One year after the summer 2002 floods in Germany.

More private damage prevention is needed

Potsdam, 22 August 2003

One year has passed since the biggest natural disaster in the history of the Republic of Germany: the August 2002 floods. What does this disaster mean for the people who have been its victims? Do they protect themselves from possible future floods? Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Magdeburg interviewed several hundreds households in the affected regions of Eastern Germany. Results show: A culture of private damage prevention is still missing.

Fritz Reusswig and Torsten Grothmann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Volker Linneweber from the University of Magdeburg interviewed three times - most recently August this year - several hundreds households in the affected regions of the Elbe River valley in Eastern Germany. The researchers compared the data with results from a parallel survey they conducted in flood-prone, but unaffected regions, along the Rhine River in the western part of the country.

More than 85 percent of the respondents in both East and West regard as a fact the existence of climate change, something scientists believe is probably related to an increase in extreme weather events like floods or droughts. "With or without climate change, we need along both the Elbe and the Rhine an improved culture of private damage prevention", says the sociologist Reusswig. For example, of the affected households, so far only 22 percent in the East - 26 percent in the West - have bought pumps or protective barriers for basement windows. This leaves significant room for improvement, especially since tight public budgets rule out comprehensive public insurance.

To strengthen private damage prevention, more is needed than flood risk maps, something currently being called for. "People's perception of a risk of flooding does not automatically translate into their taking preventive measures", say psychologists Grothmann and Linneweber. Much more important is people's conviction both that they themselves can do something against flood damages themselves and that responsibility for prevention does not lie only with the government. "It is rather distressing that around two-thirds of our respondents in Eastern Germany feel that they are helplessly at the mercy of flooding. Not only does this reduce the chances of preventive measures being taken, but it also represents a substantial psychic burden", say Grothmann and Linneweber.

If public agencies and insurance companies want to encourage private damage prevention, they must communicate clearly the opportunities for it. In doing so, they should cooperate with the people at risk to realize the principle of shared responsibility. "The city of Cologne, with its flood hazard centre, offers an example for such cooperation", says Grothmann.

Many scientists argue that the mitigation of flood damages has to go hand in hand with combating the causes of climate change, mainly the emission of carbon dioxide. Although the latter has an effect only in the long term - because of the long reaction time in the climate system - only through addressing both the causes and the symptoms can people prevent further increases in damages from extreme weather events.

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) was founded in 1992 and employs 121 scientists. Its research on climate change, climate impacts and sustainable development is of international renown. PIK is a member of the Leibniz Association.

Dr. Fritz Reusswig,, Tel. +49/331/288-2576
Torsten Grothmann,, Tel. +49/331/288-2557

Press office:
Anja Wirsing,, Tel. +49/331/288-2507

More information: Results of the Summer 2002 Floods Surveys, Outline

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