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European Commission

Kristalina Georgieva

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

Developing a European Policy on Disaster Risk Management

Address to Committee on Development of the European Parliament/Brussels

16 September 2013

Madame la Présidente, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues.

We are living in an increasingly fragile world. Climate change, urbanisation, population growth and environmental degradation mean that the frequency and intensity of disasters has risen steadily over recent decades. And these trends are set to continue. It is estimated that by 2050 the urban population exposed to earthquakes and major storms will more than double and reach 1.5 billion.

Developing countries are hardest hit in terms of mortality (over 25 million affected by droughts in Horn and Sahel). In Haiti decades of development work was wiped out in a matter of seconds. There is now a widespread recognition that effective disaster management is at the heart of poverty reduction.

Developed countries also vulnerable – e.g. Hurricane Sandy, the Japan earthquake/tsunami. Europe is a densely populated and economically developed continent. This means that when disasters hit they can hit very hard indeed. Inside the EU natural disasters resulted in 100.000 deaths in the last decade. There are also massive economic damages. This summer's flooding in central Europe is estimated to have cost €13.5 billion. For Germany, this is likely to be the most expensive disaster in the country’s history.

Effective disaster management needs to be an integral part of our development policies. It is also an issue that contributes to the safety, and prosperity, of our own citizens.

This is the reason why, just over two years ago, I addressed this Committee (together with Margareta Wahlstrom) and set out the Commission's commitment to strengthen Europe's policies on disaster risk management. I made a pledge that disaster prevention and preparedness would be an equal priority to disaster response. I promised policies that have real teeth and are not just good intentions.

So two years on it is an excellent opportunity to look at what has been achieved and to see what still needed to be done.

Resilience as a theme of Development Policy

One major achievement has been the recognition that "resilience" to disasters needs to be at the very heart of development policy. The 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa and the subsequent food crisis in the Sahel resulted in two major initiatives:

  • SHARE (Supporting the Horn of Africa's Resilience), redirected EU assistance towards areas such as nutrition, livestock management, water management or drought-resistant agriculture. For the first phase, the Commission set aside € 271 m (2011-2013) to address recovery from drought.

  • AGIR ("Alliance Globale pour l'Initiative Résilience"), follows on from the approach taken in the Horn and aims to embed resilience solidly in the strategies and policies of governments of the Sahel. The AGIR Regional Road Map was formally adopted at a high-level meeting in Paris on 9 April 2013 where it was announced that the EU will allocate €1.5 billion to strengthen food security and resilience in West Africa between 2014 and 2020.

Underpinning these initiatives was a very close partnership between humanitarian and development actors (ECHO and DEVCO). And the experience from the Horn and the Sahel inspired a new policy approach that was set out in last year's Communication on Resilience. Three key principles underpin the Commission's approach.

First, we will base our actions on a deeper understanding of the structural risks that underlie the vulnerability of any given country or region.

Second, we will aim to address these structural issues by providing a long-term funding commitment - i.e. no drying up of assistance once the crisis has moved off the TV screens.

Third we will improve the ways in which we deliver funding. This means better links between immediate humanitarian assistance and longer term development funding. It also means work to link up all involved actors so that there is a genuinely common effort (national actors, regional organisations, other donors etc).

The Commission's proposals were fully endorsed by our Member States in the Council Conclusions from May of this year. This is excellent news because we should be working closely with member States when we design and roll out our support.

Resilience is a policy approach that has already improved the quality millions of lives and I believe it will help shape the way we make development policy in the future.

DRM as a priority inside the EU

Disasters don not stop at Europe's doorstep.

Over the last 10 years the EU has developed a robust set of instruments for disaster response. In May this year we opened our Emergency response Centre. Tomorrow Parliament will have the final (hopefully) trilogue on the Commission's proposal to strengthen the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

But response is only one part of the "disaster management cycle". This Commission is committed to developing a comprehensive disaster management policy and we have taken a series of initiatives to mainstream risk management into the EU's policies and its funding instruments.

1. The revised Civil Protection legislation contains a legal obligation for Member States to prepare risk assessments and risk management plans.

2. EU structural funds will be available for the preparation of these assessments/plans as well as the necessary investments to implement them. There also are provisions to "disaster proof" new investments made by the structural funds.

3. The Commission has proposed a mechanism for "disaster proofing" the major infrastructure projects that are covered under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

4. And in the event of a disaster, the Commission has proposed that payments from the Solidarity Fund can be conditional on the correct implementation of the acquis related disaster management.

5. Disaster management and promoting resilience have been included as priorities for the EU's research funding and new tools for monitoring and forecasting disasters have been developed.

6. Disaster management considerations have also been integrated into a number of the Commission's sectoral policies (transport, energy, climate adaptation).

7. The Commission supported a successful peer review of the UK disaster risk management policy. This approach is being copied by other Member States.

8. With the Publication of a Green Paper in April of this year the Commission has started a process to assess how insurance can be more effectively used as a tool of disaster management.

Future challenges

Much of the work of the Commission over the coming years will be spent on implementing and consolidating these initiatives. But this remains a very young policy area and there is still a lot of work to be done. I would like to conclude by flagging three areas that I will be focussing on during the rest of my mandate:

1. We will mainstream Disaster Risk Management into both the Commission's humanitarian and development funding. In the short term this means ensuring that resilience features prominently in the on-going programming of the 11th EDF. In particular we need to maintain our commitment to building resilience in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. There will be droughts in the future. But if we invest in resilience there is no reason why these need result in humanitarian disasters.

2. Successful disaster management is a part of successful economic management. This point was underlined last year by Christine Lagarde when she spoke at the Sendai Dialogue. We need to place disaster management firmly on the agenda of finance ministers and the economic governance of the EU should take these issues into account. We also need to engage more closely with industry to maximise their contribution (and to maximise the opportunities for European businesses to benefit from this growing sector).

3. Last we need a strong international framework to guide and support global efforts. The Hyogo Framework for Action and the work of the UNISDR have been inspirational. We need to build on this and Europe should take a leading role in ensuring that the successor to the HFA is both robust and ambitious. We also need to make sure that the issues of disaster management are fully taken into consideration when developing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues

Two years ago we were still making the argument that disaster management was an issue that needed to be taken seriously. I think that, for the most part, these arguments have been won.

By working together we started to put in place a policy framework that addresses the increasing fragility of our world. And by linking EU legislation with EU funding I believe that our policies do have teeth. The challenge now is implementing them so that they also have legs.

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