Proceedings of the European expert meeting on the Oder flood 1997


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Ribamod concerted action, 18 May 1998, Potsdam, Germany
Environmental research
Environment policy and protection of the environment



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of the
European Expert Meeting
on the Oder Flood 1997
Ribamod concerted action EUROPEAN COMMISSION
Edith Cresson, Member of the Commission
responsible for research, innovation, education, training and youth
DG XII/D.2 — RTD actions: Climate and natural hazards
Contact: Mr Panagiotis Balabanis
Address: European Commission, rue de la Loi 200 (SDME 7/34),
B-1049 Brussels — Tel. (32-2) 29-53630; fax (32-2) 29-63024 European Commission
Environment and climate programme
Hydrological and hydrogeological risks
Proceedings of the European Expert Meeting
on the Oder Flood 1997
18 May 1998, Potsdam, Germany
Ribamod concerted action
Edited by
A. Bronstert, A. Ghazi. J. Hladny, Z. W. Kundzewiez. L. Menzel
Science, Research and Development LEGAL NOTICE
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is
responsible for the use which might be made of the following information.
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It can be accessed through the Europa server (
Cataloguing data can be found at the end of this publication.
Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1999
ISBN 92-828-6073-6
© European Communities, 1999
Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.
Printed in Belgium
In Summer 1997 a devastating flood event struck the Odra/Oder river basin. The
riparian states, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany were miserably affected by
the flood, in Poland and the Czech Republic to a catastrophic extent. Over 100 people
died and about 200.000 were evacuated. The estimated economic losses amounted to
roughly 9.150 millions DM.
On 18 May 1998 an expert meeting was organised in Potsdam in order to bring
together scientists and policy-makers from the three affected countries and additional
experts from various EU member states. The meeting was jointly organised by the
European Commission (DG XII/D-2), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact
Research, the Polish Academy of Science, and the Czech Hydrometeorological
Institute. It was also the fifth within a series of European expert meetings and
workshops on River Basin Modelling and flood mitigation initiated by the RIBAMOD
Concerted Action of the European Commission.
This volume contains the scientific contributions at the meeting covering most of the
relevant aspects of this catastrophic flood. A set of 16 papers are included spread over
4 topics: Overview, Hydrometeorological Conditions, Hydrologie and Hydraulic
Situation, and Management and Policy Issues.
One of the main conclusions of this workshop is that floods being a natural
phenomenon will continue to occur but risk assessment, access to warning system and
improvement in flood preparedness can minimise flood losses. In particular, the
minimisation of fatalities should be a priority. In the context of improving flood
protection and management systems, several research recommendations are outlined in
the report.
Thanks are due to all participants for their valuable contributions and the interesting
and very productive discussions. The Editors would also like to acknowledge the
organisational and editing assistance of Gabriele André, Alison Schlums and Dieter
We are confident that the comprehensive analysis of the Oder flood presented in this
volume will be useful both for scientific community and policy makers.
The Editors:
Axel Bronstert
PIK, Potsdam, Germany
Anver Ghazi
European Commission, Brussels
Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, Praha, Czech Republic
Zblgniew W. Kundzewiez
Polish Academy of Science, Poznan, Poland
Lucas Menzel
PIK, Potsdam, Germany Table of Contents
The extreme flood in the Odra/Oder river basin in summer 1997: summary and
conclusions from a European expert meeting 7
A. Bronstert, Z. Kundzewicz and L. Menzel
Floods in perspective - Setting the Stage 15
Z. Kundzewicz
Oder flood '97 - lessons learnt in Poland 21
K. Szamalek
Causes, development and consequences of the Oder flood 1997 27
U. Grünewald
Overview of the Odra flood from a Czech perspective 37
K. Mares and I. Maresová
Hydrometeorological aspects of the Oder flood 1997 43
G. Malitz
Flood 1997 - hydrologicai and meteorological context 53
P. Kowalczak
Meteorological Causes of the Floods in July 1997 in the Czech Republic 61
Milan Sálek
Hydrologicai processes of storm runoff generation 75
G. Peschke
Hydrologicai aspects and implications of July 1997 flood in the Odra Basin in the Czech
Republic 89
J. Hladny, F. Dolezal, P. Ricicová, S. Blazková and K. Beven
Flood 1997 - infrastructure and urban context 99
P. Kowalczak
Comparison of floods in the river Rhine and the Oder flood 1997 105
Flood risk management - a strategy to cope with floods 115
E. Plate
Creation and resolution of conflicts in flood situations along the boundary rivers 129
M. Nawalany
Insurance aspects of river floods 135
W. Kron
An overview of the activities ofRIBAMOD 151
P. Samuels
List of participants 161 The Extreme Flood in the Odra/Oder River Basin in Summer
1997: Summary and Conclusions from a European Expert
Axel Bronstert , Zbigniew W. Kundzewicz", Lucas Menzel
1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, P.O.-Box 601203, D-14412
Potsdam and
'Research Centre of Agricultural and Forest Environment, Polish Academy of
Sciences, Poznan, Poland
In Summer 1997 an extreme flood event struck the Odra/Oder river basin. The
riparian states of the Odra/Oder, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, were
seriously affected by the flood, in Poland and the Czech Republic to a catastrophic
An analysis of the course of the flood and related damages clearly shows up the
necessity for a series of flood protection and management strategies. They include
the creation of an increased water retention potential in the river network system,
measures to reduce and delay flood runoff generation and operational needs such
as an improved and trans-boundary flood forecasting system. Research needs
comprise an inter-disciplinary view of floods, including human factors. Finally, it
should be emphasized that a change of people's view towards a culture that lives
with risks needs political initiatives and related, long-term conceptions.
1 Introduction
This is a synthesis of the discussions during the International Workshop on the Odra/Oder
flood. The objective of this expert meeting was to bring together scientists and policy-makers
from the three affected countries and additional experts from various EU member states. The
topics were dealing with an identification and specification of the European Science and
Policy Agenda on the Odra/Oder flood. They included meteorology, climate, hydrology, river
hydraulics, flood management and socio-economics. After analysis and discussion of the
floods and the corresponding circumstances conclusions were drawn on what has already
been achieved and on what needs exist for further EU research towards better and
environmentally sound flood protection. The most relevant points are summarized in the
following article.
2 July '97 flood in retrospective
The Workshop clearly demonstrated that all three countries affected with the Odra flood of
summer 1997 have undertaken vigorous efforts to evaluate the flood in a broad context.
In the flood-affected countries, works have been conducted on the determination of
exceedence probabilities (return periods) of flows observed along the river. Analysts tend to
distinguish three stages of the flood. In the headwaters of the Odra and its mountainous
tributaries in the Czech Republic and in Poland (see Figure 1), the flood was a very rare event.
During the first stage, in the mountains and headwaters, it was a destructive, killing flood,
with very strong dynamic effects both in Poland and in the Czech Republic. Numerous
villages and towns were inundated or even destroyed. When moving downstream, the flood became less violent, yet high losses due to urban flooding came about. Having inundated the
town of Racibórz (65,000 inhabitants), the river Odra inundated further large towns located
downstream, that is Opole (131,000) and Wroclaw (700,000), where high material losses were
unavoidable since urban flood protection systems were conceived for a far lower design flow.
Still further downstream, at the Polish-German border reach, the return period went down, but
the event was still more rare than the 1 per cent (100-year-flood) conditions on which defence
design was based. In this latter phase of the flood, much time was available for preparations,
build-up and strengthening of levees, evacuation, etc. In addition, the 8-days basic flow
forecast data were of good quality. In the lower Odra, the flood was not as record-breaking as
upstream, yet in most locations historical maxima were exceeded. Inundations strongly
endangered the towns of Eisenhüttenstadt (50,000 inhabitants) and Frankfurt/Oder (80,000
The summer 1997 flood on the Odra lasted long; the alarm levels were exceeded
uninterruptedly during several weeks. Even the exceedence of historical absolute maximum
water levels persisted up to 16 days. Table 1 summarizes the damage of the flood in all three
affected countries.
Tab. 1 Overview of the damage caused by the Odra/Oder flood 1997 (based on the
numbers given by Grünewald et al., 1998)
Czech Republic Poland Germany
Deaths 60 54
People evacuated 26 500 162 500 6 500
3 500 000000- 000 000 000- 647 000 000.-Economic losses (in DM)
Some remarks have to be added to the numbers given in Table 1:
• Many of the losses of human lives would have been avoided if the flood warning would
have reached these people and/or if they would have believed in the warning. I.e., the
majority of the deaths is related to a partly (local) failure of the warning/information
system or to the ignorance of the severity of the danger caused by the flood.
• There is a very high uncertainty in quantifying the economic losses. They range between 1
and 4 billion DM in the Czech Republic, between 5 and 6 billion DM in Poland and
between 0.5 and 1.2 billion DM in Germany.
• Only a little portion of the damage (13%) was insured (Kron, 1998), most of it in
• The losses and evacuations in Germany have been moderate (at least in comparison to the
situation in the Czech Republic and in Poland). One very relevant point to be mentioned
here is that water levels in the German part of the Odra river were strongly reduced due to
dike breaks and the huge inundation upstream in Poland. Without this - from the Polish
perspective undesired - retention, the flood would have been catastrophic in Germany,
The flood magnitude was unexpectedly high. For decades, people have got used to floods of
the Odra and its tributaries. They knew where safe places were, where to find shelter for their
animals and mobile property. This time, water entered usually save places.
As demonstrated by the catastrophic flood in July 1997, there is a lack of an adequate flood
protection system for several towns. It is the urban flooding that caused the majority of
material losses. Also vast areas of agricultural land are not adequately protected. Yet. there is