How STAR-FLOOD helps Europe to become resilient to river floods

By Dries Hegger and Peter Driessen

At the tdries_heggerimepeter_driessen of writing this text, major cities on the East Coast of the United States are recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Sandy shows how large the impact of extreme weather events on public life can be. Besides casualties and severe economic losses, Sandy has resulted in the cancellation of high profile activities like the New York Marathon and parts of the presidential election campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Also public transport in major cities has been severely disrupted and various flights to major cities on the East Coast were cancelled.

Granted, Sandy is about another continent than Europe and it is about hurricanes rather than floods from rivers. But Sandy’s message is still clear. Densely populated and economically significant urban areas have to be prepared for extreme weather events. The importance of this will only increase in an era of climate change.

As coordinators we are very happy with the start of STAR-FLOOD (1 October 2012). During the execution phase of the programme (2012-2016), important steps will be made regarding the implementation of the EU Floods Directive. EU Member States have to produce Flood Risk Maps by 2013 and Flood Risk Management Plans by 2015. At the same time, many actors have started to see that a broadening of Flood Risk Strategies is necessary. A focus on flood defence measures (dikes, dams) alone is no longer sufficient. Flood defence measures need to be complemented with pro-active spatial planning, flood mitigation (Room for the River; Natural Flood Management initiatives), flood preparation (as in the case of Sandy) and flood recovery.

But not all strategies are feasible everywhere. In The Netherlands it is hard to keep people away from water (that is what pro-active spatial planning is about). And even if strategies are feasible, they cannot be implemented in the same way everywhere. EU regions have different physical circumstances, legal systems, and administrative structures and cultures. One-size-fits-all solutions do not exist.

This is where STAR-FLOOD comes in. STAR-FLOOD focuses on innovative Flood Risk Governance Arrangements (FRGAs). FRGAs are about the Actors, Discourses, Rules, the Power Relations and Resources through which vulnerable regions deal with flood risks. Amongst other things, we need insight in:

• useful risk management partnerships;
• the pros and cons of various policy programmes;
• the division of responsibilities between public and private actors;
• the legal barriers and opportunities for new flood risk strategies.

Above all, we need to realize that all this may differ for different countries and regions.

The STAR-FLOOD consortium includes leading experts in flood risk management, environmental governance, environmental law, and climate change adaptation. In the coming months we will lay the foundation for the programme’s success. A first step will be to write a background report on the main trends and challenges for flood risk governance in Europe. Also, some steps will be made towards the development of our case study approach. We will study three vulnerable regions in each of the six consortium countries. To this end, in each country two young researchers (PhDs and post docs) will collaborate, one with a public administration background and one with a legal background. As coordinators we will play an important role in integrating the disciplinary contributions of these researchers.

But the main challenge we have to confront is to make sure that our research is useful and that it is used! Throughout the programme we will organize meetings with potential users of our research: actors in the case study areas, high-level policymakers and experts in flood risk management. The consortium includes a consultancy company – Grontmij – that will help us to get in touch with these stakeholders.

Together we contribute to an EU that is more resilient to catastrophic natural hazards!

Dr. Dries Hegger

Prof. Peter Driessen