Executive summary

Floods have severe impacts on human well-being, economies and ecosystems. The report applies the OECD Principles on Water Governance to flood management and unpacks challenges and key features of flood governance approaches, building on insights from 27 case studies from OECD member and non-member countries. For each Principle it provides a Checklist (Annex A) to support stakeholders’ self-assessment of flood governance policy frameworks (what), institutions (who), and instruments (how).

Main findings

Fragmentation: Flood management strategies often occur in fragmented policy and institutional settings with gaps, duplications, unnecessary delays, high transaction costs, patchy data and information in decision making. To varying degrees, countries have allocated the increasingly complex and resource-intensive competences on flood management to lower levels of government without necessarily re-distributing required financial and human resources, resulting in suboptimal coordination. The report finds that overall ministries and stakeholders share limited data and information related to floods despite the mutual benefits of doing so, with only 14 of 27 case studies sharing information systems and databases in a systematic fashion.

Policy coherence: A range of policy areas, such as climate change, land-use, environment, agriculture, urban development and infrastructure, influence flood management but tend to be insufficiently co-ordinated. Such mismatches can fuel stakeholder conflicts and generate investment inefficiencies. The progress by countries to improve policy coherence differs and where flood management strategies tend to be insufficient and/or not fully implemented. For instance, the report demonstrates that 22 out of 27 case studies to varying degrees have included consideration of other sectors (e.g. land use, infrastructure, environmental protection and spatial planning) in their strategies, but as many as 19 out of 27 case studies reported that policy incoherencies led to increased costs that could have been avoided by better coordination.

Scale: Floods cut across administrative, hydrological and political boundaries. Policy and planning gaps are common between local and national frameworks, leading to blurred allocation of roles and responsibilities coupled with limited co-ordination across levels of government that can hinder integrated strategies across water users, territorial scales, urban and rural areas. For instance, in Australia responsibility for land and water management, and by extension flood management, is primarily a state/territory government responsibility. However, flood management activities are often devolved to the municipal or local government level where they can become exposed to competing local demands within the same basin.

Stakeholder engagement: Stakeholder platforms are key to foster long-term flood management strategies and plans. Engaging civil society can assist in bridging the public administration’s capacity gap for flood management, as illustrated by the experience of Kampen, Netherlands. A variety of stakeholders from governments to experts, users, landowners and NGOs are usually involved in flood-related decisions. However, the report finds that only a few cases engage systematically under-represented groups such as women, poorer local communities and indigenous people, who frequently lack financial resources as well as access to social and political networks.

Insurance: Public and private insurance systems are insufficient and fail to integrate a long-term vision to minimise future flood impacts. The persistent financial protection gap leaves households and businesses – and ultimately governments – exposed to significant risk of financial losses. An example seeking to close this gap is the German “Floodlabel” (HochwasserPass) developed by insurance companies and the German Flood Competence Centre as a long-term mitigation approach to support and guide home and building owners in minimising flooding damages.


Conduct self-assessments of flood governance to identify what works, what does not, what should be improved and who can do what.

Governments should assess flood governance to spark stakeholder dialogues and set priorities of what should be done, and develop an implementation action plan. Assessments should be conducted in a transparent, non-biased, open and inclusive manner. The proposed Checklist in the report (Annex A) provides a useful tool for guiding strategic multi-level flood management decision making related to policies, strategies and plans.

Promote multi-level governance to overcome flood management fragmentation.

A multi-level governance approach can minimise misalignments, complexity and overlaps in flood management. For instance, the Joint Flood Commission in France brings together the Steering Council for major natural risks prevention and the National Water Committee to co-ordinate flood management across levels of government and stakeholders from civil and environmental protection, urban planning and land-use.

Encourage policy complementarities across sectoral policies.

Governments must treat climate change and flood management as complementary policy domains and foster more efficient investment decisions. Regulatory frameworks can mediate potential clashes between flood regulations and land use, as illustrated by the Dutch Delta Programme and the Regional Water Forums in Bavaria (Germany). Greater involvement of spatial planners and risk managers in policy decisions is also required to mitigate flood risk.

Promote stakeholder engagement for inclusive flood policies, strategies and plans.

Flood-related stakeholder engagement often relates to specific measures such as establishing flood-risk maps. Governments must establish platforms to shape long-term strategies and plans within an integrated basin approach. As flood risk intensifies, engaging property developers and landowners will become increasingly important as in the case of the participatory flood-monitoring programme of Vivaqua, a drinking water and sanitation service provider in Belgium. It is equally important to ensure that marginalised or vulnerable stakeholders benefit from engagement, as exemplified by the flood prevention programme of Alsace-Moselle (France), where the benefits and costs of flood governance measures were distributed equitably.

Enhance coordination across local, regional, basin and national levels of government.

Political will is important for addressing flood challenges. Floods are basin wide phenomena that do not respect administrative borders. Flood management is a shared responsibility with a primary role for national governments to develop policies, laws and institutions, and effective strategies for natural resources development. However, multi-level cooperation is key to manage trade-offs, share information and co-ordinate upstream and downstream water users. River basin organisations or catchment-oriented institutions have an important role to play as intermediaries for inter-municipal or regional flood co-operation as exemplified by the work of river committees in Wallonia (Belgium) and the expansion of the scope of municipal flood management in France.

Promote financing mechanisms that respond to flood management mitigation.

Governments should diversify sources of finance and promote payments for ecosystem services, international development cooperation, co-finance schemes and robust insurance systems. Belgium, England, France and Poland employ cost-benefit analyses to increase the efficiency of flood governance approaches, while other countries rely on the “polluter pays” and “user pays” principles to manage trade-offs for financing flood management. Greater ex ante investment in flood mitigation and prevention can effectively reduce long-term financial needs. At present, 90% of international assistance is spent on emergency response versus 10% on disaster-risk reduction and preparedness. An example in Japan noted the significant effect of preventive measures: if the Levee Reinforcement prevention project had been implemented before the 2000 Tokai storm flood, USD 5 billion would have been saved.

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