When disasters strike: 5 ways the EU steps up

Disasters know no borders. Whether it is an earthquake, forest fire or flood, disasters can overwhelm the capacities of the affected country. But what does the EU do when disasters strike? Here are 5 ways the EU steps up to help the affected countries and people.

© European Union, 2020 (photographer: Pavel Koubek)

1) Coordinating and financing the delivery of assistance

Twenty years ago, the European Commission created the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to improve prevention, preparedness and response to disasters.

All EU countries and six others — including Iceland, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey, are part of the mechanism.

The Commission coordinates EU civil protection operations through the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) ensuring the rapid deployment of emergency support. The ERCC acts as a hub for coordination between all EU countries, the six participating states and the affected country.

View of the Emergency Response Coordination Centre © European Union, 2018 (photographer: Ezequiel Scagnetti)

In addition to its coordinating role, the EU finances at least 75% of the transport costs of the assistance dispatched.

Since 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has been activated more than 500 times to respond to emergencies in Europe and beyond.

2) Helping EU countries fight the COVID-19 pandemic

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the EU has provided medical assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

On 19 March 2020, the Commission created the rescEU medical reserve, which holds medical supplies that can help EU countries fight COVID-19. The reserve is fully funded by the Commission, including the procurement, maintenance and delivery costs, and is hosted by several EU countries.

The rescEU reserve includes medical equipment such as ventilators, protective masks, gloves and laboratory supplies. So far, 10 countries have received more than 3.4 million masks, 200 oxygen concentrators, 2.5 million pairs of gloves, more than 100,000 goggles, 10,000 face shields, over 170,000 pairs of foot protection, and around 245,000 overalls.

Romanian firefighters unloading the first batch of 30 ventilators from RescEU reserve at Bulovka Hospital (left) and a box of rescEU assistance delivered by plane (right) © European Union, 2020

During these difficult times, the EU countries have also helped each other. In April 2020, just a month after the pandemic began, medical teams from Romania and Norway were deployed in Italy via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The country was one of the hardest hit at the beginning of the pandemic.

There are many other examples of EU solidarity during the pandemic.

The Commission has also supported EU countries in mobilising personal protective equipment, medicines and medical cargo, including items to support the vaccine campaigns.

To do that, the EU has funded more than 1,000 flights and 500 deliveries by road and sea, as well as the transportation of 293 medical workers and 35 patients.

3) Organising planes to fight forest fires

Forest fires hit Europe every summer. To prepare for the forest fire season in 2021, the European Commission had set up a fleet of 11 firefighting planes and 6 helicopters hosted in EU countries under rescEU.

A firefighting helicopter drops water over a forest fire in the area of Kårböle. © European Union, 2020

This proved to be the right decision when unpreceded forest fires struck the Mediterranean and Western Balkan regions this summer. Italy, Spain, Greece, Albania, North Macedonia and Turkey requested assistance from the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

The mechanism helped mobilise 14 firefighting planes, three helicopters, some 1,300 rescuers and 250 vehicles to help these countries.

4) Supporting countries with flood response

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was also activated to address severe flooding in Belgium.

As part of the immediate response, the EU mobilised a flood rescue team and a helicopter from France to assist local rescue efforts. Italy and Austria also offered flood rescue teams.

© French Civil Protection

The Commission coordinated and financed up to 75% of the transport costs of the assistance offered by EU countries.

5) Repatriating stranded EU citizens

Sudden restrictions on travel and movement due to the pandemic left thousands of EU citizens stranded abroad.

In a unique exercise, the EU supported member countries in organising the repatriation of EU citizens from around the world.

Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU repatriated more than 90,000 EU citizens in over 400 repatriation flights.

The European Ombudsman has honoured these efforts. The Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Department, together with the EEAS, received the Award for Good Administration this year for the joint work in the repatriations.

By Jaime Camacho Garcia and Gaspar Molnar, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

For more:

· EU Civil Protection Mechanism

· Visit our website to find out more about our work across the world

· Follow our Twitter account to get the latest: @eu_echo

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Stories from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department of the European Commission

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