No Border For Natural Disasters

“The new sphere is counteracting natural disasters but at the moment we are looking for projects to develop, which meet the requirements of both [Polish and Czech] sides,”  said Dariusz Tkocz, Administrator in the Department of Transborder Cooperation, City of Racibórz, Poland. Getting together to be stronger and face the natural disasters is the credo of the Department of Trans Border cooperation. A theory that seems more and more needed considering the damages that environmental catastrophes can lead to.

Consequences of  natural disasters: A tough reality to face

Floods are a disaster that don’t have borders. They go wherever they find room and destroy everything on its path. Their consequences are colossal and often underestimated. The flood event lasts a few hours to a couple of weeks, a tragedy that hits thousands of families every year. Those events are rather well covered in the media.

Heavy Rains in Central Europe May/June 2010 that caused floods and landslides


But the actual consequences of this tragedy appear later, when the reality slaps the victims right into their face: furniture to be thrown away, house to repair or sometimes demolish, and the endless wait for expertise  in hope of getting some money from the State.

This nightmare becomes their daily life until everything goes back to normal. But no one ever knows how long it might take: a couple of months, then months, a year or more?

This hell can nevertheless be moderated thanks to prevention. A task that many organisations have undertaken, a task that people and government do not often pay attention to.


Puzzling solutions

Rafal Sefarin

According to Rafal Sefarin, director of Environmental Partnership Foundation in Krakow, Poland, two main reasons explain the huge damages of the floods over the last few years in Central Europe:

“Floods are recurring and their impact to a logic sens, depends on the preparation of the community that is affected.  We built levies, engineering solutions, which are mostly to do with straightening rivers. But paradoxically it makes the floods events more sudden.

The second thing is the people.  Once the floods have happened, very quickly, people forget about them and react badly when they hit them which increases the cost of the flood damages. That’s why you find in less populated areas, fewer flood events. “

Engineering work on levies in Poland

Prevention, a key to lower damages

Environmental agencies are usually able to predict when a flood event is about to occur and can warn people. Yet, people’s reaction is often passive and they don’t believe that such an event would happen in their neighbourhood.

Despite the cutting-edge technology they use, environmental agencies cannot forecast flash floods, rapid flooding of geomorphic low-lying areas – washes, rivers, dry lakes and basins. Hence the importance of prevention.

Local governments and NGOs promote the flood prevention and try to arrange solutions to deal with the situation faster and more efficiently by sharing their knowledge and their equipment.

Roman Konieczny, Institute of Meteorolgy and Water Management in Krakow, Poland, author of the In Time for the Flood, believes there is a need to be in contact with local government to understand their needs and requirements and to be better prepared to floods.

Roman ran a survey among people who got affected by the disaster “the main difference between men and women’s first reaction: men want to safe the TV set and women important documents”. An amusing anecdote that reveals the lack of preparation and understanding of the consequences of such a disaster.

”It’s really hard to help people after the floods, it’s a political problem as well, because the government should help people who are insured but also those who aren’t. Our government is trying to organize such help in a better way than after the 1997 floods.“

Roman has come up with the idea of prevention through education, starting with the youngest. In collaboration with school, the Institute makes pupils do homework with their parents about flood prevention. A stone that kills two birds: both generations are aware of the right behavior to adopt when such a disaster smash into their home.


Awareness must cross the geopolitical borders

The knowledge of floods, its prevention and its aftermaths, should reach a larger scale and become international to broaden their neighbouring countries’ know-how.

“ We have a sister foundation in Czech republic, says Rafal Sefarin, and we’ve made some attempts to draw experiences from ours. It would work better if we could do that together. There is an interconnection with them and the idea to make a on-going sustainability works”.

Cross border regions have the advantage of being able to help each other in a very short time when facing an emergency. An asset that governments and organizations have to work on to make it as effective as possible. A challenge that is now eased by the EU cross border policy but which is flawed by the lack of international corporation.

About Camille Lepage