Natural disasters: Solutions for prevention and damage management are more important than ever

Climate-related natural disaster events increase. The Austrian population is more and more confronted with the consequences of extreme weather events.

Natural disasters: Solutions for prevention and damage management are more important than ever
Dr Michael Staudinger (Director ZAMG), Dr Othmar Thann (Director KFV), Dr Othmar Ederer (VVO-President, Chairman), Dr Franz Prettenthaler, M.Litt (JOANNEUM RESEARCH, Director LIFE), Günter Liebel (BMNT) und Dr Louis Norman-Audenhove (General secretary VVO). (c)VVO/APA-Fotoservice/Hautzinger

For a long time, experts have warned of the consequences and claim for holistic solutions for prevention and damage management. Experts from the VVO (Association of Insurance Companies Austria), the BMNT (Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism), the ZAMG (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics), JOANNEUM RESEARCH and the KFV (Road Safety Board) discussed necessary measures and important steps for Austria at a joint press conference.

Alarming numbers

The year 2018 was marked by many weather extremes. Hurricane-like storms with wind peaks of up to 130 kilometers per hour, violent thunderstorms, followed by periods of drought, flooding and frost - every region in Austria was affected by a wide variety of extreme weather events. "Extreme weather phenomena in Austria are no longer vague forecasts for the future, but reality. Protection against natural disasters is a necessity for the future" said VVO President Chairman Othmar Ederer. "Long-term statistics show that natural catastrophes and thus the overall economic losses are rising significantly. The UN in its recent report speaks internationally of a "drastic increase with alarming numbers." In Austria, the worldwide trend towards an increase in natural disasters is also recognizable: "The first severe damage in 2018 occurred in April, due to hail and flooding. The natural catastrophe losses reached their peak in October in Carinthia and East Tyrol. In the Austrian government program 2017 - 2022, the creation of framework conditions for improved financial damage compensation in the event of natural disasters and the provision of reinsurance has already been defined, the timely implementation of these measures is important" said Ederer.

Heat, drought, floods - 2018 is a year of extremes

It is already clear: 2018 is one of the three warmest years of the 252-year history of measuring. "From April to October, we had almost continuous summer weather conditions, which is very unusual" says Dr Michael Staudinger, Director of the Central Institute of Meteorology and Geodynamics. "The number of summer days, i.e. days with at least 25 ° C was twice as high as in an average year, in most regions there were even new records." Also striking in 2018 was the combination of long dry periods and some extreme rain events. "In Graz, for example, we already had a thunderstorm in April that would be ranked as extremely even on a summer day" says ZAMG director Staudinger. "And at the end of October a Mediterranean low in Upper Carinthia and East Tyrol brought rainfall rates that statistically only occur here every 75 to 150 years. At the same time, the northern side of the Alps experiences an unusual drought for the second year in a row. At some of our measuring stations, such as Linz and Zwettl, new dryness records are emerging."

The effects of natural disasters are not to underestimate

"Natural disasters have different, more or less severe consequences for those affected and their relatives" explains Dr Othmar Thann, Director of the KFV. Comparisons of studies from the past five years show a tendency towards increased risk awareness among the population. Above all severe weather, hail and storms are seen by around half of the respondents as a great danger, whereas in 2013 only one in four respondents said so. Flooding is also a more and more present natural hazard for the respondents - whereas in 2013 more than half of them did not feel threatened by flooding, in 2018 only about one third of the respondents feels this way. Only 3 percent of respondents see snow load events, which were assessed in a recent survey in relation to the upcoming winter as a danger.

HORA-Pass provides comprehensive information on personal risks of natural hazards

"It is particularly important that the population is informed in a timely and accurate manner about risks and danger" stresses Head of Division Günter Liebel from the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism. "Protecting the population from natural hazards in the best possible way is one of our core tasks. For this we need to inform, integrate and sensitize citizens. An important digital offer is the risk map HORA ( It enables each and every citizen to quickly and easily get an initial assessment of the personal danger situation of eight different natural hazards. The offer has been extended with the new HORA Pass. For any address in Austria, all natural hazards on the HORA platform and their expected intensity, as well as tips for improving personal preparedness and the corresponding risk information can be retrieved in a clear and easy to understand overall presentation."

Comprehensive solution for claim management required

Franz Prettenthaler from LIFE, the Center for Climate, Energy and Society of JOANNEUM RESEARCH, is not only interested in personal provision, but also in the discussion about management of future damage for the economy as a whole. "The key question is how to get more efficient systems so that those affected do not become petitioners in the event of a disaster. Purely private, the issue for the future cannot be solved and the disaster fund makes too small sums in case of damage. This requires a holistic solution that works with comprehensive coverage for the entire country. This is a must for Austria with the second highest flood risk in the EU in view of rising climate risks." concluded Prettenthaler.

A safety tip for emergencies: Targeted precautions should be taken to ensure that in the event of a natural disaster basic services are provided to the residents for at least 10 days.