The Rhine’s integrated approach to flood management

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI) around 21 million people worldwide are affected by river floods each year on average. That number could increase to 54 million in 2030 due to climate change and socio-economic development. With flooding risks being trans-boundary there is the potential for flooding to create political and economic instability in entire regions.

Integrated flood risk management

Flood risk management requires the coordination of numerous activities including planning of developments, land management, flood warning, community involvement and physical structures to increase resilience of communities and reduce flood risk. Because actions in one part of a river can have consequences elsewhere, flood management is most effective when it is carried out in an integrated and coordinated way throughout the river basin. In Integrated Flood Risk Management resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities and societies to survive, adapt and grow in the face of shocks. In the context of climate change, resilience is not only about reducing the risk of disaster but also about ensuring ‘failure’ does not result in catastrophic consequences to life and infrastructure.

The Rhine River Basin’s Action Plan on Floods

The Rhine River Basin is taking an integrated approach to flood management. In 1998, the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR) implemented the Action Plan on Floods, which aims to protect humans and their assets against floods while improving the ecology of the Rhine and its flood plains. Specifically, the Action Plan aims to reduce flood damage risks to humans and infrastructure by 25% by 2020.

The Rhine running through the heart of Europe

                              The Rhine running through the heart of Europe

Rhine 2020 and flood management

In 2001, the ICPR adopted Rhine 2020, the Program on the Sustainable Development of the Rhine that seeks to improve the Rhine ecosystem. The Action Plan on Floods was incorporated into Rhine 2020 with one of the goals being the improvement of flood prevention and protection. Specifically, Rhine 2020 aims to reduce, in the lowlands of the Rhine, risks of flood damage by 25% by 2020 compared to 1995 and reduce, downstream of Baden-Baden, extreme flood peaks by up to 70cm compared to 1995 levels. Regarding structural goals along the Rhine River and in the Rhine basin, the Rhine 2020 strategy aims to increase water retention facilities and maintain and strengthen dikes. Non-structural goals include increasing water retention along the Rhine by reactivating inundation areas, improving the flood warning systems, while in the Rhine basin non-structural goals include increasing water retention in the basin by re-naturing streams, reactivating inundation areas, initiating afforestation projects, and reducing the amount of sealed surfaces.

The take-out

A basin-wide approach to managing flood risks can combine structural and non-structural measures to protect human life and infrastructure while enhancing the natural environment

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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