One year since the severe flood in Malmö and Copenhagen 2014

Flooding in Copenhagen 31st of August 2014It is today one year since Malmö (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark) were severely flooded on the 31st of August 2014. Copenhagen has already been challenged by floods in 2010 and 2011, while the severity of this flood event was new to Malmö and south-western Scania. The flood has been like a wake-up call for southern Sweden when it comes to how fragile the modern society are to severe stress like from this flood.

Flooding in Copenhagen 31st of August 2014 – destroyed manhole One year later, this flood event still effects the city: several house owners have not been able to move back yet (!), a group of employees at the utility company VA Syd are working full time to assess all flood reports from the citizens, at the university we will in few weeks start a big project on urban flood resilience, and Malmö municipality will write their first cloud-burst plan. I write on an article about the flood event in Malmö, where I look into how the city was affected. I compare this flood event with the much smaller, but still severe, flood events in 2007 and 2010, and discuss how we can learn from these flood events in the future city planning. Hopefully, I will submit the article to an international journal in October or November.

The local newspaper, Sydsvenskan, writes today about the flood event (in Swedish): Ett år efter översvämningarna i Malmö. They have also collected video clips from the event: Se videoklipp från regnkaoset.

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Before and after – it takes a flood to understand

Pluvial flood in Copenhagen August 2014

Pluvial flood in Copenhagen August 2014

When I started my PhD study in 2012, everyone said: I see, you live in Copenhagen – over there floods are of great interest. Copenhagen was flooded in August 2010, July 2011 and once more in August 2011. My PhD topic (urban flooding in a changing climate) was of course partly inspired by these three floods, but also by the need to create better cities in the future. We need greener cities and more resilient stormwater systems. This was in 2012 and the interest of flooding in Sweden was rather weak.

Then, in 2014, the rain fell. After a few hours of heavy rainfall, floods where suddenly on everyone lips. Malmö was hit by a costly and frightening flood event. Now people had their own experience of what a flood could be. It is not any longer a problem “over there”, in Copenhagen. It takes only 35 minutes to go from central Copenhagen to Malmö. Nevertheless, it took the flood risk awareness more than three years to cross the bridge.

Cars flooded in Copenhagen 2014

Cars flooded in Copenhagen 2014

Gothenburg have seen similar flood events and they seem to be aware of the problem. During a conference in Gothenburg, someone discussed why the national authorities in Sweden still seems so unaware of the pluvial flood risk. As this person mentioned: “We have still not seen a major flood event in a bigger Swedish city – read: Stockholm!” I guess this summarises the problem with risk awareness. It is unbelievable hard to understand the risk of flooding before you have seen one yourself in your own town.

Floods in Malmö, Sweden

On the 31st of august, heavy rainfall hit Malmö in southern Sweden. The city has never before seen such volumes of water in the streets, basements and backyards – at least not in modern time. At Lund University, we decided to take a closer look at the flood event. We try to understand how all the green spaces and open stormwater solutions, that Malmö city is well known for, did affect this flood event. The open stormwater systems in Malmö were not specifically designed to prevent from flooding, but this could be an important, positive side effect of the systems.

My student, Joanna Theland, have contacted the utility company (VA Syd), insurance companies and house owners in Malmö, to collect information about consequences of the flooding. Everyone have been very helpful and we have had interesting conversations with both VA Syd, Länsförsäkringar Skåne (an insurance company) and others about this flood event and flooding in general. I would say that Swedish authorities are getting more and more focused on floods and flood prevention. We are going from an idea that floods are a natural catastrophe that we only can act upon after the disaster already has happened, to a more proactive view were we see possibilities to prevent areas, important buildings, as well as our own basement from flooding. There is a great interest in our study and in how to build cities in a better way in the future.

Joanna Theland will present the results from this study in March. After this, I will continue with more analyses. One idea is to compare the situation in Malmö with other cities that have seen recent flood events. One might be Helsingborg, as my contacts there (at NSVA) have been very helpful.

The photos beneath are all from Copenhagen. The same rainfall as in Malmö, on the 31st of august 2014, stroke Copenhagen and I took a trip with my bike to document some of the consequences in the city.