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Achieving resilience to disasters: we must act now to save costs and lives in the future
Cllr Harvey Siggs

The Committee of the Regions have argued that the EU must take far more concrete steps to build resilience against natural disasters placing local and regional authorities at the centre of its plans. The role of local authorities is crucial, they argued, given they are on the front line and must be sufficiently prepared to manage risk and ensure prevention. The Committee – an assembly of local and regional leaders from all member states - was reacting to a European Commission proposal that contributes to the EU's international obligations in finding a common strategy to build resilience to disasters.

The EU is a signatory to the UN’s Hyogo Framework for Action which sets a 10 year plan to build resilience against disasters. The Committee, which adopted its opinion on the issue, notes that between 2002 and 2012, disasters were responsible for more than 80,000 deaths and the economic cost was as high as €95bn. The opinion, led by Cllr Siggs (ECR Group) from the UK’s County Council of Somerset, argues that local authorities have three clear roles: preparing through improved resilience; reacting with improved coordination; and dealing with the impact after disasters. Cllr Siggs argued that building resilience in infrastructure and transport is the most effective way to minimise risks and reduce long-term costs, highlighting that this had to be done through public-private partnerships.

Cllr Siggs said, "If we want to effectively and efficiently manage disaster risks and achieve resilience, then we must work with the private sector. Private insurance, for instance, can contribute to sustainable public finances and has a role to play in disaster risk management. It helps to reduce the negative economic impact and facilitates recovery. Well-designed insurance policies can also discourage risky behaviour and promote risk awareness",.

Drawing attention to cross-border threats and disasters, Cllr Siggs highlighted the importance of data sharing and working with the private sector. Local and regional authorities should be encouraged to share data and collaborate with the private sector to maximise the sharing of information, adding that defence, security or commercial reasons for withholding information should only be possible when legitimate reasons can be given and when it is strictly necessary. This was important so that disaster and disaster management data can be recorded, retrieved, analysed and used to plan for and mitigate the effects of future disasters.

There is also a need for a change in mentality and approach, "We need an approach away from a focus on response and recovery to a focus on prevention, preparedness and resilience" Cllr Siggs said. The Committee underlines that though safer structures require design changes that typically cost 10 to 50% more to build (and more if energy grid, transport or water networks need to be relocated), it is more cost-efficient to build resilience structures than re-building or retrofitting unsafe buildings. A bottom-up approach must also be taken to improve future resilience to disasters. The Committee therefore called for a wide-reaching study on how best to enhance local authorities’ capacity and boost their participation in resilience and disaster risk reduction decision-making, as well as research into how best to develop resilient communities.

During his speech, which coincided with the Committee's 20 years anniversary celebrations, Cllr Siggs called for more training and education. He also highlighted the critical role that voluntary and civil society could play in preparing for future problems. Improving communication and making the most of new technologies – such as social media and online communication – should be integrated into risk planning to keep citizens sufficiently informed. He added, "Disasters know no boundaries so we need to ensure that we have effective coordination among all levels of government and collaborate across regions to mitigate and deal with the impact of disasters. In Europe we have recently had floods in the UK and more recently in the Balkans. Disasters will continue to occur and may well increase in the future. It is important to remember that recovering is costly and takes a long time. We must build resilience into everything we do and we must do so in partnership with the private sector."

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David French
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