Profile of the area and problem analysis

The catchment areas of the rivers Rhine and Meuse cover an area of approximately 191,000 km2 with 60 million inhabitants. Flooding is mainly caused by exceptionally high water levels affecting large parts of the catchment areas, as a result of prolonged rainfall, sometimes combined with snowfall.

To which level the high water will rise depends on the division and absorption capacity of vegetation, the river bed, the landscape and the structure of water flows in the catchment area. By bringing economic and agricultural activities into the catchment areas, and building residential estates, roads and dykes, the absorption capacity becomes limited and the potential for damage is increased.

However, it should be made clear that the causes of high water levels are influenced by humans only to the extent that they are responsible for increasing potential damage by the way in which they use the catchment area. Within the catchment area, a distinction can be made between areas that are always flooded during high water conditions and areas that are only flooded during extreme high water conditions. The damage caused by high water levels can be divided into three categories:

  • danger for human lives: this occurs when people are caught unawares by high water;
  • economic damage: direct damage to buildings, infrastructure, etc. and loss of production time;
  • ecological damage: primarily caused by contaminated water and contaminated silt remaining after a flood.

All Member States involved in the programme consider the battle against flooding a main priority which must be dealt with through spatial planning and water management. The way in which the Member States implement these measures depends on the different physical, geomorphological and hydraulic situation in their own part of the rivers. Despite the different approaches, however, all measures focus on the creation, restoration and preservation of (former) overflow areas/retention basins and infiltration. In addition to measures that are directly related to the reduction of high water levels, Member States’ policies stress the importance of measures such as town and infrastructure planning, furthering awareness, forecasting high water levels and warning systems.

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