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Paris (AFP) March 02, 2014
Floods may cost the European Union 23.5 billion euros ($32.1 billion) annually by 2050, double the 2013 amount, because of climate change and economic development, a study said on Sunday.
Damage from floods averaged 4.9 billion euros a year from 2000 to 2012, before rising to 12 billion euros in 2013, it said.
Two thirds of the expected increase to 2050 is explained by a higher risk to property in flood zones, and one third by changes in rainfall patterns driven by global warming, according to the study.
Floods of the severity of those that hit the planet in 2013 are likely to occur on a statistical average once every 16 years, but this will rise to once every 10 years by 2050, the paper warned.
Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the research brought together several disciplines -- hydrology, economics, mathematics and adaptation to climate change -- for a rounded assessment of Europe's flood risk.
Its estimates are based on water runoff from more than a thousand river basins and data about current and future flood protection schemes.
The climate model used was the so-called SRES 1B simulation, which sees a likely temperature rise of 2.8 degrees Celsius (5.04 degrees Fahrenheit) over the 21st century.
Socio-economic factors taken into account included the expected rise in property values and building expansion into flood-prone zones.
Tackling the problem requires a panoply of measures, and EU members will have to work more closely to prevent disaster and respond to it, the authors warned.
"If the rivers are flooding in central Europe, they are likely to also be flooding in eastern European regions," said Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIAS) in Austria.
"We need to be prepared for larger stress on risk-financing mechanisms, such as the pan-European Solidarity Fund," he said, referring to an EU tool for financing disaster recovery.
The surge in flood costs in 2013 was explained by disruption to wind circulation over the Atlantic that caused a low-pressure weather system to settle over central and eastern Europe, causing extensive, heavy rainfall in nine countries, the experts said.
"Single flood episodes can affect vast areas in a short period of time, irrespective of economic and political boundaries," they said.
In the first two months of 2014, floods have hit southern and western Britain, parts of southern and western France and central Italy. On Friday, the French weather agency Meteo-France said that, in Brittany, this winter has been the wettest since 1959.
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