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Come fire or high water – how the EU responds to natural disasters - 27/08/2009

Female fire fighter extinguishing a forest fire with a hose © EC

Whenever its member countries are hit by natural disasters, the EU steps in to help coordinate assistance and fund the reconstruction of essential infrastructure.

While many of us were enjoying the summer, floods and forest fires turned the holiday season into a nightmare for many people in central Europe and the Mediterranean region.

In late June, extended heavy rains led to severe flooding across large swathes of Bavaria, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. The Danube and its tributaries all burst their banks.

At the same time, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece were in the grip of a very different element: fire. Last week alone, 67 separate fires devastated an estimated 21 200 hectares in Greece, destroying almost two million trees and at least 150 houses.

Thanks to EU coordinated assistance, Italy, France, Spain and Cyprus all deployed Canadair fire-fighting planes to the Athens area. The EU's own forest-fire tactical reserve has two such planes, based on Corsica, that can be used to help combat forest fires throughout the Mediterranean region.

The EU also runs a European forest fire information system, which provides up-to-date satellite data on ongoing fires, detailed maps of affected areas and a six-day forecast to ensure early detection.

While the countries affected by this summer’s flooding have not requested external help, on previous occasions boats, pumps, generators, water purification and emergency equipment have been sent to flooded areas through the EU's civil protection mechanism.

The EU solidarity fund can also pitch in to help foot the bill for essential emergency operations like restoring infrastructure, providing temporary accommodation and protecting cultural heritage.

More information on European civil protection

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