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Disasters in Europe: more frequent and causing more damage

The number and impacts of disasters have increased in Europe in the period 1998-2009, a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) concludes. The report assesses the frequency of disasters and their impacts on humans, the economy and ecosystems and calls for better integrated risk disaster management across Europe.
The Buncefield fire, UK, 2005

The Buncefield fire, UK, 2005

Source: Thames Valley Police, 2008

The Agency's new report 'Mapping the impacts of natural hazards and technological accidents in Europe' addresses three different types of hazards: hydrometeorological or weather related (storms, extreme temperature events, forest fires, droughts, floods), geophysical (snow avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes) and technological (oil spills, industrial accidents, toxic spills from mining activities).

The increase in losses can be explained to a large extent by higher levels of human activity and accumulation of economic assets in hazard-prone areas, but also, to a smaller extent, by better reporting. Although the share of losses attributable to climate change is currently impossible to determine accurately, it is likely to increase in the future, since the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are projected to grow.

Key facts and findings

  • In the period covered by the report, disasters caused nearly 100 000 fatalities, affected more than 11 million people and led to economic losses of about EUR 150 billion.
  • Extreme temperature events caused the highest number of human fatalities. In total, more than 70 000 excess deaths were reported in Europe during the hot summer of 2003.
  • Flooding and storms were the most costly hazards. The overall losses recorded in the study period added up to about EUR 52 billion for floods and EUR 44 billion for storms.
  • The number and impacts of geophysical hazards appeared relatively stable during the period covered. Earthquakes caused most harm with almost 19 000 recorded fatalities and overall losses of about EUR 29 billion.
  • Technological accidents caused the most severe ecosystem impacts. The oil spills from the tankers Erika (1999) and Prestige (2002) caused some of the worst ecological disasters in European waters and the toxic waste spills from the mining activities in Aznacollar, Spain (1999), and Baia Mare, Romania (2000), seriously affected the environment not only in the immediate aftermath, but also in the long term.

Disaster risk reduction and management

Although some EU policies have already been adopted or initiated, more effort is needed to implement an Integrated Risk Management (IRM) approach that includes prevention, preparedness, response and recovery for all hazards across Europe. Some measures are best suited to be managed at household or municipal level, such as the improvement of natural drainage to prevent pluvial flooding or suitable care and housing for elderly people that can buffer the effects of heat waves.

Information gaps and data needs

Successful disaster risk reduction and management rely on solid evidence. Despite recent improvements in the information and databases on several types of hazards, establishing more comprehensive information systems would significantly improve the analysis and assessment of the impacts.

More information on EU policies and actions

EU legislation already adopted or initiated: the Floods Directive, the Seveso II Directive or the Community framework in disaster prevention within the EU, supported by risks assessment and mapping guidelines for disaster management.

 

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100