In August of 2002 devastating floods swept through the Czech Republic leaving behind a trail of destruction and despair. You could hear a pin drop this week as an audience of EU representatives, investors and town hall officials watched a video documenting the post-flood operations. Nevertheless, the occasion was a happy one - marking the end of flood repair work. Czech officials expressed gratitude for the EU's generous and speedy support during and after the crisis- and the head of the EU delegation to the Czech Republic Mr. Ralf Dreyer commended Czechs on how well they had coped.
"Beneficiaries, contractors and the authorities on the Czech side had the capacity to improvise, to adapt and to overcome adversity with commendable speed and efficiency. I salute all of you for it!" ...../ applause /
Mr. Ralf Dreyer recalls what it was like when the floods hit:
"I will not forget the day when on a weekend I crossed the bridge - one of the bridges - over the river and I saw that the water was very high and I thought to myself that this was something I had never seen before. On Monday, following the reports on television, I went downtown to see where the water was. That was very frightening and I was quickly convinced that this would not be a "usual" flood. I'd just got back from my holidays and I expected a very boring month of August. It wasn't. From then on the telephones never stopped ringing. We were trying to find somebody in Brussels who'd be available to deal with the situation. We alerted Mr. Verheugen, who was on holiday at the time, and we agreed on what we could do and in the space of six hours the delegation in Prague had to plan how to use the first amounts of money that were being made available. And then Mr. Verheugen went to a meeting in Berlin of EU heads of state and came back with the 129 billion euros from the Solidarity Fund. I think taking that together - that effort on our side with the effort of the Czech government administration and the people -I find the result admirable. But, as one of the speakers here said, let's hope it is only once per millennium."
The EU did a lot more than allocate emergency aid when it was desperately needed. In the days and months which followed it provided over 170 million euros for repairs. Mr. Ruud van Enk is head of the ISPA and PHARE section of the EU delegation in Prague :
"In the first instance we made available some 35 million euros under ISPA but on top of that we made available some 12 million under the PHARE programme and essentially that was money that was reserved for other projects -that we took away from other projects -and reallocated to help with emergency aid to tackle the aftermath of the floods. On top of that in December another 130 million became available in new money under the Solidarity Fund so in all it is about 170 million euros -or just over that amount -made available for flood relief by the EU to help the Czech Republic."
Has all that money been invested now or are these projects still running?
"No, all projects have been completed. Payments for those financed under ISPA will take place within the next few months but those are final payments. For the rest everything has been signed, sealed and delivered. Completed. Done. "
I know that the Czech Republic is working on prevention projects for the future -will the EU be involved in any way in that?
"Yes, we are in the middle of negotiations. This will be possible within the framework of the structural funds to which the Czech Republic will be eligible as soon as it is a member state. A number of measures - programmes - have been proposed by the Czech authorities which would foresee EU co-financing of flood prevention measures. I can't name them at this point and things are still under discussion but definitely this issue is being addressed -partially addressed, because the investment needed is bigger than we can take care of - by the structural funds. But that obviously is a longer term problem that needs to be solved. "
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