Is flood damage inevitable?

The River Berounka, Photo:CTK

Of course now the floods are receding, people will be asking why they hit the Czech Republic with such intensity, and whether more could have been done to prevent them. Is the present system of reservoirs and dams on the Vltava and other rivers sufficient? Should the landscape be altered to provide maximum protection against floods? My colleague Rob Cameron joins me in the studio now, Rob, was the damage we've seen over last week inevitable?

The River Berounka,  Photo:CTK
- Well the first to thing to say, perhaps it's obvious but it deserves remembering, you cannot prevent natural disasters such as floods from happening in the first place. The name "Vltava" itself comes from Old Celtic "Vilt Ahava" - meaning "Wild Water." There are historical records dating back 1,000 years showing that the Vltava floods every 100 years. So when you have driving rain for weeks on end, when river rises by 3,4,5, even 10 metres, flooding is more or less inevitable.

Right, so you cannot prevent floods, that much is clear. But surely there are things you can do to minimise the damage, and reduce risk to life and property?

- That's absolutely right, you can. There are very specific things you can do to reduce the risk. First of all, you have to have an adequate system of dams & reservoirs along major rivers. In Prague's case, this is the system known as the "Vltava Cascade", built on the Vltava in the 1950s & 1960s. Critics say the problem with Vltava Cascade is that it can deal with smaller floods, but it can't cope with the massive flooding of the type that we've seen this week. The problem is that only two of the eight dams on the Vltava Cascade are actually designed to store flood water, the remaining six are there to supply hydroelectric power stations. So the floods simply move downstream, gaining in intensity.

Once the floods reach city such as Prague, is there anything to be done to reduce their intensity and minimise damage?

- Yes, and again the critics say the authorities, especially urban planners, could do more. Ideally, the region south of Prague should consist of sparsely-wooded, flat meadows that would allow the river to spill out, reducing the level of water and also preventing the river from collecting debris that might eventually clog bridges in the city. Unfortunately, these flood meadows or "inundation areas" as they're called are full of dead trees, piles of timber and of course people have built cottages on them - all these things can be easily swept away & do severe damage downstream. Critics say it would cost very little to clear these areas, much less than say reforesting hills in South Bohemia to absorb the excess rainwater.