The European Union should respond to the terrible loss of life caused by earthquakes in Italy this year by embracing a long-term policy of helping the renovation of vulnerable buildings and infrastructure, the European Committee of the Regions says in a set of policy recommendations adopted on 11 October. Among the proposals, the EU's assembly of local and regional authorities emphasise that the European Union and EU member states should increase funding for renovation work, arguing that the investment would pay economic dividends and could reduce climate emissions, as well as reducing death tolls.
The report – " A European policy on the seismic requalification of buildings and infrastructure " – was drawn up at the instigation of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) itself, and its adoption was timed to coincide with the International Disaster Risk Reduction Day on 13 October. The CoR is working with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to encourage local and regional authorities across Europe to protect their communities against damage caused by natural disasters.
The CoR's rapporteur, Vito Santarsiero (IT/PES), a member of the regional council of Basilicata in southern Italy, warns: "A dangerous natural event does not need to result in disasters on the scale that we have seen this year in Italy. Vulnerable buildings make the difference between a problem and a disaster. We need to make our buildings resilient. That will cost money, but we can also combine this renovation – 'requalification' – with efforts to increase energy efficiency, which would save money and help the climate. And, of course, we must also remember the costs of inaction: over the past 50 years, Italy has lost 100 people and about €3 billion every year as a result of earthquakes, often depressing local economies for years and also endangering future development. The EU has good technical building standards against earthquakes and the EU is always very supportive financially in clearing up the effects of earthquakes; but it should invest more in prevention, by bearing in mind the risks of earthquakes when deciding where EU regional funds should be spent and by requiring all infrastructure built with EU funds to be disaster-resilient. Moreover, these measures would also help us cope with other natural events, such as flooding and heat waves, which are becoming more common with climate change."
Mr Santarsiero continued: "Our recommendations are about much more than money. Prevention means having accurate information, capable local administrations, responsive communities, and effective emergency services – and in all of these areas local administrations are crucially important. We have proposals that could help on all those fronts, including the adoption of an EU-level action plan to a call for more research into earthquakes."
Mr Santarsiero said that there is a particular challenge in persuading older house-owners to take preventative action, and noted that, while Italy, Greece and Romania are at particular risk, earthquakes pose a "moderate" danger in parts of Portugal, Spain, and France. Earthquakes also have the potential to trigger tsunamis across the Mediterranean, from Lisbon to Crete.
In May 2017, the president, first vice-president and leaders of the five political groups in CoR went on a fact-finding mission to the Italian regions of Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo and Marche to grasp the damage caused by earthquakes.
On 12 October, at a conference co-organised by the CoR and the UNISDR , Mr Santarsiero will chair discussions on managing disaster risks with representatives of the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, and the Zurich Insurance Group.
In 2016, the European Committee of the Regions and the UNISDR signed a five-year action plan with the aim of increasing the number of European cities and regions taking steps to reduce disaster risks. The UNISDR manages the United Nations' Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which emphasises the linkages between natural hazards, climate action and sustainable development. The Sendai Framework is voluntary; to date, 3,678 municipalities have signed up to the UNISDR's bottom-up initiative with local governments, Making Cities Resilient .
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