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Flood risk and post-flood adaptation

A village after catastrophic floods in November 1999 (Herault) © Irstea / V. Andréassian


It isn't enough to rebuild a region after a flood; to avoid facing the same situation time and time again after a flood, it is important to adapt homes and infrastructures. The solution may seen simple enough, but implementing it can be quite complex as it involves many factors: individual initiatives, collective decisions, incomplete following of guidelines, etc. A research project is currently working on these issues.

Flood and storm risks are the most expensive and widespread in France. A research project proposes a unique approach to reducing economic and human costs. The RETINA research project focuses on the resilience of a region facing floods, and not tools such as hydraulic and hydrological modeling currently favored in risk management [1]. But what exactly does this mean?

Resilience: restoring equilibrium

The simplest of observations can go a long way; when faced with the extent of damage following an event, it's easy to think of solutions and prepare for the future. In areas where there are recurrent flood risks, it isn't enough to rebuild a region. The system must learn to adapt. Pauline Bremond explains, "resilience is the capacity of a socioeconomic system to bounce back, after a shock, to a state of equilibrium that prevailed before the occurrence of the shock."

What exactly is this state of equilibrium and how do we identify it? Bremond continues, "the challenge of this project is to find out if the rebuilding phase involves changes that modify the vulnerability or the resilience of the system."

Research in the Aude and Var departments

Two field surveys are being conducted in the Aude and Var departments. These 2 departments have faced floods at different times: Aude in 1999 and Var in 2010, 2013 and 2014. The RETINA project's geographers, economists, and jurists are reexamining these events 5 to 15 years after the fact by interviewing people and analyzing public policies. Their objective is to develop a method for long-term feedback that is currently lacking. 

This feedback, carried out on various fronts (legal, collective and individual), offers an overview of the rebuilding phase. This helps reveal which mechanisms acted as incentives and which hampered the adaptation to new challenges. Pauline Bremond is currently conducting individual interviews that go a long way in understanding these obstacles: "For example, in insurance claims, flood victims are required to rebuild their homes/offices exactly as they were before before. Individuals and companies do not receive any assistance to adapt buildings. Flood victims are alone in carrying out their projects."

From this compilation of data, it is clear that the challenge is analyzing the mechanisms in place during the rebuilding phase, and identifying the incentives and the obstacles. The methodology and results of this project, which is scheduled for completion in December 2016, will be the subject of a user guide for stakeholders in land use and development. This project is really something to watch out for!

For more information

[1] RETINA Project: Resilience in flood-prone territories, for a preventive approach through post-flood adaptation. Coordination: G-EAU research unit, Irstea Montpellier Center, January 2014-December 2016. Partners: UM3, Gred – Armines, CRC. Scientists involved: Irstea: Géraldine Abrami, Pauline Brémond, Katrin Erdlenbruch, Frédéric Grelot; UM3: Martin Boudou, Frédéric Léone, Annabelle Moatty, Freddy Vinet; Armines: Valérie Sanseverino-Godfrin