Danube Watch 1/2016 - Fighting drought in the Czech Republic

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Fighting drought in the Czech Republic

Motivated by one of the worst droughts in the country’s history, the Czech Republic is taking an intersectoral – and an international – approach to developing long-term strategies to protect against water scarcity in the future.

a close up of a stone wall

Water challenges are facing communities and regions across the Danube River Basin, impacting millions of lives and creating significant economic and social problems.
© ICPDR/Mandl

The Czech Republic is situated at the roof of Europe with almost all its water originating in precipitation and flowing away to neighbouring countries. With 2.8 million inhabitants in the Morava Sub-basin alone, and agriculture covering 60% of this territory, preventing and protecting against natural phenomena such as floods and droughts is therefore critical to manage water and landscape for everyone.

Recent years have seen an increase in floods in the Czech Republic – since 1997, five out of nine flood events were considered extreme – and flood prevention and protection had been the major goal of water managers, supported by water authorities, politicians and the general public. At the same time, however, protection against the effects of possible drought events had not received nearly as much attention from the same groups and had been left to a community of professional water and agricultural experts.

But events in the last two years brought the issue to a head, in particular the 2015 summer drought which was one of the worst in the country’s history. Precipitation had begun to decline as early as 2014, and by August 2015 levels were 150mm lower than normal. Record heat waves that summer worsened and by October 2015 the rainfall deficit was 180mm. The drought affected the entire country, with the water levels of most streams significantly below the 355-day discharge value. While there were no critical interruptions to household water supply, some sectors were significantly seriously affected, such as agriculture and the hydropower sector.

In February of 2016, the Czech Hydro-Meteorological Institute published ‘Drought in the Czech Republic in 2015’, a complex report focusing on the meteorological and hydrological aspects of the drought. Although published while the drought was still ongoing, the report will be updated this year to provide a comprehensive evaluation.

Working together for water scarcity. To face the impacts of drought, an intersectoral approach is crucial to ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of the measures taken. Therefore, in 2014, the Czech Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture established an interdepartmental commission called WATER-DROUGHT as an immediate response to the drought events that year.

The outcome of the WATER-DROUGHT commission was released in July last year, ‘Preparation of Measures to Mitigate the Negative Effects of Drought and Water Scarcity’. The aim of the document is to define the sectors involved and the most effective measures to be used to protect against droughts in the coming years. It includes monitoring, legislative, operational, economic, technical and environmental activities for which there are responsible institutions listed, as well as cooperating professional institutions and bodies to process the documents needed and provide broad viewpoints.

This document is the first step towards setting out a comprehensive, long-term strategy to protect the country from the harmful effects of potential future droughts. Such a strategy must be presented to the Czech government by June 2017.

a man throwing a frisbee at a beach

Events in the last two years brought the issue of drought in the Czech Republic to a head, in particular the 2015 summer drought, which was one of the worst in the country’s history.
© ICPDR/Mandl

Raising public awareness. The Ministry of the Environment, through the Czech Hydrometeorolgical Institute, undertakes monitoring related to drought and is tasked with sharing this information with the public. And to that aim, educating children and the general public is seen as particularly crucial. That is why – alongside effective rainwater management and measures to increase landscape water retention – the Ministry is supporting new educational programmes throughout the country.

However, water issues don’t stop at national borders, so to address the impacts of droughts effectively, the government is aiming to raise the issue at international level. The Czech Republic is inviting other countries to share knowledge and lessons learnt on drought through the platforms currently chaired by the Czech Republic, such as the Visegrad 4+2 Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, plus Bulgaria and Romania), the Carpathian Convention, the ICPDR Presidency as well as international fora with a Czech presence.

Current climate change models predict an increase in the number of extreme weather events for the Danube region. While countries are gaining experience working together to prevent floods, those same strategic partnerships by all stakeholders will be needed to mitigate the impacts of drought successfully.

For a copy of the report on the 2015 drought in the Czech Republic, please visit: http://portal.chmi.cz/files/portal/docs/meteo/ok/SUCHO/zpravy/en_drought2015.pdf

Veronika Matuszna works in the Czech Ministry of the Environment and is a national expert in two ICPDR Expert Groups.
Tereza Davidov works on drought issues at the Czech Ministry of the Environment.