Polish Government to blame for flood devastation

According to the conservation group, WWF, an obsolete flood protection strategy was largely to blame for recent floods in Poland which have killed at least 30 people and left southern regions submerged.

Preliminary research carried out by the NGO in the areas worst hit by more than one month of flooding in Poland’s southern uplands, which has also led to the evacuation of more than 16,000 people and whole towns being submerged, has shown that the Polish government has done little to modernise flood protection strategies since the last major floods in 1997, which killed 55 people, WWF says.

Houses have continued to be built in areas most in danger from floods even though local people have said that if they were given assistance from the authorities they would be happy to move, while dykes that were viewed as being largely responsible for the 1997 floods are still being rebuilt in the same areas, rather than being removed to give more space for water, the group says. “Following the flooding of the Oder river in 1997 and now the flooding of the Vistula, it is obvious that the Polish government needs to reassess how it manages its rivers,” said Piotr Nieznanski of WWF Poland. “It is clear that the exclusively technical approach such as building dykes to protect people from flood waters can only lead to further catastrophe.”

WWF is also concerned that despite the floods, the Polish Government has recently signed an agreement with a consortium of companies to build the new Nieszawa dam, which it says could seriously increase the risk of floods in the future. The group is calling on the Polish Government to instead use its money to urgently put in place EU standards for management of rivers, which it says “safeguard the natural functions of rivers and help to prevent the destructive effects of digging channels and building dykes and dams when more sustainable means for meeting needs for water and energy are readily available”. In particular, WWF believes the Polish government must place emphasis on widening high-level water beds by moving embankments farther from the main river bed where possible, and the group has provided the Government with a study, which includes extensive recommendations for ecologically sound flood protection strategies.

“Experience from the Rhine, Danube and Oder shows that natural approaches to managing rivers and flood plains are often more efficient and less damaging to people, land and wildlife,” Niezananski added.

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