European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Creating a European Disaster Response Capacity
Brussels, 28 October 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great pleasure to be invited to the European Policy Centre to present the proposal that the Commission adopted - only two days ago – on the creation of a European Disaster Response Capacity.
The proposal responds to three fundamental challenges.
First, the number of disasters is growing every year, and so are the damages they cause to people and to the natural environment. We need better instruments of response so that fewer lives are lost and less damage is inflicted.
Second, the economic crisis means that we need to put our existing resources to even more efficient use. We need to get the very best value from our taxpayer's money in order to deliver efficient and swift assistance to all affected countries.
And third, our citizens expect better from us - 90% believe that the EU should actively help Member States deal with crises at home and that it should also support disaster victims abroad.
These challenges are immense. To rise to them will require a package of measures that addresses the entire "disaster cycle" from prevention and preparedness, to the immediate response when a disaster strikes, to recovery and rehabilitation (which should most certainly include measures to strengthen resilience against future disasters) and finally to a systematic learning of lessons so that we can continuously improve how we manage disasters.
The proposal I presented on Tuesday focussed on disaster response. Our guiding objective here has been to develop the EU civil protection and humanitarian aid instruments to make sure that exactly the right assistance, gets to exactly the right place with the absolute minimum of delay.
This proposal will be complemented by other building blocks that will cover issues including consular assistance and how the new External Action Service can improve the EU response in third countries. Taken together with measures being prepared in the area of prevention and post-disaster reconstruction our goal is to create a comprehensive, holistic and up-to-date set of policies to deal with all types of disasters.
2010: a year of disasters
For me, and my staff, it is a real privilege – and also a tremendous responsibility - to implement a policy that can make a real difference in saving lives and reducing human suffering. And if we look at the disasters that have occurred in recent months the urgency of this task is clear.
I took up my position as the Commissioner with the new portfolio for humanitarian assistance and crisis response in February, just weeks after a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti. An estimated 230,000 people were killed, 300,000 were injured and 1,000,000 made homeless. It was a tragic reminder of just how vulnerable we are when faced with the force of a natural catastrophe.
After Haiti, other disasters followed:
At the end of February the seventh most powerful earthquake ever recorded hit Chile. Tremors were felt 2400km away (more than the distance from Brussels to North Africa).
On 14 April, the eruption of an Icelandic volcano generated an ash cloud that closed most of Europe's airspace. The result was the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War. 100,000 flights were cancelled, 10 million passengers were stranded and it cost airlines approximately €2 billion.
Six days later, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and resulted in the largest oil spill in history. The spill caused terrible damage to marine habitats as well as the Gulf of Mexico's fishing and tourism industries. Estimates of total losses are in the tens of billions of dollars.
The floods in Pakistan submerged an area about 5 times the size of Belgium. Over 1,300 people have died, three-quarters of a million homes were damaged and around 20 million people are in need of assistance.
We have not been spared in Europe. This summer has seen massive floods, in Poland, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine.
Central Russia experienced what scientists call a "surface temperature anomaly" and suffered the hottest summers in centuries. Wildfires raged outside Moscow. Inside the city, the combination of heat and pollution doubled the death rate.
And right now the Hungarian authorities are dealing with the aftermath of a spill of toxic red-mud that killed nine, destroyed homes, took away livelihoods and wrecked local ecosystems.
This is not a one off …but a part of a clear trend
The world is changing. The number of recorded disasters has risen fivefold since 1975 and the damages caused have risen similarly. We have every reason to expect that 2010 is not an aberration and that we should be ready for more of the same.
The impact can be enormous
These disasters have had tragic and devastating consequences. They have taken lives and leave a legacy of human misery and economic destruction.
World-wide, disasters affect approximately 230 million people and claim an average of 85,000 lives each year. In an average year damages cost almost €70 billion or about ¼% of global GDP.
Disasters hit developing countries hardest. The poorest populations are most vulnerable, since they have the least capacity to cope. For developing countries, the loss of life is particularly high and economic losses due to natural disasters are some 20 times greater (as a percentage of GDP) than in industrialised countries.
At the same time, the economic losses in developed countries can be much higher for the simple reason that there is more to destroy. The Haiti earthquake more or less wiped out the national economy and is estimated to have caused about $8 billion in damages. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused damages worth $81 billion - more than the combined economies of the 6 smallest EU Member States.
European countries are relatively well prepared to deal with disasters. But our continent faces threats that range from flooding to forest fires, from hurricanes to earthquakes and from industrial accidents to terrorism. Over the last twenty years, disasters have killed nearly 90,000 Europeans and affected more than 29 million others. Economic losses are particularly high in Europe with annual losses averaging €15 billion. Some years the losses have been twice as high.
The main drivers behind this trend area all accelerating
There are four underlying reasons that can explain this trend.
The first is climate change. Almost 90% of all damages from natural disasters come from weather related events. Climate change means that floods are higher than before, cyclones are threatening areas that were previously safe, and droughts are affecting wider areas and more people. Oxfam predicts that, by 2015, an average of 375 million persons will be affected by climate-related disasters every year.
It is sobering to realise that the fires in Russia and the flooding in Pakistan were linked to the same atmospheric phenomenon which gridlocked regional weather patterns and led to higher temperatures in one place and increased rainfall in another.
Second, the damage caused by disasters is increasing as the world's population grows and moves to densely populated urban centres. The population in large cities exposed to earthquakes and cyclones is estimated to double by 2050 – from 680 million in 2000 to 1.5 billion.
Third, as the global economy develops, man-made disasters, including technological and industrial accidents have become more frequent and more damaging.
A fourth reason is that terrorist attacks have become increasingly prominent. And if terrorists gain access to chemical, biological or nuclear materials the results could be beyond our worst nightmares.
The role of public policy
These forces are exceptionally potent. They are also likely to remain with us which means that there is no reason to expect that the trend of a rising number disasters will be reversed. We are faced with an increasingly risky world and this is something that both individuals and policy makers need to prepare for.
Policy cannot prevent earthquakes and storms from occurring (although we should certainly be doing more to limit the impact of climate change). But it is clear that effective implementation of sensible disaster management policies, means fewer deaths and less damage. In Chile, this year's earthquake was many times stronger that in Haiti but the excellent prevention and preparedness policies implemented by the government were a major reason why there were only 521 fatalities.
An area where there is real EU value added
The primary responsibility for disaster prevention, preparedness and response lies with national governments. But there are a number of ways in which EU cooperation can make a real difference.
First, when a country is overwhelmed by a disaster, the delivery of international assets and expertise can save lives and reduce economic and social costs. In all of the examples I have given, international assistance played an important role in overall response. By working together, in a coordinated way, we can deliver a more effective European response than Member States can provide by working alone.
Second, joint training and learning from experience helps strengthen Member States own national systems.
Third, joint efforts are cost-effective. Individual governments no longer need to purchase equipment to deal singlehandedly with every possible disaster. At a time when public finances are increasingly tight this is a compelling argument.
Fourth, a strong European response, both at home and in third countries, is a demonstration of solidarity – which is the most precious of European values - and contributes to Europe's positive image and standing around the world.
There is a clear value added for the EU. But it is also clear that Europe's real expertise is found at the local and national levels. This is why our proposal takes a bottom up approach and aims to strengthen local capacities while at the same time making sure that they can be mobilised whenever a European response is needed.
What we propose: a European Emergency Response Capacity
"Lessons Learned" exercises are carried out after each of the major disasters where EU assistance is activated. Building on these experiences the central idea underlying the Communication on Disaster Response is that Europe needs to move away from an ad hoc response to one which is pre-planned, predictable and immediate.
At present, the deployment of EU assets is based on voluntary offers of assistance. There is an inevitable degree of improvisation and decisions are sometimes delayed. In situations where every hour counts, Europe needs a system that can guarantee that key assets can be mobilised swiftly and deployed instantly.
In order to do this the Commission proposes to:
Develop reference scenarios for the main types of disasters.
Scenario planning is already well developed by national authorities. But we need to bring these planners together in a systematic way to work out how to tackle disasters that overwhelm national capacities.
Map the Member States’ civil protection assets that are available for an EU response.
A first step in any plan is to know where you are starting from. And if we want to make the most effective use of Europe's existing capacity then we need to know what assets and expertise are available. Individual countries usually have a good overview of what its own emergency response capacity is (although even at the national level information can be held by different agencies or at different levels of government). When compared against the scenarios this will help us identify gaps in capacity as well as overlaps.
Ask Member States to voluntarily place core resources on standby – ready to participate in a European response when the need arises.
When the floods hit Poland earlier this year the Commission's Monitoring and Information Centre issued a request for assistance. When the request was made we had no way of knowing if assistance would be offered, what would be offered, or were it would be coming from. In the case of Poland the response for its neighbours was swift and generous. The requested assistance was on its way within hours. But this type of uncertainty inevitably brings the risk of improvisation in dealing with major disasters.
Make sure that transportation arrangements are in place for the immediate deployment of EU assistance.
In many cases assistance is offered but transport – and in particular air transport - is the bottleneck that prevents it from getting to where is needed. This applies just as much to the sending of assistance overseas as it does transporting experts and equipment at the actual scene of a disaster. We have had great success with pooling transport assets. As a part of the EU response to the floods in Pakistan, the Commission helped organise the flight of a Czech cargo aircraft carrying 100 tons of assistance from Germany, Italy and Austria.
But this approach is still the exception and not yet the rule. There are still cases where flights, that are only half full, are leaving from different European airports. This simply does not make sense and is a waste of valuable resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
Following a request for assistance, the Commission will call for the immediate deployment of these assets. These national assets, ready to be instantly mobilised for a European response, will form the nucleus of an EU Emergency Response Capacity.
In third countries, the Commission will work to improve shared coordination and logistics. At present, a variety of national arrangements co-exist. Different structures mean that each country has to plan for and deploy their own on-site support. Sometimes these national support centres do not even communicate with each other. This is not operationally efficient, it is not cost effective and it reduces EU visibility.
Better coordination will mean a more effective response and the Commission has proposed that EU supported logistics hubs are available on standby and are more systematically deployed. We have already piloted this approach, with very positive results, in Haiti and Chile. And I look forward to these logistics hubs being developed into EU field coordination centres that will allow Europe to plug our collective deployment directly into the UN coordination system.
We will also develop a strategic approach to communications. The EU response to disasters has often been effective but it is not always visible. Visibility is not an end in itself but the European public has a right to know how European help is being provided. Visibility is at the very heart of accountability: it allows our citizens to know what is being done and to ask that more is done or that the work is done better. Visibility will allow our citizens to take pride in the help that they have provided – as European taxpayers - to other counties that are faced with major disasters.
What we propose: a new Emergency Response Centre
We will merge the ECHO and Civil Protection crisis rooms to create a re-enforced Emergency Response Centre inside the Commission. This centre will serve as a platform to provide a more effective EU response whenever and wherever a disaster strikes. It will collect real-time information on disasters, monitor hazards, prepare scenarios for different types of disasters, work with member states to map available assets and coordinate the EU's disaster response efforts. Most importantly, it will have direct links with the civil protection and the humanitarian aid authorities in Member States which will ensure a fully joined-up approach to disaster response.
Ladies and Gentlemen
With our Communication we have presented an ambitious proposal for an EU disaster response capacity that is squarely based on national expertise but is also pre-planned, pooled and ready for immediate deployment.
It will allow us to transform the way that Europe manages disasters. It will mean that when a major disaster strikes we know exactly what capacities we have on standby and are able to mobilise them immediately. Waiting and praying for a positive response to a call for help will become history.
The challenge of the coming months will be turning our proposal into a fully operational reality. But this is a reality that will save lives, limit damages an ultimately save money. It is for exactly these reasons that this is a challenge we need to address head on and without delay.