Reinforcing Civil Protection and Fostering Co-operation and Dialogue in the Euro-Mediterranean Region

Kristalina Georgieva – European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

High-level conference on the Euro-Mediterranean Regional Programme for the Prevention, Preparedness and Response to natural and man-made disasters

Brussels, 9-11-2012 — / — Dear Deputy Minister, Dear UN Special Representative,

Dear Director General, Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our work is never over.

I could not agree more with the video clip we just saw, and which sums up the work of the Civil Protection as I have been privileged to see in the last three years. As a way to welcome you to this conference, I would like to recall how useful the PPRD is, what it has achieved so far, and what would be the priorities for the future phase of this project.

1. In the face of growing disasters, we need to work together

As we have seen it recently with the Hurricane Sandy, nature never stops at one place. While we are not on the paths of hurricane, sawing Sandy’s devastation in Haiti, Cuba, and in the US made me think about how we would handle a disaster that would strike both sides of the Mediterranean. And this is one of the reason why we are here today: to do what US FEMA administrator Fugate told me as a lesson learned after Katrina: we have to learn thinking about the unthinkable.

Craig Fugate also said that the second most important lesson from Katrina was to learn how to receive assistance. How can major stakeholders in civil protection devise procedures that can plug in each other.

In that regard, the PPRD South is an initiative I am honoured to take part in. It is focused on an area, the Mediterranean sea, whose countries are linked not only by history, culture, economic and financial interests, but more importantly, by the same natural environment. Our countries are exposed to similar threats and they have been stricken by the same kind of disasters, in particular in terms of floods and earthquakes. This is why we need to learn from each other and be able to plug our different civil protection services together. One of the merits of the PPRD South is that it allowed the establishment of a network of civil protection authorities in the Med, fostering South-South and North-South links among different CP authorities. This is the only way ahead in the face of increasing disasters.

All reports are formal: natural disasters are increasing, both in frequency and in magnitude. Before, a hurricane would be about 100 km wide, or perhaps a small multiple of that, but Sandy was more than 1000 km wide! While we have seen major disasters in the Caribbean (Haiti), South Asia (Pakistan) or East Asia (Japan), demonstrating the deadly impact of mega-disasters, it is important to realise our region has been hard hit too: the number of climate-related disasters has been multiplied by 5 since 1980 in the 21 Mediterranean countries and the cost of these disasters has been multiplied by 17 over the same period.

2. Fostering a culture of prevention and preparedness

Seeing that evolution, 5 times more disasters, 17 times more costly, I can only welcome the emphasis put by the PPRD South on fostering the culture of prevention and preparedness. Having been to Japan just after Fukushima, and having the seen with my own eyes the incredible devastation caused the triple disaster, I cannot even imagine how bigger the human losses had been if this had happened elsewhere than in Japan, where people are incredibly prepared in terms of evacuation and safety drills.

Let me take a few examples of how the PPRD South contributed to promote awareness. In targeted campaigns, Egyptian authorities put together school programs to help children to prevent and to cope with accidents – and this is particularly valuable in high but unplanned urbanisation with high concentration of population, inadequate building material or insecure electrical connections.

The Palestinian Civil Defence did something similar by reaching some 20,000 students between 13 and 17 years old and making them closer to a culture of Civil Protection derived from links to the conflict, and to increase their capacity to face disasters. Going to 600 schools, they relied on 80 trainers and distributed 20,000 copies of a booklet for students and their families.

These examples are very positive, but fostering a culture of prevention and preparedness is not easy, and it needs strong institutional support.

This means that it is for each State to device its own institutions to assume civil protection responsibilities. The role of the State is at the centre of the European mechanism for Civil Protection: it shows how regional cooperation can benefit each State in the different phases of Disaster Management cycle. The EU has 10 years of experience in regional cooperation among countries, with increased Preparedness, mechanisms of joint Response, and developing awareness raising initiatives and early warning systems.

After 10 year, the EU CP Mechanism is undergoing an important revision process, in order to make it more efficient, performing and aligned with the challenges of the future. And there we can see how the key aspects of this legislative review match with the PPRD tangible deliverables. In the draft legislation, we emphasised risk mapping, contingency planning and, Peer Reviews system. In the PPRD, partner countries have access to a toolbox of useful instruments: CP Operational Manual, the Risk Atlas, the Exercises programme, the many workshops on Early Warning Systems, Floods, Tsunamis.

These tools can also be tailored to new needs. I would like here to thank the implementing partners for adapting the programme to national priorities and interests. The workshop on “forced migration” done by Tunisia just after they hosted the thousands of people fleeing the conflict in Libya allowed us to apprehend this kind of challenges, which could also be in future possibly linked to droughts or other natural phenomena.

3. Future priorities

Let me conclude how I started- “our work is never over”: not only the deliverables of PPRD South should be kept alive (maintenance of manual, risk atlas, etc.), but we have to increase our cooperation and make of it a permanent element of our political dialogue. That’s why we are pleased to announce the launch of a new Programme PPRD South, on which Commissioner Füle will speak more elaborately.

I nevertheless owe it to my services to relay our expectations for the future programme. Since the start of this PPRD, the Arab Spring has changed the political landscape but has made it even more important for the legitimacy of new political leaders to be able to count on experts to react swiftly to disasters.

We therefore hope that all institutions concerned will engage in the next stage, and open a dialogue with Civil Society and other stakeholders in order to have a more systemic approach to Disaster Management, well beyond the “response” approach which characterised CP in the past. Once again, this is about fostering a culture of Prevention.

This dialogue must involve Foreign Ministries – that it is the best way to make them aware of the existence of regional cooperation mechanisms and to acquire the right reflexes when a response can benefit from external assistance.

To also come back on how I started, I encourage all experts to embrace more openly the way traced by FEMA in the USA about information and data sharing (vs the old approach of secret/sensitive information).

Despite the financial crisis, both EU MS and the EU are trying to provide the necessary financial assistance commitments to the countries in transition. This money has to be invested in what provides the greatest return to society. So let me tell you that good Disaster Management does not only have an indirect impact (reduction of losses, quick recovery, return from 4 to 7 on investment), but also a direct impact on job creation, mobilisation of resources, better planning process and networking effect. I am therefore looking forward to the launch of the next PPRD South, and expect that Civil Protection will remain a priority for our cooperation for the years to come.

Thank you.




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