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Better safe than sorry - new EU strategy on disaster prevention - 24/02/2009

Parched, cracked earth with tufts of grass © EC

New proposal to strengthen disaster prevention capacities and increase cooperation with developing countries.

A violent storm in France, fires in Greece, drought in Spain – any one of us could be caught off guard by a natural disaster where we live or are visiting. To make matters worse, as the climate changes, such disasters will likely become more intense and more frequent - the proportion of EU territory and population affected by drought has increased from 6% to 13% since 1990.

In addition to natural disasters and epidemics, manmade disasters such as oil spills and radioactive contamination threaten our environment and health. In response, the EU is planning to improve its ability to deal with disasters - before, during and after the event.

Disasters often don't stop at borders. Epidemics and fires spread from one country to the next, rivers carry contaminated water across borders and oil spills pollute beaches wherever they wash ashore.

The proposed new strategy is mainly geared towards these cross-border disasters that require a joint response by EU member countries. It would include better access to early warning systems, more efficient spending of EU funds and an EU-wide inventory of existing information and best practices.

But the EU is looking further than just its own backyard. Another new strategy will seek to reduce the risk of disasters in developing countries . Less developed countries are expected to be particularly hard hit by climate change-related disasters, with rain-dependent crop yields declining by 50% in some African countries as early as 2020. Tropical diseases are also likely to become more widespread.

The strategy envisages assisting developing countries by providing funding for national risk-reduction initiatives. Money would also go to regions for activities such as awareness-raising campaigns.

In June 2009 the Commission will propose specific actions to follow up on these strategies.

European civil protection – prevention

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