Extreme rainfall has been on the rise in Europe. During the summer of 2021 many record levels were observed in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium causing damages of 38 billion Euro. Further increases in frequency and intensity is expected due to climate change. By 2050, extreme summer rainfall events are projected to bring approximately 25% more rainfall than they do today.
Climate adaptation policies of 26 European cities examinated
In response to these challenges, the European Union recently adopted the Critical Entities Resilience (CER) directive. While this directive primarily targets national critical infrastructure, much of it is situated within cities, where additional local critical infrastructure responsibilities exist.
A new Urban Insight report from Sweco delves into cities’ preparedness to withstand rainfall-induced floods’ impact on critical infrastructure. It explores how cities can prepare for unforeseen events and proactively plan to enhance both urban and critical infrastructure resilience.
Less attention to social infrastructure
An examination of climate adaptation policies and water management plans from 26 European cities made by Sweco provided a foundation for understanding the existing framework for managing climate risks. Complementing policy analysis and interviews were conducted with city representatives.
The study shows that city assessments predominantly prioritize technical infrastructure over social infrastructure like hospitals, nurseries, and elderly care facilities. 77% of the studied policies mention the electricity sector in relation to rain induced floods, while only 27% of the policies mention not self-reliant groups living in elderly and nursery homes. Also crisis centres, prisons and banks rarely or never occurred as critical facilities in the climate adaptation and resilience strategies in the studied cities.
“Flanders has long been successful in draining groundwater and directing rainwater towards the sea as quickly as possible. However, to tackle the challenges of floods and droughts, we need to redesign our water systems and landscape to retain more water. This requires an integrated approach that considers the links between water, soil, and ecology, within the context of climate change,” Thomas Bogaerts, program coordinator Climate resilience.
Building resilience in critical infrastructure – key insights
Sweco’s combination of policy analysis and stakeholder input allowed for the formulation of 8 main insights that project managers and policymakers should consider in their work. One of these recommendations is about choosing the right location. For example, when rebuilding a hospital, consider locating it in a location that will not be flooded instead of in a floodplain. But water managers cannot perform this analysis alone, as not only knowledge about the location and depth of possible floods is required, but also knowledge about the vulnerability of the assets themselves.
Building resilience in critical infrastructure therefore requires a holistic, interdisciplinary approach. Policymakers, project managers, and cities must collaborate to assess and mitigate climate risks comprehensively. Initiatives should encompass hazard exposure, asset vulnerability, cascade effects, and psychological impacts, recognizing that climate change and knowledge evolve over time.
Ending the report is a guide describing 7 steps for a more resilient infrastructure in cities, going from determining vulnerable infrastructure to monitoring the implementation.