Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
, Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, European Commission.
there is undeniable proof that disasters are growing in their frequency, intensity and complexity. This is due to a combination of factors that include climate change, population growth and the concentration of people in urban areas.
And even though the headlines of the last 18 months have focused on places like Japan, Pakistan and Haiti, Europe is not immune to the threat of disasters. Our continent faces risks that range from flooding to forest fires, from violent storms to earthquakes and from industrial accidents to terrorism. Over the last ten years disasters have killed nearly 80,000 EU citizens and cost the EU economy an average of €10 billion each year. With its compact geographical area Europe actually has one of the highest concentrations of recorded disasters anywhere in the world!
Common sense tells us that prevention is better than cure and this is certainly the case when it comes to disaster management.
For the last ten years European countries have been cooperating on disaster response. The European Commission is currently preparing proposals to improve the efficiency, coherence, and visibility of the EU’s response to disasters. I will use the opportunity of the Bonn conference to present some of these ideas and to discuss them with civil protection experts from across Europe. I look very much to the input of experienced professionals and policy-makers, whose know-how will be instrumental for translating our ambitions into a reality.
But response is only one half of effective disaster management. This is why the European Commission is committed to an approach that covers the entire “disaster cycle” as the best way to respond to the increasing threats we face.
Addressing risks rather than trying to cope with the consequences makes sense in terms of saving lives and preventing damage. It also makes economic sense. Study after study demonstrates that investments in preparedness and prevention can have 400% to a 700% return. But as the same time investments in this area remain limited. It is estimated that only half a percentage point of EU development funding is spent on disaster risk reduction. Within the European Union, there are billions of Euros available from regional funds for investments in disaster prevention but the take-up at national level is typically very low.
The primary responsibility for disaster prevention, preparedness and response lies with national governments. But there are a number of ways in which EU cooperation can make a real difference by enabling Member States to share experience and map risks across borders.
What can we do to improve the EU contribution to disaster prevention?
First, we need to work together to map, assess, and analyse the risks we face and evaluate their importance. By the end of 2012 the Commission will produce an overview of the major risks faced by the EU Member States. This will be the foundation for improved planning on disaster prevention and we will link this assessment to on-going work on scenario planning.
Second, we need to integrate disaster prevention into investments in infrastructure, buildings, education and public health. One key challenge will be to ensure that all major investments are disaster proofed. To provide a stronger incentive to make these investments we are looking to introduce elements of conditionality to link the allocation of European funding to the implementation of proper prevention and preparedness measures.
Third, we should make better use of market signals, especially insurance, as a way to encourage better planning decisions.
Last but not least, we need to build a culture of risk awareness and aversion. This means the active and innovative promotion of these issues across all levels of society, including policy makers but also with businesses and citizens.
Developing an effective toolbox of policies to deal with disaster prevention will require linking up all players that have responsibility for disaster management. This means different ministries working with each other. It also means active cooperation between regional, national and European authorities.
This will certainly be a challenge. But with the damages caused by disasters continuing to rise, and given today's economic circumstances, it is a challenge that we literally cannot not afford to ignore.