The Irish Times view on Ireland’s flood risk: the age of extremes
Storms such as Emma and Ophelia have exposed critical weakness in Irish infrastructure
Flooding along the banks of the Shannon River near Athlone in 2015. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Ireland’s vulnerability to extreme flooding caused by global heating has been spelt out in a major study predicting northwestern Europe will bear the brunt of this accelerating trend. There is a risk that one-in-100 year floods will become one-in-80 and probably one-in-50 year events, and climate disruption will add to the magnitude of such events.
Almost 50 scientists in 24 countries, including Dr Conor Murphy of Maynooth University, analysed records from 3,738 flood measurement stations taken between 1960 and 2010. These focussed on river systems, which cause most damage to communities in flood scenarios.
The impact of flooding in Europe had increased over the past 50 years, which is directly attributed to a warming planet. The largest increases are evident in northern England and southern Scotland, but across Britain and Ireland flood magnitudes have been increasing at a rate of about five per cent per decade since the 1960s. This invariably means “standards of protection” decline over time, Murphy explained, so infrastructure built during the 1960s in Ireland is no longer adequate to withstand the magnitude of flooding now predicted for vulnerable areas.
Adapting flood management strategies to take account of the latest findings requires a balance of engineered and nature-based solutions. Extreme weather events, such as storms Emma and Ophelia, have exposed critical weakness in Irish infrastructure. Nowhere is that more obvious than in dealing with widespread flooding likely to be concentrated at the mouth of rivers. Cork and Galway are particularly vulnerable in that regard. Sea level rise is probably the bigger threat to Dublin given indications it could exceed two metres this century.
The Government has a national co-ordinated response in place. Some €1 billion is being spent on 118 flood-risk management schemes, including 50 priority flood-defence schemes in some of the country’s at-risk locations. However, its scenario planning and design of infrastructure will need to re-assessed in light of this study.