Magazine «the environment» 2/2020 - Natural hazards concern everyone
Editorial by Paul Steffen, Vice Director FOEN
How concerned people experience natural hazards
Dossier «Natural hazards concern everyone»
Due to its geography and climate, densely populated Switzerland is often affected by water-related hazards such as floods or debris flows, landslides, rockfalls and avalanches. Strong earthquakes are rare, but, as history shows, they can occur and represent one of the biggest risks. Due to population growth, the expansion of settlements and infrastructure, the rise in mobility, and the effects of climate change (e.g. extreme precipitation events), risks due to natural hazards are increasing.
It is not just in Switzerland’s mountainous regions and near lakes and rivers that people are confronted with natural hazards, but all over the country. Because of urban development and climate change, the risks are increasing all the time, despite all the protection efforts. It is only by joining forces that the risks can be kept to a tolerable level for society.
Social scientist Matthias Buchecker explains in an interview how we perceive natural hazards in our day-to-day lives, why we underestimate certain risks and why people in Switzerland need to take more responsibility for their own protection.
Zurich lies in the middle of the Sihl flood zone, so damage can be expected in the event of flooding. But where is this damage likely to occur and how severe will it be? And how can it be minimised? We go on a tour of the city with two experts.
Climate change is exacerbating the threat of natural hazards. In the Saas Valley in Valais, experience clearly shows the importance of monitoring hazardous processes for the safety of people, towns, villages and transport routes. A forward-looking land-use plan is also important – not just in Valais, but everywhere.
In 2007, the River Sorne burst its banks, causing damage worth millions of Swiss francs in Delémont. Since then, the town has taken numerous steps to prevent flooding. However, the Delémont Marée Basse project is not just about flood protection – it is a community project.
Earthquakes, floods, rockfall processes, debris flows and avalanches can cause massive damage to buildings and endanger human life. Damage can be prevented at relatively little expense.
Switzerland also counts on insurance companies in dealing with natural hazards. Insurance firms step in when damage occurs despite all the precautions taken. Solidarity between policyholders and regions is key here. Damage caused by earthquakes is an exception – there is no insurance cover for this type of hazard.
Bern has learned its lessons from past floods: flood damage can be limited by improved emergency response planning, warnings and intervention. However, a residual risk remains.
Last modification 03.06.2020