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EU should support Rapid Reaction Force for floods and disasters, says MEP

September 22, 2009 5:43 PM
By Charles West

Helicopter in flight

The Air Ambulance and coastguard network could not cope in the event of major city centre flood, says Liz Lynne, as most military helicopters are abroad.

West Midlands LibDem MEP Liz Lynne has called for an international rapid reaction force to speed up the response to natural disasters such as the devastating floods in 2007.

The MEP welcomed changes to a motion on forest fires agreed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg to include the need for a much more rapid and effective response to floods and natural disasters caused by global warning.

Liz Lynne MEP was instrumental in the UK's bid for £33 million of aid from the EU Solidarity Fund to offset the cost of the 2007 floods which caused severe damage in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, closing the Severn Valley Railway for 8 months, with parts of Birmingham also flooding. There have also been repeated floods in small towns such as Tenbury Wells.

Instead of being a bureaucratic retrospective grant, Liz believes the fund should be used for a disaster rapid reaction force which Britain or any other EU country could not fund on their own.

Liz Lynne said: "Although the solidarity fund money was welcome, it took ages to arrive and was paid to central government, instead of going directly to councils or railway companies making repairs. The EU Solidarity Fund should be used to support a quick response service from specialist teams in the Emergency Services in all EU states to save lives and prevent serious damage.

"If, heaven forbid, Birmingham suffered a massive flood, similar to but more serious than the one we saw in Sheffield a few years ago, we might not have enough helicopters in the UK to help the fire brigade mount a rapid rescue of trapped people, if the worst case scenario occurred.

"Most military helicopters are now on active service thousands of miles away. We do need to plan for natural disasters, just in case, and because of climate change they are likely to be more frequent.

"Devastating floods such as those which occurred here in 2007 do not happen every year in the UK, but usually there are extreme climate events somewhere in the EU. It makes sense to pool specialist equipment and expertise so we can have a truly rapid response every time. If we have a really serious flood in a major city, many lives could be saved."

"Sharing best practice and expensive special equipment is a really good reason to be in the EU, we should do far more to take advantage of it. It is just common sense."

"I also welcome the stress in the final motion on sustainable management of watercourses and flood prevention. We need to take a very hard look at the way development and certain types of farming affect drainage and the risk of flooding. We need clear guidelines for highway authorities to keep drainage channels unblocked on roads and railway lines - people have died in this region due to flash floods when drainage channels are overwhelmed."


Notes: Follow this link to read the text of the joint resolution voted through last week. Though still entitled 'forest fires' amendments backed by Liz Lynne and other LibDem ALDE MEPs were incorporated into the text to highlight the need for a natural disaster strategy and rapid response to floods, as well as fires.