Currently showing: Climate/natural disasters

06 Jun 13 15:30

This week's floods in Germany and Eastern Europe have led to extreme water levels along the Saale and Danube rivers. Statistically speaking, we would expect to see the current water levels in locations like Halle and Passau in Germany only once every 400 and 500 years, respectively.

The dramatic images of the floods show how frightening nature can be. Many of the same regions that were hit in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria during the floods of August 2002 are once again affected – just 11 years later.

But every cloud has a silver lining. Following the 2002 events, many communities put in place new flood defenses. In most cases these measures have now proved to be effective, having averted further damage and devastation. The city of Prague is a good example where better flood protection and mobile flood barriers have kept the water out of the Czech capital's historic centre. In many other places affected by the 2002 floods, investments in adaptation measures have fully paid off within a very short period of time.

It will never be possible to prevent losses from all floods. In addition, climate change, industrialization and growing population densities mean that floods are bound to have more severe impacts without further preemptive action. Only if there are constant improvements to prevention and adaptation will flood losses be kept at a manageable level and stay insurable in the future.
Image source: flickr creative commons/athos[hun]

Category: Climate/natural disasters

Tags: #NatCat Event.

Location: Central Europe


Alicia Montoya - 7 Jun 2013, 7:33 a.m.

Thanks for the silver lining in such an otherwise terrible situation. And I think that's exactly the point: Yes, disaster will strike again (and again...) but there are things we can do, today, that will instantly pay off. That's a very strong and important message.

I've just discovered that there's even a competition by Care2, who are crowd-sourcing ideas around adaptation measures that can help. Enter to win and vote till July 19!

Reto Schnarwiler - 7 Jun 2013, 10:40 a.m.

Good to hear that prevention pays off. But despite all these efforts, the economic damage will likely reach billions of Euros. So who pays for this? I presume the brunt of the costs will fall to the public sector, including all the emergency and relief efforts (even sandbags have a cost), property damage to public buildings and infrastructure as well as loss in tax revenues due to business interruptions. Are governments well prepared to deal with this, especially in the current fiscal situation?

DavidBresch - 7 Jun 2013, 10:47 a.m.

As hydrologist Rolf Weingartner from the University of Berne wrote in a recent interview with (NZZ, 5 June 2013, "Statistically, these floods are no exception, the probability to observe a second 100yr event within the time period of eleven years is ten percent. Taking a long term view, periods of higher flood frequency have been observed in history, with e.g. lots of flood events in the 19th century in Switzerland, followed by a calm period 1880-1980 [translation by the blogger]."

This so called 'catastrophe-gap' has been studied since years and is well described (for a solid body of evidence see the work of Christian Pfister, professor emeritus, University of Berne). Given the short memory of our society, we tend to forget these facts, and hence 'lure' ourselves in a misleading kind of 'perceived' safety.

We promote a forward looking approach to risk management (see e.g. our work on Economics of Climate Adaptation yet these events tell us that the present provides ample evidence to root our deliberations, too - and that a wider look at the (distant) past does indeed provide valid additional insights. In essence, reminding us of the fact that we cannot afford a myopic view on catastrophe risk - as tempting this might be to justify delayed action...

Alicia Montoya - 7 Jun 2013, 9:21 p.m.

And every silver lining has a dark edge? NYT piece agrees that adaptation has saved Prague's historic buildings... adding that inhabitants of smaller Czech villages claim that the floodwaters have been channeled in their direction in an effort to preserve Prague:

To David's point, I agree we need to look long-term and also account for (and price and allocate) all externalities. But as NYT Dot Earth editor Andy Revkin asks on twitter, who should pay for buildings built in high risk areas, for instance?

Jens Mehlhorn - 9 Jun 2013, 4:23 p.m.

We will hear more about flood protection and preparedness in the next months. In general, only integrated flood protection systems which use a series of different measures work successfully. In densely urbanized areas most often channeling of rivers and embankments are the only sensible solution. However, for each piece of channeling somewhere else additional retention must be implemented through more room for rivers, reservoirs or polders. If there is only channeling of flood waters then typically the problem is transferred further downstream.

Unfortunately, in many municipalities in Germany protection systems could not always be implemented as required. In some cases citizens did not want to accept a x meter high flood wall blocking the free sight on the river. In other cases environmental protection associations hindered authorities. The debate has now started whether in case of flood protection civil rights should be limited.

Alicia Montoya - 10 Jun 2013, 2:31 p.m.

Interesting thought, Jens, thanks. I don't think civil rights should be limited, but insurance companies should definitely price according to risk. the bigger question for me is should property insurance, at least around high flood risk areas, be compulsory?

Just came across the PERILS released satellite-based footprints of the ongoing floods in Central Europe. Zoom into the map for details. Amazing!!

Jens Mehlhorn - 10 Jun 2013, 2:45 p.m.

The flood footprint is a result of a collaboration between the insurance industry, ESA and Earth Observation Service providers initiated by Swiss Re. For more information please see the following link.
In the framework of this collaboration further snapshot footprints will be made available to the insurance industry as the event goes on. Once the event is over the snapshots will be merged to one maximum flood footprint. Overall, this information is very valuable for post event loss estimation and further improvement of our flood risk assessment models.

Jens Mehlhorn - 10 Jun 2013, 2:51 p.m.

Typically flood insurance is and should not provided to property owners in high risk zones. Premiums are just too high in areas which are flooded every ten years. However, in case these high risk areas are protected to a reasonable level by an integrated flood management plan then flood insurance can cover the residual risk.

Jens Mehlhorn - 10 Jun 2013, 3:04 p.m.

I hope you did not understand that I asked for a limitation of civil rights. This debate is actually triggered by Germany policy makers. I also believe that the integration of all opinions typically leads to better supported decisions. However, on the other side it should not be possible that a single individual blocks a decision which would improve the situation for thousands.

anky0 - 18 Jan 2019, 6:08 a.m.

Very impressive and effective also. If we would care of this type of problems then for all the place where we live never be critical Every year this bring the big disaster. So we should care about it.

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