The European Union is a safe place to live, but even here, natural and man-made hazards threaten people, property, environment and cultural heritage. Disaster risk management policies aim to tackle these risks through preventive, preparedness, response and recovery actions. The EU drives policies that focus on prevention and the reduction of disaster risks as these actions can reduce the impact of adverse events. Increasing the resilience of infrastructure, ecosystems and society in the EU is an important strand of disaster risk management work.
In recent years, the EU has seen a wide range of adverse events that caused the devastation of human life, property, the environment and cultural heritage. Disasters triggered by natural hazards alone cost the EU more than 90,000 lives and more than €500 billion of economic losses between 1980 and 2017.
The EU is expected to experience more extreme events and increasing damage, as well as exposure and vulnerability to disasters. For instance, climate change is bringing along more extreme weather events, sea-level rise and changes in the geographical distribution of some infectious diseases. Continued urbanisation and development in hazardous areas have been putting more people and wealth in harm’s way. Urban settings amplify disaster risks such as floods, heatwaves or epidemics. Environmental degradation in Europe and globally is reducing the capacity of ecosystems to protect us against the impact of disasters. Recent years have also seen growing instability abroad, geopolitical tensions and diversification of hostile groups, all of which led to increased security threats such as terrorism, cyber and hybrid threats.
Against this complex backdrop, it is crucial to have arrangements in place for effective prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery from disasters.
In the EU, protecting people, property, environment, and cultural heritage against multiple threats is primarily a national responsibility. However, the EU complements, supports, coordinates national action, and promotes cross-border cooperation on these matters. A wide set of EU policies and funds aim to strengthen collective safety and resilience against adverse events. Under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, Member States and participating countries regularly exchange information on disaster risks, run exercises together and pool rescue teams and equipment that can be rapidly mobilised when a disaster overwhelms any other country in the world.
A robust understanding of disaster risks is the first step towards addressing the risks effectively by framing risk management policies. This is why the European Commission regularly prepares overviews of natural and man-made disaster risks that the EU faces. Such overviews were published in 2014, 2017 and 2020. The latest overview published in 2020 shows that floods, extreme weather events such as heatwaves, industrial and nuclear accidents and wildfires are among the top 5 risks of concern for national authorities across the EU.
A Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre provides EU Member States and the disaster risk management community with an online repository of disaster-related data, research and project results and access to a range of networks and partnerships. The Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network, created in 2019, will further facilitate collection and sharing of knowledge, expertise, experience, lessons learnt and good practices to improve prevention, preparedness and response to crises. It will also stimulate research and innovation in the sector and strengthen the links between disaster management and civil protection actors.
A peer review of disaster risk management and civil protection arrangements provides a country or a region with a unique opportunity to reflect on its readiness to cope with natural and man-made hazards and identify ways of strengthening its broader prevention and preparedness system. The main objective is to facilitate the sharing of good practices in disaster risk management through an independent analysis, which is carried out by a team of experts selected from various countries. Since the programme was initiated in 2012, 14 countries have benefited from a peer review.
The Mechanism also supports countries in disaster risk management and capacity building for a better response to the negative impacts of natural and man-made hazards. Advisory missions offer tailor-made support and advice on specific needs and problems. Experts from EU Member States and Participating States to the Mechanism are deployed upon request from a national government or the United Nations to support authorities across the world.
Disaster risk management in the EU is closely linked to global initiatives, in particular, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Although the European Commission is not a signatory to the Sendai Framework, it played a leading role in the international negotiations, supports EU Member State signatories and third countries in implementing the Agreement, and works to ensure EU action is coherent with the global agenda. Disaster risk management and resilience are also prominent in other international cooperation frameworks, such as the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The EU has committed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and climate-related pledges both in its internal and external policies.