The recent floods in Central Europe broke centuries-old records for water levels in some of our major rivers. Nobody can fail to have been moved by the images of a seemingly Biblical deluge. We looked on with our hearts in our mouths to see when the surges in the rivers Danube and Elbe would reach their peaks and begin to recede.
The June floods are a wake-up call that we cannot avoid the adverse impacts of a changing climate. The frequency and intensity of natural disasters – including floods – is increasing. It places more people and more property at risk in Europe. Floods of this magnitude cause many billions of euros in damages – exactly what we do not need as the European economy struggles to get back on its feet.
This means we need to strengthen disaster management at the local, national, regional and European level. I am working on that, including in our upcoming legislation on disaster response. Another important step in this direction was made this week by my colleague, the Commissioner for Regional Development Johannes Hahn, who proposed strengthening the prevention element in the new, simplified rules of the Solidarity Fund. EU funds are a precious resource that Member States can invest in disaster risk reduction and preparedness. In the EU Strategy for the Danube Region, for instance, around €2 billion is available for investment in flood protection and prevention by the end of this year. Disaster-reducing measures will also be a key priority of the European cohesion policy in the next EU budget between 2014 an 2020.
We are taking these practical measures because prevention pays off – the June floods in Central Europe were more massive than the floods that hit the same region 12 years ago, but caused less damage precisely because of the preventive measures already put in place. This is just one out of many examples proving that one Euro invested in prevention saves between four and seven Euros in damage.
The risks we face are growing but we are not helpless. If we act decisively and act together we can weather the storms to come.