More efficient Euro-Mediterranean civil protection collaboration is needed to protect lives
By the UfM Secretary General, Nasser Kamel.
The summer of 2023 will be remembered as one of extremes on both sides of the Mediterranean: storms, drought, heatwaves, wildfires, and earthquakes. As Croatia, Italy and Algeria braved flash floods, the historic lack of rain continued to take its toll on Spain, blazes raged across Tunisia, and the Mediterranean Sea broke yet another heat record. Morocco also experienced its biggest quake in well over 100 years only months after violent tremors shook Turkey and Syria.
And yet, although natural disasters are a fact of life in the region, there have also been encouraging signs of resilience driven by cross-border collaboration. When devastating floods ravaged two-thirds of the territory of Slovenia last August, the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, the European Commission’s disaster response coordination system, sent excavators, helicopters, and rescue personnel from seven countries while NATO provided further material and human assistance. When hundreds of fires – including the largest ever recorded in the EU – tore through Greece and Cyprus, the neighbouring countries of Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt were all quick to mobilise aid. And when Libya was battered by Storm Daniel, Algerian, Tunisian, Egyptian and Palestinian rescue teams were deployed to the scene.
More and more, many of these extreme events are attributed to climate change, an issue that is perhaps more pressing in the Mediterranean than anywhere else in the world. As experts from the MedECC international research network, supported by the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), have demonstrated, the region is warming at a rate 20% faster than the global average, meaning that an estimated 250 million of its residents are expected to be “water poor” within 20 years. These facts, unfortunately, are but further reminders that the time to act is now before devastation caused by extreme weather becomes even more commonplace.
Natural disasters, often exacerbated by climate change, know no borders, which is why it is of vital importance that the Euro-Mediterranean region take action towards concretising civil protection coordination and collaboration efforts. Combining capabilities efficiently is key to effectively anticipating disasters via early warning systems and responding to the challenges that lie ahead in a collaborative and organised manner. This, in turn, is the best way to both optimise resources and protect citizens, leaving no one behind when disaster strikes.
There has been some progress in this domain in recent months, namely in the form of the UfM-backed “Prevention, Preparedness and Response to natural and man-made disasters in the EU Southern Neighbourhood countries – PPRD Mediterranean” programme launched by the European Commission last June in Rome following the fatal Emilia-Romagna region floods. Although the ambitious programme does seek to reinforce partnerships across the Euro-Mediterranean, we at the Union for the Mediterranean, believe it is absolutely imperative we do more.
We therefore propose the creation of a Mediterranean Framework on Civil Protection to better coordinate cross-border assistance in the event of natural disasters. This would be an association of both northern and southern Euro-Mediterranean countries, a true territorial and institutional extension of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. The UfM is a strong proponent of formalising a new voluntary framework implemented jointly by all actors and current instruments, including the UfM and its member states. This permanent space for exchange on prevention, preparedness, and response, would therefore provide a platform of mutual assistance and rapid response in the event of emergencies.
The fourth UfM meeting of the Directors General of Civil Protection from all over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East will take place on October 18-19 in Valencia to discuss the logistics of pooling and sharing resources, stressing the importance of working towards doing so sooner rather than later. To this effect, attendees will debate an Action Plan that ultimately has the aim of equipping Euro-Mediterranean civil protection authorities with invaluable assistance in the form of risk assessment, early warning systems, satellite imagery, building capacities, joint training and exercises, and emergency response coordination and cooperation while also promoting best practices and a volunteerism observatory.
The natural disasters that wreaked havoc on the region this summer are more than sufficient evidence of the need to usher in a new era of Euro-Mediterranean governance. Better integrating and sharing resources will undoubtedly allow us to build further adaptability to climate change and other emerging risks while improving our response to emergencies.
The bottom line is simple: if we have the capacity to act and protect more lives together, as one, we should do so immediately.
Nasser Kamel is the Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean.