The European Union’s emergency aid reserve is repeatedly being depleted as the number and severity of climate related disasters and extreme weather events has increased sharply in recent years.
European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic pointed out on September 12 that the EU’s disaster response system, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, is already working at full operational level.
“Over just two years, requests for assistance have increased by 400%. And resources are strained to its limits. Soon we might not be able to help where needed. Clearly, we must continue to strengthen our collective disaster response capacities,” Lenarcic told the European Parliament.
In both 2021 and 2022, the bloc’s emergency aid reserve was completely used up, and 2023 has already seen several severe emergencies related to the climate crisis.
Summer of disasters
Lenarcic said that during the months of July and August alone, the EU’s emergency response centre, responsible for coordinating aid delivery to crisis-stricken members, was activated on 12 occasions.
In August, catastrophic floods in Slovenia resulted in the loss of at least six lives and billions of euros of damage to homes and businesses. The floods were the most severe natural disaster to impact the country since independence in 1991.
During a summer marked by extreme weather events and climate-related consequences, Greece also grappled with deadly wildfires and storms and Spain endured a record-breaking drought.
“The wildfire in Alexandroupolis is the largest recorded in Europe ever, burning an area of almost 100,000 hectares. Meanwhile, in the same country, Greece, a week ago, three years' worth of rain fell within two days,” Lenarcic said in an address to the European Parliament.
“In August, two thirds of Slovenia was underwater. In May, flooding in Italy prompted 900 landslides. Last summer, nearly 62,000 Europeans died from record-breaking heat.
“I am sure you can continue this grim list yourselves. The horrific regularity, intensity and simultaneity of these emergencies was unusual just a few years ago. Now, it is all too familiar. And will only carry on accelerating.”
On top of these came other disasters not related to climate change, such as explosions at a Romanian LPG filling station that claimed two lives and injured dozens of people. The Romanian authorities swiftly asked for help through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to help cope with the fallout from the explosions.
The crises continued in September, when Bulgaria’s southern coast was hit by deadly storms and flooding. Eyewitnesses called it the worst storm they had seen in the last 50 years.
More support needed
Lenarcic told MEPs: “To continue keeping people safe in this new risk landscape we urgently need a more disaster resilient Europe. We must build prevention, preparedness and response into every part of our society.”
There has already been an increase in efforts to bolster resilience. Funding earmarked for disaster resilience under Cohesion Policy has nearly doubled, rising from €7bn in the last Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) to nearly €13bn in the current MFF.
The recently introduced instrument for recovery and resilience is projected to contribute an additional €12bn toward addressing climate change.
However, with a 400% increase in requests for emergency aid over the past two years, Lenarcic argued that the EU's current disaster response budget is insufficient, and called for additional financial support, and more substantial investments aimed at disaster prevention.
This could include initiatives such as sustainable forest management to mitigate wildfires and efforts to reduce the CO2 emissions driving climate change.