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| RESEARCH: New Flood Directive: EU moves to minimise the risks of widespread flooding in Europe

The growing frequency and scale of floods due to climate change and the increasing number of people and property located in flood-prone areas means a higher flood risk in Europe. Often the wide-ranging scope of catastrophic flooding across river basins and coastal regions demands a cross-border approach to the problem. The Commission’s new draft directive to fight floods responds to this challenge.Floods are natural phenomena, which cannot be fully prevented. During the last seven years Europe has been hit by more than 100 major floods, including the catastrophic summer floods of the Danube and Elbe rivers in 2002. Since 1998 flooding has killed 700 people in Europe, displaced half a million others and caused at least €25 billion in economic losses, not to mention severe environmental damage when chemical facilities are affected.

The European Commission’s new draft directive builds on the EU’s year 2000 Water Framework Directive link 1, which is the cornerstone of EU water protection policy. The draft measure proposes a coherent cross-border approach to minimising the risk of flooding by requiring EU Member States to work together to identify potential flood zones such as river basins, coastal areas and flash-flood paths. Each flood zone will be analysed concerning existing and future flood damage potential on human health, economy, infrastructure and the environment. Result of these analyses are ‘flood risk maps’ supporting the production of local, regional or, where necessary, cross-border action plans based on prevention, protection and preparedness. Creation of these flood risk management plans will help prevent and limit the damaging effects of floods.

Unveiling the draft directive on 18 January, Stavros Dimas link 2, Commissioner for the Environment, said the new measure will help EU nations “chose the right tools with which to reduce the likelihood of floods and limit their impacts” while ensuring that they cooperate in shared river basins and coastal areas “to improve flood protection all over Europe.”

A three-step approach

The draft directive lays down a series of steps the Member States should follow. The first is to carry out a preliminary flood risk assessment of their river basins and associated coastal zones. The second step involves the drafting of flood risk maps. These will be followed by the third and final phase, namely: the creation of an integrated flood risk management plan for each flood zone.

The management plan will:

  • include measures to reduce the probability of flooding and its consequences;
  • address all phases of the flood risk management cycle, focusing particularly on preventing damage by avoiding construction of houses and industries in present and future flood-prone areas or by adapting future developments to the risk of flooding);
  • support measures to reduce the likelihood of floods and/or the impact of floods in a specific location such as restoring flood plains and wetlands;
  • boost preparedness such as providing instructions to the public on how to react in event of flooding.

Since most of Europe’s river basins are shared by more than one country, concerted action at European level will result in better management of flood risks. But there is always the possibility that one member state might try to slough off responsibility to another when an international river basin floods. Thus, the Commission’s draft directive calls on all concerned EU countries to exchange flood information and coordinate their preventative efforts. For instance, all risk assessments, flood maps and actions plans will have to be made available to the public. This should encourage active participation in the drafting and updating of flood risk management plans by the public and especially those citizens and businesses directly ‘in the line of fire’ of a flood.

EU flood research: a long pedigree

The coming decades will probably see a higher risk of flooding Europe and greater economic and environmental damage due to several reasons. Climate change is the most obvious, since it is expected to produce higher intensity and frequency of rainfall and rising sea levels. But there has also been a failure in many places to manage river systems properly, particularly when there has been intense construction in flood plains. Such development reduces the affected area’s ability to absorb flood waters. Not adequate flood warning systems also contribute to high damage potential. A final factor pointing toward greater flood-related damage is the simple fact that an increasing number of people and businesses reside in flood-prone areas – due to missing flood risk maps not being aware of potential hazards.

The European Commission has funded research into the different aspects of flood risk management for nearly a quarter-century through successive Framework Programmes. The current Sixth Framework Programme link 3 (FP6), for instance, has sponsored the EU’s largest flood research project to date. Launched in March 2004 with a total budget of 14 Million Euro – with up to 9.7 Million euros coming from the Commission – the five-year ‘FLOODsite link 4’ project comprises 36 partners in 13 countries and focuses on the physical, environmental, ecological and socio-economic aspects of floods from rivers, estuaries and the sea.

FLOODsite will deliver an integrated European flood risk analysis and management methodology. Its seven themes cover: risk analysis, risk management (pre-flood measures and flood emergency management); technological integration; pilot applications for river, estuary and coastal sites; training and knowledge uptake (such as guidance for professionals, public information and educational material); networking, review and assessment procedures; and co-ordination and management activities.

FP6 also supports the CRUE link 5 project, which facilitates networking among European national flood risk management research programmes. A dozen EU member states currently participate in CRUE, which complements FLOODsite by consolidating national research activities to reflect the regional diversity of flood risk management approaches.

More recently, the Commission’s Research DG has organised flood workshops link 6 and expert meetings to identify future flood research priorities. These will be fed into the work programme of the EU’s forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme link 7 for Research and Technological Development, which covers the 2007-2013 period.


  • European Commission, Research DG


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