EU flood costs to rise fivefold by 2050: report

The Guardian, LONDON

Tue, Mar 04, 2014 - Page 7

The cost of flood damage will soar fivefold across Europe in coming decades, according to the first comprehensive analysis of risk across the continent.

Over the past decade the average annual cost of flood damage across the EU has been 4.5 billion euros (US$6.2 billion). However, increasingly intense downpours driven by climate change, as well as population growth and urbanization, will mean that rises to 23 billion euros a year by 2050, the study found.

The growing prosperity of citizens is also a factor, said Brenden Jongman of VU University Amsterdam, who led the research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“People increasingly have more expensive stuff than they had 50 years ago,” he said.

The costs of damage could be curbed by better flood-protection and insurance schemes, but these measures face political obstacles, Jongman said.

“For rare events, the chances of [severe flooding] happening within the term of one government is low, so the incentive for politicians to invest in flood protection is quite low,” he said.

“The cost is upfront, but the benefits are over decades,” he said.

The UK government cut annual flood-defense spending sharply after entering office in 2010 and the Guardian reported last month that projects in flood-stricken areas from the Somerset Levels to the Thames Valley were not built as a result. The cost of damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure this winter — the wettest in England for 250 years — has been at least £1 billion (US$1.67 billion).

The study found that improving flood defenses across the EU to resist once-a-century flooding would save 7 billion euros a year by 2050, but cost just 1.75 billion euros. In the UK, most flood defenses save £8 for every £1 spent.

“A lot of countries still have quite low levels of flood-protection standards,” Jongman said. “There are a lot of places where [flood defense] can be improved cost effectively.”

The UK government’s official advisers have warned that the failure to spend £500 million will result in £3 billion of avoidable damage.

The study also shows that two-thirds of all losses are uninsured. Despite the UK government’s difficulty in agreeing upon a new flood-insurance scheme with the industry to cover high-risk homes, Britons are better off in this regard than many Europeans.

“Many countries do not have any flood-insurance system at all,” Jongman said.