Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management

Mr Stylianides, Europe is signing up to an ambitious reform agenda which includes commitment to global action on climate; closer economic and fiscal coordination among the EU member states; and competitive and inclusive economy, with an emphasis on job creation and poverty reduction. What in your opinion is the role of the European disaster risk reduction within this context and what are your personal priorities for the next years?

2015 was a year of many achievements with the signature of the various international agreements. Of which we can be proud. I want to see disaster risk management at the core of the global sustainable development and climate change efforts. Resilience building is also key to reducing humanitarian aid worldwide, as is reflected by the World Humanitarian Summit. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 remains in this regard the basis for a risk-informed and resilient sustainable development agenda. This is a priority for the EU.

Investing in disaster risk management makes lots of economic sense. Investing in prevention reduces to cost of response. In practice, European cohesion funding has promoted generously resilient investments. Externally risk management constitutes an integral part of humanitarian aid and development assistance programming within all sectors and contexts. A central challenge will indeed be to promote risk-informed investments through all our external financial instruments to support resilience building.

There is an increasing need for innovative technologies and instruments to support disaster management. Disaster risk investments range from early warning systems to technological developments such as front-end modelling and the development of new materials for resilient construction. The role of the private sector in this regard is paramount.

Science plays a key role in ensuring the contribution of disaster risk reduction to sustainable growth. It is through a strong interface between science and policy that we can build a strong knowledge of disaster risk; make efficient use of data to better understand the economic impacts of disasters; and develop adequate preventive policies to reduce the risks of disasters.

It is evident that effective disaster risk reduction is part-and-parcel of a broader European approach to sustainable growth and job creation, as it cuts across all main policies of the EU. We need to work with all ministries, including the finance ministries. We must promote a whole-of-society approach to resilience building and disaster risk reduction.

During your hearing with the European Parliament in September 2014, you called the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction an opportunity to uplift disaster prevention and preparedness to the same level as disaster response. Has this goal been achieved in your opinion in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030? What are the implications of the Framework for the European Union?

The new Sendai Framework offers a new approach to disaster risk management policy and operations. The EU has supported a shift from a traditional approach disaster management to a new and more comprehensive focus on disaster risk management. At the heart of this new framework is the aim to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risks.

This evolution reflects the progress made at European level, where the Union Civil Protection Mechanism – the main EU instrument for disaster risk management – addresses prevention, preparedness for and response to natural and man-made disasters as equal priorities. Furthermore, in our activities as a main humanitarian donor, resilience-building and disaster risk reduction have become central components of our decision-making and funding allocations.

In fact, the EU played a central role in defining the new framework for disaster risk reduction and many of the Sendai recommendations are based on, and have wider implications for a number of existing EU policies, from climate change adaptation to resilient infrastructure and ecosystem-based solutions. The framework also introduces new elements and focus areas, which need to be linked to existing EU policies and on which we will need to do more. In particular, we will need to explore how best to link disaster risk reduction to the health and educational sectors and the important question of cultural heritage; from an external perspective, it will be important to ensure that all financial assistance is risk-informed.

It is now important to identify how each policy can contribute to the Sendai objectives. We will soon come up with an EU Action Plan on the implementation of the Sendai Framework, building on what is already being undertaken at European level and explore what more should be done across the four main pillars of the Sendai Framework, in close cooperation with UNISDR: Understanding disaster risk; Risk governance; Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience; Strengthening disaster preparedness and response.

Disaster insurance was pointed out by the European Commission as an action area in which the European Union could do more. Are there any current plans to follow up on the 2013 Green Paper on the insurance of natural and man-made disasters?

The topic of disaster insurance, and the broader role of the private sector in disaster risk reduction, is becoming ever more important as the economic costs of disasters are increasing. We are witnessing a worrying trend in Europe where average annual losses have risen from €9 billion in the 1980s to more than €13 billion in the 2000s. Across the globe, events are having increasingly strong economic consequences.

The insurance sector can contribute to the resilience of local communities and businesses in the face of disasters. In the case of countries and regions particularly vulnerable to disasters, insurance can play a role to create effective financial contingency mechanisms to cope with the increasing economic costs of disasters. Insurance can also be an incentive to discourage risky behaviour and that are designed to reflect the increasing levels of risk.

Unfortunately there is a long way to go in Europe since the take up rates for disaster insurance are low and a majority of all disaster losses are not insured against.

The Commission has been exploring how to better address the role of insurance as a tool for disaster risk management through the publication of a Commission Green Paper in 2013. We are currently following-up on the contributions. Concrete follow-up actions have also been undertaken. For example we are keen to support G7 commitment to increase by 400 million the number of people with access to weather and climate insurance by 2020, and are supporting actions developed by the World Bank’s Global Facility for DRR such as the Disaster Risk Financing and Insurance Programme. We are also supporting regional innovative facilities such as the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which are strengthening resilience of local communities in this disaster-prone region. At EU level, we have been working to improve disaster data and the recording of losses and damages.

The Sendai Framework goes in a similar direction by including four targets relating to disaster damage, losses, mortality and affected people. Let’s not forget also that with climate change, insurance will be called upon to cover increasingly frequent and intense events. This renewed impetus will need to be reflected in implementing all strands of the international agenda.

The reformed EU Civil Protection Mechanism comprised a requirement on the EU member states to complete a multi-hazard risk assessment. Does DG ECHO intend to facilitate similar pan-European, national and sub-national risk assessments?

One of the deliverables of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism legislation requires Participating States in the Mechanism to carry out National Risk Assessments, and to cooperate with the Commission in providing relevant information and contributing to an overview of risks in the EU. In this context, the Commission is working closely with Member States to facilitate and support national efforts to undertake risk assessments, in part through technical support provided via the Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre. A number of regional initiatives are also under way to explore risk assessments of a regional dimension, addressing cross-border risks and risks on a regional or even European scale – examples include the Danube and Baltic macro-regional strategies.

The new Sendai Framework focuses on the prevention and preparedness for emerging and new types of risk, including climate-related risks. This new approach opens new opportunities for research and science, as well as stronger cooperation with relevant sectors and actors stretching beyond the community of emergency responders.

The ENHANCE project has analysed a variety of multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) as catalysts of innovative DRR approaches. Likewise, UNISDR established a Science and Technology partnership in the context of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. What from among the EU priorities for disaster risk reduction and humanitarian aid can be better achieved through partnerships than anything else? How could partnerships be further encouraged as an instrument for DRR?

Building partnerships and strengthening networks is central to any well-functioning system and must be promoted at all levels, from local to national, regional and global. Partnerships and networks are crucial to facilitate the sharing of information, to improve the knowledge base, develop trust, and build on interconnectivities as well as interdependencies among partners, with the aim of achieving efficient reduction of disaster risk and operational preparedness.

Science is a key component of the disaster risk management architecture. A huge wealth of knowledge and evidence exists in the scientific world, which continuously feeds into the reduction of disaster risk and emergency preparedness and response. Achieving the ambitious goal of fully exploiting science in disaster risk management will be enhanced by the development of stronger partnerships and networks, across both the risk and operational communities.

The Commission has recently explored ways to tackle this need through the development of an EU Disaster Risk Management Knowledge Centre. This virtual centre brings together science-policy networks and partnerships (e.g. ARISTOTLE for early warning systems) to strengthen the interface between science and policy and reinforce the contribution of science to policy making in disaster risk management – I invite you to consult the DRMKC website


Note to readers:

Christos Stylianides is the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management since November 1st, 2014.  On October 24th, 2014 he was appointed by the European Council EU Ebola Coordinator. 

He was elected Member of the European Parliament in the May 2014 European elections where he served until October 31st 2014. He was twice appointed Government Spokesperson of the Republic of Cyprus (in 2013-2014 and in 1998-1999).  He was responsible for the management of the Government’s communication strategy and was the head of the Government’s centralised Press and Information Office.

During the period 2006-2013 he served as a Member of the Cyprus House of Representatives (elected in 2006 and 2011).  During his tenure he served as Vice-Chair of the Committee on Foreign and European Affairs (2011-2013) and member of the Committee on European Affairs, the Committee of Internal Affairs and the Committee of Employment and Social Affairs (2006-2011).  Between 2006-2011 he was a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and he was elected Member of its Bureau in 2012.

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