Reinforcing the Union's disaster capacity response

28 October 2010

Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said the Commission had just adopted a proposal on creating a European Disaster Response Capacity, which addresses the entire ‘disaster cycle’: prevention/ preparedness, response, recovery, rehabilitation and assessment. The aim is to get the right assistance to the right place as quickly as possible and create a comprehensive, holistic, up-to-date set of policies.

The Commissioner listed the disasters that have taken place in 2010: the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, the eruption of the Icelandic volcano; the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico; floods in Pakistan with terrible consequences, floods in Eastern Europe and the hottest summer for centuries in central Russia.  The number of recorded disasters has risen fivefold since 1975 and this scenario is likely to continue.

The main drivers behind this accelerating trend of disasters are climate change, the fact that population growth and urban growth exacerbates the effects of natural disasters, industrial growth, which increases the number of man-made disasters, and an increase in terrorist attacks. As these forces are likely to remain as potent, we need to take precautions to face an increasingly risky world, she said. As the earthquake in Chile (which was far stronger than in Haiti) showed, implementing proper disaster-management policies helps prevent death and material damage.

The primary responsibility for disaster prevention, preparedness and response lies with national governments, but coordinating activities between the EU and Member States will deliver an effective European response. The Commission proposes to: develop reference scenarios for the main types of disasters; map Member States’ civil protection assets that can be used for an EU response and ask them to voluntarily make resources available; and ensure transportation arrangements are in place so EU assistance can be deployed immediately and avoid duplication.

The Commissioner also wants to improve EU visibility in disaster response, as this gives accountability, and lets EU citizens know what is being done in their name. It allows citizens to take pride in the help they provide, for as more people face financial hardship it is important for them to see the results of their support.

The challenge of the coming months will be turning the proposal into a fully operational reality, and she hoped that Member States and the European Parliament would move swiftly to support it.