There has been significant news coverage in the past few weeks about the deadly flooding in Europe and China and we provide more details in this edition on those floods. However, as regular readers of Floodplain Manager would know, there are deadly floods occurring somewhere in the world each month and in some years the magnitude of their devastation is at a much larger scale than that country or region has previously recorded or experienced. However, I think it is most unlikely that the magnitude of the floods themselves have not previously been experienced. The “unprecedented” impacts are generally because there are more developments and more people in the path of the floodwaters than there had been in the past.
This blindness to historical flooding leads to poor development decisions and inadequate emergency planning. Helmut Lussi, who is mayor of the German town of Schuld, has been quoted as saying, “The flood was utterly unpredictable.” He then went on to point to the fact that the town had only experienced two previous events of intense flooding, in 1790 and another in 1910. That tells me that it was utterly predictable and, according to other research reported in this month’s edition, Europe has a long history of extreme floods.
Similarly, China has a long history of flooding, the details of which the Chinese have recorded for more than 3,500 years. Interestingly, on many occasions throughout that history, the impacts of flooding on the populace and the economy have been the catalyst for regime change.
Here in Australia our recorded flood history is much shorter but that does not mean that we do not have access to information on historical floods. As Claire Turrell pointed out in her 2021 FMA conference paper, the oral histories of indigenous peoples include information about historical floods. Similarly, a careful study of the landscape and sediments can reveal a rich history of flood size and frequency. As more pressure comes to bear on increasing development on floodplains, we need to draw more on this varied historical data so that we can make better informed floodplain planning and management decisions.