Auditors praise EU disaster response

Auditors praise EU disaster response

18 January 2017

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Europe — The EU’s emergency response to natural disasters and major disease outbreaks around the world is generally timely and effective, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors.

Since September 2015, the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated by Croatia, Greece, Slovenia and Serbia. In response, close to 780,000 individual items have been offered by 16 EU Member States, namely Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In August 2016, Portugal has activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to help stop the spread of forest fires in several parts of the country.

The auditors examined the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM), which is managed by the European Commission and which exists to coordinate responses to disasters worldwide. They looked at three recent international disasters for which the Mechanism had been activated: the 2014 floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa between 2014 and 2016, and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

They concluded that the Commission’s management, through its 24/7 Emergency Response Coordination Centre, had been broadly effective. The activation of the UCPM had, in general, been timely and the EU civil protection teams had helped to coordinate the participating countries’ teams on the ground. This work had been made more effective by the widespread sharing of information.

The auditors found that coordination among Commission departments, as well as with other EU and non-EU bodies, had been inclusive. The Commission had also respected the United Nations’ overall lead, and had taken steps to ensure a smooth transition into the recovery phase of the disasters.

“When a disaster occurs, the reaction must be swift. Sound disaster management saves lives, and effective coordination among different responders – as we found here – is critical to the successful preparation for and response to disasters,” said Hans Gustaf Wessberg, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “The Commission’s coordinating role and its round-the-clock crisis centre are good examples of value added by European cooperation.”

The auditors did find areas for further improvement. They made the following recommendations to the Commission:

• identify ways to gain additional time in the early stages of disasters and during the selection and deployment of EU civil protection teams;

• develop the disaster communication and information platform to improve the overview of assistance provided and requested, to allow priorities to be followed up better and to make it more user-friendly;

• improve coordination on the ground by improving reporting, working with experts from the Humanitarian Aid directorate, and further involving EU Delegations; and

• improve reporting and accountability by automating the production of statistics and indicators.

The European Union Civil Protection Mechanism was first established in 2001. It links the participating states, the country affected and the experts in the field, distributing information and facilitating cooperation between civil protection and humanitarian aid teams. It is supported by a web-based alert and notification system.

A voluntary pool of relief teams, experts and equipment from EU countries is kept on standby and made available as soon as needed for EU civil protection missions all over the world. Since October 2014, ten countries have committed resources to the pool.

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