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Response to natural or man-made disasters
Faced with the increasing number of natural and man-made disasters in the world, the European Union must equip itself with faster and more effective means of management and response.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 5 March 2008 on “Reinforcing the Union's Disaster Response Capacity” [COM(2008) 130 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
The Commission has put forward proposals which aim to reinforce the European Union’s
disaster response capacity. The notion of 'disaster' is used in a broad sense to cover natural or man-made disasters and conflict-related emergencies taking place within the European Union (EU) and also outside its borders.
In order to react effectively to these disasters, a comprehensive approach including risk assessment, forecast, prevention, preparedness and rehabilitation is required. This also requires the mobilisation of all the policies, instruments and services available to the Community and Member States.
Planning, coordination and rapid response
The Commission stresses the need to reinforce the links between civil protection and the environmental policies included in environmental legislation in order to take full advantage of the preventive measures included in the latter. Importance is also placed on developing synergies with international, national and local stakeholders to achieve better coordination.
In particular, the Commission put forward the suggestion to streamline coordination between itself, the Council and Member States for large scale disasters involving both Community instruments and Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) instruments. The Commission referred to the opportunity to establish joint planning and operational teams as well as to develop standard operational procedures adapted to different types of disasters and geographical areas.
The Commission reiterated that it manages many Rapid Alert Systems (RAS) in case of specific sectoral disasters. It also decides on Community humanitarian assistance and coordinates the Community Civil Protection Mechanism. Furthermore, the Commission has at its disposal a number of instruments it can use to finance disaster prevention measures or to alleviate the financial costs incurred by public authorities when undertaking emergency operations. These instruments include the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), funds allocated for Rural Development, the Civil Protection Financial Instrument (CPFI) and the Instrument for Stability.
The Commission also has at its disposal a number of coordination tools for managing crisis situations more effectively, such as ARGUS, an internal mechanism developed in June 2006 to respond to multidimensional crises, and the RELEX Crisis Platform, established after the 2004 Tsunami, which assists political coordination between the Commission and Member States during external crisis situations.
Improving humanitarian aid
The Commission aims to improve the European Union’s humanitarian aid capacities. In particular this will be achieved by identifying existing gaps in terms of logistics, further strengthening the rapid assessment and response capacity in the field and improving liaison between the different actors involved.
Noting that the majority of disasters taking place in third countries do not trigger an international response and that when an international response is initiated, it often takes days for external assistance to reach the site, the Commission believes it is important to have an active expert presence in the field and to ensure that local authorities have the capacity to react immediately.
Reinforcing civil protection
In the field of civil protection, the Commission proposes to build up the Monitoring and Information Centre so that it can take on the role of the European Union’s operational centre for intervention. It also aims to improve the European Union’s response capacity, whilst keeping in reserve the means to rapidly intervene in the event of a disaster.
The Commission intends to undertake studies and finance diverse projects with the aim of developing a knowledge base on the EU’s capacity to intervene quickly in the event of major disasters in a Member State or third country. This will include studies on scenarios which aim to identify potential shortcomings and trial runs of different methods which would enable rapid intervention capacities to be kept in reserve. On this basis the Commission will put forward appropriate proposals.
The Commission suggests undertaking other measures in parallel, such as the creation of a European Disaster Response Training Network, the development of early warning systems and promoting the use of the single European emergency number (“112”).
The Communication includes an Annex on the subject of forest fires to clearly demonstrate how further prevention, preparedness, response and recovery measures could be combined to deal with such a disaster in a more effective manner.
The increase in major disasters in recent years (the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the war in Lebanon in 2006, forest fires and floods in Europe in 2007) and the risk of increasingly frequent disasters due to climate change makes modernisation and adaptation of the European Union’s means of response essential.
In December 2007 the European Parliament and European Council invited the Council and Commission to make the best use of the Community Civil Protection Mechanism and the Civil Protection Financial Instrument to help prepare for major emergencies. Furthermore, in December 2007 the European Parliament and the European Council signed the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid, a comprehensive framework for improved delivery of humanitarian aid at the European Union level.
Moreover, the Commission believes that a disaster management policy must include measures aimed at preventing this type of event. The Commission announced its intention to present an integrated approach to disaster prevention in the European Union, as well as a European Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction in Developing Countries.