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This article was published on the website of the European Commission DG Research & Innovation on 11 May 2016.
Floods, wildfires, droughts and volcanic eruptions. These are just some of the catastrophes that will cause increasing damage and costs in Europe if steps aren’t taken to address the risk from natural disasters, says ENHANCE, an EU-funded research project. The findings are being used at EU, national and local levels.
Remember back in 2010, when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted throwing thousands of tonnes of mineral ash into the air, bringing chaos to the European air industry and costing the economy billions? What about the wildfires that swept through Portugal in 2013, ravaging woodland left dry by months of drought in one of the worst water shortages in the country’s history? More recently, flooding in the UK wrought destruction and caused severe disruption to individuals and the national economy alike. Europe, it seems, is under threat from its environment.
While natural disasters can’t be prevented, preparation to mitigate the impact is essential. Quality information and assessment of risk is key; partnership is fundamental. This is at the core of the ENHANCE project, which aims to enhance risk management partnerships set up to deal with catastrophic natural hazards in Europe.
Working with 24 partners in 11 countries, the project is designed around 10 case studies on risk reduction of catastrophic events taking place at different geographical and spatial scales in Europe. These cover everything from alpine hazards and railway transport to health preparedness and heat wave response plans.
At the core of the ENHANCE project are Multi-Sector Partnerships (MSPs). Ten MSPs were established or developed to bring together members of public and private organisations, including the financial sector, to work together to manage risks from natural hazards. In dealing with disasters in the past, one problem that became apparent was that agencies and organisations were working in silos; information exchange was limited thereby slowing down an adequate emergency response. With MSPs, ENHANCE seeks to overcome this obstacle.
“Governments can’t do everything by themselves and the private sector has an interest in risk reduction,” says Ralph Lasage, ENHANCE project coordinator. “They can play an important role when it comes to economically efficient measures to reduce risk. For example, if insurance companies provide good risk information, they can encourage people in a given area to take certain risk reduction measures and in turn reduce their premium. In that sense, reliable access to quality information can stimulate a positive response that makes economic sense for all stakeholders”.
Multiple success stories
One of ENHANCE’s major success stories is the case study on ‘Flood risk management for Rotterdam Port infrastructure.’ The port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe. The probability of the harbour flooding is low, but if it happens, the economic, social and environmental impact will be large and have an EU-wide effect. Stakeholders including the Rotterdam municipality, the Port Authority, and private companies worked together to develop a multilayer risk reduction strategy, focusing on specific and measurable actions each can take to lower the risk.
Beyond the Netherlands, the ENHANCE project has had both a European and international impact, with outcomes ranging from knowledge sharing to policy recommendations.
“Several of our case study partners have given input to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement which recognises that, while the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk, responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders. We’ve also given input to the EU’s Green Paper on the Insurance of Natural and Man-made Disasters. ENHANCE is based on scientifically-sound studies that have seen its results published in high ranking scientific journals like Nature Climate Change and Science.”
At the local level, Lasage says, the Wadden Sea Forum in Germany has plans to include the impact of climate change as part of their MSP’s work, while the Rotterdam Port Authority, together with the Municipality of Rotterdam and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, has committed about €200 000 to further analyse the risk that climate change poses to the area, to increase awareness and stakeholder communication and to develop and adaptation strategy.
“All in all, ENHANCE partners are glad to have delivered concrete outcomes and impacts at the EU, national and local level, scientifically and politically,” says Lasage. “In fact, all case studies provide good examples of how the project has developed and shared knowledge with stakeholders — valuable intelligence they now need to act upon.”
Note to readers:
Project acronym: ENHANCE
Participants: Netherlands (Coordinator), Italy, Austria, UK, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Romania, Iceland
Project Reference N° 308438
Total cost: € 7 687 123
EU contribution: € 5 992 084
Duration: December 2012 – November 2016