Chapter 1. Managing floods today – Setting the scene

This chapter outlines some of the main challenges and drivers to floods. It points to some particular needs of reducing flood risks by not only working on conventional approaches but to work on coordination of policy measures (such as between water and land management) and more comprehensive multi-level governance approaches. The chapter presents some of the methodological elements and considerations of developing the OECD Checklist for Assessing Flood Governance Arrangements. The analytical framework of the Checklist is based on the 12 OECD Principles on Water Governance that aim to assist governments and stakeholders to improve water governance systems to help manage water resources and water services challenges of “too much”, “too little” or “too polluted” water. Finally, the chapter discusses the collection of the 27 case studies in both OECD and non-OECD countries that have informed the report.

    

Mounting challenges of too much water

Almost no country in the world is spared from floods or the risk of floods. By 2050, 1.6 billion people will be at risk of flooding (as compared with 1.2 billion in 2013), affecting nearly 20% of the world’s population (OECD, 2013a). Europe and North America face increasing economic, social and environmental risks related to flooding, while India, China and Viet Nam are salient examples of countries at risk in the developing world (Sadoff et al., 2015). China and India, in particular, are at greatest potential risk of urban flood damage, to the tune of more than USD 100 billion by 2080 (OECD, 2015c), while in Europe, annual flood damages could rise to EUR 100 billion by 2080 (Alfieri et al., 2015b.) Floods, “the temporary covering by water of land not normally covered by water” (EU, 2007), include river or fluvial floods, flash floods, urban floods, pluvial floods, sewer floods, coastal floods and floods produced by outbursts from glacial lakes (IPCC, 2012). Different forms of governance are required for each of type of flooding if they are to be tackled effectively.

Megatrends such as climate change, population growth and urbanisation have a high impact on the frequency and intensity of water-related events, such as floods. Population growth increases the likelihood and potential impact of floods, since it puts pressure on sewer systems and encourages urban expansion into areas at high risk of flooding. Rapid urban expansion can result in the loss of farmlands, forests and lands, thus increasing the pressure on drainage systems. This can lead to increased flood flow in urban areas, which may constitute a hazard for the population and infrastructure. Climate-driven rising sea levels threaten coastal cities and low-lying island states, and changing rain patterns associated with excess rainfall lead to greater surface runoff. Outdated land and water use plans and aging and inadequate infrastructure also increase the risk of water-related events. A combination of factors can cause floods, including if rivers overflow defences, groundwater levels rise, or as a result of extreme rainfall or recharge events, inadequate drainage systems, coastal flooding and erosion, storm surge and isostatic readjustment of the land following the last Ice Age.

Floods have social, economic and environmental consequences. Today, between 100 million and 200 million people per year are victims of water-related disasters, almost two-thirds of which are a result of floods. In 2016, 23.5 million people were displaced because of weather-related disasters, of which the majority were associated with floods or storms (World Meteorological Organization, 2017). Floods account for one-third of all economic losses due to water-related disasters (OECD, 2012). Economic losses due to water-related disasters were estimated at USD 50 billion to USD 100 billion per year between 1980 and 2009.1 Other losses may include damage to the environment, biodiversity and cultural heritage, as well as human life and health, property (OECD, 2018a) and crop production (OECD, 2018b).

Global agendas are calling for the prevention of water-related disasters, including floods. The relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that cover this issue include: SDG 6 on supply and sanitation for all, SDG 11 on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable and SDG 13 on climate change. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 makes an urgent plea to “strengthen disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk”. An integrated urban water management and waste management system, as part of an Integrated Water Resources Management aligned with the New Urban Agenda, can also help manage water resources in a holistic and sustainable manner. Meeting the Paris Climate Agreement and cutting emissions could help reduce risk, damage and loss from flood disasters. To achieve these ambitious goals, it is crucial to co-ordinate water management across people, policies and places.

The need to improve flood governance

Conventional approaches are a prerequisite for sound flood management, but they need to be integrated in more comprehensive multi-level governance approaches. Conventional approaches for managing floods include a focus on traditional physical or grey infrastructure and reliance on physical science and technical expertise (OECD, 2013a; STAR-FLOOD, 2016). Grey solutions are considered constructed assets, such as flood defences in the form of dikes, dams and embankments, and are typically used in urban areas. Physical flood protection measures, such as dikes and levees, are generally cost-effective in areas with high population and asset concentrations. Moreover, estimations of the investment needed to reduce water risks, and cost-benefit analyses are typically used as a basis for decision making on floods (OECD, 2013a). Conventional approaches cannot be the sole basis of decision making (Rees, 2002), for several reasons:

  • First, flood-risk assessment and management typically overlook stakeholders’ perception of risk (whether individuals or businesses). Such perceptions have an important influence on decisions affecting vulnerability to flooding and ability to mitigate risk. Factoring in such perceptions is a crucial element in assigning clear roles and responsibilities for managing flood risk (Runhaar et al., 2016).

  • Second, flood-risk assessment and management often fail to account for the complex interconnections between policy instruments, because they focus on simple, generic assessments of technical measures. They are often applied piecemeal to certain aspects of water management (e.g. drinking water standards and flood control) but do not cover water resource management holistically from a risk perspective (OECD, 2013a).

  • Third, combining grey infrastructure with green infrastructure approaches (in the form of, for instance, nature-based solutions) can result in cost savings and reduced risk (UNWWAP/UN-Water, 2018).

  • Fourth, most cost-benefit analysis methodologies discount the future (discount rate) and long-term negative externalities of some measures that manifest only decades later. This is a significant issue in the context of climate change. Users of these methodologies also have difficulty accounting for those that cannot be assigned a monetary value, and often omit cross-sectoral externalities as well as indirect costs and benefits.

  • Fifth, governance and management of flood mitigation measures offer a window of opportunity to bridge incompatibility between water and land management. For example, restoration of floodplains, removal of embankments, riparian buffers and restriction of encroachments are measures that should combine land and water management (Milman et al., 2017). Often, these measures involve trade-offs, incurring costs or requiring changes to provide flood protection for others. Land use and management is a primary component of the flood-risk system (Hartmann et al., 2018b). The basin level is a “natural” scale for flood governance, allowing planning and mitigation measures to be co-ordinated across the basin (places) and linked with other sectors (policies) and stakeholders (people). More attention needs to be paid to governance and management as well as grey and green infrastructure measures for living with floods and being prepared for them (OECD, 2017). The Sendai Framework also notes the importance of “public and private investments in structural and non-structural measures to increase economic and social resilience to disasters” (UNISDR, 2015b).

On the other hand, implementation of nature-based solutions remains somewhat piecemeal. Fully exploiting the potential of nature-based solutions will require overcoming a number of challenges (see for example Kabisch, et al., 2016; Nesshöver, et al., 2017; and O’Donnell, et al., 2017)

  • First, “technical challenges”: Nature based solutions cannot always replace grey infrastructure, as they have different characteristics and requirements than traditional approaches to infrastructure provision. For example, the use of wetlands for water purification requires significantly more land than building a wastewater treatment plant. In addition, many nature-based solutions rely on ecological restoration processes that can take many years to provide evidence of tangible results.

  • Second, methodological challenges: There is still a need to demonstrate that nature based solutions can deliver an equivalent performance to conventional infrastructure, and continue to deliver benefits over time. For example, a key challenge associated with monitoring, reporting and verification of forest carbon removals is the non-permanence risk: the storage of carbon in forest biomass and soil is reversible (Grimault et al., 2018). Various engineering norms and standards may need to be updated to allow for the use of such non-traditional approaches.

  • Third, institutional and governance challenges: Governments, local authorities and property developers may not consider nature based solutions because of a lack of knowledge and the perception that they cost more to install. Other barriers include siloed institutional arrangements; lack of government staff expertise, capacity and resources; and a disconnect between short-term actions and long-term goals. In addition, prevailing regulations, funding mechanisms and lock-in failures can act as disincentives to the use of nature-based solutions. Finally, policies relating to land ownership and use, biodiversity conservation, water management, energy and other sectors, are also key to the feasibility and appeal of implementing nature based solutions.

Managing flood risk involves dealing with uncertainty and complexity, and calls for appropriate, resilient2 arrangements at the transboundary, national, regional and local levels.3 The scale, size and spatial organisation of a given place, as well as its demographic and governance dynamics, have an impact on floodwater functions and management, linkages across sectors, the ability to engage other stakeholders and implementation capacity.

No single governance response to floods can fit all cases worldwide, but a combination of approaches and place-based policies integrating territorial specificities is called for. Each country has different governance conditions and capacities for responding to these challenges. For example, the Netherlands, where coordination across government levels and stakeholders allows for more effective longer term planning, has started to set up its proactive strategies and solutions for the climate scenarios forecast for 2050 (OECD, 2018a), while in Bangladesh, with highly fragmented water institutions and with big investment and human capacity challenges, responses tend to be reactive and short-term. Governance works as a means to an end and the type of governance needs to match the level of risk or the magnitude of the problem to fit policies to places and people (OECD, 2018a). In both OECD and non-OECD economies, at local, national or transboundary levels, there is room for more adaptable, context-dependent and place-based policy responses. The water sector and the flood sub-sector is still very fragmented, and it is important to consider multiple, interconnected governance gaps that tend to reinforce each other (OECD, 2011).

Governance systems should be designed based on the challenges they need to address. A comprehensive approach to flood policy requires diagnosing and overcoming multi-level governance challenges in design, regulation and implementation. These challenges include (as adapted from the OECD Multi-level Governance Framework):

  • Institutional and territorial fragmentation of flood policy across multiple actors and lack of effective policy coherence across sectors (policy gap).

  • Mismatched administrative and hydrological boundaries for managing flood and water resources at the relevant scale (administrative gap).

  • Questionable resource allocation and patchy financial management in undertaking flood-related responsibilities (funding gap).

  • Gaps in scientific, human, technical and infrastructural capabilities for designing and implementing sustainable, efficient and effective flood policies and strategies (capacity gap).

  • Ineffective stakeholder engagement for inclusive and transparent flood-related decision making; insufficient or irregular monitoring, evaluation and enforcement (accountability gap).

  • Divergent objectives that inhibit synergies and complementarities for managing floods at the appropriate scale (objective gap).

  • Insufficient or incomplete flood-related data and information systems for assisting decision makers (information gap).

Analytical framework

The analytical framework in this report is organised around the 12 OECD Principles on Water Governance. These were adopted in May 2015 by the OECD Regional Development Policy Committee and backed by ministers at the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial Level in June 2015.4 The OECD Principles set standards for governments to improve the economic, social and environmental benefits of good water governance through effective, efficient and inclusive design and implementation of water policies. They aim to enhance water governance systems that help manage “too much”, “too little” and “too polluted” water in a sustainable, integrated and inclusive way, at an acceptable cost, and in a reasonable period (Figure 1.1. OECD Principles on Water Governance). The Principles apply to the overarching water management cycle and should be implemented in a systematic and inclusive manner.

Figure 1.1. OECD Principles on Water Governance
Figure 1.1. OECD Principles on Water Governance

Source: OECD (2015a), accessible at www.oecd.org/governance/oecd-principles-on-water-governance.htm.

The Principles recognise that governance is contextual. They acknowledge that water policies need to be adapted to different water resources situations and places, and that responses should adapt to changing circumstances. The Principles establish that coping with current and future challenges requires robust public policies, targeting measurable objectives according to predetermined time schedules at the appropriate scale, relying on a clear assignment of duties across the authorities responsible, and performing regular monitoring and evaluation. They assert that governance can greatly contribute to the design and implementation of such policies, with the responsibility shared by different levels of government and by civil society, business and a broad range of stakeholders, as well as policy makers.

The OECD Principles on Water Governance provide a framework for understanding water governance systems, determining whether they are performing optimally, and helping to adjust them where necessary. They can catalyse efforts for making good practices more visible, learning from international experience, and putting reform processes in motion at all levels of government, to facilitate change when and where needed. They can also help avoid traps and pitfalls, learning from international experience.

The Principles were initially developed to apply to water governance arrangements in general, regardless of water management functions, water uses and ownership. However, since their adoption, the Principles have proven to be general and flexible enough to be applied to guide activities and practices across different scales, stakeholders and sectors (OECD, 2018a).

The Principles contribute to tangible and outcome-oriented public policies, based on three mutually reinforcing and complementary dimensions of water governance:

  • Effectiveness relates to the contribution of governance to define clear, sustainable water policy goals and targets at all levels of government, to implement those policy goals and to meet expected targets (Principles 1-4).

  • Efficiency relates to the contribution of governance to maximise the benefits of sustainable water management and welfare at the lowest cost to society (Principles 5-8).

  • Trust and engagement relate to the contribution of governance to building public confidence and ensuring inclusiveness of stakeholders through democratic legitimacy and fairness for society at large (Principles 9-12).

The ensuing chapters deal with these three interrelated dimensions.

Managing floods is an emblematic of the shared responsibilities between public, private and civil society and across levels of government, and of the need for place-based policies within national frameworks. It offers an opportunity to explore how the OECD Principles relate to the specificities of flood management and help to appraise implementation of the framework conditions of the existing water governance system. This report aims to help interested countries self-assess and improve the performance of their flood governance system, as well as to encourage collective learning and peer support.

Methodology

Developing a Checklist to assess flood-risk governance arrangements

A Checklist was developed to help stakeholders and governments self-assess the preparedness of government systems to flood risks (see Checklist in Annex A). The Checklist is an application of the OECD Principles on Water Governance to floods, and for each principle, assesses the state of play of flood governance policy frameworks (what), institutions (who), instruments (how) and their impact. It consists of 100-plus priority questions and indicators to help governments and stakeholders appraise the governance of floods, identify areas of improvement and create common ground for policy makers and practitioners. The Checklist is applicable across all scales of water management (city, basin, region, country) and is conceived as a voluntary self-assessment tool to encourage a transparent, neutral, open, inclusive and forward-looking dialogue across stakeholders on what works, what does not, what should be improved and who can do what.

The Checklist was developed based on the 36 indicators (input and process) and the list (of more than 100 questions) that make up the OECD Water Governance Indicator Framework and the OECD Recommendations on the Governance of Critical Risks:

  • The OECD Water Governance Indicator Framework provides the voluntary and self-assessment spirit of the Flood Checklist. The lessons learnt in developing the indicator framework were crucial for customising the questions of the Checklist.

  • The OECD Recommendations on the Governance of Critical Risks (see Box 1.1) proposes a fundamental shift in risk governance towards a whole-of-society effort, and proposes actions that governments can take at all levels of government, in collaboration with the private sector and with each other.

Box 1.1. OECD Council Recommendations on the Governance of Critical Risks

The OECD Recommendations on the Governance of Critical Risks proposes five overarching actions that governments at all levels can take to assess, prevent, respond to and recover from the effects of extreme events, including floods:

1. Members establish and promote a comprehensive, all-hazards and transboundary approach to country risk governance to serve as the foundation for enhancing national resilience and responsiveness.

2. Members build preparedness through foresight analysis, risk assessments and financing frameworks, to better anticipate complex and wide-ranging impacts.

3. Members raise awareness of critical risks to mobilise households, businesses and international stakeholders and foster investment in risk prevention and mitigation.

4. Members develop adaptive capacity in crisis management by coordinating resources across government, its agencies and broader networks to support timely decision-making, communication and emergency responses.

5. Members demonstrate transparency and accountability in risk-related decision making by incorporating good governance practices and continuously learning from experience and science.

Source: OECD (2014a), Recommendation of the Council on the Governance of Critical Risks, adopted on 6 May 2014 at the Meeting of the OECD Council at Ministerial Level in Paris.

Collecting case studies

The Checklist was used to collect flood governance case studies from a wide range of stakeholders. The 27 case studies (Table 1.1) were collected after a broad call was sent out from 10 October and 2 November 2016, through channels that included the existing networks of flood protection professionals (e.g. STAR-FLOOD networks, European Union (EU) Working Group Floods members, etc.) and water-related email lists. Interested stakeholders were invited to complete the Checklist by marking the boxes and providing qualitative responses to the questions.

Table 1.1. List of case studies collected

Case study

Location

1. Upstream-downstream co-operation on flood management in Austria

Austria

2. Strategies for delta governance in Bangladesh

Bangladesh

3. The Piracicaba watershed flood in 2010 and 2011

Brazil

4. Infrastructure vulnerability assessment of impacts of climate change in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell Culvert

Canada

5. Adapting the suburb of Lystrup to heavy rain

Denmark

6. Copenhagen’s Cloudburst Management Plan

Denmark

7. Flood governance in Middle Awash

Ethiopia

8. Participation and flood management on the Rhone River

France

9. Flood management in the upstream Bièvre River Basin

France

10. Flood management in the Vilaine River basin

France

11. Action programme for flood prevention of the Alsace-Moselle intermunicipal water service provider

France

12. From flood protection to flood precaution: Cologne’s approach update towards flood management

Germany

13. The development of a draft Plan for the mitigation of hydrogeological risk in metropolitan areas and urban areas with high levels of population exposed to flood risk

Italy

14. The role of the State Water Commission in flood protection in the state of Morelos

Mexico

15. National Programme against Hydraulic Contingencies (PRONACCH)

Mexico

16. Enhancing the emergency preparedness of flash flood victims in the Moldavian-Ukrainian transboundary Prut river basin, by establishing a numerical flash flood early-forecasting service

Moldavia / Ukraine

17. The “Room for the River” programme

Netherlands

18. The Flood Defence Programme of the Rivierenland Regional Water Authority

Netherlands

19. Flood river management in the Chakar river basin of Sibi Balochistan

Pakistan

20. Mediating integrated actions for reducing flooding in a changing climate

Poland

21. The Eddleston Water Project

Scotland

22. Assessing the dynamics of flood governance after the Seoul floods in 2013

South Korea

23. Participatory flood management of the Arga and Aragon rivers

Spain

24. Flood management in Granada

Spain

25. The Herne Hill and Dulwich Scheme: Implementing partnership funding policy for flood management

England and Wales

26. Surface water mapping for Flood Risk Regulations

England and Wales

27. West Sussex Pathfinder: building community resilience

England and Wales

Note: A list of case study promoters is available in Annex B. Snapshots of the case studies are available at: https://oe.cd/pub/2Cd

Analysis of flood-risk governance arrangements

Drawing on the findings of the Checklist that made it possible to collect 27 case studies across OECD and non-OECD countries, this report attempts to unpack the key characteristics of flood governance arrangements, analyse common features and identify good practices. It builds on case studies that provide valuable insight into the realities of practicing flood governance. These experiences, together with discussions with flood practitioners, have shed light on the persistent challenges that must be overcome to deal with fragmentation and to make flood governance effective, efficient, inclusive and trustworthy.

The case studies represent a panorama of existing governance arrangements in areas where floods are a prevalent issue, and are introduced throughout the report to illustrate the assessment (Box 1.2).

Box 1.2. The 27 case studies on flood-risk governance arrangements

The 27 case studies collected in the framework of the project represent a diversity of geographic location, management scale and thematic focus. These cases were submitted by national government representatives (5 cases), sub-national authorities (3 cases), river basin organisations (5 cases), operators (2 cases), research institutes (11 cases), and a consulting firm (1 case).

Geographic distribution: The case studies collected are from 12 OECD and 5 non-OECD countries, and cover all five continents. The overrepresentation of European cases can be explained by the important role played by European researchers (STAR-FLOOD) and the EU Flood Working Group in putting out the call for case studies.

Table 1.2. Cases by geographical distribution

Europe [19 case studies]

Austria, Denmark (2), France (4), Germany, Italy, Netherlands (2), Poland, Scotland, Spain (2), England and Wales (3). One case study concerns transboundary contexts of the Prut river [Moldova/Ukraine].

Latin America [3 case studies]

Brazil and Mexico (2)

North America [1 case study]

Canada

Asia-Pacific [3 case studies]

Bangladesh, Pakistan, Korea

Africa [1 case study]

Ethiopia

Source: Author’s research.

Scale: Case studies are set at different scales, according to the administrative (national, regional, local) or functional boundaries (floodplain, sub-basin, basin, transboundary basin, etc.).

Table 1.3. Cases by scale

Administrative boundaries

National level [7 case studies]

Regional/provincial/state level [3 case studies]

Local level [5 case studies]

Functional boundaries

Floodplain [2 case studies]

River basin [9 case studies]

Transboundary basin [1 case study]

Thematic focus: Case studies recount a variety of experiences on flood management.

  • 1 case focuses on a transboundary strategic plan for flood management;

  • 9 cases concern national policy and/or programmes;

  • 5 cases describe the governance arrangements for the day-to-day management of floods in specific locations;

  • 3 cases present state/provincial flood management plans;

  • 3 cases look at specific flood events; and

  • 6 cases concern research projects, at the national or basin level.

Conclusion

Governments at all levels have a critical role to play in setting the enabling environment for effective, efficient, fit-for-purpose and outcome-oriented flood policies. Central and sub-national authorities, as well as other stakeholders, can incentivise the wide range of options reflected in the set of overarching OECD Principles on Water Governance to address flood challenges and identify how to design approaches to flood governance in the future.

To guide public action in this direction, the OECD has developed a Checklist intended as a standard that governments can follow when designing, implementing and evaluating flood policy, projects and practice. The following chapters propose a Checklist for Flood Action and set out practices illustrating the Principles. This can help identify areas of improvement, provide some ways forward and create common ground for policy makers and practitioners. The questions in the Checklist concerning flood action and the OECD Water Indicator Framework, are organised around an assessment of the current situation, in a “policy framework” section (what); the governance tools in place, in an “instruments” section (how); the existence and functioning of dedicated institutions, in a “institutions” section (who); plus the effect of current policy choices, in an “impacts” section.

The Checklist was used to collect 27 case studies in flood governance across a wide range of stakeholders, and the information provided was analysed to sketch out best practices and lessons learnt for more effective, efficient and inclusive flood management. The key features of these case studies have been analysed against three mutually reinforcing dimensions of water governance: Effectiveness of flood governance (Chapter 2), Efficiency of flood governance (Chapter 3) and Trust and engagement in flood governance (Chapter 4). For each Principle, the chapters are structured around its content, its associated indicators and the customised questions for assessing flood governance. With each Principle, the information collected for the 27 case studies through the Checklist was analysed and organised around observations, areas to improve and ways forward. Cross-case reasoning can guide the reader through varying flood governance arrangements and encourage peer-to-peer dialogue and bench-learning across different governance scales facing similar types of flood challenges.

References

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Notes

← 1. Estimates of economic damage may not be reliable, given the different definitions, methods of estimation, monetary units and purchasing power across countries.

← 2. Resilience is the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb or withstand perturbations and other stressors, such that the system remains within the same regime, essentially maintaining its structure and functions. It describes the degree to which the system is capable of self-organisation, learning and adaptation (Gunderson and Holling, 2002; Walker et al., 2004). In the context of floods, resilience may entail the capacity to resist, absorb, recover and adapt. For a discussion on the concept of resilience, see Keessen et al. (2013).

← 3. For state-of-the-art information on the changing flood risks, see Alfieri et al. (2015a).

← 4. The OECD Principles on Water Governance were adopted by the OECD Regional Development Policy Committee on 11 May 2015 and welcomed by Ministers at the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting on 4 June 2015. The Principles were endorsed by 140 major stakeholder groups in 2015. Their development relied on a two-year bottom-up and multi-stakeholder process within the OECD Water Governance Initiative, a network of 100-plus stakeholders from public, private and civil society sectors, gathering twice a year in a Policy Forum.

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