Warning of destructive floods as Danube thaw sets in, UN urges better response

A view of one of many bridges over the Danube River connecting the two sides, Buda and Pest, of Hungarian capital, Budapest. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

21 February 2012 – Destructive floods caused by the rapid thawing of the Danube River could add to the fatalities from an already harsh European winter, the head of the United Nations agency dealing with disaster risk reduction warned today.

In a statement, Margareta Wahlström, the head of the secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), voiced concern for the consequences faced by those countries traversed by the Danube, whose sudden thaw is taking many by surprise.

“The thaw is now setting in along the Danube. While thousands of people remain snowbound from Serbia to Bulgaria, there are warning signs that destructive floods will add to the loss of life and economic assets particularly in places where there is an absence of flood management infrastructure such as dams and dikes,” Ms. Wahlström stated.

According to media reports, the quick thawing of Europe’s second longest river has sent massive ice floes careening into boats and bridges, causing widespread damage to river vessels. The cold front had previously frozen large tracts of the waterway, making it unnavigable in areas of Germany and the Balkans.

“This severe winter in which hundreds of people have died has highlighted several weaknesses in our built environment and our ability to prepare for worst–case scenarios,” Ms. Wahlström said. “Vulnerable communities across Europe have been cut off from transport, schools, health facilities and electricity in many cases.”

The cold spell which has paralyzed much of Europe also reportedly killed more than 300 people in Ukraine, Poland, France and Italy as extremely low temperatures and substantial snowfalls blanketed the continent.

Ms. Wahlström commended Bulgaria’s decision to inspect over 500 dams throughout the country and to release the water from some dams and reservoirs to contain the Danube’s eventual floodwaters.

However, she also urged governments to undertake better planning for the possibility of future extreme winter weather patterns

“The unpredictability of severe weather events leads to high human and financial costs,” she added. “More focus on winterisation planning will be a wise investment in the coming years.”


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