Doc. 10438

26 January 2005

Europe and the Tsunami Disaster

Opinion1

Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs

Rapporteur: Mr Anders Högmark, Sweden, Group of the European People’s Party

I.       Conclusions of the committee

1.       The Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs welcomes and supports the report of the Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs on Europe and the Tsunami Disaster and believes that once the urgent humanitarian relief has taken place, environmental concerns should be taken into account in the reconstruction work in the affected areas.

2.       It attaches particular importance to prevention and preparedness to mitigate the effects of natural disasters, especially through the setting up of early warning systems in the Indian Ocean, and also in Europe, in the event of future undersea earthquakes and tsunamis. In this respect, the Committee:

i.       welcomes the decision to develop an early warning system in the Indian Ocean, taken at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Kobe on 18-22 January 2005, which will be co-ordinated by United Nations and led by UNESCO;

ii.       encourages the contribution of the Council of Europe’s EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement to United Nations efforts to create a global early warning system including existing ones and integrate regional strategies on disaster prevention in areas such as the Mediterranean.

3.       The Committee considers that a number of environmental needs and concerns must be taken into account in the reconstruction phase, and in particular:

i.       the environmental impacts of the tsunami, including marine and coastal, and consequences for the livelihoods of local communities (housing, transport facilities, fishing, farming and tourism); and

ii.       the rehabilitation and protection of vital natural ecosystems in the affected countries, including mangrove forests and coral reefs, which act as natural barriers against tidal waves, as a way of reducing the vulnerability of coastal communities.

4.       The Committee also welcomes initiatives from European towns, cities and regions to closely co-operate with affected local and regional authorities. This includes direct co-operation between European and affected towns and regions, as well as twinning arrangements, in collaboration with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

5.       The Committee proposes that the Assembly follow up developments regarding:

i.        the environmental impact of the tsunami and the rehabilitation of natural ecosystems and their role in the future development of the affected areas;

ii.        the contribution of EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement to improving prevention and preparadness in the event of major natural hazards in Europe; and

iii.        direct co-operation of European towns and regions, aimed at supporting the reconstruction of affected areas and gathering experience and lessons to be learned for the future.

II.       Explanatory memorandum by Anders Högmark

1.       The Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly, at its meeting in Vienna on 10 January 2005, decided to propose to the Assembly to hold an urgent debate on Europe and the Tsunami Disaster and referred this issue to the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs, for an opinion.

Need to focus on disaster prevention and preparedness

2.       With up to 280,000 reported deaths from the Asian tsunami, natural hazard prevention is a central element of sustainable development, in Europe and worldwide. The management of natural resources and land use planning can greatly influence the impact of natural events such as the undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004.

3.       In this sense, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has called for the integration of nature in early warning systems for natural hazards, as the environment can help prevent natural disasters. The UN has further stressed that proper prevention methods can significantly reduce the number of deaths from such catastrophes.

4.       In Europe, the European Parliament has called for the international community, led by the UN, to develop an effective and co-ordinated action plan in the event of future disasters. The European Parliament has further called on the Council of the European Union to support the creation of a pool of specialised civilian civil protection units to be available in the event of natural, humanitarian or environmental disasters, or those associated with industrial risks, in the EU or in the rest of the world.

Impacts on local livelihoods, natural resources and the environment

5.       The reconstruction work that follows the initial humanitarian relief will also need to address the impact of the tsunami on local livelihoods, natural resources and the environment more broadly. The consequences of the tsunami on the marine and coastal environment, with the loss of agricultural and fisheries resources, and the destruction of infrastructure, is having an enormous impact on local communities, in particular fisher folk and rice growers, the main crop in the region. A clear example is the salination of forest and agricultural soil, reported to threaten the viability of lands hit by the tsunami. With the destruction of important coastal ecosystems, the tsunami has greatly affected local economies and livelihoods which rely on those ecosystems for survival.

Unsustainable coastal development and the destruction of mangrove forests and coral reefs may have contributed to the size of the disaster

6.       Coastal development and shrimp aquaculture, for which vast areas of mangrove forests have been cleared, are reported to have contributed to the devastating effects of the tsunami, increasing vulnerability of coastal areas against tidal waves, as they act as protective natural barriers. Asia hosts around 40 per cent of global mangrove forests, while also accounts for the highest loss in mangrove area over the last decade.

Looking ahead: Improving disaster planning and response

7.       The United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Kobe on 18-22 January set as one of its priorities the establishment of a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean, similar to the one operating in the Pacific, which could be developed in 12 to 18 months. UN agencies, led by UNESCO, will begin work as agreed at the Kobe Conference.

8.       The Council of Ministers of the European Union will meet on 31 January to consider the measures envisaged by the EU and its Member States for the medium and long term with a view to formulating a European Union operational action plan, including the setting up of a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps. The EU is considering setting up an EU Crisis Management Unit to plan and co-ordinate the Union’s response to future disasters, following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

9.       The EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement of the Council of Europe stresses the need for prevention and early warning systems in the context of major natural and industrial hazards. The aims of the EUR-OPA Agreement are to reinforce and promote co-operation between Member States to ensure better prevention, protection and organisation of relief in the event of major natural or technological disasters. The EUR-OPA Agreement is a platform for co-operation between Eastern Europe, the South of the Mediterranean and Western Europe in the field of major natural and technological disasters. In the context of the recent Asian tsunami, the EUR-OPA Agreement has made available to the UN the scientific and training expertise of its Network of Specialised Euro-Mediterranean Centres, which includes 25 institutions.

Reconstructing the future: Environment, livelihoods and tourism

10.       The economic development of the countries and regions affected by the tsunami of 26 December 2004 relies to a large extent on healthy ecosystems, for tourism, farming and fishing activities. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has listed the provision of clean water; restoration of coastal spawning areas and inland fisheries; cleaning-up contaminated wetlands and agricultural lands, among priorities for action. Further assessments on the loss of biodiversity as a result of the tsunami, and its impacts on land use planning and tourism are planned by international organisations.

11.       UNEP is assisting with the assessment and planning of environmental mitigation activities, but is also working with other UN agencies to identify the recovery and reconstruction needs for the medium term. An initial ‘screening’ of the environmental damage, including damage to natural sea defences, and chemical and waste installations, is expected by mid- to late February. A report providing an overview of the environmental damage caused by the disaster, as well as the recovery and reconstruction needs, is expected by March 2005.

12.       Rehabilitation of severely affected mangroves would help speed up the recovery process from the tsunami, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has asked for caution regarding large-scale planting, as it should be undertaken within a larger framework of integrated coastal area management, taking account of fisheries and aquaculture, agriculture, roads and other infrastructure, industry, tourism and residential living areas.

Direct co-operation from European towns and regions

13.       Direct co-operation between European local and regional authorities and affected areas is to be encouraged, such as twinning or sponsoring arrangements between European and South Asian towns and regions. The Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities might contribute promoting such activities. The United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the world’s largest local government organisation, has decided to establish a database of local government experts around the world in areas such as water, sanitation, transport and infrastructure, to enhance the resources of the UN, national authorities and NGOs. The UCLG World Secretariat will be the focal point for information exchange between local governments, to respond to the specific needs of the affected communities. National, European and international associations of local and regional authorities should be encouraged to provide help and support to reinitiate local administration in the affected areas, on a demand-driven basis.

* * *

Reporting committee: Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs

Committees seized for opinion: Committee on Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs, Culture on Migration, Refugees and Population, Committee on Economic Affairs and Development and Committee on Culture, Science and Education

Reference to committee: Request for urgent debate and Reference No 3050 of 24 January 2005

Opinion approved by the Committee on 25 January 2005

Secretariat of the committee: Mr Sixto, Mr Torcatoriu, Ms Lasen-Diaz


1 See Doc. 10428 tabled by the Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs.