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WWF calls for restoration of floodplains to prevent future disasters

Aerial drone picture shows flooding from the Maas/La Meuse river in Maaseik, Friday 16 July 2021. (BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND)
07:05 26/08/2021

After this summer’s devastating floods in Belgium and Germany, governments are racing to find solutions to prevent future catastrophes. A new report suggests giving space back to the rivers by restoring floodplains would be an effective way to protect against future floods.

According to the report by the Deltares Institute commissioned by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the restoration of the natural characteristics and dynamics of rivers and streams sustainably improves flood resistance.

Europe has seen the number of natural floodplains drastically reduced during the last few centuries. This means that large rivers no longer have enough space to expand. As a result, the Meuse in Belgium, and Germany’s Rhine river, both of which overflowed during the dramatic floods of July, have lost all of their floodplains. The WWF has called on Belgium to use part of the European funds intended for the post-flood economic recovery to restore the natural state of rivers and streams, and to create controlled flood zones.

"Rather than going against nature by spending billions of euros on environmentally harmful investments, we need to invest in ecosystem-friendly solutions,” said WWF Belgium’s Koen Stuyck. “The restoration of nature has become a matter of survival, not only for nature but also for humans."

Deltares' report also shows that restoring the natural course of rivers is more economical than traditional solutions implementing hard infrastructure. This is even clearer when you consider the benefits for water quality, nutrient retention and flood risk mitigation, WWF said in a statement.

According to estimates from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, a rise in global temperature of 1.5°C or more, compared to the pre-industrial era, will cause intense rainfall and more severe and frequent flooding in most parts of the European continent.

Written by Nick Amies