Disasters such as forest fires, floods and droughts have a devastating affect on people's lives, their livelihood and the environment. It is vital not only to address the consequences of disasters, but to work on minimising the risk of disaster by investing in prevention.

The European Parliament, Council Pdf file and Member States have all called for more action at Community level to prevent disasters. The 2008 Commission Communication on reinforcing the Union's disaster response capacity argued that the EU should embark on an integrated approach to disasters. The full disaster cycle - prevention, preparedness, response and recovery - should be taken into consideration for any type of disaster, be it natural or man-made. Two studies were undertaken in 2008 to identify prevention gaps in existing EU instruments Pdf file and to analyse the approach to prevention taken by Member States Pdf file.

In February 2009, the Commission issued the Communication "A Community approach on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters" and accompanying impact assessment Pdf file, looking at what disaster prevention measures could be taken to complement EU policies in the areas of disaster response and preparedness. The Commission proposed to focus EU-level action on three areas:

  • Developing knowledge-based prevention policies;
  • Linking actors and policies throughout the disaster management cycle;
  • Improving the effectiveness of existing financial and legislative instruments.

The European Parliament's resolution of September 2010 provides support to the Commission's priorities: improved knowledge of the risks, improved coordination of all actors and effective and innovative financing.

On 21 December 2010, the Commission issued a Staff Working Paper on Risk Assessment and Mapping Guidelines for Disaster Management Pdf file. Risk assessments, when carried out at national level, are crucial for enhancing disaster prevention and preparedness activities and contribute significantly to planning and capacity building.

The main aim of the guidelines is to improve coherence among the risk assessments undertaken in the EU Member States at national level in the prevention, preparedness and planning stages and to make these risk assessments more comparable between Member States. This will lead to greater transparency and facilitate co-operation in efforts to prevent and mitigate shared risks, such as cross-border risks.

Taking into account the positions of the European Parliament and Council Pdf file, the priorities for prevention work in the coming years will be risk assessment and risk mapping, improving existing sources of information on disasters and launching a disaster prevention good practice programme:

  • 2012 - Best practice programme leading to EU guidelines on minimum standards for disaster prevention
  • 2012 - Overview of the major risks the EU may face in the future
  • 2013 - The European Commission in cooperation with UNISDR and OECD is supporting this governance tool as part of the EU cooperation in disaster risk management to help mutual learning between Member States and improve policy-making. Peer review was successfully piloted in the UK in the context of the Hyogo Framework for Action. Read the report. Pdf file

The Communication on disaster prevention inside the EU was issued at the same time as a Communication on disaster risk reduction Pdf file in developing countries. Disasters hit developing countries hardest, as they are the most vulnerable and have the least capacity to cope.

The Commission is coordinating its prevention work with the International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN ISDR).

Links with other policy areas

Over the years the EU has developed various legislative and financing instruments to support and complement Member State initiatives in disaster prevention. These include legislation addressing floods and chemical accidents. Prevention work in civil protection is closely linked with ongoing work on climate change. €5.8 billion has been allocated to risk prevention measures under the Cohesion Fund in the 2007-2013 programming period. Financial support for prevention actions can also be provided through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, LIFE+ for environmental and nature conservation projects and the Research Framework Programme.

Catalogue of disaster prevention measures

As a measure to increase transparency and awareness-raising on EU funding possibilities relevant for disaster prevention actions, DG ECHO has compiled an inventory of the most relevant EU funding instruments and their legal provisions.