Every year students in the Hydro Science and Engineering Master’s degree programme at the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) study the flow of the Elbe, one of Central Europe’s major rivers. A study tour teaches them up close about modern flood protection and how countries can collaborate across borders to improve the effectiveness of protection measures.
The study tour began a few weeks ago in the Czech Republic. “Even just 15 years ago, a trip like this would have been unspectacular,” says tour organizer Philipp Körner. “Before the 100-year flood in 2002 there were no flood-protection measures along the Elbe on this scale.” This comes as no surprise, since the last big flood came over 150 years earlier.
Following the flooding in 2002, the Elbe once again swelled way over its banks in 2006 and 2013. Since then, a lot has been done in the region in the way of flood protection management. “The successes are visible,” says Körner. “For example, the town of Hitzacker in Lower Saxony was completely flooded in 2006, but when the floodwaters came again in 2013 it was spared any flood damage thanks to the extensive protective measures put in place.”
Which technological fix is the right one? What is the best way to inform the general public in the event of an emergency? How can decision-makers both within a country and across national borders work together effectively? During the study tour, students found visible answers to their questions everywhere along the river. “The study was the perfect complement to our Flood Risk Management theory model. We were able to confirm how different protective measures reduce flood risk in the region,” says DAAD scholarship holder Anukampa Bista from Nepal.
Flood protection along the Elbe consists of an array of different measures, including a large dam in Orlik in the Czech Republic, which helps control water flow into the Elbe, mobile flood protection barriers in Prague, and a permanently installed system of flood protection integrated into Dresden’s urban landscape. In addition, dikes have been relocated to give the river more room, and empty basins have been excavated to serve as catchments when the river floods. At the various stations along the tour, students had the chance to speak in person with the people doing the day-to-day flood management work. “Now the students know how flood protection works in the real world, who the responsible parties are locally and how decisions are made,” explains Körner.
A political issue too
“I was reminded of the fact that successful flood protection is not just about applying the latest technologies. Efficient management is also very important to ensure that flood response measures are coordinated and complementary,” says Muhammad Quasim, DAAD scholarship holder from Pakistan. “In developing countries it will be a major challenge to convince policy-makers that it is more cost effective to invest in flood prevention than to pay for flood damage after the fact.” Both Muhammad Quasim and Anukampa Bista come from countries that experience devastating flooding on an all-too regular basis. “I am impressed by what has been accomplished along the Elbe in the way of flood protection over the last several years, especially the cooperation and collaboration across national borders,” says Bista. “Countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh still have a long way to go in this respect.”
Körner is aware that students will not have an easy time applying this knowledge in their home countries. “In Europe we are not dealing with politically motivated water disputes, and the extent of the flooding here is not comparable to what other regions experience. In Bangladesh, for example, thousands of people die every year due to flooding,” says Körner. “However, we can impart to the students what is technologically possible and how flood protection can be coordinated and managed effectively.”
Additional information on the Master’s programme can be found here