GENEVA, 20 February 2012 - Europe's vulnerability to disasters and the current tough winter "are a clear sign that we need to plan better and manage more robustly the risks we face," warns European Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, who is responsible for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.
"The lessons from this emergency have to be drawn at the regional, national and the European level, so that we can do better next time. I would say that better coordination is an obvious advantage in civil protection, where early warning, speed and joint work are essential.
"That is why we are working to improve cooperation in disaster response at the European level. I have recently proposed to our member states an update of our legislation and in the months to come I will work with national authorities to make this a reality," she told the EurActiv web site.
She said that the European Commission's Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) has been active since the onset of the harsh winter conditions and "stands ready to assist in any country in need as the weather gets warmer and the danger of floods becomes an immediately reality."
The European Flood Alert System provides flood warnings up to ten days in advance. Commissioner Georgieva said: "the information is designed to be complementary to national flood forecasting information and is distributed by the EFAS partner networks twice a day.
"The participating members and the European Commission are committed to developing and sharing their risk assessments so that countries have a global overview of the risks and are prepared in advance to cope with them. Nevertheless various actions to minimize the impact of disasters remain first and foremost a national responsibility."
Concerns are particularly high that warmer weather will result in major flooding in Romania where there are few dikes or dams to hold back the Danube. The country has experienced the heaviest snowfalls in 65 years. Many towns and villages remain cut-off but at least 68 people have died as night-time temperatures have dropped as low as -25°C. News reports suggest that 90,000 people are snowbound across southern and south-eastern Romania while 2,700 schools have been closed.
A nationwide inspection of more than 500 dams in Bulgaria was launched following the deaths of ten people when a dam burst earlier this month. Eight have been found to be potentially dangerous, media reports said. In parts of Bulgaria, some dams have been drained in anticipation of the huge volumes of water expected as snow melts.
Bulgarian National Television said that it was expected that checks of all dams in the country would be completed by tomorrow.
Weather forecasters said that in southern Bulgaria, the next few days would see maximum highs of eight to 10 degrees Celsius. Temperatures in parts of snowbound Romania could see similar rises by the weekend.
The southern Bulgarian village of Biser was flooded on Monday after a dam wall collapsed after heavy rains.