29.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 206/9


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Natural disasters (fires, floods and droughts)

(2006/C 0206/03)

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS,

Having regard to the decision of the European Parliament of 4 April 2006 to consult it on this subject, under the fourth paragraph of Article 265 of the Treaty establishing the European Community;

Having regard to the decision of its President of 23 March 2006 to appoint Mr Valcárcel Siso, President of the Autonomous Community of Murcia, as rapporteur-general for this subject, in accordance with Rule 40(2) of its Rules of Procedure;

Having regard to its opinion on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Reinforcing the civil protection capacity of European Union (COM(2004) 200 final – CdR 241/2003 fin (1));

Whereas:

1)

Natural disasters, forest fires, floods and droughts represent a growing threat to human life, have a powerful impact on the balanced development of the regions, threaten their economic resources and natural and cultural heritage, give rise to population movements and undermine the economic activity and quality of life of the inhabitants of the regions concerned;

2)

Natural disasters recognise no borders and, therefore, cooperation between areas exposed to common risks is now essential;

3)

The consequences of climate change, such as desertification, erosion and salinisation, affect all the Member States, albeit to different degrees, and the European Union must view the minimisation of natural disasters as a key component of sustainable development;

4)

The principle of economic, social and territorial cohesion must underpin every stage of planning, programming and implementing Community policies to prevent and manage natural disasters and to offset their impact on the regions and cities of the Union affected;

5)

Measures to protect against natural disasters must be adopted as part of all the relevant Community policies, especially those which affect rural communities and the environment, infrastructure and research and development policy;

6)

The EU Solidarity Fund has proved insufficient in cases of natural disaster, this situation being aggravated by the lack of coordination between existing instruments at national and regional level in the various Member States;

adopted unanimously the following opinion at its 64th plenary session, held on 26 and 27 April 2006 (meeting of 26 April):

Views and recommendations of the Committee of the Regions

The Committee of the Regions:

1.

is concerned to note the significant increase in the number, severity and intensity of natural disasters occurring over recent years in the regions of the European Union;

2.

welcomes the European Parliament's interest in natural disasters;

3.

warns of the importance of other forms of natural disaster such as earthquakes, tidal waves, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and other geological events, together with phenomena arising from climate change and global warming causing rising sea levels along our coastlines, in turn leading to shrinking beaches, flooding of inhabited areas and loss of infrastructure and amenities; points also to the dangers linked with extreme snow and freezing conditions;

4.

points out that regional and local authorities, as the bodies closest to the general public, are the first to be affected by, and involved in, natural disasters, and that it is essential that they play a full part in drafting, implementing and monitoring policies and actions to deal with natural disasters; every EU country should therefore ensure that the regions and municipalities have access to sensible and effective legal, material and economic tools to enable them to carry out their duties;

5.

recalls that Community action must complement action by national, regional and local authorities, and urges the Commission to redirect Community action towards the various levels of government;

6.

considers it crucial that the principles of solidarity, cooperation, coordination and assistance between EU Member States, regions and local authorities should be applied in full in order to plan for and prevent natural disasters, and to minimise and counter their effects;

7.

underlines the need for a firm commitment on the part of both public administrations and the general public to reduce the conditions leading to disasters or worsening their consequences and effects;

8.

supports the call by the European Parliament to draw up a European strategy to combat natural disasters (fires, flood and drought), in connection with the various financial instruments with which to implement such a strategy, ensuring the allocation of EU funds in the field of civil protection, devoting particular attention to island and outermost regions with low demographic density, as well as those which, for inherent structural reasons, are especially hard hit by such events;

9.

calls on the Community institutions to consider whether it might be appropriate for the strategy to include earthquakes and the associated phenomena, together with volcanic eruptions, on account of their capacity to have catastrophic consequences;

10.

urges that the strategy should take a holistic approach to natural disasters, including preventive measures (risk analysis and correction), planning and implementing measures (functional organisation, mobilisation of resources, etc.) and recovery and follow-up measures;

11.

highlights the importance of every stage of the strategy including information, training and citizen awareness measures concerning disaster risks and action plans, paying special attention to children and young people and other population sectors particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the elderly and those of reduced mobility;

12.

draws attention to the important role of the media in building up properly-informed public opinion which can act effectively to prevent and reduce the losses caused by disasters;

13.

recommends that efforts focus on setting up the information systems needed to improve the forecasting, follow-up and evaluation of all natural disasters; supports in particular the European Parliament's comments in favour of pressing ahead with the Galileo system and broadening the scope of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative to cover all natural disasters;

14.

believes that the 7th Framework Programme for research and development must step up research into preventing disasters by funding initiatives to develop prediction models and to enhance early warning systems;

15.

recommends that national and regional rural development plans should give priority to measures designed to head off the causes of disasters (such as preventing erosion, reforestation with appropriate species, water supply works, tree felling and forest surveillance, and agroenvironmental water-saving measures);

16.

recalls that in order to reduce the frequency and scale of fires, the European Union must concentrate its efforts on combating the causes of fires by means of appropriate forestry surveillance and prevention measures, and urges the Commission to ensure that existing Community legislation in this field is applied properly;

17.

regrets that the fire prevention measures under the Forest Focus programme do not form part of the priority issues in the new LIFE + programme;

18.

emphasises the worsening drought, which has been expanding in duration and intensity to many regions of the European Union, whose water resources have recently shrunk dramatically, with serious social, environmental and economic implications;

19.

welcomes the initiative presented by a number of Member States to the EU Council of Ministers for the Environment on the management of drought-related risks, and calls on the European Commission to take the necessary steps to enhance the level of protection against drought and reduce the potential risk to citizens, the economy and the environment;

20.

recommends the establishment of a European Drought and Desertification Observatory, as part of the 7th Framework Programme for research and development, together with the adoption of measures to raise awareness regarding sustainable use of water;

21.

is convinced that, given the severity and intensity of the natural disasters of the past few years, it is essential to step up measures in the sphere of spatial planning and give greater importance to integrated territorial actions in rural areas;

22.

welcomes the draft directive on the assessment and management of floods; and points out that the major flooding which occurs in Mediterranean basins as a result of the torrential nature of rainfall and flash floods should not be overlooked; at the same time, it must be remembered that the flooding situation for some other EU countries is completely different and custom solutions are consequently required;

23.

demands to ensure a good coordination between existing and future directives on management of natural resources and/or natural phenomena on the basis of each country's unique circumstances;;

24.

asks for the Community civil protection mechanism to be reinforced and, to this end, supports the proposal by the European Parliament that the Monitoring and Information Centre under the Community mechanism be enhanced and recommends that compatible models for action or combating every type of disaster be prepared, enabling better coordination of national and regional disaster management mechanisms;

25.

believes that consideration should be given to creating a European Civil Protection Force, and stresses that the Member States should seek ways of ensuring adequate interoperability between civil and military forces, recommending that emergency military units be integrated into the Community civil protection system;

26.

generally welcomes the new Solidarity Fund proposal, with the inclusion of major crisis situations resulting from industrial/technological disasters, public health threats and acts of terrorism; however, it urges the Commission to reconsider the threshold of EUR 1 billion or 0.5% of GNI, to ensure that procedures are sufficiently flexible, transparent and straightforward, and to take account of the specific needs of the areas affected and the regional dimension of certain natural phenomena;

27.

calls for the explicit inclusion of drought as an eligible phenomenon under the Solidarity Fund, given that it is a long-term structural problem, cannot readily be reconciled with the established registration deadlines, and has serious repercussions for the social and economic development of the affected regions; also urges that the Fund continue to provide support in the event of exceptional local emergencies;

28.

points out that the Structural Funds are an essential tool for funding disaster prevention and management measures; believes, in this regard, that the lack of synergy between the Structural Funds and the Solidarity Fund must be resolved by putting the theoretical ‘from reconstruction to development’ approach into practice, entailing the involvement of local and regional authorities as part of natural disaster governance;

29.

urges that in the next financial programming period 2007-2013, the necessary flexibility and redistribution of resources between funds is assured, together with the possibility of reusing resources released by the Structural Funds' N+2 rule, so that the regions can, where they consider appropriate, boost the resources available in the event of a disaster;

30.

repeats that no real strategy against agricultural disasters can be restricted to short-term emergency measures and must, in consequence, include training, information and prevention activities, to be financed by the Forest Focus programme, rural development policy, the European Social Fund, and the creation of EU-funded public insurance;

31.

considers that the INTERREG initiative has proved to be highly effective in exchanging best practice on natural disaster prevention and refers, in this respect, to the examples set out in appendix and welcomes the increase in the budget allocated to territorial cooperation adopted in the context of the agreement on the new financial framework for 2007 – 2013;

32.

indicates that the establishment of the European groupings of cross-border cooperation, invested with legal personality, may enhance the implementation of civil protection measures;

33.

supports the European Parliament's call for State aids or European Investment Bank loans to be used in the event of natural disasters;

34.

urges the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to take account of the views of local and regional authorities when planning all types of initiatives regarding natural disasters, carrying out an effective process of prior consultation with those directly responsible for disaster management.

Brussels, 26 April 2006.

The President

of the Committee of the Regions

Michel DELEBARRE


(1)  OJ C 43 of 18.2.2005, p. 38.


APPENDIX

EXAMPLES OF BEST PRACTICE ON NATURAL DISASTER PREVENTION

1.   ESCAPE - European Solutions by Co-operation and Planning in Emergencies (for coastal flooding)

In order to mitigate the impact of flooding, partners from the most affected areas in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium launched the ESCAPE project. This project went beyond prevention and risk management and sought to improve spatial planning policies, risk management strategies, contingency plans and public awareness so that flood-related damage to coastal communities could be minimised.

One main activity consisted of an awareness-raising campaign on flooding. Videos, conferences and a newspaper were used to help children and adults, the local population and professionals to understand flood-related hazards. The campaign also explained what could be expected from governments, and how people could help themselves. Another important activity involved developing a flexible, multifunctional contingency plan for protecting the local inhabitants, tourists and businesses in flood situations. A cross-border framework for contingency planning is available for others to use.

ESCAPE has also built and tested a High Water Information System (HIS) for sea floods, which monitors tides, wind force and wave height. This system has been integrated with a Decision Support System (DSS) that estimates the time required to evacuate a disaster area and recommends evacuation routes using data such as road capacity and demography. Local, regional and national authorities responsible for both contingency planning and spatial planning can use HIS and DSS to predict the effects and timing of sea floods. http://www.interregnorthsea.org/project-details.asp?id=1-16-31-7-526-02

2.   AWARE - Attention to warning and readiness in emergencies

One of the conclusions reached by the ESCAPE project was that, since emergencies do not recognise borders, contingency planning should not stop at the border either. AWARE can be regarded as a successor of ESCAPE. Whereas ESCAPE is restricted to flooding, AWARE includes other fields. The project’s defining feature is crosscutting cooperation for natural and manmade disasters to improve the quality of contingency planning and encourage risk awareness amongst civilians.

AWARE focuses on raising awareness so as to reduce the vulnerability of people in cross-border regions during and following a disaster by improving information and communication sources and channels. In order to make people, the media, the authorities and emergency services more aware of the risks involved and how to act and react in disaster situations, two sustainable awareness campaigns for youth and professionals will be conducted; followed by a report on arrangements with the media regarding their coverage of disasters in different countries and a feasibility study on a tool enabling authorities to inform relatives and friends of victims about their current residence once a disaster has occurred. AWARE also focuses on the contents and structure of information and communication between local and regional authorities in cross-border regions before, during and after a disaster. The aim is for local governments to take into account the cross-border implications of their decisions and to make sure they inform the authorities across the border. By sharing knowledge and experience through information exchange and lessons learnt, partners will produce a report, including recommendations, on a virtual cross-border crisis management system and two interregional expert meetings on crisis management and disaster relief. The final objective of the project is the enhancement of the quality of disaster relief in cross-border areas through staff exchanges among participating regions and regional and cross-border exercises (at authority level only) with cross-border component/interregional observers. www.project-aware.com

3.   Chain of Safety, a flood contingency planning initiative covering the entire North Sea Region

Since disasters do not stop at regional or national borders, nor should risk and crisis management. The European Commission has recognised that this is an issue and is currently developing several initiatives for a European approach towards contingency planning in cooperation with the Member States. Chain of Safety aims to contribute the North Sea Region's perspective to these initiatives by launching a project to set up a structure for flood contingency planning based on the chain-of-safety model and covering the entire North Sea Region. The project aims to facilitate cooperation, experience sharing and mutual assistance in the North Sea Region in the event of flooding by pooling knowledge and experience on coastal flooding through a safety chain connecting the entire North Sea Region, in order to optimise intra-regional cooperation amongst the North Sea regions so as to minimise the number of casualties and damage caused by coastal flooding. The overall objective of the project is to initiate a flood contingency plan covering the whole North Sea area. This would be in cooperation with all relevant stakeholders, in order to pool the participating regions' examples of best practice and experience.

The activities within the Chain of Safety project can be divided into three main themes: a comparative analysis of the existing regional and national flood plans in the North Sea Regions; defining a common approach towards the Chain of Safety in the North Sea Region; and an inventory of required and available equipment for putting into practice a common contingency plan for flooding.

4.   Improvement of the Joint Research Centre's knowledge base NEDIES (Natural and Environmental Disaster Information Exchange System)

The protection of citizens and the environment in Europe faces a continuing challenge from a wide range of risks that arise from natural hazards. Therefore, the lessons learned from the systematic analysis of the evolution of past disasters and the circumstances contributing to their occurrence are of paramount importance for future risk reduction and priority setting in terms of vulnerability management. The widespread application and publicising of the lessons learned is another vital step towards combating the occurrence of undesirable events and in particular, mitigating their consequences. In support of this goal, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) maintains the Natural and Environmental Disaster Information Exchange System (NEDIES), whose aim is the preparation and dissemination of lessons learned for the prevention of, and preparedness and response to, natural disasters and technological accidents. The reports on natural disasters contained in the Nedies system are available through a web portal.

With a view to enhancing and extending the Nedies knowledge base, which contains disaster-related data including lessons learned, a better structured and more thorough understanding of the circumstances of a disaster is required so as to be able to provide detailed and valuable input to decision making. As part of a study commissioned by the JRC and the European Commission, the Faculty of the University of Zeeland (the Netherlands) is developing a scheme for the structured analysis and mapping of the unfolding of a disaster over time, disaster management actions taken before, during and after the event, and the actors, environment and other parameters affecting the efficiency of management. The purpose is to provide sufficiently structured input to facilitate the extraction of lessons learned. The findings from this analysis will be placed in the framework of the ‘safety chain’. As a result the interrelated consequences in each stage will become visible.

5.   INTERREG IIIA – Italy/Slovenia: SIMIS project for a connected monitoring system of the Isonzo - Soča river

This project aims to improve the monitoring system of the Isonzo basin, thus increasing the safety of the population against floods. It also serves to improve supranational safety measures, reinforce cooperation between Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia, and use innovative technical means. To attain these objectives, the operational centres of Palmanova and Lublijana have been interconnected, and common protocols for intervention in case of an emergency established. A thorough study of the hydrological basin has also been carried out, and advanced monitoring units have been installed in the most critical points of the basin so as to forecast and prevent floods. http://www.simis.si

6.   Interregional Protocol for cross-border cooperation on civil protection – Friuli-Venezia Giulia/Carinthia – Slovenia

The civil protection organisations of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia autonomous region and of the Carinthia region of the Republic of Slovenia are aware of the natural or man-made risks which could affect the populations and of the need to provide swift mutual assistance in the event of emergencies. They are also determined to step up and encourage cross-border cooperation in the civil protection sector. They have consequently expressed their willingness to seek maximum mutual cooperation and to coordinate efficiently in interventions required to protect neighbouring populations, assets, settlements and the environment in the event of emergencies or expected emergencies, including forest fires. Cross-border cooperation protocols lay down shared operational methods for disaster forecasting and prevention, exchange of data in real time, and rapid communication of information on emergency situations, mutual assistance in the event of emergencies, and coordination of rescue operations to the affected neighbouring populations.

In order to implement forecasting, prevention and information exchange activities of common interest in the field of civil protection, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia autonomous region and the Carinthia region of the Republic of Slovenia are linking up their reference operational centres. These links serve to ensure rapid two-way communication of all important information and enable exchange of know-how and training efforts. These regions have also agreed to link up their own reference operational centres by means of an effective data transmission and reception system between the operational centres, for real-time two-way exchange of important data from the seismic, hydrometeorological and sea and coastal meteorological monitoring networks installed across their territory, and to provide a dedicated videoconferencing link between the reference operational centres.

The regions are committed to rapid two-way communication between the reference operational centres of potential or actual emergencies which might endanger neighbouring populations, assets, settlements or the environment in proximity to border areas. They provide for regular meetings between the various bodies' technical personnel. They have also set up arrangements for exchange of know-how on significant technical and scientific advances in civil protection, in part by launching joint projects to be applied in the sphere of forecasting preventing natural risks. They hold joint training and simulation exercises to familiarise themselves with each others' emergency operational methods. In the event of emergencies on their own territory which may affect neighbouring populations, the regions can call for mutual assistance through the reference operational centres. Mutual assistance, in line with available resources, may include dispatch of specialist personnel, volunteer units with appropriate equipment and vehicles, aircraft and types of assistance to affected neighbouring populations, or any other steps which may help to deal with the emergency. The regions have agreed to cooperate on measures to extinguish forest fires in border areas. Mutual assistance is provided free of charge.

7.   DESERTNET – Measures to monitor and combat desertification in the European Mediterranean area

The purpose of ‘Desertnet’ is the study, monitoring and sustainable management of areas at risk of desertification in the Mediterranean basin. The project aims to rationalise the information and technical-scientific experience which has been acquired and compiled regarding areas identified as being at risk by regional and national programmes. A platform of services, a network of pilot actions and users, and an interregional anti-desertification observatory are to be created in order to help set up a uniform system for exchanging data and information, and for controlling desertification processes.

Under ‘Desertnet’, a network of pilot actions has been set up, designed to launch a methods standardisation process based on a comparison of experiences in several regions. The network has taken the form of a platform of services, as a result of which a database of methods, models and available data in the partner regions has been created. In the future, this structure should also provide for more straightforward management of activities and cooperation in projects and other aspects. It will serve as a benchmark for the most widely-adopted and shared methods. Further ahead, the partners have undertaken to promote the services platform, mainly by increasing the number of users. This expansion should make the platform a virtual forum for sharing know-how, by bringing in the national anti-desertification committees in addition to the users.

The partner regions are the Italian regions of Liguria, Campania, Calabria, Tuscany, Sicily, Emilia Romagna, Basilicata and Sardinia, and the Spanish autonomous regions of Murcia and Andalusia (www.desertnet.org).

8.   ROBINWOOD – Revitalisation of country and mountain areas through sustainable development by means of integrated forestry management

Robinwood is a project co-financed by the European Commission under the Interreg III C South programme. The project has as its objective the socio-economic development of country areas through the revitalisation of the wood supply chain. The project intends to apply an innovative approach based on the Sustainable Forest Management, combining planning, environmental, energy, territorial, economic and occupational aspects.

The Robinwood project includes five main themes:

Programme coordination and management

Soil maintenance: aiming at finding solutions that will assist in erosion prevention, landslide control and floods, through forestry management.

Forestry resources: aiming at better forestry management through the exchange of best practice and solutions to the problems of forestry certification, management and planning. The component will conclude with the preparation of an operational plan for forestry management by partner regions, which will evaluate economic and environmental sustainability of forestry management processes.

Energy: aiming at increasing the use of forestry biomass to produce CO2 neutral energy from a sustainable resource.

Communication: aiming at taking new developments to country and mountains areas of the partner regions. Communication is an essential tool for promoting ‘excellence’ and spreading good practice among the regional partners.

The participating regions are: Liguria (Italy), Brandenburg (Germany), the Autonomous Region of Murcia (Spain), Wales (Great Britain), Eastern Pomerania (Poland), and Eastern Slovakia (Autonomous Regions of Košice and Prešov – Republic of Slovakia).