Flooding could cost the EU a trillion euros a year – are we ready for it?

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Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world. This is confirmed by the first-ever European climate risk assessment produced by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Progressive climate change is associated with an increasing number of hazards, among them flooding. Due to their frequency of occurrence and scale of impact, they require immediate preventive measures.

Flooding is a real problem in Europe

Floods have increasingly hit Europe in recent years. The most severe impacts have occurred in Germany and Belgium, among others, where 2021. caused losses of €44 million and led to the deaths of 200 people, as well as Slovenia, where 2023. The damage was estimated at about 16 percent. national GDP. Numerous floods generate, among other things, an increase in government spending, a reduction in credit ratings, and tax revenues to the state budget.

The EEA’s European Climate Risk Assessment leaves no room for doubt. If appropriate steps are not taken urgently, floods will occur even more frequently in the near future. This is because their occurrence is closely linked to the increasing warming of the climate. Among other things, it leads to an increase in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, which results in so-called “rainfall”. flash floods.

Increased flood risk in Europe in the coming years will also result from steadily rising sea levels. This will lead to flooding in coastal areas, especially in lowland and depressed areas. The EEA reports in its assessment that the economic takeoff in this case could be as high as €1 trillion a year.

How is Europe approaching flood issues?

In the EU since 2007. Flood risk issues are regulated by the so-called “flood risk”. Flood Directive(2007/60/EC). Under it, all member countries are required to assess the areas most at risk of flooding and take measures to minimize the risk. For this purpose, hazard and flood risk maps are created, starting points for the preparation of flood risk management plans (FMPs).

All measures imposed by the flood directive are implemented in six-year cycles. They address not only flood response issues, but also measures to prevent them from occurring. These include:

  • Imposing restrictions on the development of flood-prone areas;
  • Consideration of flooded areas in land use plans.

As the European Climate Risk Assessment shows, the Floods Directive has been relatively effective in recent years in dealing with phenomena in coastal, low-lying areas of the continent. However, steadily rising sea levels may make these measures inadequate. Therefore, the EU and member states need to implement further solutions as soon as possible.

Is Poland prepared for an increase in flood frequency?

In Poland, as in other EU countries, the provisions of the Floods Directive have been introduced. The current PZRP was updated in 2022. and will remain in effect until 2028. As part of it, a number of preventive measures have been planned. They concern both technical investments (e.g. construction of reservoirs0, as well as non-technical (such as improving natural retention). In addition, the Polish government is taking steps to improve the country’s flood control and hydrotechnical infrastructure. This is evidenced, for example, in a meeting with representatives of the World Bank held on March 8, 2024. and concerned raising funds for the implementation of a so-called new project in water management.

However, it is worth noting that although the topic of flooding in Poland is not ignored, the approach to it can be described as selective. Most of the documents focus on flood risk in river basin areas, although flooding of rivers on a massive scale is no longer such a common occurrence. This was mentioned in the 11/2023 issue of Water Matters by Roman Konieczny, a water expert. Reductions in the effects of flooding: incidents described as river flooding were fourth in southern Poland and third nationwide.

Most often we have to deal with so-called flash floods in built-up areas, which result from the occurrence of heavy rainfall. Thus, given the forecasts presented by the EEA, which indicate that violent and significant precipitation events will become more frequent in Europe, the state of Poland’s preparedness against floods can be considered incomplete.

However, we are counting on the situation to improve. Many local governments have noticed the problem of flash floods, so they have planned and are implementing effective solutions in the urban area. Examples include Wrocław and Bydgoszcz, which are pursuing the concept of so-called ” sponge cities. In turn, Wody Polskie presented in 2021. model, according to which urban flood risk maps can be drawn up. However, to assess the actual flood damage in our country, we need concrete data. And these are in short supply. No statistics are kept that show flood losses, and thus addressing the cost of future events is extremely difficult and based on large estimates.

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