Mitigating the impact of climate change and flooding on Austria
In recent years, Austria has been hit by a series of extreme flood events, gravely impacting its infrastructure and people. Despite measures put in place to tackle flood risk, devastating flood events affect the country every year. How can these risks be mitigated?
The country’s unique topography and geographical position renders any flood risk assessment challenging and highlights the need for constantly up-to-date data and predictions to adapt to a changing climate. Adequate adaption and predictive data and analytics are essential for protecting people, infrastructure, assets, and investments.
Austria's propensity to flooding
Due to its topographical and geographical situation, Austria is particularly at risk from natural hazards such as flooding and landslides. Its mountainous geography renders the country vulnerable to long-lasting and extensive flood events that affect flat and hilly regions. Studies show that the number of buildings exposed to extreme flooding is increasing in many countries in the European Alps, especially in Austria.
One of Austria’s vulnerabilities to flooding is the abundance of water in its territory. The country contains more than 100,000 km² of rivers and streams alongside 25,000 bodies of water. The areas that are most at risk fall within the Northern centre territory, where some zones are prone to flash flooding, which may be exacerbated in the future due to climate change.
The country also has various flood hotspots in the East and in the Northwest (Tyrol and Voralberg). The Salzburg state is also particularly vulnerable, being at the epicentre of the last three large-scale flooding events in Austria. It hosts 6% of the Austrian population and accounts for 7.5% of the Austrian GDP. It is also one of the states with the highest GDP per capita in Austria.
Other areas are also at risk, such as the Alpine Lech Valley, where land-use changes and the decline of agriculturally used grassland areas contributed to increases in the potential damage to residential areas. Adding to those vulnerabilities, a large number of hotels, residential areas, and commercial buildings are located in highly exposed areas.
Historical flooding in Austria
In August 2002, amongst many other European countries, Austria was impacted so severely by flooding that the event has been described as the ‘flood of the century’. Heavy rainfall in Salzburg and many parts of the country caused several billion-euro worth of damage and endangered more than 200,000 people. The most affected areas were lower and Upper Austria and Salzburg, where more than 10,000 homes were damaged, and a lot of infrastructure destroyed. In total, it affected more than 60,000 people, which caused the government to invest 650 million euros in direct aid to flood victims, businesses, and flooded towns/villages, creating a long-lasting impact on the country.
In 2005, Austria was affected by another large-scale flood event in the Northern Central Alps, impacting areas such as Salzburg,Voralberg, Styria and Tirol. Heavy rainfall fell in saturated soils, causing numerous areas to experience severe flooding. In the province of Styria, the highest one-day rainfall registered reached 190 mm, the equivalent to a recurrency internal of 3 years. The 2005 flooding in Austria also highlights the associated risks of flood events, such as debris flow, which can be devastating; two-thirds of the deaths that occurred during the flood were due to debris. The damages caused by this event were considerable and impacted areas differently. Tyrol and Voralberg were the two most impacted areas. The City of Lech suffered most, with its city centre flooded and more than 40 buildings severely damaged. This was due to the heaviest discharge ever recorded of the river Lech, which exceeded the boundaries of flood protection in place in the city. In total, in Austria, 19 public buildings were destroyed, 300 damaged, and numerous infrastructures and roads were impacted.
The country also experienced large scale flooding in 2013, caused by the breach of the Danube River, and in 2018 and 2021, causing damages and injuries to human life.
Austria's countermeasures against flood events
After the 2002 flooding, the Austrian government reacted quickly to incorporate flood protection measures. Since then, the federal state has been investing 200 million euros per year and drafted the Waterways Act, which defined clear tasks for different authorities to regulate flood measures protections.
The country also implemented the EU flood directive and enhanced its structural and non-structural protection measures to mitigate the risks of flooding in Austria. Yet, despite such measures put in place, large scale events continue to happen, and whilst measures seem to have reduced the number of deaths, major damage to infrastructure is inevitable.
Austria is also one of the few countries that possess institutionalised ex-post compensation for disaster losses. The country's national budget includes a “catastrophe fund” used to finance large scale protection infrastructure and compensate private households for damages caused by floods. This unusual situation led to a low flood insurance market penetration, as insurance compensation are often exempt from compensation.
Yet, as climate change effects will more than likely increase extreme weather events in the country, the need for further accurate flood data prediction is needed. One of the difficulties in assessing flood risks in the European Alps is that they are located at the “transition zone”, between increasing and decreasing precipitation patterns. It leads to considerable uncertainties of projected precipitation changes and rainfall conditions.
How to mitigate those risks?
Ambiental’s predictive tools and services are crucial in adapting to this uncertainty, as they provide up-to-date data, that can be adapted and tailored to our client needs. Our flood maps provide accurate and detailed data that allow mortgage lenders, local governments, insurers, and property professionals to make better decisions regarding flood risks.
Our technologies are valuable to understanding and predicting fluvial, pluvial, and tidal flood sources, especially in Austria as the country possesses many water sources, basins, lakes, and rivers. For the insurance sector, the data also provides valuable information to set the correct pricing for vulnerable areas, and in determining which areas to insure.
Moreover, Ambiental’s Climate Suite data products provide analytics and actionable insights for understanding long-term risks, including transition and physical risks. This technology is essential in a country marked by the uncertainties around climate change consequences of flood risks. Hence, access to up-to-date data is essential for insurers, mortgage providers, lenders, and the government and local authorities in Austria to prepare and predict flood risks. FloodScore Climate database equips our clients with up-to-date data and risk assessments for every property.
Austria’s vulnerabilities, in combination with the difficulties in assessing flood risks, creates a need to prepare for future flood events. An understanding of potential future flood events and access to up-to-date data is essential to predict and prepare for increased severe flooding because of climate change. Ambiental offers a range of services, from tailored flood maps to predictive tools on multi-hazard physical events. These afford a broad customer base an improved understanding of physical climatic risk in Austria, increased resilience to climate change and flood events, and ensures better pricing for insurers.
Contact us today to make an enquiry about our services and to obtain sample data for Austria.