Summary: January 11, 2005: EU Civil Protection Assistance in South East Asia (Brussels)
Through its Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) the Commission co-ordinates requests for civil protection assistance and can mobilise Member State experts and equipment at short notice. On learning of the earthquake and tsunami early on 26 December, the MIC immediately contacted UN-OCHA (Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Aid) and the Presidency. In response to the Sri Lankan Government's appeal for international aid, a first request for assistance was sent out by the MIC to all
participating countries at 10am on 26 December. As the scale of the disaster became clearer, the MIC appointed assessment and coordination experts from Sweden, France and Italy. Their role was to help assess the situation and coordinate the assistance offered by Member States. They arrived in Colombo and Phuket on 27th December and quickly integrated into the local coordination efforts and started to send assessment reports back. In all, 16 Member States - and Bulgaria and Romania - channelled
significant quantities of much needed aid through the Community Mechanism.
Sri Lanka - In Sri Lanka, first efforts focused on immediate relief items and medical teams were provided by several Member States along with relief supplies such as tents, bottled water, water purification and temporary sanitation equipment.
Thailand - In Thailand the efforts focused on the search for and subsequent identification of corpses, especially of European tourists. The MIC participated in inter-consular telephone conferences organised by the Presidency to exchange information and help coordinate efforts to evacuate stranded tourists. One result of this cooperation was a new call for assistance through the civil protection mechanism for forensic experts and material to help conserve corpses. This resulted in the despatch of experts, medical assistance and search and rescue teams.
Indonesia - On the 28th December, UN-OCHA advised the MIC that they had now been able to reach Sumatra, where the situation was extremely serious and hitherto under-estimated. After contacts with the UN team on the scene, a new call for assistance was launched. An expert, offered by the French Government, was appointed to help coordinate the arrival and provision of assistance. Given the difficult geographical situation of the hardest hit area (Banda Aceh in Northern Sumatra) and the enormous difficulties for travel to and in the area, this expert was essential to the operation. Good cooperation was established with the UN teams, enabling receipt of aid in the form of field hospitals, medical supplies and relief items.
The Maldives - First reports that the Maldives were less badly affected were proven to be over-optimistic so an evaluation expert from Germany was appointed and sent to the region. Medical teams and supplies and water purification units were sent by Member States.
By its nature civil protection assistance is provided in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. By 6 January the first phase of the assistance had been largely completed and the focus has shifted to humanitarian aid.
The Mechanism worked smoothly and co-ordination with the UN OCHA worked well (in accordance with the terms of an agreement recently concluded with UN OCHA). The investment made in recent years in training/exercises and in developing co-ordination procedures helped ensure an effective mobilisation and allowed a clear expression of EU solidarity.
We should build on the existing mechanism which has shown it can be fast and effective. Nevertheless, a number of actions could be taken to enhance the capacity of the Mechanism:
As proposed in the Commission Communication of 25 March 2004 (Reinforcing the Civil Protection Capacity of the European Union), the database on available experts and resources needs to be improved.
As part of the future financial perspectives package, the Commission agreed to propose increased funding for: (i) more exercises and training of Member State experts, and (ii) for transportation, both inside and outside the EU, of equipment offered by Member States. These proposals need to be completed soon (either as part of a revised Solidarity Fund or through an alternative arrangement).
As part of the future financial perspectives package, the Commission agreed to propose funding for more exercises, training etc of member State experts and for funding the transportation of equipment offered by Member States to help with disaster relief, inside and outside the EU. These proposals need to be completed soon (either as part of a revised Solidarity Fund or through an alternative arrangement).
Once these additional steps are taken, the Community will have a pool of expertise and inter-operable equipment at its disposal. This will represent an EU civil protection force which can be mobilised rapidly to respond to disasters - both inside the EU and in third countries.
Description of the Civil Protection Mechanism
The Community Civil Protection Mechanism was established in 2001 to facilitate the mobilisation of support and assistance from Member States in the event of major emergencies. The heart of the Mechanism is the Commission's 24 hour a day / 7 days a week Monitoring and Information Centre (known as the MIC). The MIC receives alerts and requests for assistance directly from a disaster-stricken country.
On receipt of a request for aid, the MIC immediately informs the national civil protection authorities. It will often appoint coordination and assessment experts that travel to the scene to identify the civil protection needs and help ensure its efficient delivery and distribution. The MIC liaises closely with the local authorities that coordinate the response to the disaster and with the UN Agencies working in the field.
The Civil Protection Mechanism covers all Member States, the Candidate Countries and the EEA countries. It operates both within and outside the EU. It is not a financial instrument, but focuses on mobilising existing assets needed to save lives and alleviate suffering in the first days of a disaster (typically search and rescue equipment, medical services, temporary shelter, sanitation equipment, etc).
The Commission has an annual budget of some €7m that it uses to improve preparedness both of Member States and the MIC to meet future emergencies. This funds a training programme for experts, exercises that simulate disasters and pilot projects and seminars to develop, demonstrate and disseminate best practice. These activities increase co-operation and improve the ability to react positively and quickly when disaster strikes.
 N.B. Work is on-going in this area. DG Environment has just completed a first scenario-based inventory which has identified a number of gaps. The EUMS (Military Staff) has made its database of civil protection assets available to DG Environment and the Council has agreed that military means can be requested through the Mechanism.