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Xynthia storm one year later: strong actions in France to prevent floods

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xynthia2During the night between 27 and 28 February 2010, storm Xynthia struck the western regions of France causing the death of 53 people. One year later, the French Prime Minister has validated the national floods management plan which was prepared through a 8 months participatory process involving all relevant actors. The plan was presented on 17 February 2011 by the French Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Mrs. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, as the governmental roadmap for flood risk prevention. The plan aims to better managing urban growth in flood risky areas, to improve weather forecasting and floods early warning system and to strengthen existing floods protection systems. The plan includes an action program with more than 60 concrete floods prevention actions and is provided with a budget of € 500 million.

xynthia“We changed completely our consideration of the risk of flooding after Xynthia. We paid a very high price in terms of human lives to fully understand our level of exposure to the risk of floods. Three months after Xynthia, the torrential rains in the Var region and the victims they caused further reminded us how vulnerable we are to floods. The plan we are presenting today aims to protect the population and to make our environment safer. However we all will be better protected if we will never forget the Xynthia and the Var tragedies as well as the wrong land use planning decisions which caused so many deaths and damages.” Declared Mrs. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet during the presentation of the plan.

xynthia3The French National Floods Management Plan is organised along four pillars:

1. Proper urban development in high flood risk prone areas. This will be achieved through:

  • Acceleration in the preparation of risk prevention plans (PPRs) in the coastal areas. Within three years, 242 coastal cities must prepare their risk prevention plan (PPR) and 68 more must revise their plans taking into account existing risk in their land use policies;
  • Forbidding the construction of coastal dams to allow building in areas with high level of flood risk;
  • Preparation, by the end of 2011, of a Technical Reference Manual for the design and implementation of flood prevention works.
  • 2. Improve floods forecasting, monitoring and early warning systems. This will be achieved through:

  • Development by Météo France of a special forecasting service for coastal floods by the end of 2011. This service, on the basis of sea and waves forecasts, will calculate a level of warning for a specific coastal zone and show it on a map through a code of colors – green, orange, red.
  • Better territorial coverage of the network of radars for weather forecasting. The development of this component will start in 2011 and will be completed in ten years with a budget of 10,6 M€.
  • Extension of the national river monitoring system.
  • 3. Dam system renforcement. This will be mostly achieved through consolidation works on 1200 km of dams during the period 2011-2016 with an allocated budget of 500 M€. The national dam registry will be also completed in 2011. The hydraulic works safety control services were already reinforced.

    4. Development of a risk management culture at all levels. This will be mostly achieved through the mandatory inclusion of a specific risk prevention chapter in the municipal emergency plans.

    In order to ensure a consistent flood risk management policy, the Minister also presented the new national governance system for floods prevention which involves also civil society and local communities. “Collective efforts and a constant dialogue among all concerned actors – the Minister said - are a necessary pre-requisite for any effective flood prevention policy”.


    Towards coastal risk management in France

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    coastal_cityThe coastal territories of mainland France constitute a prime example of an at-risk territory, with their growing concentrations of people and economic activities located mostly on a coastal fringe that is subject to shoreline retreat and coastal flooding. The perspective of higher sea levels due to climate changes exacerbates the risk that these territories will be exposed to natural coastal hazards. Since the “invention” of the littoral zone in the mid 19th-century, the vulnerability of the economic stakes on this coastal fringe has been managed mainly by controlling the hazards; this control is coordinated by the national government, which initiated coastal defence practices. At the beginning of the 1980s, natural risk prevention policies favoured managing the consequences of natural disasters, with the creation of the CatNat insurance regime to indemnify natural disaster victims. By the middle of the 1990s, new natural risk management strategies had been invented to complete the control of natural hazards. As part of the emerging philosophy of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), the French government encouraged the development of natural risk prevention policies by establishing Natural Risk Prevention Plans (PPRn) in 1995. These PPRn were a new approach to shoreline management that favoured controlling development in coastal communities. As of 2008, PPRn had been approved in 270 coastal communities and required in 149. At the beginning of the 21st century, the French government set down the general orientations for managing natural coastal risks, but it was not the only stakeholder involved. Collective action emerged, bringing the national government, public institutions and the territorial and local authorities together to develop risk management policies. This collective action was facilitated by a form of decentralization of natural coastal risk management, involving regional or local implementation of the strategic orientations of shoreline management, respecting the general principles defined by the national government. These changes are part of the ICZM implementation process, which has been under way since 2005. The development of natural coastal risk prevention policies is reinforced by the soon-to-be-adopted bill concerning the Grenelle of the Environment. These policies are mainly financed by the Barnier Fund for major natural risk prevention, which is in turn funded by an obligatory contribution based on the CatNat insurance premiums. This type of financing raises the question of the relationship between risk prevention strategies and natural disaster management.

    Source: UNEP MAP PAP RAC Mediterranean Coastal Alert.
    Deboudt, P. (2010), “Towards coastal risk management in France”, Ocean & Coastal Management; Article in Press, Corrected Proof; Available Online 27 April 2010, under DOI: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2010.04.013.


    The law BACHELOT promotes risk prevention of industrial disasters in France

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    A terrible explosion of ammonium nitrate causing 30 fatalities and an estimated 10,000 people injured occurred on 21 September 2001 at the AZF plant operated by the international petrochemical group Total in Toulouse, France. The plant was located on the outskirts of a city of 750,000 inhabitants. The accident caused very serious destructions, damaging some 27,000 buildings; the costs of the disaster were estimated at € 1,5billions.


    29-30 April: European communicators meet in Istanbul

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    The traditional spring meeting of the Club of Venice, the informal body that brings together government heads of communication of European states and institutions, is to be held in Istanbul from 29 to 30 April. 

    The meeting is entirely devoted to communications in an emergency, a subject previously dealt with at the autumn meeting, which took place in Venice last November.

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