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| Natural Disasters and Desertification
Society faces a wide range of natural disasters that can have serious social and economic consequences for people, their homes and their livelihoods. Within Europe, more so than elsewhere, these threats are becoming greater as population densities increase. In addition, natural disasters can have negative environmental consequences, causing destruction to delicate habitats and ecosystems.
In the future, extreme events induced by climate change, such as intense precipitation that leads to flooding and landslides; are expected to increase in frequency and magnitude. In addition, poor land management practices combined with the effects of increased summer continental drying can lead to drought and widespread desertification, turning previously fertile land into badlands. It is important to understand where and how natural disasters might arise and what can be done to reduce their impact on people and the environment.
The EU has supported research on natural disasters since the 1980s via the Framework Programmes for research and technological development. Research has focused on floods, landslides, earthquakes, forest fires, avalanches and volcanic eruptions – all of which have touched Europe in recent years.
Natural disasters cannot be entirely prevented – they are an integral part of our changing planet, shaping our landscapes since time immemorial. Research has contributed to improving forecasting methods in order to provide early warnings for effective evacuation strategies, and risk assessment techniques for pre-disaster planning and mitigation.
Examples of such research include the design of earthquake-resistant structures, flood forecasting and flood risk mapping, forest fire behaviour modelling and fire suppression techniques, landslide and avalanche mitigation.
Desertification can arise from several causes that place ecosystems under enormous pressure – leading to land degradation. For example, uncontrolled deforestation can lead to increased soil erosion which leaves thin, unproductive soil behind. Research in the Sixth Framework Programme is focused on assessing desertification and identifying possible trends, and then developing strategies to combat land degradation, such as soil conservation measures.
Within FP6, natural disaster research falls under the Global Change priority and takes a holistic and integrated approach to the management and mitigation of natural disasters. Helping to achieve this is the Euro-Mediterranean Disaster Information Network (see link below), which promotes the accessibility of research results, and techniques for data integration and harmonisation of methods for the disaster science community.
European research also looks carefully at the links between natural disasters and climate change to better understand the consequences of global warming and, thereby, allow improved long-term planning. In addition, efforts are being made to integrate Earth-based and space-based surveillance platforms (see GMES link 1 theme) into permanent monitoring networks to improve Europe’s ability to predict and, in turn, recover from these catastrophic events – thus reducing their harmful effects.