When responding to disasters, we are stronger when we work together

Last week, people in Herzegovina were shaken by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake. It abruptly ended the life of Elmira Sefo and caused many others to be wounded. It was a painful reminder that natural disasters come unannounced and care not for politics, borders or identity.

Last week, people in Herzegovina were shaken by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake. It abruptly ended the life of Elmira Sefo and caused many others to be wounded. It was a painful reminder that natural disasters come unannounced and care not for politics, borders or identity.

The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina know well that earthquakes are not the only natural disaster that can affect them. Recent wild fires have also shown that adequate responses can help save lives and nature.

Fortunately, BiH has become better equipped to deal with disaster following the devastating 2014 floods. The floods were also the first time Bosnia and Herzegovina triggered the activation of the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism. This Mechanism recognizes that natural disasters and other public hazards can sometimes be bigger than anything a single country can cope with it, and the Mechanism helps to improve prevention, preparedness, and response to disasters. To date, the Mechanism has been used 540 times inside and outside the EU. Any country in the world, but also the United Nations and its agencies or relevant international organisations can seek the activation of the Mechanism for further assistance and support.

The Mechanism is not just limited to EU member states, but this mechanism of solidarity extends to Iceland, Norway, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey. All these countries are ready to contribute to the work of the Mechanism with their own resources. BiH applied for membership in 2014. To be granted access, BiH needs to be able to effectively participate in the Mechanism’s work. To increase its disaster preparedness and readiness to join the Mechanism, the EU has so far contributed significant financial support to the country’s civil protection mechanisms in necessary equipment, training and a coordination system, as well as millions of euros in assistance following the 2014 floods and the COVID19 pandemic.

Yesterday, Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner for Crisis Management visited the country to assess its capacities to join the Mechanism. It was a timely coincidence that the EU-funded “ResponSEE” field exercise that he attended dealt with an earthquake response scenario. The exercise involved protection and rescue services from the FBiH, RS and Brcko District as well as Albania, Austria, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovenia. It showed that BiH services worked well together and with international teams.

Commissioner Lenarčič made it clear that BiH only needs to complete a few technical items to be granted access to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. This would be a game changer for BiH’s ability to respond to large-scale disasters, and to help other countries to do the same. It also hopefully shows once more that political squabbles over essential services to save human lives and nature are unacceptable. Effective responses require quick action, not political bickering. The same is true for the final actions that are required for BiH to join the Civil Protection Mechanism. You have my guarantee that the EU will help you get there.

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Blog by the Head of the Delegation of the EU to BiH and the EU Special Representative in BiH, Ambassador Johann Sattler