Flooding is the key natural hazard faced by France (Photo: Région Île-de-France)
By Jonathan Fowler
MARSEILLES, France, 22 March 2016 – The French government has unveiled a package of measures intended to raise public awareness of the threat posed by floods.
Announced by Minister of the Environment Ms. Ségolène Royal at the French National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, the plan aims to improve early warning and public awareness.
“The risk of flooding is the most present, affecting one municipality in two,” Ms. Royal said, adding that the danger was set to worsen and become more frequent due to climate change.
Improving early warning and public awareness are key elements of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year blueprint adopted by the international community in March 2015.
Seventeen million of France’s 67 million people live in areas at risk from overflowing streams and rivers, and 1.5 million in zones threatened by sea-water flooding, according to ministry figures.
A nationwide risk assessment in 2012 also showed that one job in three is potentially exposed to water-related hazards.
The most vulnerable mainland regions are along the Mediterranean, in the Alps, in the north and east, as well as in and around Paris – the latter hosted a major flood exercise this month.
Flash floods on the French Riviera last October claimed almost two dozen lives. Many of the dead were people in an underground carpark who tried to save their cars, providing a tragic case study of how not to act when confronted by a natural hazard.
Elsewhere, storm surges from the sea have in the past killed people who were trapped in their homes.
“I’ve seen how members of the public can feel helpless and how many tragedies could have been avoided if the population had had the information, understanding and ability to act in the right way in the face of risks. The public is the first player in its own security,” said Ms. Royal.
“Creating a risk-aware culture is one of the key responses, via information, education and training,” she said.
She announced that the Interior and Education Ministries would work together to provide risk training for 400,000 11 to 14-year-olds in schools on the Mediterranean, plus almost a million of their adult family members.
“The aim is to provide an understanding of risk, of civil defence steps and first aid skills, as well as to test safety measures in the most exposed schools via exercises involving the pupils, their teachers and their parents,” Ms. Royal explained.
In addition, the government has called on the 2,500 most at-risk municipalities – home to 11 million people – to come up with innovative ways to spread the message. The projects will form the cornerstone of events in France to mark this year’s edition of International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13 October.
Before that, September will see a major campaign devoted to the “épisodes cévenols” – the violent autumn storms in the Cévennes mountains which lead to flash floods on the Mediterranean cost.
National weather agency Météo-France and flood forecasting body Vigicrues will work with the broadcast, print and online media, as well as social networks, to ensure that members of the public are on maximum alert, Ms. Royal said.
She also spotlighted the spectre of earthquakes in France’s Caribbean territories.
“There’s a major seismic risk in the Antilles. A major earthquake there would mean tens of thousands of victims and billions of euros in damage.”
She underlined that the government is working to ensure that schools, fire stations and public housing are earthquake-resistant, and that the second four-year phase of a plan worth hundreds of millions of euros was underway.