Flood Protection: RWTH Expert Laments Practical Problems

14/01/2024

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RWTH Professor Holger Schüttrumpf laments the practical problems in the field of flood protection - a team of experts met in Aachen

  Prof. Holger Schüttrumpf Copyright: © Peter Winandy Prof. Holger Schüttrumpf at the Ahrtal

Have the right lessons been learned from the 2021 flood disaster? That was the question that the participants of the 54th International Symposium on Hydraulic Engineering in Aachen asked themselves. At forum M from Thursday to Friday, experts were invited by the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management at RWTH Aachen University (IWW) to discuss current flood protection issues.

When the date of the event was set, nobody could have guessed how topical the conference would really be. The floods, particularly in northern Germany, kept people on tenterhooks and they were naturally a topic of discussion at the symposium. So what is the answer here? Have the right lessons been learned from 2021, when more than 180 people died in the floods in Germany? "Yes, but I have reservations" says IWW Director Professor Holger Schüttrumpf. The right lessons have been learned from the disaster and concepts have indeed been developed. So far, however, these concepts have mostly only existed on paper, and paper cannot protect anyone. "The problem is not one of knowledge, but of how to implement this knowledge," says Schüttrumpf. Evidence for the thesis: A dyke inspection program was set up in NRW in 2014. Six of the 44 planned measures have been implemented so far. The national program, also from 2014, consists of 168 measures, nine of which have been implemented. "Each measure that is not implemented is a weak point, and the next flood is sure to come," says the IWW Director.

The first day of the symposium focused on early warning and risk communication, followed by flood prevention. Although the introduction of cell broadcasting - i.e. direct warning messages on smartphones - has since made a decisive impact in the area of early warning, Schüttrumpf fears that the consequences will be dire again in the event of a similar disaster: "The population wouldn't know what to do." While in the event of a fire it is clear where people can get to safety as quickly as possible, there is a lack of experience in the event of a flood. When it comes to flood prevention, we urgently need to invest in infrastructure: "Just as we invest in roads and bridges, we must also consistently invest in flood retention basins, dykes and renaturation," the expert demands. Floods cannot be avoided anyway, which is why the title of the two-day event was "Living with floods".