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Commission proposes to improve European disaster response

A step towards faster and more efficient EU response to disasters was made this week, as the European Commission presented proposals to reinforce the Union's capacity to act on civil protection and humanitarian assistance.

The aim is
to improve the disaster response of the European Union, both within and outside of its borders.

Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said: "The world is changing and the number of disasters worldwide has risen fivefold since 1975. From the earthquake in Haiti to the industrial spill in Hungary we have seen that a combined European response can be more effective – both on the field, and in terms of cost.In a situation where every hour counts the European Union needs a system that guarantees the availability of key assets for immediate deployment. We can not afford to wait for the next mega disaster before we take action."

The new strategy aims to develop scenarios for the main disaster risks and to identify the assets needed if these risks materialise; in addition, a map will be drawn of Member States' assets that are currently available for EU response, and national authorities will be requested to voluntarily put core equipment on standby, available for rapid European assistance if needed.

To achieve this, the Commission outlines a twin-track approach: first, it proposes that a European Emergency Response Capacity is set up, based on Member States' expertise and assets; and second, a European Emergency Response Centre will be the new platform for more effective EU coordination whenever disasters strike. This centre, which will merge the humanitarian aid (ECHO) and civil protection (MIC) crisis rooms, will collect real-time information on disasters, monitor hazards, alert member states, and coordinate the EU's disaster response actions.

Improved EU capacity in this area has multiple benefits – most importantly, saving lives and helping recovery. In addition, today's proposals aim to reinforce the Union's input in the overall coordination in post-disaster situations, carried out by the United Nations.The strategy also identifies the need for increased visibility of the work done by the EU in its disaster response operations. Measures are proposed including the use of EU symbols and ensuring that the Commission's humanitarian partners give adequate visibility to EU-funded assistance.

The disaster response strategy is based on making the most effective use of existing instruments rather than establishing new overarching structures. These proposals will be complemented later on by the Commission's proposal for an Internal Security Strategy, proposals on the role of the EEAS in disaster response and also the implementing arrangements for the Solidarity Clause which was introduced in the Lisbon Treaty.

The European Union has had two main instruments to provide a first response to disasters – humanitarian assistance and civil protection. Both have been placed on new legal basis by the Treaty of Lisbon. Legislative proposals will be made in 2011 to implement the key proposals that are made in the Communication.

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