On Tuesday 17th May, the Border Focal Point Network organised the eighth episode of the “Beyond Borders: Breakfast Debates” series. The natural and industrial disasters of the past autumn and summer in Europe, featuring heavy flooding, forest fires, and water pollution, have once again taken a human toll. It is imperative that we are both more prepared for, and more equipped to respond to these events as their frequency and ferocity is expected to increase as a consequence of climate change.Border regions play an especially important role here: since many borders in the EU are drawn along natural barriers such as rivers, forests, or mountains, the risk management that these barriers require becomes a shared responsibility.
This episode opened with remarks from DG REGIO’s Myriam Boveda who argued that the EU faces multiple risks, such as floods and industrial disasters, that do not respect national borders. These risks can lead to loss of life, threaten stability and growth, and impact environmental and social local conditions. Border regions, emphasised as playing an important role in the EU’s Green Deal strategy, are uniquely placed to collaborate on prevention, preparedness, and response to such natural and human-made disasters.
We then heard from two practitioners in the field of cross-border disaster risk management, namely: Marcela Glodeanu, Head of Unit at the Managing Authority for Interreg V-A Romania-Bulgaria, and Aldo Primiero, CROSSIT SAFER project representative. Marcela Glodeanu, speaking of the Danube border region, noted that the main disaster risks the area faces are those of flooding, fires, and earthquakes, but there is also risk of industrial disasters posed by the activity of nuclear plants in the region. The Managing Authority for Interreg V-A is addressing these by conducting joint exercises, for instance on the event of a nuclear disaster.
Aldo Primierointroduced the CROSSIT SAFER project, an Interreg project between 5 Italian and 5 Slovenian border regions aimed at collaborative disaster risk management. He highlighted the different activities that the project undertakes in the field of preparedness (mapping risks, drafting standard operating procedures, etc.) and response (joint rescue teams and joint exercises). Following on from the presentations from these voices from the territories there was a question-and-answer period which interrogated the public reception of such projects. Both representatives argued that citizens received their projects well and that it overall contributed to a generally higher sense of safety among citizens to know that cross-border work is being conducted.
In response to the first poll’s question, ‘What are the main obstacles hampering joint cross-border disaster risk management?’, we saw that participants overwhelmingly considered the challenge of coordination between public administrations and joint planning, as well as the competences of the administrations to be the key issues. Notably, relatively few people thought financial capacities were the main obstacles to cross-border disaster risk management.
Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Ignacio Sanchez Amor opened the panel discussion by emphasising the ultimate aim of cross-border disaster risk management: to double the available resources. He noted that in most countries border regions are more depopulated than other regions, which makes collaboration across them even more essential. He also noted that prevention, preparedness, and response to natural and industrial disasters all interplay and indicated that “in times of disaster, all failures to prepare properly become immediately obvious.”
Angela Iglesias Rodrigo of the Spanish ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demography argued that the most effective way to harmonise risk management systems across borders was through frequent small-scale join exercises addressing specific issues. This approach, she argued, allows for the different approaches and competences to be understood and accounted for. She also shared her positive experience in establishing a coordination point with a responsible person in the neighbouring country, noting that these types of coordination points can alleviate the administrative differences between Member States (where relevant counterparts are often situated in different positions).
Having heard these different perspectives from the field of disaster risk management, the audience was presented with the results of the second poll. This poll asked about the possible solutions for the obstacles to cross-border risk management. Our participants were very much aligned with the speakers in that they considered increasing the capacity of emergency services and increased responsiveness to be the most important factors in building effective cross-border disaster risk management.
Myriam Boveda closed with the message that despite the fact that many border regions speak different languages, there is a consensus that “when a disaster strikes, we all speak the same language”, highlighting the value of cooperation when it comes to disaster risk management.
If you could not join us for this event or if you would like to watch it again, the recording is available here: