Poland Endures Second Round of Flooding of the Vistula River

Only two of Poland’s 16 regions remain untouched by floodwaters.

storm runoff

The Vistula River near Warsaw.

As the crest of another major wave hit Warsaw, Poland in the second round of flooding of the Vistula River, tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the southern part of the country earlier this week, the Warsaw Business Journal reports. It is predicted to be the worst flooding to hit the country in more than a decade.

“The situation in the River Vistula basin is much worse than in the last major floods of 1997,” the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the Austrailian Broadcasting Corporation in May.

Last month’s flooding killed 18, forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes, and caused an estimated $US3.6 billion in damages, Reuters reported. Only two of Poland’s 16 regions remained unscathed by the flooding which also impacted neighboring Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The last devastating flooding in 1997 killed 55 people, impacted 224,500, flooded 665,000 hectares of agricultural land and caused $US3.5 million in losses. This event prompted the World Bank, along with the European Bank of Development and Reconstruction to start the Flood Emergency Project, which reforms Poland’s flood management system by building institutional capacity and upgrading infrastructure.

Meanwhile climate change will likely further complicate Poland’s capacity to respond to flooding and prevent disaster, according to a 2008 report by the World Bank. The report found that the country has reported an increase in weather-induced disasters, specifically cold waves and floods. Rising temperatures are expected to increase river flooding and waterlogged soil throughout the Baltic Region.

Despite improvements to flood infrastructure within the country, the heavy and continual rainfall throughout May decreased the effectiveness of the flood barriers erected along the Vistula, allowing the river to surge into populated areas.

“The flood barriers in many parts of Poland are in a very poor condition now after days of inundation,” Interior Ministry Spokeswoman Malgorzata Wozniak told Reuters.

Swiniary, a village 50 miles northwest of Warsaw, was particularly hard hit in May as water for the Vistula River created a 50-meter-long hole in a dyke. Wozniak noted that emergency services had destroyed the embankment below the hole to force the water back into the river bed.

Officials still believe that raising the level of flood embankments and constructing reservoirs will be enough to diminish economic and social losses from flooding, according to a report from the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Three quarters of floodplains of the Odra and the Vistula River in Poland have been confined inside flood embankments and open for development even though it is common knowledge that the flood embankments do not guarantee 100 percent safety to these areas,” the WWF report states.

Sources: Reuters, the WWF, Reuters, Austrailian Broadcasting Corporation and the Warsaw Business Journal

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