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Floods in Europe – the new challenges


Flood risk is increasing not only in Europe but also worldwide. As more than the half of world population is living along coastlines, rivers and lakes, the potential damage of flooding grows and will continue growing in the future. Furthermore, the number and severity of natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes increases as well. Flood protection is a crucial tool to avoid future disasters occurring in densely populated areas, but it is also a complex tool including technical flood protection, such as dams and levees, but also local protection measures of houses and building have to be taken into consideration. However, protection measures are not effective if rivers don’t follow their natural flow. It is important to restore the wetlands and natural flood plains to retain the water.

EWA calls for better flood protection

The EWA Council of national associations has met in June 2013 in Tuusula, Finland among to discuss, among other issues, the importance of cooperation for the mitigation of flood risks. The European Water Associations reminds about the vulnerability of European waters and calls for the recognition of the need for good flood protection, especially in urban areas and the good cooperation on local and international level to achieve the better flood protection in Europe and worldwide. The new EWA President Dr. Flögl offers the public to use the knowledge of the experts organised in the EWA Working Group on Floods.

International Year of Water Cooperation

As 2013 is, according to the United Nations (UN), the International Year of Water Cooperation, a consideration has to be given to challenges facing water management also on international level. Good cooperation and awareness raising is import for facing the challenges of the millennium together.Nevertheless, it is impossible to avoid extreme flooding events. Therefore, also individual and local measurements, such as smart house buildings and bringing valuables on higher levels, are sometimes of crucial importance in order to decrease the damages.

Transboundary cooperation and local measures

The international year of water cooperation has marked the necessity of cooperation not only on local level. Sharing experience, best practice and increasing international awareness of flood risk is crucial especially when working across political or state boundaries. In order to keep the cooperation chain intact all actors and stakeholders in the cooperation should work for the development and promotion of effective measures. This can work only with effective communication on all levels. Local measures can be as important as measures on larger scale.

The EU Flood Directive

Proposed in 2006, the Directive 2007/60/EC on the assessment and management of flood risks entered into force on 26 November 2007. This directive required all Member States to develop Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMP) by 2015. The year 2015 is also the year by which the River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) need to be developed. According to the Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources, issued in 2012 by the European Commission, among the measures that can greatly contribute to limiting the negative effects of floods and droughts is green infrastructure, especially natural water retention measures.  

Floods impacts in Europe

Over 213 major damaging floods hit European in period between 1998 and 2009 leaving damages of at least 52 billion Euros, displacement of at least half million people and caused 1126 deceased. In summer 2002 catastrophic flood events occurred along the Danube and Elbe rivers. In May and June this year Europe was again stricken by major flood events, the worst of which were mainly- in east and south Germany along the rivers Elbe and Danube. Also Czech Republic and east-north Austria were affected strongly. The events in 2013 even exceeded the water levels of 2002 by marking a new record since 1501. Flood water have yet to drain away in order to evaluate the flood losses. Along with cities, the agriculture damages are also very high. The German ministry of agriculture estimate the damages of more than 230 million of Euros.

Mitigation measures and programmes on flood risk management

As natural phenomena, floods can’t be prevented. However, industrial and agricultural activities, as well as water management and extraction practices are into great extend contributing to the severity of those events. The frequency and the scale of floods will increase in future lead by the rising sea level, incorrect river management practices and increasing density of population and economic assets in flood risk areas. Effective mitigation measures should include the restoration of wetlands and flood plains and reduction the sealing of the soils in order to decrease flood risks. Expensive constructions and installations should not be built in such terrains. This will decrease the economic losses of such disastrous events. Following discussions in the European Commission an informal European Action programme on Flood risk management was set giving guidelines for good practice in developing management plans for flood protection and the management of rivers in changing climate.

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