Several large gaps in Swedish flood management

Recent flood events in Sweden have once again put Swedish flood management in the spotlight, and revealed many gaps.  I have described these shortcomings in an article published in Government Gazette, and they have been thoroughly discussed in the Swedish Water House cluster group “Water and Disaster Risk Reduction”. The biggest and perhaps most surprising breach is that Sweden does not plan its water flows – and therefore its floods – at river basin level. This is the fundamental principle in water governance advocated by the Global Water Partnership (GWP). Perhaps it is time to start a GWP support programme in Sweden? After all, since at least 2002 the Swedish Government has supported the work of the GWP, providing more than 4 million USD from 2012 to 2013. And this makes me wonder: if the Swedish government believes that the principles advocated by GWP are worth such wholehearted support, why not invest in implementing them in Sweden?

The only water planning at river basin level is carried out by Swedish Water Authorities. Five water authorities have been established under the responsibility of the county boards, and binding actions are decided to reach the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive. In Sweden the Directive is coordinated by The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (HaV).  However, this Directive is mostly aligned towards water quality and environmental policies, and does not focus on broader flood risks and linked socio-economic impacts. Floods are, on the other hand the mandate of Swedish Civil Contingency Agency (MSB) which has been appointed to coordinate the implementation of the EU Floods Directive in Sweden. Their take on floods is very much that of extreme flows. But floods are a natural part of an ecosystem, they come in the entire spectrum of flows, and may also have positive effects for the environment. However, as the approach to flood mitigation by MSB (and other local risk managers at municipal level) is focused on extreme events, local structural measures will prevail over more diffuse environmentally aligned measures in the river basin.

When the Swedish Water House cluster group for water and disaster risk reduction had its final seminar in November 2013 on Swedish integrated flood management, we raised these issues. A representative from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Associated Program on Flood Management (APFM) was present. He clearly stated his surprise to the fact that Sweden encountered such issues in its flood management and was very positive to future collaboration. The APFM is jointly coordinated by WMO and GWP. GWP and WMO please contact the Swedish Government and offer your support to more integrated flood management!

Åse Johannessen

Research Fellow,
Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)

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