Commission under budget ‘pressure’ as natural disasters spike

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A dramatic increase in the number of natural disasters last year has sparked calls for more funding, cooperation and cost-efficiency from European Commission services.

A report by Munich Re, one of the world's largest insurance firms, says that 2010 saw 950 natural disasters – the second highest number since 1980 – and 295,000 people died as a result.

The fact that 90% of the disasters were weather-related provided "further indications of advancing climate change," the report warned.   

Ferran Tarradellas, spokesman for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, told EURACTIV that "since the 1970s, the number of disasters has increased around five-fold and our budget is indeed under pressure. If this trend continues, it will be under more pressure".

"If we are to continue to provide help in the same way, indeed we are going to have more budgetary needs. But this is also a call to be more cost effective in terms of the economic crisis," Tarradellas said. 

Tarradellas highlighted the role that greater member-state coordination with the Commission and crisis prevention more generally could play in saving lives – and money.

"For instance," he said, "if we had known before the [Pakistan flood] disaster hit who had heavy pumping equipment, who had water purification systems, how many, where, and how fast they could be deployed, our response could have been even faster".

"It's good to have better contingency plans for every kind of possible disaster. This is normally a member-state competence but if we share this information and coordinate exercises and make contingency plans, we can know which disasters we can respond to with what we have and where there are gaps that need to be filled."

Global losses from floods, heatwaves, earthquakes and hurricanes in 2010 reached €99 billion euros, of which just €28 billion euros was insured. In the EU, just one disaster, Storm Xynthia, a gale which hit France and Spain, caused €4.5bn of losses, € 2.3bn of which was insured.

Last year actually saw the second highest number of natural disasters in the last 30 years and it was only good luck that prevented one of the most severe hurricane seasons on record from wreaking terrible damage, as the storms mostly took place at sea.

But even so, 2010 was among the six most loss-intensive years since 1980 and Johanna Weber, the head of media relations at Munich Re, declined to rule out an effect on future European insurance premiums. "We have cycles in the reinsurance markets and they are renewed every year so of course they have to take into account long-term developments," she told EURACTIV.

According to Ferran Tarradellas, greater prevention measures could mitigate some of the worst costs in the long term.

"Money put into prevention pays off," he said. "This is the case with land development in flood-prone areas, construction standards in earthquake-prone areas, agricultural production in places that are becoming drier, and with forest fires."

"Taking measures could save a lot of money and lives but it is difficult to do in budgetary terms because you don't see the benefit of the investment until the disaster happens, just the cost. Of course you're then expected to be prepared but it's much cheaper to invest in preparedness than in response: much cheaper," he said. 

Tarradellas noted that an earthquake in Chile last year measuring 8.2 on the richter scale claimed around 500 lives, while in Haiti a tremor measuring substantially less – 7.2 – killed 223,000 people, mainly due to the difference in the quality of buildings.

 

“950 natural catastrophes were registered last year, the highest number since 1980, causing financial damage of $ 130 billion, just about equal to the average of the past 10 years,” writes Eberhard Rhein in his blogpost on Blogactiv.eu.

“However, these apparently positive figures conceal the fact that humanity, and in particular the USA and the international insurance business, has been extremely lucky in 2010,” he adds.

“Humanity should not be deceived by these happy circumstances, but be aware that it was just extremely lucky.”

 “There is a verifiable trend towards more frequent and more intensive natural catastrophes. The USA and the Caribbean islands must brace for any of the following hurricane seasons hitting their countries, with all the terrible damage this will imply for the people living in the coastal areas.”

2010 saw many major disasters, including five which were assigned to the UN's top category of 'great natural catastrophes': the earthquakes in Haiti (12 January), Chile (27 February) and central China (13 April), the heatwave in Russia (July to September), and the floods in Pakistan (also July to September).

These accounted for most of the 950 disaster-related deaths in 2010 and just under half the overall losses caused by natural catastrophes. The average number of natural disasters for the last ten years is 785.

Most catastrophes last year occurred on the American continent and in Asia but 120 natural catastrophes were recorded in Europe, including the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in April.

The available data indicates that Europe is suffering from more floods, forest fires and heatwaves than ever before, and despite the economic crisis, a recent 'Eurobarometer' found that 90% of European citizens were in favour of better coordination of disaster responses to improve their impact and keep costs low.

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