Let’s make room for the river: Floods in Europe

  • IASbaba
  • July 28, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-3: Disaster and disaster management. 
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Let’s make room for the river: Floods in Europe

Context: A month’s rain poured in just 24 hours in the worst-affected areas of Germany and Belgium. This caused multiple rivers to burst their banks and flood parts of the two countries as well as the Netherlands (managed well), Luxembourg and Switzerland.

  • It is believed that these areas of Europe have not witnessed such heavy rainfall for more than a century.
  • The floods & the subsequent efforts by authorities bore uncanny resemblance to what Kerala experienced in August 2018. 
  • These extreme & unpredictable events are attributed to Climate Change

How Climate Change is causing frequent floods?

  • More CO2 the world emits into the atmosphere, the warmer will be the air temperature. 
  • Warmer air holds more moisture and results in excess rainfall, which leads to flooding. 
  • Additionally, increasing temperatures at the poles result in slower movement of storms in the mid-latitudes. As a result, storms linger longer at a specific place. 
  • The combination of a slow-moving storm and the presence of surplus moisture in the atmosphere results in intense rainfall in one location within a short period of time. 
  • In 2018, Kerala, for example, witnessed 414 mm of rain in just three days between August 15 and 17. Rainfall for the period of August 1 to 19, 2018, in Kerala was 164% more than normal.
  • The advanced flood warning system of Germany did forecast heavy rains and the possibility of floods. But local authorities were unable to respond rapidly enough and communicate the warnings to the wider population. 
  • The rain and floods happened so fast that there was no time to evacuate all residents to safety and fully deploy the formidable rescue and relief infrastructure that they possessed.

What did the Netherlands do right in dealing with the floods?

  • The Dutch have gone beyond their conventional dependence on dikes, dams, walls and gates to protect themselves from floods.
  • Their current disaster resilience mantra is to live with water, build with nature and make room for the river.
  • They champion creating adequate space for rivers to overflow by 
    • Protecting floodplains from human interference & human activities
    • Deepening riverbeds 
    • Creating alternate channels for excess water.
  • After two major floods in 1993 and 1995, the Dutch embarked on several projects to widen riverbanks and reshape the areas around rivers.
  • Also, Superior organisation, better preparedness, advanced flood management system and centuries of experience has helped the Netherlands to manage floods better.

Way Ahead for India as well as other countries

  • Learning from the Dutch model of “live with water, build with nature and make room for the river”
  • Mapping Risk areas: Flood-prone areas should be identified, and projects initiated on an urgent basis to create room for rivers. 
  • Increasing Drainage capacity of rivers and canals by creating more room for the water to flow. This involves removing obstructions and encroachments from existing water channels, the proper maintenance of such channels and creating additional channels for water to flow.
  • Storage of Excess Rainwater: Low-risk areas such as playgrounds, maidans, or agricultural fields should be earmarked to store excess rainwater. 
    • Drains must be built for diverting water into these storage units. 
    • This will relieve the stress on the existing drainage infrastructure. 
    • The stored water can later be discharged back into the drainage channel once the high water subsides.
  • Strengthen Disaster Preparedness: In the short term, strengthened disaster readiness, planning and preparation will help us deal with sudden, intense rain and consequent floods
    • While national and State disaster management authorities have grown in experience, competence and professionalism, there is need for a higher degree of coordination and preparation across all levels of government. 
    • Practice drills need to be conducted in flood-prone areas. 
  • Modifying Warning Messages: We need to test the effectiveness of flood warnings. The warnings should be in local languages and in simple terms.
    • Rather than forecast the millimetres of rain expected, conveying specific information regarding the extent of damage to property and life would likely encourage affected communities to remain alert and respond quickly.


Nations must be conscious of their vulnerability to water and maintain a spirit of eternal vigilance to floods.

Connecting the dots:

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