Toward more flood resilience: Is a diversification of flood risk management strategies the way forward?
Number of pages
SourceEcology and Society, 21, 4, (2016), pp. 52-71
Article / Letter to editor
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Ecology and Society
SubjectInstitute for Management Research
ABSTRACT. European countries face increasing flood risks because of urbanization, increase of exposure and damage potential, and the effects of climate change. In literature and in practice, it is argued that a diversification of strategies for flood risk management (FRM), including flood risk prevention (through proactive spatial planning), flood defense, flood risk mitigation, flood preparation, and flood recovery, makes countries more flood resilient. Although this thesis is plausible, it should still be empirically scrutinized. We aim to do this. Drawing on existing literature we operationalize the notion of “flood resilience” into three capacities: capacity to resist; capacity to absorb and recover; and capacity to transform and adapt. Based on findings from the EU FP7 project STAR-FLOOD, we explore the degree of diversification of FRM strategies and related flood risk governance arrangements at the national level in Belgium, England, France, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden, as well as these countries’ achievement in terms of the three capacities. We found that the Netherlands and to a lesser extent Belgium have a strong capacity to resist, France a strong capacity to absorb and recover, and especially England a high capacity to transform and adapt. Having a diverse portfolio of FRM strategies in place may be conducive to high achievements related to the capacities to absorb/recover and to transform and adapt. Hence, we conclude that diversification of FRM strategies contributes to resilience. However, the diversification thesis should be nuanced in the sense that there are different ways to be resilient. First, the three capacities imply different rationales and normative starting points for flood risk governance, the choice between which is inherently political. Second, we found trade-offs between the three capacities, e.g., being resistant seems to lower the possibility to be absorbent. Third, to explain countries’ achievements in terms of resilience, the strategies’ feasibility in specific physical circumstances and their fit in existing institutional contexts (appropriateness), as well as the establishment of links between strategies, through bridging mechanisms, have also been shown to be crucial factors. We provide much needed reflection on the implications of this diagnosis for governments, private parties, and citizens who want to increase flood resilience.
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