EU unveils strategic disaster prevention plan

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The European Commission yesterday (23 February) adopted a package of proposals to improve knowledge of both natural and man-made disasters and forge common external and internal strategies for tackling risk with Community funding.

The two communications imply that disaster prevention must be integrated into other EU policies, including development policy, and seek areas where EU-level action brings added value to national responses, which are often most suited to dealing with specific local situations. 

The proposals do not cover emergencies related to conflicts or acts of terrorism. Nor do they advocate the creation of new instruments, but say the Community approach should “explicitly seek to build on measures that have already been taken at European level”.

The Commission says that EU-level action can give added value to national solutions by building knowledge about disaster prevention, linking all actors involved in disaster management and improving the use of existing policy instruments in prevention activities. 

The Communication on the Prevention of Natural and Man-made Disasters says a common response would be effective in areas of action such as establishing a Europe-wide inventory of existing information and best practices, developing guidelines on hazard and risk-mapping, and improving access to early warning systems.

Concerning funding, the EU executive wants to establish an inventory of existing Community instruments that could be used to finance disaster prevention activities and to list the measures for which member states could apply for EU funding. Furthermore, risk prevention should be integrated into Community funding when the next financing perspectives are defined, it says.

Supporting developing countries

The Communication on Disaster Risk Reduction seeks to help vulnerable developing countries to deal with the impacts of natural disasters. As climate change progresses, developing countries will need more efficient measures to cope with the more frequent and intense weather-related disasters (EURACTIV 3/12/08).

The Commission wants to strengthen political dialogue with developing countries and integrate disaster risk reduction into EU development cooperation. It states that the EU currently “lacks a common voice” on this front and, that the links with climate change and adaptation must be made more systematically.

The EU should invest in research to better anticipate and prevent risks, according to the Commission, as well as develop early warning systems. To this end, the EU executive suggests creating regional action plans, including awareness-raising campaigns, beginning with the Caribbean region.

The communication also promotes information exchange, for example by setting up networks between disaster-prone countries and regions.

The Commission foresees that EU financial support will come from “the full range of funding instruments at its disposal”. It states that many member states are scaling up funding for risk prevention in their Official Development Assistance budgets. Nevertheless, the strategy does not make provisions for new financial instruments, but should provide for effective use of existing resources, according to the EU executive.

The financial support given to developing countries in reducing emissions and adapting to climate change will be crucial to reaching a satisfactory deal at international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December (EURACTIV 29/01/09).

According to Artur Runge-Metzger, the EU’s head negotiator for the UN negotiations, climate change issues will have to be integrated into all kinds of budgetary issues, because money simply cannot be used the way it was in the past if policy is to make a difference in the end.

“There is certainly no easy answer to adaptation. Mitigation is much easier, where you can invest in a clean power plant. With adaptation, I need to figure out whether I need to put my house uphill in order to be safe from floods. That is a very different decision,” Runge-Metzger told EURACTIV. “One costs a lot of money, [while] the other does not necessarily cost a lot of money but needs anticipation and good planning exercises,” he said.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Natural disasters are a growing threat for EU member states, and they are predicted to increase in frequency and magnitude over the coming years. We must do all we can in order to reduce their impact by being prepared as best as we can. This Communication is an important first step launching a long term process for Community action in this field."

EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said: "We know that prevention is better than cure. Investing in the reduction of risks before a disaster takes place pays huge dividends in comparison to providing humanitarian aid afterwards. I believe that disaster risk reduction is a key element in the fight against poverty across the globe." 

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International's EU office, reacted to the package by commenting: "It is welcome that Europe is further committing itself to help poor countries reduce the risk of disasters. In our future climate-changed world, preparing for and reducing the risk of disasters will become even more important as we face more climate hazards." 

But she warned: "Yet efforts to help reduce these risks will be limited unless Europe also addresses climate change itself. This is a global challenge that can only be solved by joined up global action. Europe needs to push for an ambitious UN climate agreementin Copenhagen later this year, and put money on the table, so that the developing world can get the funds it needs to adapt to a warming world." 

In March 2008, the European Commission adopted a Communication on reinforcing the Union's disaster response capacity. It called for strengthened EU abilities to provide civil protection and humanitarian assistance, both in Europe and abroad.

The communication acknowledged that disasters often cross borders and therefore require coordinated responses. It announced the two initiatives on prevention and on EU strategy for disaster risk reduction in developing country.

The European Parliament also called for a reinforced approach (EURACTIV 05/09/07). It presented a resolution on reinforcing the Union's Disaster Response Capacity in June 2008, calling for an integrated approach to prevention and proper EU funding through the mobilisation of the Solidarity Fund as well as the Structural and Cohesion Fund.

Disasters are estimated to cost Europe €15 billion every year.

  • June 2009: Implementation plan to be presented.

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