Drought and flooding alleviation needs forward planning

The alleviation of flooding across Europe requires co-ordination between administrations, and the impact of drought can be lessened by identifying and acting on the problem in advance, although it should be remembered that both events are natural, with flooding, in particular, being important in the geomorphological and ecosystem development of rivers, says a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report, Sustainable Water Use in Europe – Part Three: Extreme Hydrological Events: Floods and Droughts, outlines the direct and indirect impacts that both events have in Europe, and details their causes. The report points out that floods are the most common and most costly natural disasters in Europe, and, as with droughts, are influenced by both natural and human factors. Floods and their impacts are intensified by issues such as climate change, land sealing, changes in land use, and hydraulic engineering methods. Droughts are also influenced by factors such as population growth and agricultural practices, says the report, with demand for water in Europe increasing between 1950 and 1990 from 100 cubic kilometres (100 million cubic metres) per year to 550 cubic kilometres (550 million cubic metres).

With regards to solutions to flooding, both structural measures – such as the cleaning of riverbeds, and the use of bridges and road culverts – and non-structural measures – such as safety zoning and early warning systems – need to be used together, says the report, which also outlined some general points that need to be considered:

  • there needs to be greater co-ordination between central, regional and local administrations, and integration of actions;
  • those involved should realise that the risk of flooding can never be wholly eliminated;
  • problems arising from floods should be prevented before future flooding occurs, such as the prevention of human occupation of flood plains; and
  • there should be greater transparency from the administrations involved in publishing assumed risks and measures that are being taken.

With regard to drought, the situation tends only to be identified as a problem when it is already too late so that emergency measures are ineffective. There needs to be clear and consistent criteria for drought identification in order to allow time to look for a suitable water management response during a crisis, which can also only be implemented if there is normally adequate management of the water system, says the report. In addition to this, there also needs to be further development of technical guidance for water management in drought situations.

The report is a result of work by the Centro de Estúdios y Experimentación de Obras Publicas (CEDEX, Spain), with the assistance of the Institute of Hydrology in the UK, the Austrian Working Group on Water, the International Office of Water, based in France, the Danish National Environmental Research Institute, and the Phare Topic Link on Inland Waters, from Turkey.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently blamed the Polish Government for failure to prevent recent floods which killed 30 people (see related story).

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