"We should not wait for another disaster before strengthening our system" - Dimas

Europe has coped with a flurry of floods and fires over the summer but should not become complacent.

This was the central message of a speech in Strasbourg by Europe's environment commissioner Stavros Dimas on September 5.

Speaking in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the commissioner's call for extra preparation for natural disasters was given an added sense of urgency.

"This summer's weather extremes have left a trace of destruction across Europe," he said.

"The Iberian Peninsula is affected by the worst drought in 60 years.

"Hot weather contributed to the spread of fires across Europe.

"Portugal, the most seriously affected country, lost at least 180 000 ha to the flames.

"At the same time the fires are raging in the south, floods wreaked havoc in Central and Eastern Europe.

"The affected countries are still counting the cost of a flood crisis which - albeit in economic terms less catastrophic than the centennial flood in 2002 - left behind 70 people dead, thousands evacuated and a massive reconstruction bill to pay.

"Romania, the hardest hit with 33 deaths, estimates damage to reach €500 million, to give just one example."

He said the Community Civil Protection Mechanism had become an indispensable instrument for delivered a co-ordinated response to natural disasters in Europe.

The mechanism had worked well in getting personnel and equipment from other member states to those who were in need but Dimas warned against complacency and argued that more funding would make the agreement even more effective.

Other measures were in place to prevent disasters, and deal with their aftermath, he said, such as the recent Forest Focus Regulation which would monitor tinder-box forests in southern Europe to reduce the risk of fire and react faster if a blaze did begin and the EU Solidarity Fund which allowed member states to apply for financial support if a disaster caused more than €3 billion of damage.

"Those who lost their loved ones or their homes, however, remind us that we must push even harder for further improvements of the system," he said.

"Despite all progress made in recent years there is actually scope and need for such improvement.

"We should not wait for another disaster before strengthening our system."

By Sam Bond



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