The natural disasters become more unpredictable, complicated as form and proportion and costly as an impact. Their consequences are yet several times more difficult in the countries that face endemic corruption, limited resources and/or incompetence spread among the public authorities. The heavy snowfalls that had paralyzed Moldova for two days (April 20-21, 2017) repeatedly revealed how fragile the state is and, as a result, how vulnerable the people can become.
Long-term debates will follow on the real preparedness and efficiency of the central and local public authorities in the management of emergencies. The most recent tempests showed yet that the local authorities, in Chisinau for example, are not yet able to reduce the impact of the natural disasters by preventive action such as appropriate care for trees and strengthening of utility poles. Realizing the risks that can amplify the initial impact of natural disasters is an essential precondition for avoiding major failures in the management of crises and for ensuring a minimum civil protection level.
While the Moldovan authorities continue to show impotency, determined by the insufficient preparedness of the local and central public administration, incompetence, limited resources and others, the Europeans develop new instruments for overcoming the effects of natural disasters inside the European Union.
The appropriate implementation of the Association Agreement will enable to develop new capacities for preventing natural disasters in Moldova, with the assistance of the European partners. A series of improvements can be witnessed in 2017-2019 already, if the Moldovan authorities implement the measures aimed at ensuring civil protection in situations of disaster, specified in the Association Agenda with the EU.
Does Moldova have natural disaster management mechanisms?
The snowfalls of the end of April showed that Moldova has more weak points that are not known by the public and that have been so far neglected by the authorities. Earlier, there were discussed the conventional risks existing in the country – energy dependence, inadequate supply of drinking water, incidence of floods, etc. The given aspects were reflected in the National Strategy for Reducing Disaster Risks for 2013-2020, which was discussed at the beginning of 2013 (Ministry of Environment 2013). It is not known exactly what the public consultations on this strategic document ended with and if this is implementable. That’s why the recent natural disaster is an opportunity for resuscitating the discussions on the institution of a clear and efficient mechanism for diminishing the risks caused by natural disasters, in particular in the context of the climate change.
Partially, the subject concerning the natural disasters is mentioned in the Individual Action Plan with NATO, but only on the line of scientific cooperation. Furthermore, the partnership with NATO implies the taking over by Moldova of good practices in the planning of emergency civil situations and subsequent modernization of the civil protection system.
The Association Agreement with the EU and, respectively, the European commitments are the most sustainable and consistent forms of cooperation and assistance from which Moldova could ever benefit. But their implementation 75-90% depends on the Moldovan authorities.
Association Agreement with EU and management of natural disasters
The aspects of cooperation in civil protection are clearly specified in the Agreement (Title IV, Chapter 22). The chapter concerning civil protection includes very specific provisions about the format of cooperation in preventing natural disasters and the management of emergencies caused by these (Articles 117-121).
More exactly, the cooperation with the EU envisions the facilitation of mutual assistance in emergencies, exchange of information about large-scale emergency situations, assessment of the impact on the environment, exchange of knowledge and occasional training for the specialized authorities. Furthermore, this cooperation involves the efficient use of the already available civil protection capacities.
During the next two years, according to the Association Agenda with the EU (2017-2019), the strengthening of cooperation with the EU could offer more benefits to Moldova based on the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. At the same time, with EU support, it is planned to assess and classify disaster risks. Also, there could be initiated a dialogue on the prevention, preparation and response measures in case of disasters by exchanging practical knowledge and formation of skills (common training, exercises, fact-finding visits).
Among the planned prevention activities are the information, education and training of the population. Special attention will be devoted to the training of young people in the area of major risks related to disaster management.
The long-term priorities stipulated in the Association Agenda include the exchange of information about early warning and provision of reciprocal assistance, including through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. The enrichment of knowledge of disaster risks and their economic costs is another bilateral cooperation area.
The medium- and long-term priorities are aimed at building a functional civil protection system and a national training program on risk management. These will be inspired by the best practices applied in the EU member states.
European “know-how” versus problem of natural disasters
Besides the provision of international assistance for alleviating the consequences of natural disasters (about €120 million a year), the EU is also focused on the management of disaster risks inside the Union. In both of the cases, we speak about the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department of the European Commission.
Based on the annual assessment of risks in the EU, the European Commission compiled the Report on Disaster Risks at European level in 2014. The report specifies the most spread natural disasters (12), severe floods and meteorological conditions, animal pandemics and epidemics, forest fires and earthquakes, etc. Thus, the EU member states and Norway were analyzed from the perspective of their vulnerability to the mentioned natural disasters, including as regards the transfrontier impact. This objective assessment enables to adjust the European civil protection mechanisms, including to ensure more efficient cooperation between the EU, the European national governments and international organizations. This way, many disasters can be easier prevented, especially by involving the whole complex of European policies and efforts.
Moreover, the EU offers substantial support to the European states that already faced natural disasters, through the EU Solidarity Fund that appeared in response to the 2002 floods in Central Europe. Practically all the European states (24) benefitted from financial assistance from this Fund for recovery following over 70 natural disasters. During the last 15 years, the assistance received by the EU states amounted to €3.8 billion (2002-2017).
Most of the times, assistance from this Fund was provided to Italy (8 cases - €1.3bn), Romania (7 cases - €119m), France (6 cases – €203.7m), Greece (5 cases – €114.3m), Croatia (5 cases – €22.7m) and Bulgaria (5 cases – €39.2m). The Fund envisions a very clear allotment mechanism, with caps on the amounts that can be allocated to the EU states (for major disasters, based on the Gross National Income; for regional disasters, based on the Gross Domestic Product).
Instead of conclusion...
The natural disaster of April 2017, which paralyzed practically the whole country, revealed the real capacities of the state and the local and central authorities in ensuring a minimum level of civil protection.
In fact, we witnessed a combination of factors that trebled the impact of the natural disaster. These factors manifested themselves separately or cumulatively and included the lack of necessary powers, poor preparedness of authorities, limited resources, inefficient communication with the people and others.
The given situation shows how essential the existence of disaster risk assessment and prevention mechanisms is. The Moldovan authorities are late in developing such mechanisms event if Moldova has been struck by severe natural disasters since 2008 (2008 – floods, 2012 – drought, 2014 – heavy snowfalls). So far, there were taken separate and sporadic actions as there are no comprehensive and mandatorily sustainable mechanisms.
The Association Agreement with the EU contains different provisions centering on civil protection and anticipation of natural disasters. It is the obligation of the Moldovan authorities to make use of all the opportunities provided by the European side.
The responsibility for the delay in developing robust disaster management mechanisms is borne by the Moldovan authorities. The Association Agreement with the EU and the membership in the Eastern Partnership offer diverse instruments for benefitting from significant assistance from the EU.
Finally, the fighting of corruption and incompetence within the local and central public administration in Moldova should be treated with the same seriousness as the development of mechanisms for preventing natural disaster risks.
Dionis Cenușa este politolog, deţine MA în studii europene interdisciplinare, Colegiul Europei.
Domenii de interes: Integrare europeană, politici europene, politica externă a UE, migrație și securitate energetică.
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