The floods in Australia, the storms in the US, the triple disaster in Japan – these recent examples remind us that even the best-prepared and the most developed countries can be seriously affected by major disasters.

(Commissioner Georgieva)

There are regions of the Earth where, either from the caprice of nature or geopolitical coincidence, cooperation is a very difficult thing. One of them is the Balkans Triangle or the area created by frontier regions of Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

Communication between these authorities and the ensuing cooperation has been challenging for many reasons. However, these states are becoming aware that the situation could turn into a nightmare in the event of a combination of natural and human disasters. They know that there are no lines of communication necessary for an effective response.

Floods, in particular, pose a significant threat. The specific Balkan region has experienced major floods in the past which have nearly destroyed large areas and continue to do so affecting millions of people and causing serious economic losses. In addition, climate change is projected to increase the risk of such extreme weather events.

Not surprisingly, for the three neighbouring governments mentioned in the Balkans, that disaster resilience is a top research priority. For these reasons, they are developing advanced national disaster risk reduction strategies. In Greece, for example, at the university level, advanced joint response schemes have been developed aiming to enhance joint response capabilities, as does the Balkan Incident Management System (BIMS). They are mostly trying to deal with the disaster response after the worst-case scenario, which is the combination of natural and human catastrophes that could strike the region.

The neighboring zone of these three states in the south-eastern Balkans (the northwest of Turkey, the northeast of Greece, and southern Bulgaria) is a clear example of the need for regional cooperation. The river Evros is a border, whose waters reach those three states.

If a natural disaster, such as a flood, hits the region, it could affect several countries simultaneously and hundreds of thousands of people. The cross-border nature of such a natural disaster requires sophisticated response systems that promote greater cross-border collaboration. Therefore, work focused on regional cooperation in disaster management has started.

There are already results based on a belief and experience that disasters do not recognize borders. They have realized the importance of dealing with these difficulties and mitigating their consequences through regional cooperation has been strongly recognized. Therefore joint response approaches have been developed for the above region, enhancing regional collaboration between scientists and government representatives. Projects such as the BIMS at the university level offer new response tools making the response authorities capable to process joint emergencies and disaster risk reduction. Experts from all countries of the Balkan Triangle can join forces in all types of emergencies capable of conducting credit risk assessments for any threat. As a result, they form the nodes of a total disaster response system in the Balkans.

Their efforts are supported by the European Commission's senior-level cooperative initiatives. There are European tools to intensify joint disaster reduction and preparedness efforts. What is important is to respond in a way that is both effective for citizens and practical for national budgets. We need to remember that the European Commission takes a holistic approach to disaster management. This approach involves prevention, preparation, intervention, and rehabilitation processes. In addition, to support the emergency needs of the Balkans and in particular the BIMS response system, its building processes have been modified to adapt to the EU framework. Various EU legal and financial instruments support and supplement national disaster preparedness initiatives and, consequently, a Balkan triangle response. Through them, BIMS hopes to provide an effective response to disasters in the Balkans as well as effective assistance to affected countries. It creates a framework for cooperation by providing a platform for sharing knowledge and collaboration between national and international experts. BIMS draws on the work of scientists and government officials who are working on a range of disaster risk issues in the Balkans.

The presence of the United Nations in the communication phases is essential. Thanks to a special UN catastrophe named in each Balkan country crucial communication channel for successful response purposes is facilitated. Long-standing obstacles in nation-to-nation communication can be overcome to facilitate early notification of a neighbouring disaster event making the response more effective. BIMS helps member states to share experiences in managing the problems and challenges of disaster risk in the Balkans. It also provides information about a regional disaster risk assessment which will be carried out by the EU. This assessment will help evaluate and quantify the potential damage and loss caused by natural disasters in each Balkan country, to minimize impacts.

However, discipline is needed among participants in the response to disasters in the Balkans. The presence of NATO seems critical because it can serve as a disciplined platform for intervention teams. National security units involved in the catastrophe could better communicate in a NATO platform. The result is more effective regional collaboration and the development of effective regional approaches to deal with disaster risks in the region.

We hope that the BIMS platform will be further strengthened and that communication in the event of disaster between the states of the Balkans will be facilitated.