The fifth International Conference on Flood Risk Management and Response took place in the San Servolo Centre in Venice, organised by Birmingham City University, represented by Prof David Proverbs, and Wessex Institute (WIT), represented by Prof Carlos A Brebbia.
Flooding continues to be a major environmental hazard that affects all world regions. This has been demonstrated in recent months with flash floods in China, US, France, Germany and the UK bringing severe disruption and damage to communities. It is important that these communities become more resilient to flooding as it is inevitable that these events will become more prevalent in the future. The research findings published in these papers provide new insights into how this might be achieved, drawing on evidence from a range of international contexts and flood risk challenges.
A key feature of emerging flood risk management approaches is the need to accept that some flooding is inevitable and that communities need to become more resilient. This demands that community members take some responsibility and ownership of 'living with water'. For home owners and businesses this means taking steps to make their property more resilient to the effects of flooding, so that they can quickly return to normal in the aftermath of a flood. Indeed, retrofit and adaptation of the existing building stock represents a vitally important part of a long term integrated approach to flood risk management.
Opening of the Conference
David Proverbs welcomed the delegates in the name of the co-organising Institution, ie Birmingham City University, where he is Associate Dean of International Affairs. David is also a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building. In addition, he has over twenty years’ experience in Flood Risk Management and is Co-Editor of the Structural Survey Journal of Building Pathology and Refurbishment.
David referred to the history of the meeting which originated in London, where it was held in association with the Institution of Civil Engineers. Since then the Conference has been reconvened in different locations throughout Europe and has always been very successful in bringing together people from different countries and backgrounds.
He referred to the importance of international collaboration in the field of Flood Risk Management and the need to cooperate across national boundaries. In this regard the success of the Risk meeting to attract people from so many different parts of the world is a major advantage.
The fundamentals of Flood Management has recently changed, with more emphasis being put into working in harmony with nature, taking advantage of the landscape and wetlands to regulate water flows and prevent floods.
In his opening address, David referred to the increase in Flood risks in many countries, particularly Nigeria where he has carried out research. Most of that may be due to rapid urbanisation coupled with climate change effects. There is an increase in the flood prone areas and chance of integration between urban development and flood risk management measures.
In the case of Nigeria the situation is compounded by the irregularity of events leading to floods. This creates a false sense of security following a major event.
Lack of coordination – David said – is not unique to Nigeria; it also happens in the UK. There are ample opportunities to learn from the experience of other countries.
On the other hand, Nigeria is showing signs of an emerging infrastructure and a large young population willing to innovate and apply their knowledge to improve their country. There is an increased awareness of flood risk management.
Address by Prof. Brebbia
Prof Carlos A Brebbia then addressed the conference, explaining the importance of these meetings to fulfil the objectives of the Institute, ie the dissemination of knowledge.
This – Carlos said – is carried out in different ways, in addition to courses and conferences, ie carrying out R&D work for industry and the publication of scientific papers and books.
The Institute is launching a series of Journals, in addition to those already established. The Journal most relevant to the FRIAR conference is the one on Safety and Security Engineering which was launched by the Institute with the collaboration of the University of Rome. New Journals of an interdisciplinary nature are the ones on Energy Production and Management; Heritage Architecture; and Transport Development Integration. The objective of these Journals is to cover interdisciplinary fields not properly covered by other publications.
Carlos stressed the importance of the community continuing to launch its own publications independent of major publishers. At the same time WIT is committed to the dissemination of scientific information. Because of that it has been decided to make Open Access all the papers published by the Institute through its associated WIT Press company. Papers can now be downloaded from the Institute’s eLibrary for free, and the Institute encourages the dissemination throughout the world.
Carlos hoped that the participants would enjoy the experience of participating in a WIT Conference and that they would continue to support the work of the Institute.
WIT – Carlos concluded – is always keen to discuss possible joint projects and ways in which to collaborate with different institutions from all over the world.
The Conference programme included a series of invited presentations by well-known colleagues, starting with the keynote address by the meeting’s Co-chair, ie
- “Flood risk management in Nigeria; a review of the challenges and opportunities”, by David Proverbs, Birmingham City University, UK.
Other invited presentations were as follows:
- “Field study of heavy metal removal in a natural wetland receiving municipal sewage discharge”, by Jabulani Gumbo, University of Verde, South Africa.
- “Alert system in case of excess withdrawal or rise up of groundwater in the sensitive areas”, by Zuzana Boukalova, Vodní Zdroje, Czech Republic.
- “Flood Protection: Preference, Partiality and Products”, by Colin Booth, University of the West of England, UK.
- “Building community resilience against flooding: A schematic approach to develop coping capacities of small businesses”, by Bingunath Ingirige, University of Huddersfield, UK.
- “Making the case for evidence in the UK floods context”, by Stacey Sharman, DEFRA, UK.
- “Projection in Hilbert space for flood forecasting of the Pomahaka River”, by Magdy Mohssen, Lincoln University, New Zealand.
The conference covered a series of topics, with the papers classified under the following sections:
- Flood damage
- Water contamination
- Flood protection
- Flood modelling
- Flood vulnerability and mitigation
- Flood forecasting
- Flood risk adaptation
- Flood risk assessment and recovery
- Flood case studies
- Flood management
Stacey Sharman from DEFRA (Department of Environment, Forestry and Agriculture, UK) gave a keynote address on “Making the case for flood control in the UK”.
A joint programme has been established in the UK bringing together all major stakeholders, including advisors and consultants. The idea was to make a more effective management of resources and establish policy-making processes. The programme enables the delivery of policy and operational needs.
A typical case study was how the Coordination Assessment Manual was prepared. It was based on the need to define by visual inspection the level of stresses. The research provided a manual for the personnel on site.
Another study included the need to develop Property Level Protection (PLP) assessment and key skills for the personnel to carry out the work.
One area of concern is the evaluation of community resilience and to be able to estimate this important factor.
The objective of this research – Stacey said - is to deliver appropriate and quality outputs with realistic objectives involving the key stakeholders at an early stage.
The ancient island of San Servolo provided a unique environment in which delegates could meet informally as well as during the conferences sessions.
San Servolo has a rich history stretching back to the IX century when the first monastery was established on the island. From then on a series of monks and nuns from different orders were to inhabit the island, including a period between the 12th and 14th centuries when many young girls from well-off families were forced to retire to convents in order not to divide the inheritances. Those nuns, unhappy with their seclusion on an isolated island, were frequently visited by “little monks”, affectively young Venetian men. The situation became out of control in many convents and monasteries around Europe, leading to a reform and a general improvement in the morals of the religious orders.
Following a period of quiet religious life, the island was to be used as a military hospital during the wars of the Republic against the Turks.
It was in 1715 when the first mentally ill patient was accepted on the island which was to become a mental hospital as well as a military one, when required by circumstances. It was to remain as such until 1978 when a law was passed in Italy closing all mental hospitals.
The community of Venice then decided to turn the island into a cultural and educational centre and in 1995 it became the site of the Venetian International University (VIU).
In spite of its small size, the island of San Servolo has many interesting attractions, which include a Museum of Madness where many instruments and descriptions of different treatments can be seen, an old pharmacy, a library with many ancient books and documents and a beautiful church.
Its Church has an elegant entrance porch supported by Istrian columns, and its interior is airy and bright.
The delegates had many opportunities for discussing topics of common interest and developing strong links in the quiet setting of San Servolo’s gardens. The coffee breaks and complimentary lunches, both in the island restaurant, helped to cement long term relationships.
The Conference Banquet took place in a renowned restaurant preparing typical Venetian food. The delegates were conveyed by water taxi from San Servolo to San Marco where they met other participants under the arches of the Palazzo Ducale. From there they proceeded through a series of narrow streets to the restaurant.
The main course was seabass, which is a speciality of the lagoon and can be prepared in different ways. This, together with an excellent starter and a well prepared tiramisu (another local speciality that has spread throughout the world,) was accompanied by wines from the Veneto region.
The evening was most enjoyable and the delegates took the opportunity to walk around San Marco Piazza before returning to San Servolo island.
Close of the Conference
The meeting was closed by Carlos who expressed his appreciation as well as that of his Co-chair, to the delegates for having attended FRIAR 2016. The success of the conference was greatly due to its friendly atmosphere which helped to develop a spirit of cooperation and open discussions. He hoped that they would consider participating in FRIAR 2018 and, if so, present a paper at the meeting.