EU development policies must be 'strongly geared' to disaster

The European commission must invest in 'disaster risk reduction' as the frequency of climate related disasters and crises increases, says Gay Mitchell

By Gay Mitchell

22 Apr 2014

In today's world there are an unsettling number of people who are highly exposed to the threat of crises, whether it is an economic crisis, conflict or natural disaster. One of the key challenges for many individuals and communities in fragile or crisis-prone states is the ability to manage a crisis or disaster resiliently and emerge from it successfully. The EU's development policies need to be strongly geared towards developing more resilient societies that are better able to withstand the shocks that a crisis or natural disaster produces. The impact of disasters represents major economic losses for governments and populations as well as an enormous loss of life. However, investing in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience will pay huge dividends in the future. The Asian development bank estimates that one dollar invested in disaster risk reduction in a crisis-prone area saves at least four dollars in relief and rehabilitation costs in the future. China has demonstrated its great progress on disaster risk reduction strategies in the past. When China spent €2.3bn between 1960 and 2000 on reducing the impact of floods, it averted losses estimated at around €9bn.

The European commission has made commendable efforts by attaching a strong focus through its communication on the EU approach to resilience in October 2012, which was followed up by an 'action plan on resilience in crisis-prone countries'. In December 2013, the European parliament overwhelmingly adopted a report I authored on the EU approach to resilience and DRR. The report requests the commission to take further action in a number of key areas in its approach to resilience. A key point made in the report is that DRR activities need to be strongly integrated with climate change adaptation strategies.

The cost of disasters all over the world is increasing heavily due to more frequent climate-related events. Managing the direct consequences and increased risks of ongoing climate change requires increased resilience at all levels, from households and communities to countries. The battle to achieve improved resilience is a global effort, with everyone involved.

Actions need to be coordinated effectively at a local, national and international level. The EU, for its part, can develop closer links with the UN office for disaster risk reduction to collaborate efforts. In September 2013, a hearing was organised in parliament's development committee which featured both the commissioner for humanitarian aid Kristalina Georgieva and the UN assistant secretary general for disaster risk reduction Margareta Wahlström.

This was an extremely useful event where the commission and the UN shared their experiences on DRR and resilience, and MEPs voiced their concerns about the issue. Further collaborative events between institutions will improve our efforts. It is important to note that the Hyogo framework for action, the UN's framework for DRR, which expires in 2015, has made significant progress in strengthening institutional and legislative arrangements on DRR.

The European parliament's report stresses that DRR and resilience need to feature firmly in the post-2015 development agenda, the framework which will succeed the millennium development goals. We must recognise that long-term progress can only be made if underlying factors which make communities or individuals more vulnerable, such as poor environmental management, inadequate infrastructure, land degradation, and poor town and city planning, are addressed.

It is crucial that the commission continues to stick to its objectives outlined in its communication on resilience and its action plan on resilience and takes a long-term perspective on making individuals, communities and countries more resilient.