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Responding faster to disasters at home and away - 26/10/2010

Group of local people and aid workers © EU/ECHO/Malini Morzaria

As the number and gravity of disasters striking the world continues to rise, good intentions must be transformed into fast, effective action that saves lives and speeds recovery.

Recent disasters have shown that the EU’s current emergency response system works well, but there is room for improvement. A new strategy aims to iron out existing glitches and make the best use of the bloc’s resources.

Climate change, population growth and increased industrial activity have caused the number of disasters reported annually to climb in the past 20 years, and the trend looks set to continue.

At times of crisis, the EU's Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) steps in as a communication and coordination hub through which countries can get help. The hub ensures affected countries’ needs are met with available resources and expertise.

However, until now, the response has been based on offers made by individual EU countries when disaster strikes. The new strategy is designed to ensure that there will always be emergency teams – with equipment such as field hospitals and airplanes to fight forest fires – on standby, ready to move into action at short notice. People in distress would have less time to wait when disasters hit a region or country.

The strategy also brings together the EU’s civilian disaster resources with its international arm to create a more coordinated response. The European Emergency Response Centre will work closely with international organisations such as the United Nations, the Red Cross and NGOs.

With 80% of citizens thinking the EU should help out when disasters hit (according to an EU-wide survey ), the strategy also aims to raise awareness among ordinary people of the EU’s work in emergency situations – natural and man-made – both in Europe and worldwide.

This year, countries joined together to provide medical care and shelter to flood victims in Pakistan. Closer to home, Portugal requested equipment in July to fight forest fires. More recently, a team of experts helped Hungary assess how to clean up land and rivers affected by a toxic sludge leak.

More on humanitarian aid and civil protection

More on EU disaster response

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