Brussels, 14 Oct 2003
Major floods are among the most common natural disasters affecting Europe today, claiming numerous lives and costing the EU economy tens of billions of euro in the last two decades alone.
In order to identify ways of better preventing, predicting and managing catastrophic floods in the future, the Commission is funding a number of initiatives in this field. On 13 October, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin visited Dresden in Germany, the site of some of the worst flooding on record in 2002, to present the results from some of the projects.
'Scientific studies are providing evidence that extreme flood events are becoming increasingly common and severe,' said Mr Busquin. 'We must learn to live with floods, and thus must think and act more preventively in order to mitigate their consequences. More research is necessary to enhance our flood management and early warning capabilities.'
Whether or not climate change is to blame for an increase in flood events in Europe, as some scientists have suggested, it is clear than many interlinked factors determine the extent of the damage that floods can cause. Climate, hydrology, land use, flood defences, preparedness and warning systems all play a role, and must be taken into account when carrying out research in this field.
The first major EU initiative presented in Dresden was aimed at improving the hydrologic data on floods which are so vital for the prediction and prevention of disasters. The SPHERE project applied paleohydrological techniques in order to gather information on extreme floods going back as far as 10,000 years. When combined with historic flood data and more recent instrumental observational data, the resulting flood record can be used to predict extreme events and validate climate change theories far more accurately than short term data alone.
Similarly, the aim of the EURAINSAT project is also to take a much broader view of floods in Europe, this time from space. The project was conceived to develop new rainfall estimation techniques using a constellation of low Earth orbit and geostationary satellites. This has resulted in the creation of new cloud classification techniques, which can quantify the rain potential of an individual cloud, and improved data for hydrological forecasting based on real time rainfall algorithms.
In fact, in the last decade the European Commission has launched around 50 projects in this area at a cost of some 58 million euro. With initiatives such as SPHERE and EURAINSAT, as well as the European flood alert system (EFAS) currently being developed, the hope is that this research effort will offer more protection the next time the waters begin to rise.
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