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EU Offers Aid in Hungary's Toxic Flooding


European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva describes the EU's humanitarian aid projects to the media in Brussels (File Photo)

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva describes the EU's humanitarian aid projects to the media in Brussels (File Photo)

European Union crisis response chief Kristalina Georgieva says massive toxic flooding in Hungary that killed nine people and injured more than 120 others has underscored the need for a stronger European disaster response.

The European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva announced in Budapest the European Union will provide machinery, vehicles and materials to help Hungary overcome its worst industrial accident on record.

Since October 4 about 800,000 cubic-meters of toxic sludge, a byproduct of aluminum production, has leaked from a reservoir of a metals plant in western Hungary, flooding towns and villages in an area as large as 40 square kilometers.

Speaking after talks with Hungarian government officials, Georgieva said the EU support is aimed at assisting Hungary in protecting civilians and to clean up the poisonous red mud.

Experts from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden are to investigate the sludge, and Georgieva said that team provides European assistance similar to that given to the United States during its recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But she stressed cash-strapped Hungary would not receive additional money from the EU solidarity fund because the chemical spill was allegedly caused by human error and the damage does not equal at least 0.6 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Instead, Georgieva said, the European Union is "considering" transferring funds for more general rural development and environmental protection projects.

Before her talks began in Hungary, the EU commissioner said individual countries are mainly responsible for disaster response.

"The primary responsibility for disaster prevention, for preparedness and response lays with national governments," she said. "But there are a number of ways in which we at European level can contribute and must carry our responsibility. More than 90 percent of our citizens expect from Europe coherent, coordinated disaster response. We owe it to them."

Georgieva says Hungary's chemical accident underscores the need for what she calls "a stronger, better, more visible European disaster response."

Hungary's troubles follow flooding in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe.

The European Union estimates that disasters have increased globally fivefold since 1975, matched by a similar rise in damages. The figures also show that disasters annually take 85,000 lives, affect 230 million others, and cause economic damage of about a quarter of the world's gross domestic product.

Georgieva believes Europe is not yet ready to respond quickly to these kind of tragedies.

"Our capacity to deal with disasters grows in a much slower pace than the disasters themselves," she said. "The time when we have been arguing on how to do it must come to an end."

Commissioner Georgieva, who has visited villages and towns devastated by toxic flooding, plans to present a European strategy for disaster response by the end of this month.

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