The challenge of unprecedented floods and droughts in risk management

Heidi Kreibich, Anne F. Van Loon, Kai Schröter, Philip J. Ward, Maurizio Mazzoleni, Nivedita Sairam, Guta Wakbulcho Abeshu, Svetlana Agafonova, Amir Aghakouchak, Hafzullah Aksoy, Camila Alvarez-garreton, Blanca Aznar, Laila Balkhi, Marlies H. Barendrecht, Sylvain Biancamaria, Liduin Bos-burgering, Chris Bradley, Yus Budiyono, Wouter Buytaert, Lucinda CapewellHayley Carlson, Yonca Cavus, Anaïs Couasnon, Gemma Coxon, Ioannis Daliakopoulos, Marleen C. De Ruiter, Claire Delus, Mathilde Erfurt, Giuseppe Esposito, Didier François, Frédéric Frappart, Jim Freer, Natalia Frolova, Animesh K. Gain, Manolis Grillakis, Jordi Oriol Grima, Diego A. Guzmán, Laurie S. Huning, Monica Ionita, Maxim Kharlamov, Dao Nguyen Khoi, Natalie Kieboom, Maria Kireeva, Aristeidis Koutroulis, Waldo Lavado-casimiro, María Carmen Llasat, David Macdonald, Johanna Mård, Hannah Mathew-richards, Andrew Mckenzie, Alfonso Mejia, Eduardo Mario Mendiondo, Marjolein Mens, Shifteh Mobini, Guilherme Samprogna Mohor, Viorica Nagavciuc, Thanh Ngo-duc, Thi Thao Nguyen Huynh, Pham Thi Thao Nhi, Olga Petrucci, Hong Quan Nguyen, Pere Quintana-seguí, Saman Razavi, Elena Ridolfi, Jannik Riegel, Md Shibly Sadik, Elisa Savelli, Alexey Sazonov, Sanjib Sharma, Johanna Sörensen, Felipe Augusto Arguello Souza, Kerstin Stahl, Max Steinhausen, Michael Stoelzle, Wiwiana Szalińska, Qiuhong Tang, Fuqiang Tian, Tamara Tokarczyk, Carolina Tovar, Thi Van Thu Tran, Marjolein H. J. Van Huijgevoort, Michelle T. H. Van Vliet, Sergiy Vorogushyn, Thorsten Wagener, Yueling Wang, Doris E. Wendt, Elliot Wickham, Long Yang, Mauricio Zambrano-bigiarini, Günter Blöschl, Giuliano Di Baldassarre

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Risk management has reduced vulnerability to floods and droughts globally 1,2, yet their impacts are still increasing 3. An improved understanding of the causes of changing impacts is therefore needed, but has been hampered by a lack of empirical data 4,5. On the basis of a global dataset of 45 pairs of events that occurred within the same area, we show that risk management generally reduces the impacts of floods and droughts but faces difficulties in reducing the impacts of unprecedented events of a magnitude not previously experienced. If the second event was much more hazardous than the first, its impact was almost always higher. This is because management was not designed to deal with such extreme events: for example, they exceeded the design levels of levees and reservoirs. In two success stories, the impact of the second, more hazardous, event was lower, as a result of improved risk management governance and high investment in integrated management. The observed difficulty of managing unprecedented events is alarming, given that more extreme hydrological events are projected owing to climate change 3.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-86
Number of pages7
Issue number7921
Early online date3 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The presented work was developed by the Panta Rhei Working Groups 'Changes in flood risk' and 'Drought in the Anthropocene' within the framework of the Panta Rhei Research Initiative of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences. We thank the Barcelona Cicle de l’Aigua S.A., Barcelona City Council, Environment Agency (United Kingdom), Länsförsäkringar Skåne, Steering Centre for Urban Flood Control Programme in HCMC (Vietnam), VA SYD and the West Berkshire Council (United Kingdom) for data. The work was partly undertaken under the framework of the following projects: Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Professorship endowed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF); British Geological Survey’s Groundwater Resources Topic (core science funding); C3-RiskMed (no. PID2020-113638RB-C22), financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain; Centre for Climate and Resilience Research (no. ANID/FONDAP/15110009); CNES, through the TOSCA GRANT SWHYM; DECIDER (BMBF, no. 01LZ1703G); Deltares research programme on water resources; Dutch Research Council VIDI grant (no. 016.161.324); FLOOD (no. BMBF 01LP1903E), as part of the ClimXtreme Research Network. Funding was provided by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate; Global Water Futures programme of University of Saskatchewan; GlobalHydroPressure (Water JPI); HUMID project (no. CGL2017-85687-R, AEI/FEDER, UE); HydroSocialExtremes (ERC Consolidator Grant no. 771678); MYRIAD-EU (European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 101003276); PerfectSTORM (no. ERC-2020-StG 948601); Project EFA210/16 PIRAGUA, co-founded by ERDF through the POCTEFA 2014–2020 programme of the European Union; Research project nos. ANID/FSEQ210001 and ANID/NSFC190018, funded by the National Research and Development Agency of Chile; SECurITY (Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 787419); SPATE (FWF project I 4776-N, DFG research group FOR 2416); the UK Natural Environment Research Council-funded project Land Management in Lowland Catchments for Integrated Flood Risk Reduction (LANDWISE, grant no. NE/R004668/1); UK NERC grant no. NE/S013210/1 (RAHU) (W.B.); Vietnam National Foundation for Science and Technology Development under grant no. 105.06-2019.20.; and Vietnam National University–HCMC under grant no. C2018-48-01. D.M. and A. McKenzie publish with the permission of the Director, British Geological Survey. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and not the organizations for which they work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Climate Change/statistics & numerical data
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Droughts/prevention & control
  • Extreme Weather
  • Floods/prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Hydrology
  • Internationality
  • Risk Management/methods


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