Towards sustainable flood risk management in the Rhine and Meuse river basins: synopsis of the findings of IRMA-SPONGE

A. Hooijer, F. Klijn, G.B.M. Pedroli, A.G. van Os

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Recent flood events in western Europe have shown the need for improved flood risk management along the Rhine and Meuse rivers. In response, the IRMA-SPONGE research programme was established, consisting of 13 research projects, in which over 30 organizations from six countries co-operated. The aim of IRMA-SPONGE was the development of methods and tools to assess the impact of flood risk reduction measures and of land-use and climate change scenarios, in order to support the spatial planning process for the Rhine and Meuse River Basins. Several important conclusions were agreed upon by participants in the programme; they emphasize the role of spatial planning, especially in areas at risk of flooding, as an important component of flood risk management: 1 Flood risk, defined as a function of both flood probability and potential damage, is increasing not only due to climate change (likely to cause an increase in the probability of extreme discharges) but also due to continued investment in areas at risk of flooding (resulting in an increase in potential damage). 2 Water retention areas and land-use adaptations far upstream may be useful in lowering the frequency of floods in small basins. However, extreme floods far downstream in the lower Rhine and Meuse basins, where the probability of design discharges is less than 1/200 per year, cannot be prevented by such upstream measures. 3 The most effective and sustainable reduction of flood risks could be achieved by reducing the potential damage (vulnerability) in flood-prone areas through adapted land use and spatial planning. 4 Flood risk management organizations should not only aim at a reduction of flood risk but should also seek to enhance the ecological quality of rivers and floodplains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-357
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • flood control
  • floods
  • risk assessment
  • watersheds
  • physical planning
  • safety
  • river rhine
  • river meuse

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