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Natural disasters can strike anywhere at any time bringing devastation in their wake and presenting  threats to long-term development, growth and poverty reduction, particularly in the poorest and developing countries. Good planning and preparation can limit the scale of impacts. Risk management policies save lives and enable growth and sustainable development. Building resilience is about helping communities withstand and recover from disasters, with the focus on tackling the root causes rather than dealing with the consequences.

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In recent years, the EU have made huge progress towards strengthening disaster prevention and increasing its efficiency in dealing with disasters such as the devastating Typhoon Haiyan and the major earthquake in Haiti. The adoption of new Civil Protection legislation - with a strong DRR focus - and the reinforced Emergency Response Coordination Centre were major milestones in this regard.

EU domestic action on resilience

In October 2012, the European Commission presented a Communication − The EU Approach to Resilience: Learning from food crises, which provides the policy principles for action on helping vulnerable communities in crisis-prone areas. Increasing their resilience to future shocks will be a central aim of EU external assistance.

An Action Plan, which followed the Communication,  laid the foundations for more effective EU collaborative action on building resilience, bringing together humanitarian action, long-term development cooperation and on-going political engagement. The Action Plan adds value to previous commitments by maximising the synergy between interventions across thematic areas. It also gives new, and necessary, impetus for the implementation of the strong commitments made in the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Implementation Plan and the Nutrition and Food Security Action Plan, as well as in the 2012 Communication on Social Protection in EU Development Cooperation. It takes into account the principles of adaptation to climate change applied through the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA), in particular with regard to policy dialogue and exchange of experiences, aid effectiveness and mainstreaming across all relevant sectors, including agriculture, water and health.

EU Climate Adaptation Strategy

However successful mitigation efforts prove to be, the impact of climate change will increase in the coming decades due to the delayed impacts of past and current greenhouse gas emissions.

Europe and other parts of the world therefore have no choice but to take adaptation measures to deal with the unavoidable climate impacts and their economic, environmental and social costs. By prioritising coherent, flexible and participatory approaches, it will be much cheaper to take early, planned adaptation action than to pay the price of not adapting to climate change.

In April 2013, the European Commission adopted an EU Strategy on Adaptation which aims to ensure Member States are prepared for current and future climate impacts.

The EU Adaptation Strategy has three objectives:

  • Promoting action by Member States: The Commission encourages all Member States to adopt comprehensive adaptation strategies (16 already have strategies) and will provide guidance and funding to help them build up their adaptation capacities and take action. The Commission will also support adaptation in cities by launching a voluntary commitment based on the Covenant of Mayors initiative.
  • Promoting better informed decision-making by addressing gaps in knowledge about adaptation and further developing the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT) as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe.
  • Promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectorsthrough agriculture, fisheries and cohesion policy, ensuring that Europe’s infrastructure is made more resilient, and encouraging the use of insurance against natural and man-made disasters.

Green Paper on the insurance of natural and man-made disasters

As many other regions of the world, the EU is vulnerable to nearly all types of natural disasters. Disasters not only cause loss of life, but also damage to the value of billions of euros every year, affecting economic stability and growth. Disasters may have cross-border effects and can potentially threaten entire areas in neighbouring countries. Even where costs of major disasters are locally concentrated, if these costs are inadequately covered by insurance then individual Member States may carry large fiscal burdens, which could cause internal and external imbalances. This is an important issue for citizens, companies and governments across the Union. The Green Paper poses a number of questions concerning the adequacy and availability of appropriate disaster insurance and accompanies the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change. The objective is to raise awareness and to assess whether or not action at EU level could be appropriate or warranted to improve the market for disaster insurance in the European Union.

Union Civil Protection Mechanism Decision

The primary responsibility for dealing with the immediate consequences of a disaster lies with the country in which it occurs. But when the scale of an emergency overwhelms national response capabilities, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism enables a coordinated assistance from the participating states.

All EU Member States participate in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism ,as well as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland and Norway. They pool resources that can be deployed when a disaster strikes. The assistance includes in-kind aid, sending experts and intervention teams and specific equipment to disaster stricken countries and deploying experts for assessment and coordination of European response.

Any country in the world can call on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to help. The Mechanism also activates during marine pollution emergencies, where it works closely with the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

The European Commission supports and complements the prevention and preparedness efforts of participating states in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. It organises a programme of training, exercises and exchanges of experts, as well as actions in areas where a common European approach is more effective than separate national approaches. Disaster prevention activities are being developed and constantly upgraded. These include improving the quality of and accessibility to disaster information, implementing prevention measures, raising public awareness on disaster management, developing guidelines on risk assessment and hazard mapping, encouraging research to promote disaster resilience, and strengthening early warning tools.

Emergency Response Coordination Centre

The Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), operating within the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), was set up to support a coordinated and quicker response to disasters both inside and outside Europe, using resources from 31 countries participating in the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. The ERCC replaces and upgrades the functions of the previous Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC).

With a capacity to deal with several simultaneous emergencies in different time zones, around-the-clock, the ERCC is a coordination hub facilitating a coherent European response during emergencies helping to cut unnecessary and expensive duplication of efforts.

It collects and analyses real-time information on disasters, monitors hazards, prepares plans for the deployment of experts, teams and equipment, and works with Member States to map available assets and coordinate the EU's disaster response efforts by matching offers of assistance to the needs of the disaster-stricken country. Better planning and the preparation of a set of typical disaster scenarios will further enhance the ERCC's capacity for rapid response. The ERCC also supports a wide range of prevention and preparedness activities, from awareness-raising to field exercises simulating emergency response.

EU involvement in international action

Disaster Risk Reduction

The EU has consistently supported prevention and preparedness for crises in the most vulnerable countries, for example by identifying the need to integrate Disaster Risk Reduction and adaptation to climate change into both development cooperation and humanitarian response but coherence will be further promoted in the different policies and instruments dealing with resilience.

Post-Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA+) Communication and follow-up

At international level, there are established links between adaptation and disaster risk reduction in the 10-year international disaster risk reduction plan, The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 − Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. The ongoing process of shaping the post-Hyogo framework to be endorsed at the 2015 World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction should further integrate adaptation.

The Communication setting the EU position on the post-Hyogo framework for disaster risk reduction sends a strong message for a joint approach between climate change adaptation and disaster risk management, not only in EU action but also as a key principle for the global successor of Hyogo where the strong link with adaptation should include coherence with UNFCCC developments.