Over the past week, authorities across Central Europe have issued disaster warnings, evacuated cities and scrambled to reinforce flood defences as flooding has caused havoc across many cities across the continent.
At least 11 people have been killed by the floods that left large parts of the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany underwater, and over 10,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes in Germany alone.
Analysts are predicting the spread of flooding to Slovakia and Hungary in the coming days.
It remains premature to pin the heavy rainfall on climate change, and poor river management, canalised riverbeds, urbanisation and destroyed wetlands are all to blame for the recent spate of flooding. But experts have warned that the havoc caused across Central Europe could be a sign of things to come as the continent’s climate gets stormier.
The risk of floods had been growing for weeks, as a rainy spring left the ground sodden. Austria experienced the seventh wettest spring since records begun in 1858, which meant that when two months rain fell in just two days this week, the water had nowhere to go.
In a statement, “Flood risk in Europe: the long-term outlook,” the European Environment Agency (EEA) points to a picture of increased floods, storms and other hydro-meteorological events across the continent in the coming decades.
They warn that Europe will have to adapt to the changes it faces.
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “Considering flood risk in Europe, we can see climate change will be an increasingly important factor. But in many cases, flood risk is also the result of where, and how, we choose to live – increases in costs from flooding in recent decades can be partly attributed to more people living in flood-prone areas.”
Stéphane Isoard of the EEA in Copenhagen, Denmark further emphasised this point: “We build over the land and there is urban sprawl, so there is less opportunity for water to infiltrate the soil.”
With more floods inevitable because of the wetter weather predicted by climate change, Isoard says Europe needs to adapt more frequent inundations.
With around one-fifth of European cities being homes to over 100,000 people, they are very vulnerable to river floods, and the EEA has called on countries to adapt to the current and possible future effects of climate change.
In 2013, the European Commission adopted an EU wide strategy on adapting to climate change aimed at shore up the continent’s climate resilience, but research from the EEA shows that half of the 32 member countries still lack national plans to adapt to the effects of global warming.
In a leaked report earlier this year, the Commission warned that failing to adapt to climate change could cost the EU around €100 billion by 2020 and €250 billion by 2050.
It warned that the EU must take action to adapt to the threats to crops and property, or face a decline in food production, societal unrest and growing instability across the continent.
Some work is already underway. Wetlands are being restored around stretches of the Danube in Hungary and Romania away from the current devastation. Green spaces like this can absorb extra water, making floods less severe.
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