations and the International Red Cross. This is mainly because for the most part these international organisations have their representation on-site in disaster or crisis situations. They are familiar with the local circumstances and are able to direct aid to victims quickly and effectively. In addition, these organisations are able to swiftly co-ordinate contributions from various other donors on site.
Estonia supports the activities of the following international humanitarian aid organisations with voluntary annual donations: UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Un Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It is also possible to donate humanitarian aid in response to an appeal for help from a nation in need—for example, in 2010 Estonia provided in kind assistance to Moldova affected by torrential rains, to Russian Federation in relation to large-scale forest fires, in 2019 to Albania for the assistance after the earthquake.
Estonian Disaster Relief Team
Over the years Estonia has achieved the capability to provide rescue and humanitarian aid that meets international standards, which allows Estonia to send the Estonian Disaster Relief Team (EDRT) to disaster areas when the need arises.
The Estonian Disaster Relief Team is part of instruction, training and preparation system of the rescue and crisis regulation sector which has an important role to play in Estonian foreign policy: its fundamental goal is to ensure the readiness of the Republic of Estonia to participate in international rescue and humanitarian aid operations.
The disaster relief team is a group formed on a volunteer basis that is in constant readiness to react, when necessary, to great international disasters. The Estonian Disaster Relief Team is sent on missions by the Foreign Ministry in cooperation with the Estonian Rescue Service on the basis of appeals made by the UN, EU, or nations in distress.
For each individual mission, a team is composed based on the concrete needs of the mission. The specialists that belong to the Estonian Disaster Relief Team are primarily in the fire-fighting or rescue service but there are also members from the border guard, police force, medical institutions and other government or private institutions. There is operational capability for a search and rescue unit, a medical unit and a chemical unit. The team also contains a support unit and an expert group which support and organise the work of the team at missions, trainings and everyday activities.
Today the Estonian Disaster Relief Team has proved itself to be a professional team that is taken seriously on the international level. Its members are invited more and more frequently to join international training, planning and assessment teams. Estonia has sent its specialists to both the UN (UNDAC) and European Union disaster assessment and coordination teams which have the responsibility of giving an initial assessment of the scope of a crisis.
Read more about the Estonian Disaster Relief Team.
Estonian participation in international rescue co-operation
Frequently the most effective way to give humanitarian aid is to unite a country’s resources with their know-how. The Estonian Disaster Relief Team also participates in international rescue co-operation. Since 2006, Estonia has been a member of International Humanitarian Partnership (IHP). This is an informal organisation without binding agreements, and its main goal is to collectively implement the provision of humanitarian aid – primarily through supporting the humanitarian aid missions of the UN and its sub-organisations. In addition, joint trainings are planned. The countries combine forces and the provision of humanitarian aid is agreed upon among them, which makes the capability for providing aid much greater. In addition to Estonia, the other IHP members are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.
Estonia has participated in seven IHP joint operations. In missions like Haiti and Pakistan the supplies and personnel came from five different countries. As an equal member of the IHP, Estonia has the opportunity to participate more frequently in various international rescue operations together with its partners.
In 2019-2020 Estonia has the Chairmanship for the IHP.
Read more about International Humanitarian Partnership: http://www.ihp.nu/.
 Regulation nr 8 of the Estonian Government from 21 January 2010, “Conditions and procedure for the provision of development assistance and humanitarian aid” RT I 27.01.2010, 5, 15.