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Ecology

1.4 Combating floods together – targeted approaches towards countering the risks

Gemeinsam gegen das Hochwasser – Vielfältige Ansätze zur Risikoabwehr

Homes destroyed, assets wiped out, existences under threat: it would seem residents in flood-risk regions are increasingly having to stand by and watch water taking away their property. The risk comes not only from swollen rivers that flow over or break their banks; because the groundwater level increases so much during a flood this puts cellars and underground infrastructures under threat too. Professional risk management is essential if the dangers posed to business and residential areas are to be avoided.

Both floods and low waters form part of the natural dynamic of all river landscapes. However, the impact of global climate change has given rise to a trend of extreme meteorological events in Central Europe, such as droughts and extreme rainfall. There has also been an increase in so-called “hundred-year floods”. Floods are already the most widespread natural threat in Europe. As the soil is increasingly being sealed off, ever decreasing amounts of precipitation are filtering down. Measures to shore up river flood plains and to channel waters have also led to a loss of natural retention areas. This increases the flow speed during floods, makes flood waves higher, and causes the prospects of damage to rise too. The advanced age of some dykes also presents a risk as breaches can occur.

Transdisciplinary research activities

There is to be an improvement in the options available in future to detect dangerous situations in advance and reduce damage. This requires comprehensive risk management in both the planning and operation stages. Research in this area must develop transdisciplinary examination approaches, obtain results from these and then prove they can be applied by means of example. In order to ensure that results can be transferred into practice, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is involving representatives from economics and administration in its research projects on flood protection. The participants come from universities, national authorities, state authorities, local authorities, private companies, water boards and insurance firms.

The BMBF was funding flood research projects even before the flood disasters involving the Oder and Elbe, but these events intensified those efforts. Here are some examples of the subject areas receiving BMBF funding: the acute pollution as a result of the August 2002 Elbe flood was the subject of investigation (project 1.4.01) and also served to clarify the consequences of the extremely high groundwater level in Dresden even long after the Elbe flood through the use of models (projects 1.4.02 and 1.4.04). Important findings were also obtained through monitoring and stabilising dykes with drainage elements (project 1.4.05) and using sensor-based geotextiles inside (project 1.4.06). To prevent floodwater from getting through windows and doors in extreme events, scientists from the Saxon Textile Research Institute in Chemnitz have developed self-sealing water barriers that can also be fitted in old buildings with uneven walls and are removed just as easily (project 1.4.07). The MULTISURE (“Development of Multisequential Mitigation Strategies for Urban Areas with Risk of Groundwater Flood”) project focuses on how to estimate the potential for damage and risk as a result of rapidly rising groundwater in urban areas (project 1.4.03).

Sustainable protection against flood events

In 2004, the BMBF established flood protection as a focus for its research funding. Since then, the “Risk Management of Extreme Flood Events” (RIMAX, see project 1.4.06) has been combining skills and driving forward further development (www.rimax-hochwasser.de). Funding of around EUR 20 million in total has been channelled into 38 projects between 2005 and 2010, the aim being to detect pending flood events at an earlier stage in future and to be quicker and more effective in preventing damage. RIMAX thus made a significant contribution towards the implementation of the government’s five-point programme for flood protection and also forms part of its high-tech strategy. Through RIMAX, the BMBF has also formed an early basis for the national implementation of the EU Floods Directive dated 23 October 2007 („Directive 2007/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the assessment and management of flood risks“).

Ressource Wasser
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