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Swiss meeting pledges to improve disaster relief

Earthquake survivor: Europe has pledged to do more to help people whose lives are devastated by disasters

(Keystone)

Delegates from 52 countries meeting in the Swiss town of Fribourg say they have agreed new strategies to deal with natural disasters and conflict-related emergencies in Europe.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, described the two-day meeting as a real step forward. "Consensus has been obtained for a whole region of 52 countries centred on Europe. We have made progress in identifying the problems and defining the policies need to deal with them."

As conference host, Switzerland said it would sponsor a working group to look at ways of improving Europe's response to disasters within its borders. The group will work closely with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

One key task will be to create an inventory of the resources available to deal with disasters. Sergio Vieira del Mello, under-secretary for humanitarian affairs at the UN, said the plan envisages that all countries and aid agencies would contribute to a shared pool of data and equipment, which could be accessed quickly and efficiently.

"The inventory will establish what is available in Europe, and pooling this information into a central database. That will make it possible for us to mobilise these resources at very short notice, and with a terrific impact in terms of responding to the needs of civilians affected by either natural disasters or conflict-related emergencies."

The delegates agreed that Europe's response to disasters has so far been ad hoc and badly co-ordinated. Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Development Agency, said it was vital that Europe got to grips with crisis management to avoid events such as the Kosovo refugee crisis and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

"The purpose of Fribourg was to increase effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian emergency assistance in order to reduce the human suffering and loss of life."

Fust added that Europe's inability to prevent humanitarian disasters was still haunting the continent.

swissinfo with agencies

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