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Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the Committee of the Regions - Strengthening EU Disaster Management: rescEU Solidarity with Responsibility Solidarity with Responsibility

European Commission



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Introduction. Europe is increasingly facing the dramatic impacts of intense and unpredictable extreme weather events and earthquakes with ensuing loss of life, destruction of property and cultural heritage. This has had a tragic cost on lives and livelihoods. The nations of Europe decided to build the European Union (EU) to promote their common good and to face adversities together, each becoming stronger through unity and solidarity. A Europe that protects is one that has the means to respond in a decisive manner.
Climate change is amplifying the impacts of extreme weather events in Europe and worldwide 1 . Key trends show how climate change is contributing to increased intensity of forest fires and a longer forest fire season in Southern Europe, the expansion of fire-prone areas northwards, as well as increased storms and risk of flooding. 2 Since 1980, as well as the human cost, EU Member States have lost over EUR 360 billion in weather and climate extreme events. 3 At the same time, extreme events such as forest fires are also exacerbating climate change through increased Greenhouse gas emissions 4 .
2017 has seen a wide range of disasters. In total, over 200 people were killed by natural disasters in Europe in 2017 5 . Recently, tropical cyclones severely affected the EU outermost regions and the European overseas territories in the Caribbean. Hurricane Ophelia caused flash floods in Ireland and the United Kingdom and affected large parts of North-western Europe. Deadly severe storms following intense heat waves hit Central Europe earlier this summer.
Above all, 2017 saw a disastrous series of forest fires. Over one million hectares of forest have been destroyed, almost three times the five-year EU average, half of which was in Portugal alone. This represents an area four times the size of Luxembourg or over ten times the area of Berlin. Many people tragically lost their lives. Only in Portugal, over 100 people were killed, between June and October alone. Fires resulted in significant destruction of property and major impacts on the economy including to network infrastructure, businesses (commercial and industrial), agricultural and forestry activities. In Portugal alone, the direct economic damage of forest fire events between June and September is estimated at close to EUR 600 million, representing 0.34% of Portugal's Gross National Income. Forest fires are also becoming a reality in new locations, with the 2017 fires affecting parts of Ireland and Greenland.
The last two years have also seen serious damage from earthquakes. The major earthquake hit Central Italy in August 2016 was followed by three major quakes in the following months. 290 people were reported to have been killed; towns and cultural heritage in the regions of Umbria, Lazio and Marche were devastated, and economic activity was severely affected by the shocks. Earlier this summer, the Greek island of Kos, as well as neighbouring Turkey, were hit by an earthquake that resulted in several deaths, hundreds of injuries and huge disruption to an economy heavily dependent on tourism.
As well as these environmental disasters, Europe has been hit by terrorist incidents with multiple casualties, including large numbers of complex burn cases needing immediate attention. The Ebola and Zika viruses also served as reminders of the risk from epidemics and health emergencies.
Europe is not alone. Incidents worldwide follow similar worsening trends: the State of California was hit this year by successive forest fires of major intensity burning over 200 thousand hectares, over twice the national five-year average 6 ; Brazil may see 2017 be the worst year on record for forest fires 7 ; Over half a million hectares were destroyed by forest fires in Chile between July 2016 and February 2017, in the fight against which the European Union provided active assistance 8 . 2017 also witnessed a number of devastating floods in Africa and Asia as well as destructive earthquakes worldwide, with deadly shocks in Mexico in September, which killed over 270 people, toppled dozens of buildings and tarnished hundreds of historical buildings. The earthquake that hit the border region of Iraq and Iran on 12 November of this year claimed at least 420 lives, injured over 7,000 people, and resulted in thousands of damaged houses and cultural heritage, severely disrupting the provision of basic water and energy services. Chile and Turkey were also affected by earthquakes this year.
As new challenges impose new ways of acting, this Communication sets out how the EU can respond to the essential challenge of better protecting citizens from these disasters. It explains how a more ambitious and comprehensive approach can use the EU's scale to react more efficiently and more effectively, whilst at the same time ensuring that Member States use all the instruments at their disposal to prevent, prepare and respond to disasters.
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Conclusion. The sequence of destructive disasters in 2017, resulting in severe human, environmental and economic cost, demonstrated the need to reinforce European solidarity and the responsibility of the EU and its Member States in preventing, preparing and responding to disasters. Climate change is playing an important role in exacerbating the challenges and has contributed to the increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters. A Europe that protects must be also able to prevent, prepare for and respond to challenges that affect the fabric of our societies. rescEU is a leap forward in providing the Union and its Member States with the capacity to do so.
Building on the principle that prevention of identified risks, and adapting to these risks where full prevention is impossible, must be a duty, not a choice to be made, and combined with the capacity to react as quickly and efficiently as is humanly possible, rescEU will substantially reinforce disaster risk management capacities in the EU.
rescEU will lead to a situation in which all countries have integrated disaster prevention in all their policies, have made arrangements guaranteeing a satisfactory level of response capacity and can safely rely on EU assistance in case of disasters that are exceptional in scope or nature, and where EU intervention is justified. Looking ahead, the European Union and the states participating in the Union's Civil Protection Mechanism will be in a position to concentrate fully on developing its response capacities based on the risks of the future
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No. COM(2017) 773 final. (23 November 2017) 
Key: INRMM:14630735

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