The area inundated by floods and the number of people affected has increased across Europe since 1870 but the associated financial losses and number of fatalities have decreased, according to a study published in Nature Communications this week.
Dominik Paprotny and colleagues analysed the Historical Analysis of Natural Hazards in Europe database, which covers the years 1870 to 2016. The authors examined 1,564 flooding events since 1870 and their impact on life and finances. They find that across Europe there was an increase in the area inundated with floods. However, despite a marked increase in the overall population of Europe (130 %) and an even higher (1,000 %) increase in urban areas during that period, flood fatalities gradually declined (1.4 % per year) until 1950. Subsequently, a decline at 4.3 % per year from 1950 to 2016 was observed. The team report a similar trend in financial losses where, despite an overall increase in wealth across Europe of 2,000 %, financial losses from flooding declined with the biggest reduction of 2.6 % per year during 1950 to 2016.
The team caution that these trends are Europe-wide and therefore variations from country to country exist. Additionally, smaller floods tend to be underreported, which may impact trends in regards to localised financial losses.
In an accompanying Comment, Brenden Jongman argues that to manage floods and buffer their economic impacts, effective adaptation strategies that combine flood protection infrastructure, nature-based solutions and risk financing schemes are needed.