European Commission funding under contract ERAC-CT-2004-515742, completed in October 2009. The CRUE ERA-Net continue to co-operate on joint research initiatives and Partners are exploring opportunities for maintaining and extending collaboration in the future.
In recent years, Europe has suffered a number of severe river and coastal floods that have caused loss of life and property.
Climate change is increasing the risk of such catastrophes. National governments have responded with research into flood risk management and mitigation, but there has been little coordination of their programmes.
The CRUE network has been set up to consolidate existing European flood research programmes, promote best practice and identify gaps and opportunities for collaboration on future programme content.
Its 16 partners come from most European countries that have been particularly badly affected by flooding. By supporting best practice and the spread of knowledge, they expect to improve flood management in their own countries and the rest of Europe.
The UN estimates that 1 billion people live in the path of potential flood disasters, and flooding is the most widespread natural hazard in Europe. More river embankments and building on flood plains, as well as drainage improvements to provide more agricultural land, mean that heavy rain is less likely to soak away into the ground. Mountain deforestation also contributes to the risk of flash floods, which is increasing as weather patterns become more extreme. Coastal changes and rising sea levels are exposing the hinterland to flood risk: in the Netherlands, half the population lives below sea level. Flood disasters, such as the overflow of central European rivers in 2002, caused loss of life, intense human misery and significant economic damage.
The scale of the problem in Europe has prompted government agencies to commission considerable research . Sometimes within a single country, several organisations, such as agricultural and environmental agencies, research councils and water boards, may carry out uncoordinated programmes. One of the aims of CRUE ERA-NET is to reduce this fragmentation by synthesising information on Europe’s flood risk management research programmes and enabling partners to share insights into flood risk management. Flood processes and mitigation measures often apply to similar situations in different countries and a given flooding event can cross a frontier in seconds. Co-operation within and between national programmes – on research, prevention and mitigation – should therefore greatly increase the effectiveness of flood management.
Current flood research
The EU has funded research on the science and management of flooding for more than 20 years, mainly in the context of understanding natural hazards and hydrogeological risk, as well as other projects on coastal and estuarine flood risks. Even though researchers have created some informal networks, the results of such efforts are sometimes diffused and hard to find. A priority task for CRUE is to introduce a structured framework for information on all European research work in the field. Publicly funded research is the most accessible, so the work will kick off by identifying regional and national funding agencies in all Member States and Candidate Countries. As well as making past results readily available to all, this exercise will allow current programmes to share know-how and experience and encourage international coordination on the content of new ones.
Because of the diversity of research projects and programmes, CRUE is comparing the way in which they are set up, funded and managed, with the aim of identifying and promoting good practice in flood research. A range of activities will bring funding bodies together to promote collaboration and reduce overlap and hence the waste of resources.
The best defence is attack
Gaps in research and new opportunities have been identified through national mechanisms such as the UK’s Foresight initiative. The CRUE network will help to fill these gaps by enabling a range of regional or national organisations to gather enough funding and expertise for such projects. Such measures will open up projects to wider participation and improve the coherence of the various flood risk management research programmes in Europe. This harmonising of research in old and new Member States and Candidate Countries will bring social, economic and policy benefits to the EU. Past Research shows that money spent on flood risk management is outweighed by the costs of flooding, so the economy also stands to gain.
Coordination within the CRUE ERA-NET will strengthen the European Research Area making it a more integrated structure. CRUE’s network of funding organisations at national and international levels will prevent duplication of projects and help collaboration on planning. It will disseminate the results of nationally funded programmes and national calls for new proposals. Systematic exchange of information about good practice and past research results, and the promotion of relevant new research, will ultimately give greater security to all citizens who live in areas of flood risk.
The CRUE network is an important tool for making European and national flood risk management policy. Policy-makers set the context and priorities for research, while network results will inform policy choices. Decisions are made about the sustainable development of river catchments and coastal defences. In the future, we should be able to manage Europe’s many transnational river basins, such as the Rhine, the Scheldt and Tiska better as a result of the work of CRUE.