Swedish river, bridge and church
Swedish river, bridge and church

In light of the devastating recent floods in central Europe, the seminar asked whether Sweden’s own flood policy and practice is fit for purpose, and whether Sweden needs to once again scrutinize its approach to managing flood risk, especially to address gaps in governance.
The framework for flood risk management in Sweden is currently split between two administrative bodies, The Swedish Civil Contingency Agency (MSB), and The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (HaV).
MSB places an emphasis on coping with “extreme flows” – that is, the most devastating floods. However, smaller floods are more frequent and affect ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, and urban areas, and happen at the scale of the river basin. But the EU Water Framework Directive operating at this scale is coordinated by HaV, and focuses on water quality and environmental policies, not flood risk.
Hence, some experts believe that this administrative division has left gaps in the approach to dealing with flooding, which is storing up problems for the future.
Åse Johannessen, Research Fellow at SEI and facilitator at the seminar, said:
“In many European countries the implementation of these two directives is located in the same institution. Sweden can gain from the experience of European countries, which have learnt that too much development and control of rivers and water flows can ultimately cause flooding when water breaks out and does not behave predictably.”
The Netherlands has recently steered its efforts towards a more preventive approach, even allowing land to be reclaimed by rivers.
“Of course allowing rivers to reclaim land is costly, and it would have been preferable if the land had not been developed in the first place. If the Netherlands had earlier taken a preventive, integrated approach, this situation would not have occurred,” said Johannessen.
Johannessen believes that, to bring in such an approach in Sweden, a dialogue is needed on how to achieve synergies between different actors affected by flows in a river basin, and to find out how to link up existing river basin actions under the water framework directive. “For the moment no such dialogue exists,” she continued, “but this seminar is a start”.
The seminar brought together different actors who have a part to play in integrated flood risk management to share their views on how to best address the gaps. It asked how environmentalists, foresters, farmers, city planners, landowners, urban water professionals and others can collaborate, and it also looked at what guidance and financing is needed for municipalities, which ultimately deal with flood risk at a practical level.
Speakers discussed, among other things, creating a flood planning process for entire river basins, providing more appropriate flood modeling earlier in the municipal planning process, and on how to foster dialogue between local stakeholders.
The seminar also looked at what guidance the EU provides on creating synergies between the directives, and asked what can be learned from other countries, especially Australia, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, that have by necessity had to find solutions to droughts and floods.