By Kristalina Georgieva - 9th November 2011
Europe needs to move away from an ad hoc system to one which is pre-planned and immediate
The EU must do more to ensure an immediate and efficient response to natural and man-made disasters, writes Kristalina Georgieva
The frequency and intensity of natural and man-made disasters in the world is rising. Europe, unfortunately, is no exception.
Over the last decade natural hazards caused nearly 100,000 fatalities in Europe and affected some 10 million people. These disasters cost the European economy €150bn. Only last year Europe experienced a series of particularly severe disasters.
These ranged from flash floods and severe storms in western Europe, large-scale floods in central Europe, volcanic ash clouds after the eruption in Iceland to forest fires in Mediterranean countries. Many disasters overwhelmed the local or national capacity to respond. In such cases, solidarity and cooperation among member states makes a huge difference.
Cooperation, nevertheless, should be smooth and should pose no additional burden on the authorities of the affected country. A coordinated EU response has proven to be an optimal solution when a disaster is too big in scale to be coped with by a single country.
In addition, coordinated EU assistance helps avoid duplication, often significantly decreases costs and makes our aid more visible. At present, the deployment of EU civil protection assets is based on largely ad hoc voluntary offers from member states.
Though the EU civil protection mechanism plays an important role in supporting, coordinating and complementing the process of mutual assistance, more could be done. The existing policy instruments should be substantially strengthened as Europe needs to move away from an ad hoc system to one which is pre-planned and immediate.
Addressing this issue is one of key aims of the new legislative proposals on civil protection which the commission will soon be putting forward.
When a disaster strikes, an immediate and efficient response depends on our knowledge on the assets and experts available.
Against this background, the commission has proposed the creation of a voluntary pool comprised of member states' experts and assets which will be placed on standby for deployment in EU operations. We believe the bottom up approach is the right one, building as much as possible on existing member state capacities.
The emergency response centre, which the commission is currently setting up, should further facilitate informed decisions by member states on funding and offering additional assistance.
The centre will enable a much needed qualitative shift from information sharing and reacting to emergencies to a more proactive role in planning, preparing, operational coordination and logistical support. In addition, it will ensure more coherence vis-à-vis coordination efforts by the UN outside the EU and in the affected country.
We need to develop a more robust capacity not only to respond to disasters, but also to prevent and prepare for them. Without disaster prevention and preparedness our new legislative proposal would not be complete.
Several studies demonstrate that investments in preparedness and prevention have the highest pay-off in comparison of other public sector and private sector investments, with a return on investment of between 400 per cent and 700 per cent. Even more important, time and resource investment in prevention and preparedness can save thousands of lives.
Upgrading training programmes, exchanging of best practices, improving of early warning systems and risk mapping are only some of the actions we propose to undertake in order to build a more resilient society. Awareness raising is also crucial here. Only once risks are made clear and are publicised can they be properly factored into policy choices.
The constant increase of disasters in Europe should also provide further incentives to invest in preparedness and build up existing capacity. We need to integrate disaster prevention within our investments across the board, such as infrastructure, buildings, education or public health.
One key challenge will be to ensure that all investments are disaster proofed and to introduce incentives and elements of conditionality to link the allocation of funding to the implementation of proper prevention and preparedness measures.
In order to support the EU disaster management actions, the commission proposes to renew the civil protection financial instrument. A more coherent and better integrated rapid response in case of emergencies, increased preparedness to deal with disasters and innovative actions to reduce the risk of disaster simply cannot be achieved on a cost-neutral basis.
Some additional funding will be necessary, as outlined in the June multiannual financial framework proposal. However, this increase should result in tangible benefits for member states, as well as promoting economies of scale thereby saving on finances at national level by avoiding duplication of effort.
This article was originally published in Issue 335 of The Parliament Magazine on 10 October 2011