European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Cooperation in disaster management – saving lives and bringing South East European countries closer to the EU
International Ministerial Conference on Harmonising Regional Activities in the field of prevention of natural hazards and disasters
Belgrade, 18 November 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a double pleasure for me to be here today and to participate in this Ministerial Conference organised for the countries from South East Europe. Firstly, because I myself come from the region and I am keen to see it prospering and to see the countries closely cooperating in the building of a better and safer future. And secondly, because the topic that we have gathered to discuss - the prevention of natural and man-made disasters - is part of my portfolio, very close to my heart.
To be the Commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid and crisis response is a great honour and a big responsibility. But I am not ashamed to say as well that I truly hope to have less work. I want fewer disasters and less human suffering. I want us all to have safer environment and more resilient communities to live in.
Disasters are on the increase and this is also an issue for Europe
Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening. In the last years disasters have been striking more often and with a greater impact. A number of trends are changing our world: climate change; population growth; increasing urbanisation, industrial development, terrorism. These help explain the dramatic rise in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. In 1975 there were 78 recorded disasters; last year there were 385 - the second highest in a single year.
This year we have already witnessed a few mega-disasters: massive flooding in Australia, the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear incident that hit Japan, and the famine in the Horn of Africa. Now we can add also the recent earthquakes in Turkey to this black list. And new threats continually arise, such as cyber-attacks on public institutions.
But we should not get the impression that Europe is confronted with less disasters than the rest of the world. In the ten years from 2000 to 2009 some 100,000 people died in Europe from natural disasters. These disasters cost the economies in Europe some €150 billion and also caused significant environmental harm. For example between 2003-2009, over half a million hectares of protected sites were burnt by forest fires, which also contribute to increased CO2 emissions. If we look at the incidence of disasters compared to Europe's relatively small area, the fact is that Europe is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world.
South East Europe is not an exception. I believe the Turkish colleagues are still fighting the consequences from the recent deadly earthquakes. They have my compassion for all their loss. We, in the European Union have offered European assistance, opening so a new chapter in solidarity with the Turkish people: 16 member states have provided almost 6000 winterised tents to house those made homeless by the Van earthquake.
Last year about this time there was a similar event not far away from here near the Serbian city of Kraljevo, where luckily not many people were hurt but where the economic damages of the earthquake have been significant and where full recovery will take more time and efforts.
The region is also prone to floods. Both EU and non-EU Member states have been activating the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to ask for external help. Only last year this was the case with Romania, Moldova, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the other hand, summers are becoming hotter and drier, making forest fires a growing risk, especially for Croatia and Greece. In recent years, Bulgaria has increasingly been facing both floods and forest fires.
In order to be able to respond more effectively to disasters, we in the European Union created , exactly ten years ago , the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Its engine is our Monitoring and Information Centre - the MIC. It provides us with a common platform for coordination, for exchange of information and assistance when one of our participating states or a third country is faced with a disaster overwhelming its national capacity to deal with it.
In the first year of its creation, the Mechanism was activated 3 times while last year – 28 times, 11 out of which for disasters inside the EU.
Today the MIC has 31 members (Participating States) and 137 registered modules and is open to participation to all countries from the EEA and candidate countries. Recently we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia which paves the way for the country's participation in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. We are increasingly enhancing our cooperation and exchange of best practices with key international partners. We have signed administrative arrangements with Australia, Russia, Ukraine and most recently – just yesterday, with the USA. Procedures to formalise our cooperation with the Republic of Moldova, Chile, Japan an ASEAN are well advanced.
In Europe, it took us some time to realise fully the importance of disaster prevention. Preparedness and response were the parts of the disaster management cycle which were attracting most of the investments, probably owing to the fact that the results are more visible and easier to account for, while investments in prevention are long-term and less tangible. Disaster prevention, however, is crucial and a necessary prerequisite for sustainable development, and we need to raise the adequate awareness about it.
Let me give a very telling example: in Chile, last year's earthquake was many times stronger than the one in Haiti. But Chile’s excellent prevention and preparedness policies were a major reason why there were only 521 fatalities, while in Haiti the disaster caused the death of 212 000 people and massive destruction of critical infrastructure.
Investing in prevention is not only a matter of good humanitarian will, it is also a matter of sound economic sense. I repeat and emphasize the following again and again: the rate of return on every Euro invested in prevention is between 4 and 7 times. Recent research carried out by the Commission 1 has also shown that investments in flood management can save the EU economy €5.5 billion a year by 2020 and €20 billion a year by 2050.
Along with minimizing the eventual impact of disasters, investments in disaster risk reduction will also contribute to climate change adaptation and other environmental goals.
This is why you gathered last year in Antalya during the Turkish chairmanship and this is why we are here today - to reinforce the political will and to pursue an integrated approach to disaster management with prevention and disaster risk reduction as equal priorities as preparedness and disaster response.
EU disaster prevention priorities
EU policies on disaster management complement the work of Member States and never replace it. But we live in a complex world where the number of disasters and conflicts is growing. This is why all public bodies – local, national, regional, EU – need to continuously search for ways to improve their instruments for disaster.
Therefore the European Commission is committed to developing a "comprehensive and consistent European Union disaster prevention framework".
A first step will be to find a way of effectively linking up all the players that have a responsibility for disaster management. If we look at EU Member States we see that the most effective systems at national level are those where the different players involved in disaster management have established a way of talking to each other and working together.
Second , we need to improve our understanding of how best to deal with disasters . This means making sure that all the information that already exists is collected in a way that is easily shared and compared. It means exchanging best practices and investing in focussed research – for example in improved early warning systems .
In particular, we need to improve our understanding of the specific risks that are faced. Risk mapping allows policy makers, planners, investors and individuals to make informed choices. It also allows the development of scenarios for different types of incidents and, based upon these scenarios, the drawing up of contingency plans.
Third , we need to integrate the awareness of disaster management into other EU policy areas . In practical terms this means changing the way we design our infrastructure. It means land-use policies that are sensitive to the risk of disasters. And it means allocating sufficient funding to prevention measures.
We need to invest in the resilience of our societies. This means investment in things like flood defences. But it also means making sure that all other investments are "disaster proofed" – in other words, that risks are rigorously assessed and factored into planning decisions.
Investments need financing. The economics of investing in disaster prevention are clear. But there is still a lot of work to be done to convince finance and development ministries that this is an area that needs to be prioritised. In the EU we have made funds available but the take-up rates remain disappointingly low. The same goes for the international development community. The fact that disasters can undermine development is increasingly recognised. But it is still the case that less than 1% of development assistance is targeted at disaster prevention.
Fourth , we need to make a real effort in awareness-raising . One of the main reasons why the economic facts are not backed up by substantial policies is the lack of awareness of the real risks that exist. Part of this is psychological – no-one likes to think of the worst-case scenario. But it is only once risks are made clear and known that they will be properly factored into policy choices. We need to develop a culture of risk awareness and risk aversion.
Fifth , we need to use the power of markets to guide policy choices. If risks are widely understood by markets then high risk decisions will become expensive. In this area, I am working closely with my colleague Michel Barnier – who is responsible for financial services in the EU – to launch a dialogue with the insurance and reinsurance industries with a view to developing innovative financial instruments that can help us manage the risk of disasters in a more effective way.
Resilience: the need to build back better
Disasters will continue to happen. Strong policies on prevention and response can do a lot to limit damages and minimise the loss of lives. But after a disaster strikes there is the need to rebuild and this is also a subject where active disaster management is needed.
We need to learn lessons from disasters and to make sure that we “build back better”. It is essential that the expertise from disaster managers is fed into the work of planners who are responsible for reconstruction efforts.
Regional / EU Cooperation
I am glad that the South East European Co-operation Process offers a cooperation platform between the EU member states and the EU candidate countries and the potential candidates. This makes me trust that the work that we do on the EU level will be more easily transferred and adapted to the needs of all South East European countries including the Western Balkan region. I rely on the EU Member States presented in the room for their support. From our side, the Commission is making budget available through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) not only for civil protection cooperation on disaster response, but also for joint activities in disaster risk reduction (DRR) with the candidate countries and potential candidates. The IPA beneficiaries are invited to share with the Commission what they think would be most beneficial for them to be included in the future programmes on DRR.
Finally, allow me to emphasize that the South East European Co-operation Process is an element of a bigger picture. The regional cooperation should facilitate the approximation of all countries in the region towards the European Union. I would like to recall that participation in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism is open to the EU candidate countries. Croatia has already taken advantage of this opportunity and I am waiting to celebrate the moment when the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will become the 32nd Participating State of the Mechanism. The status as either EU candidates or potential candidates mandates that these countries are the Commission's first priority when it comes to international cooperation. But our ultimate goal is not only to progressively link the Western Balkan region to the Civil Protection Mechanism but also to ensure its full integration in the European future starting from now.
In return, I am expecting countries' commitment to the European course. It is important to ensure that national and regional measures are fully consistent with the EU activities. Only close cooperation will ensure that there is no duplication of resources and that we take full advantage of possible synergies and complementarities.
We live in a changing world where disasters are on the increase. Embracing disaster prevention is definitely a challenge, but also a necessity that will save lives, limit damages and thereby contribute to climate change and environment objectives and ultimately - save money. For exactly these reasons, we need to address this challenge head on and without delay.
I hope that this meeting will further reinforce countries' commitment to this goal and will contribute to deepening both of the regional ties between your civil protection authorities and other relevant services and the ties between the region and the EU.
DG CLIMA ClimateCost project