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Disaster response: helping countries help each other - 13/08/2010

Plane dropping water on forest fire © EU

EU coordinates emergency relief and assistance for countries in need.

Summers in Europe are frequently marked by devastating floods and fires, and 2010 has been no exception. The EU’s Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) sees to it that countries affected get immediate help.

Open 24/7, the Brussels-based centre monitors emergencies worldwide and coordinates EU resources for relief operations. Dealing with all disasters – manmade or natural – the MIC acts as a communication hub between countries. Upon receiving a request for help, duty officers alert potential donor nations and match offers of aid to the needs on the ground. Besides rounding up equipment and other supplies, the MIC can also dispatch field experts to disaster sites.

In July for example, Portugal requested equipment to fight forest fires. Three countries immediately responded, and Italy’s offer of two water bomber planes was accepted.

Earlier, Romania raised the alarm in response to heavy floods that killed 25 people and within hours received offers of help from four EU nations.

The centre may soon have a bigger role. In recent years, forest fires, floods and droughts have become more frequent and severe in Europe, bringing calls for policy that is focused more on prevention.

The commission wants to transform the MIC into a genuine operational centre with its own resources – which can be deployed immediately. Plans are also taking shape for a Europe-wide disaster-training network and early warning system.

Set up in 2001, the system can be also triggered by countries outside the EU, providing the EU agrees to help. This was the case after the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile or more recently the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Recently Russia has been subjected to devastating fires and although the authorities have yet to request MIC help, many EU countries are providing assistance. Commission Vice-President Catherine Ashton also expressed the EU’s readiness to offer support, both during and in the aftermath of the disaster.

More information on European civil protection

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