Skills drought in flood studies

October 12, 2001

A drought of water engineering skills could hamper efforts to deal with flooding in the United Kingdom, a leading expert has warned.

George Fleming, head of water and environmental management at Strathclyde University, said more needed to be done to encourage students to pursue applied science in this area.

He believed that a drift towards more esoteric disciplines in the universities made it harder to find civil engineers who understood the impact of flooding.

Instead, he said, expertise was being recruited from abroad.

"UK science has moved away from practical solutions - we don't have the skills any more," he said.

Professor Fleming warned that the UK had not implemented appropriate integrated river basin management that provided innovative ways to mitigate the impact of such events.

In addition, he said that the existing statistical methods relied on outdated rainfall and water run-off figures, and flood plains have been built on, rivers dredged and land use changed. Climate change is likely to make the data even more irrelevant.

He said universities had reduced their research capacity in the field and had trouble attracting UK students.

Professor Fleming suggested the government consider positive discrimination in scholarship schemes to try to tempt bright, young people to consider careers in water engineering.

An Institution of Civil Engineers' presidential commission is reviewing technical approaches to river flood-risk management in England and Wales.

The body, chaired by Professor Fleming, was set up at the request of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs after last year's severe flooding.

Giving evidence, Edmund Penning-Rowsell, professor of geography and head of the flood hazard research centre at Middlesex University, emphasised the need for better training.

The commission's report is due to be published in November.

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