Stark choice for mankind - move off floodplain or get used to floods

Photo: CTK

The severe flooding in the Czech Republic has reinvigorated the debate as to what causes flooding and how we can protect ourselves from it. There’s been much talk of technological solutions such as building higher flood defences and bigger dams. But some ecologists believe it’s time for a total rethink of where humans should settle, even if that means abandoning the floodplain altogether. Radio Prague has been discussing the matter with Ondřej Liška, head of the non-parliamentary Green Party.

Photo: CTK
“There are definitely two main reasons for this catastrophic situation. First is the incapability of the landscape to retain water. We have cemented our countryside. We’ve failed to work together with the landscape, with nature, on holding water where it belongs, and that is in the woods and the meadows and in the countryside. The second reason of course is climate change. We might disagree on what the causes of climate change are, but we definitely have to admit that climate change is happening, and this climate change is bringing more extreme phenomena, like heavy rain for weeks, as we have faced in the past weeks in the Czech Republic.”

Just on the first point, do you accept that mankind has altered and exploited the natural world for millennia? Ever since we’ve created advanced societies and civilisations we’ve changed our landscape to make our lives more comfortable and prosperous. It’s just a fact of life isn’t it?

Ondřej Liška,  photo: Kristýna Maková
“That is a fact of life, but at the same time this is a clear sign that without cooperating with natural processes we will not be able to sustain our lives in places that are touched by natural catastrophes such as this. One important fact: Czech rivers have been straightened in the past one hundred years by one third. That means the water in Czech rivers after heavy rain flows much faster. These rivers were cemented, and therefore the power of the mass of water has just increased. And this is exactly what we have to do – we have to give the rivers natural space.”

It’s sounds like you would agree with the views of the head of the Department of Social and Cultural Ecology at Charles University – he says we shouldn't rebuild on the floodplain at all. We should protect historical centres in our cities and we should leave low-lying floodplain land uninhabited.

“That is what very few politicians dare to say. People who live in the countryside close to rivers, in regions with a high flood risk, will have to make a choice in the future, and the government has to help them make this choice, either to stay or to move on. Because without this, they will be losing their property and seeing their houses damaged every six or ten years.”

Photo: CTK
There’s been much talk in the last few days about the so-called Vltava Cascade, that system of nine dams, some of them very big dams in South Bohemia, that regulate the Vltava. What’s your view of how the dams and reservoirs in this country have been used during the floods?

“At this moment it is very difficult to differentiate between what is political talk, somebody trying to gain political capital from it, from the real problem, or what could have been done much better. I think the authorities worked pretty well, definitely much better than in the past floods, and this analysis has to be really independent and has to be presented after the floods have disappeared.”