Central Europe - Floods

Source Document: Christian Kuhlicke, Chloe Begg, Anna Kunath, Gunnar Dressler, Maximilian Beyer, Ines Callsen. 2015-04-09. Resilience and River Floods in Central Europe. Deliverable 5.2


This case study focuses on floods in Central Europe and how the experience of a flood event is interlinked with the concept of resilience. While initially the case study was focused on various global change processes and how they might affect the resilience of households and communities (for details see Kuhlicke et al. 2013), the occurrence of the 2013 flood caused a rethink in research approach and central research questions. While initially the focus was on understanding the consequences of global transformation processes such as demographic, institutional and climate change and what consequences they might have for the cities of Saxony, the researchers became interested in how resilient households and communities are to multiple, quite disastrous flood events occurring in a relatively short time span: what kind of learning processes do such event initiate, what are their possible negative consequences and what can researchers learn from this.

The full report concluded that in many communities learning processes were triggered by the 2002 flood that contributed to an increased preparedness of organisations and also an improved way of communicating risk to and with the public in order to increase their preparedness. However, the emphasis was clearly on improving the operational and technical procedures within existing institutional structures. This started to change with the experience of the 2013 flood resulting in more fundamental learning processes of organisations. In general the perception of the thread potential of the flood risk has changed considerably in consequence of the 2013 flood. While after 2002 there was the dominant idea that through the improvement of the existing flood management systems (e.g. new and better dikes, improved warning systems, improve emergency management) the risk of flooding would be reduced considerably, the 2013 flood shattered this idea quite substantially, at least on the local level. Many communities, quite openly, admit that they are at the risk of flooding and that flood event as the ones in 2002 or 2013 can happen on a quite regular basis and not just once per generation (or even less), as it was assumed before the 2002 flood. As a result the so called “residual risks” are now more openly admitted and communicated. However, it is not just the residual risks; also the very promise of safety, quite often associated with levees and other technical measures, is now more openly and critically reflected. As a result more responsibility is attributed to exposed citizens and businesses, a more adapted way of constructing in flood prone areas is demanded and even relocations are considered as an appropriate way of handling future flood risks, at least on the local level. At the same time many communities become increasingly aware that through the risk-based priorisation approach their own community will be less protected by technical measures than other communities, if it will protected at all. This results in fundamental questions that are raised about which parts of the Saxony will be protected or not, or which parts of a give community will be protected and which not. In this sense, the reflection and learning processes in consequence of the 2013 flood are more fundamental than those after the 2002 flood and question, to a certain extent not only the dominant way of how flood management is institutionalized, it also questions the very relation between settled/ urbanized areas, the way such areas areprotected, the role and prospective “behavior” of the river and its surrounding floodplain.

Also on the household level the repeated experience of flood events resulted in learning processes. Many households in the exposed areas along the rivers in Saxony have experienced multiple flood events since 2002, some of them up to three or even four in 11 years. Households that were strongly affected by the flood also report more often to have implemented private mitigation and also more often purchased an insurance against natural hazards. They also feel better prepared with
each flood event.

However, the results do not suggest that such measures helped to reduce consequences, to reduce the time to return to normality and did not help to be similar or better off than before the flood event compared to those households that took no measures. This implies households that took private mitigation measures also have experienced high negative consequence, have taken longer to return to normality and are worse off than those who have taken no measures. There is hence a positive correlation between high impact and active engagement with regard to preventive activities. This report hence suggests no straightforward relationship between mitigative actions and household resilience. We think this relationship should be explored more in-depth; all the more as households are increasingly demanded to protect themselves. Whether this is actually effective for building up the resilience of households is quite often taken for granted (“yes, it does”); however the findings of this study suggest no direction positive correlation.

More important with regard to resilience then actual actions is the feeling of protection. Respondents with lower impacts also reported more often to feel well protected. The level of protection and the perceived level of protection correlates directly with the actual technical protection and shows a strong correlation with the impact/ability to bounce back: The lower the perceived level of protection the higher the economic damages, the more severe the perceived overall, physical and psychological consequences, the longer it takes a household to return to normality and the more often its household situation was similar or worse than before the flood event. Similarly respondents who feel well prepared also reported less severe consequences. Interestingly the knowledge about flood maps also correlates with consequences: people who had knowledge of the maps before or during the flood also suffered less consequences.

The proportion of financial support received after the flood events seems to have a positive influence on the general household situation in consequence of flood events: Household that received higher proportion are more often similar or better off than household that received less financial support. Also the satisfaction with the compensation received (and interestingly not the actual proportion of compensation received) correlates with the resilience of households. The lower the actual impacts the higher the satisfaction with monetary compensation received after the flood events.

We think these finding are or relevance as through the establishment of risk-based prioritisation measure the socio-spatial inequality with regard to protection schemes will further increase. Quite often, the less protected households are left behind with the demand to protect themselves. As the result of this study suggest: the effectiveness of such individualised approaches may be quite limited with regard to mitigating the immediate consequences and the long-term impacts on a household. There are also quite interesting correlations between flood impacts and actions as well as capacities and resources, in regards to perceived responsibilities.

Households that perceive the implementation of private mitigations as a matter of course have also more often taken actual action both before and during flood events. Households that feel well prepared also tend to agree with the statements that see private mitigation as a matter of course and that citizens should take over more responsibility in flood protection

Self-efficacy and attitudes towards responsibility also strongly correlate: Respondents with high self-efficacy see private mitigation as matter of course and agree with the statement that individuals should take over more responsibility; at the same time they more often disagree with the statement that private mitigation overwhelms people, that citizens can do nothing about floods and with the statement that flood protection is a public and not a private duty.

Flood experience also correlates with attitudes towards responsibility, interestingly in opposing ways: Whilst households with multiple flood experience tend to agree with the statements that private mitigation overwhelms people and that flood protection is a public and not a private duty; they also agree with the statements that individuals should take over more responsibility in flood protection and that private mitigation should be a matter of course.

In sum,  experience and self-efficacy play a large role in whether respondent are likely to perceive that private actors should take more responsibility. What it shows is that many people believe that private actions make sense and should be  undertaken. However, it also shows that such a responsibility overwhelms people. Not everyone is convinced that private actions can make a difference.

There are also many significant correlations between the impacts of a flood event on the household and its evaluation of the relevance of participation as well as its attitudes towards it. Households that were severely affected by past flood events considered participation to be more relevant than those less affected. They were also more willing to take the time and would like to contribute with their knowledge and personal experience to participatory processes. In addition, respondents who had experienced repetitive flood events were also less likely to agree with the statement that flood management should be left to the experts and that participatory processes could be dominated by individual interests.

We were also able to find many significant correlations between the actions taken by a household before and during a flood event as well as the evaluation of the relevance of participation and a household’s attitudes towards it. Households that took action before the event to mitigate impacts either through private mitigation measures or through purchasing insurance against natural hazards were more likely to believe that they have the appropriate knowledge required to take part in such a process and where also more likely to take the time to become involved. An interesting variable in this context is the question which explores the respondent’s satisfaction with the momentary compensation after the single flood events. Respondents who reported lower degrees of satisfaction were more likely to express interest in contributing to participatory processes. At the same time, respondents with higher satisfaction values agree with the statements that support leaving flood management to the experts. They were also more likely to agree with the statements that were focused on in the media after the 2013 (e.g. individual interests may dominate participative processes and slow down planning and implementation of measures, admittedly the correlation is of relatively low and of weak significance). 

The agent-based model has shown that change has several effects on the performance of DMOs, but throughout all analyses the major driver that determines coping time are the number of organisations. If demographic change leads to shortages in available helpers and a loss in DMOs, the performance that is expected from disaster management might not be guaranteed anymore. Even tried and tested routines might then fall short under such circumstances. We have seen that for example information availability can be a crucial factor to overcome shortages in helper numbers in some cases but this does not alleviate all shortcomings. Civil volunteers are a relevant group of actors that need to be incorporated into future planning for disaster management, but more detailed analysis is needed here to obtain a clearer picture.

In sum, the report outlines some of the connections between flood experiences, attitudes towards the distribution of responsibility and the participation in flood management as well as the consequences of long-term changes and what consequences this might have for the resilience of households, organisations and communities at risk.



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Maureen Fordham,
Sep 23, 2015, 6:04 AM