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Floods: European research for better predictions and management solutions

Media Briefing: Ständehaus, Dresden - Germany, 13 October 2003


Brussels, 13 October 2003

Floods are one of Europe's most widespread disasters. Major flooding has occurred nearly every year somewhere on our continent during the last few decades. Today, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin is visiting the city of Dres-den (Germany), which was hit very hard last year by one of the worst flood catastrophes to occur in Central Europe since the Middle Ages. During this visit, the European Commission has organised a media briefing at Dresden's Ständehaus to present the results of some major research projects on floods, looking into better ways of preventing, predicting, mitigating and managing these catastrophes.

For the period 1980-2002, the greatest number of floods occurred in France (22 %), Italy (17 %) and the UK (12 %). The highest number of fatalities occurred in Italy (38 %), followed by Spain (20 %) and France (17 %). The greatest economic losses occurred in Germany and Italy (both €11 billion), followed by Spain and the UK (both around €6 billion). In the last decade, the EU has launched around 50 research projects in this field, with a total budget of €58 million, in areas such as flood risk assessment, flood hazard and risk mapping, flood forecasting and preventative land-use planning. The Commission is currently develop-ing a European Flood Alert System (EFAS).

"Scientific studies are providing evidence that extreme flood events are becoming increasingly common and severe," says Commissioner Busquin, "and more frequent and more intense phenomena, such as the Central European floods of last year and the droughts of this summer season, are to be expected. Such extreme events are bound to affect the economy and the lives of Euro-pean citizens. We have to act jointly, on the European, national, regional and local levels, to prevent and mitigate future flood damage. We must learn to live with floods, and thus must think and act more preventively in order to mitigate their consequences. More research is necessary to enhance our flood management and early warning capabilities."

European research to cope with European floods
Floods are a true European problem, which do not stop at administrative bor-ders, and cause important social, environmental and economic losses in most EU member states and Accession countries.

Europe has been supporting research on floods since the late 1980s. Approxi-mately 50 multinational projects related to flood research have been carried out with a Commission con-tribution of around €58 million.

But why are floods increasing?
Some scientists argue that climate change is to blame, while others claim that Europe is more exposed and vulnerable to an increased flood risk. As in most scientific disciplines, there are numerous interconnected and multi-dimensional factors at play, such as weather, climate, hydrology, land-use, structural flood-defence measures, flood-risk awareness and preparedness, and capabilities for flood management, warning and information. To assess flood risk properly, all those factors must be taken into account in European research projects.

The Commission media briefing in Dresden is presenting the research results of four European projects in the field of flooding.

Studying past floods
The SPHERE project
( provides informa-tion on past floods that occurred up to 10 000 years ago. Based on the SPHERE database, the design of high-risk structures, such as dams, bridges and power plants, can be improved due to better calculation of flood risks. Studying the past gives valuable hints about the present, and the future.

Integrated river basin management
The EUROTAS project
( major floods can not be prevented or controlled but need to be managed across bor-ders, based on integrated, river-basin-management strategies for flood preven-tion and miti-gation. EUROTAS was very successful in helping to mitigate the damages of last year's floods in the city of Prague.

Exploiting satellite data
EURAINSAT ( explained how different satellite data based on the most advanced technology can be combined to support improved rain-fall pre-dictions, necessary to better forecast floods. This is a European contribu-tion to a worldwide global initiative, the Global Precipitation Mission (GPM).

More credible flood forecasts
( discussed how the credibil-ity of flood fore-casts could be improved through model improvements, quantification of fore-cast uncertainties and user training. This research will provide higher quality, more effective flood forecasting and warning.

Note for Editors

For additional information and specific questions on this media briefing please contact

Karen Fabbri
Scientific Officer for Environment Programme, Research DG, European Commission
Tel. +

Panagiotis Balabanis
Scientific Officer for Environment Programme, Research DG, European Commission
Tel: +,

Julia Acevedo
Press and Information Officer, Research DG, European Commission
Tel: +, Mobile: +32 477 274663

Spokesperson of Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin

Fabio Fabbi,
Press DG, European Commission
Tel: +,


SPHERE - Systematic, Palaeoflood and Historical data for the improvEment of flood Risk Estimation




Dr. Gerardo Benito


Consejo Superior de Investiga-ciones Científicas – Spain

Dr. Yehouda Enzel

Hebrew University – Israel

Dr. Michel Lang

Cemagref – France

Dr. Denis Coeur

Acthys – France

Dr. Carmen Llasat

Dr. Mariano Barriendos

Universidad de Barcelona – Spain

Prof. Andrass Bardossy

Universitat Stuttgart - Germany

Prof. Félix Francés

Universidad Politécnica de Valencia – Spain

Prof. Bernard Bobee

Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique - Canada

Ms. Almudena Bustamante

Dirección General de Protección Civil – Spain

Mr. Antonio Barnolas

Instituto Tecnológico Geominero de España - Spain

Mr. Enrique Velasco

Agència Catalana de l'Aigua – Spain


Mr. Philippe Auger

SMESDRG - France

The universal nature of flooding makes it the most widely distributed natural threat to human life and economic losses in Europe. The catastrophic floods that have occurred recently in Europe warn of the critical need for hydrologic data on floods over long-time scales. Such long-term data sets are necessary to recover the "flood memory" in order to improve the management of future extreme events.

In the SPHERE project, new scientific frameworks and technical tools integrating multi-disciplinary approaches (geologic, historical, hydraulic, statistical and GIS) on extreme flood risk assessment were generated.

They were tested in case study areas in Spain and France. Paleohydrological techniques provide information on hydrologic variability and extreme floods over long-time intervals (100 to 10 000 yr.) and can be used in combination with historical flood data (last 1 000 yr.) and the gauge records based on instrumental obser-vation data (last 30-50 yr.).

New methods of reconstructing paleofloods were developed during the project. Integrating this information with the historical flood record of these basins lead to the elaboration of a complete catalogue of major past floods resulting in a longer record of flood events.

This 'real' flood information provides more accurate flood magnitude/frequency data than what can be derived from the short instrumental record and is a viable tool for prediction and validation of climate change scenarios.

The SPHERE long-term data set can be utilised in flood frequency analyses and pro-vides a better scientific framework on which flood risk prevention and mitigation policies and strategies can be based.

The EU Water Framework Directive will benefit from the use of the SPHERE methodology by promoting the use of past flood records within a "best practice document" as a mean to improve flood prevention, risk assessment and flood hazard zoning on floodplains.

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