Flooding fears return to the Danube
Following last year’s disastrous floods, the Danube River Basin was hit again by terrible spring floods. Communities in Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria were hit hardest.
The floods this spring underlined the urgent need for all countries in the Danube River Basin to work together to protect against floods.
Heavy floods inundated central and eastern Europe this spring, due to melting snow and heavy rainfall. Swollen rivers and rising groundwater levels caused widespread damage and forced thousands to leave their homes. For the first time in history, high water was recorded on the Danube, Sava and Tisza at the same time – causing dramatic floods where these rivers come together downstream.
Germany faced heavy precipitation and snow thaw causing floods along several small rivers. In one 24- hour period in February, Bavaria received over 35 mm of rain. A state of emergency was declared for the southern Morava area in the Czech Republic and five towns were evacuated. Over 4,000 people were forced to leave their homes and five people were killed.
Two people died in Slovakia where river levels were initially critical. A state of emergency was declared in Trtice when rivers reached dangerous levels. Some 250 households were affected in Austria, and flooding caused dam failures and disrupted rail connections there.
Severe floods killed nine people in the Trans-Carpathian area of Ukraine. Flood waters covered towns and villages, damaging houses, roads and bridges. Moldova was spared serious flooding and no evacuations were necessary. Still, floods caused € 1.5 million in damage, mainly to agricultural crops and small enterprises. Anti-flow from the Danube was the main problem in Moldova – estimated at 40 km up the Prut.
Record high flood waters. The level of the Danube River rose to 861 cm in Hungary, higher than previous records in 2002. The Tisza River reached a record high of 9.8 m, threatening 160,000 people and over 50,000 homes. Over 12 million sandbags were used in Hungary during the disaster — 700,000 on just one day.
A dozen cities were damaged and hundreds of people were evacuated in Serbia. Near Veliko Gradište, the Danube reached 9.65 m, making it the highest recorded flood in Serbia. Due to effi cient fl ood measures based on integrated management, damage was significantly less than that caused by the floods in 1981 — which were 20 cm lower.
The increase of the Danube’s level flooded 12 counties in Romania. Over 15,000 people were evacuated, and 5,000 homes were flooded. Floods damaged 500 km of roads, 255 bridges and over 80,000 hectares of farmland. Although there were no human victims, the extent of the damage and the number of evacuated people by far surpassed the floods of 1970 which, until 2006, were considered the worst in Romania.
Over 20 communities were affected in Bulgaria, and a state of emergency was declared in seven regions. Over 1,000 homes were flooded, and over 50,000 hectares of farmland were damaged. A prompt response by state agencies, local authorities, and citizens restricted the material damage. Approximately 150 people were evacuated, but no casualties were reported.
Action for flood protection. In December 2004, Danube countries adopted the ‘Action Programme for Sustainable Flood Protection’ to manage flood risks. Key elements include mapping high risk areas, giving rivers more space by creating new water retention zones, and ending new building in natural floodplain areas. The development of the Action Programme is based on an integrated approach as requested by the EU Water Framework Directive.
“There has been a change in mindset in the recognition that building defence mechanisms against floodwaters is not sufficient,” says Philip Weller, ICPDR Executive Secretary. “This means giving more space for the rivers, allowing the floodplains to be what they are, and to combine these kinds of strategies with measures to protect cities and public infrastructure.”
The ICPDR’s efforts to streamline cooperation. Danube governments are now focusing their attention on flood response and short-term relief measures. This summer, the ICPDR will review the flood response and the assessment will determine how the implementation of the Flood Action Programme could be accelerated.
One major element of the Action Programme is an international flood warning system, being developed by the EU Joint Research Centre and overseen by the ICPDR. The system will supplement national systems and give up to ten days’ warning of expected floods. “The flood alert system,” says Philip Weller, “will allow additional warning on where floods may develop based on meteorological and soil conditions and should give extra time to prepare and organise defences.” Trials for the system will be introduced by the end of the year and it is hoped that the full system will be fully operational in 2007.
A European Response. On January 18 2006, the European Commission proposed a directive on the assessment and management of floods to reduce the risks posed to human health, the environment infrastructure and property. The proposed directive creates an EU framework for flood risk management that builds on and is closely coordinated with the WFD.
Members of the European Parliament recently passed amendments to the proposed directive, making more explicit the need to cooperate on trans-border issues as well as giving individual countries more room to use existing resources and local and regional expertise.
“From each flood we have learned something. We are gaining a better understanding of what happens during floods, and recognising that we have to find ways to live with floods and this has been the philosophy that has been adopted in the Danube River Basin.”
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