Project reports

Interim project report to the Austrian Climate and Energy Fund

Journal articles

Thaler, T., Doorn, N., Hartmann, T. (2020). Justice of compensation for spatial flood risk management – comparing the flexible Austrian and the structured Dutch approach. DIE ERDE – Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin, 151 (2-3), DOI:10.12854/erde-2020-467.

In view of the anticipated climate change, many countries face increasing risks of flooding. Since the end of the 20th century, the traditional hard flood protection measures have been increasingly complemented with spatial flood risk reduction measures. These measures, though in the public interest and as such, benefitting many people, almost inevitably affect landowners adversely. In other words, spatial flood risk reduction measures affect private land. The impact may extend from mere decreases in property values as a result of changes to zoning plans and to obligations to tolerate certain acts related to the construction or maintenance of water defence structures. Most of the time, implementation of spatial flood risk reduction measures thus discriminates between landowners, as some profit from better protection but others are affected negatively by the measures. Spatial flood risk reduction measures thus raise issues of social justice. Compensation plays a crucial role in flood risk management to mitigate the impact on land. How and in which cases this compensation is paid differs from country to country. Some national jurisdictions compensate for loss as a result of lawful administrative acts if and to the extent that it is considered unreasonable for this loss to be the full responsibility of the affected party. In this paper, we compare two different legal compensation frameworks in two European countries: Austria and the Netherlands. Based on a comparative analysis, we discuss how these different compensation schemes affect social justice, both in terms of substantive distributions but also in terms of procedural justice.

Thaler, T. (2020). Anpassungsstrategien im Hochwassermanagement zwischen Gerechtigkeit und technischen Möglichkeiten. Wasser und Abfall, 22 (9), 13-16. DOI:10.1007/s35152-020-0258-x.

Das Hochwasserrisikomanagement unterliegt einer Vielzahl von verschiedenen Herausforderungen und Entwicklungen, die nicht immer ganz rasch und einfach hydrologisch-hydraulisch gelöst werden können. Durch den sozio-ökonomischen und demographischen Wandel der vergangenen Jahrzehnte hat sich nicht nur die Zusammensetzung der Gesellschaft verändert, sondern auch die Frage gewandelt, welche Ziele das Hochwasserrisikomanagement in der Gegenwart und in Zukunft verfolgen soll und kann.

Slavikova, L., Hartmann, T., Thaler, T. (2021). Paradoxes of financial schemes for resilient flood recovery of households. WIREs Water. DOI:10.1002/wat2.1497.

Flood resilience (resilient flood risk management), which has been repeatedly demanded, can be achieved through the phases of the risk management cycle. There is a vast body of literature on adaptation, disaster risk reduction measures, and effectiveness of prevention, seen through the lens of postdisaster recovery, but oftentimes the existing literature seems to underestimate the impact of financial flood recovery schemes on resilient recovery of individual households in particular. This contribution focuses on how financial schemes for flood damage compensations—their sources, design, and timing—shape the resilience of recovery of individual households. It discusses the dilemma of recovery of whether recovery schemes should be used strategically to increase resilience, or rather serve early restoration needs, equality access issues, and so on. This contribution seeks to unify the current fragmented academic debate on household resilient recovery by focusing on the ambiguous role of financial recovery schemes.

Babcicky, P., Seebauer, S., Thaler, T. (2021). Make it personal: Introducing intangible outcomes and psychological sources to flood vulnerability and policy. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. DOI:10.1016/j.ijdrr.2021.102169. (formerly JustFair Working Paper No. 2)

Vulnerability assessments play a central role in deciding on measures for flood risk reduction. Vulnerability itself manifests as tangible (e.g. building damage) and intangible (e.g. distress, disruption of livelihoods) outcomes caused by a flood event. Traditionally, vulnerability assessments have been focusing on the physical and social sources that drive these outcomes, while psychological sources have largely been neglected. This paper expands the current physical and social perspective on vulnerability by demonstrating the added value of psychological sources to more accurately identify those who are most vulnerable to flooding. Based on survey data of 1,127 households living in flood-prone areas in Austria, we confirm that tangible and intangible outcomes represent conceptually distinct types of flood impacts. A series of hierarchical regression models shows that psychological sources do not play a critical role for tangible outcomes, as they do not significantly add to the variance already explained by physical and social indicators. However, psychological sources have substantial unique explanatory value for intangible outcomes, and may supersede certain physical indicators (e.g., risk zone is a physical proxy indicator for the underlying psychological factor ‘perceived flood probability’). By contrast, social indicators retain their effect size even if psychological indicators are included. Thus, expanding the scope of vulnerability outcomes calls for simultaneously expanding the scope of sources of vulnerability. The results caution against catch-all risk reducing measures; instead, risk managers should address the vulnerability sources specific to particular outcomes. To improve social equity, flood policy instruments should incorporate intangible outcomes and psychological sources of vulnerability.

Book chapters

Thaler, T. (2021). Justice and resilience in flood risk management: what are the socio-political implications? In: Hutter, G., Neubert, M., Ortlepp, R. (eds.): Building resilience to natural hazards in the context of climate change – knowledge integration, implementation, and learning. Wiesbaden: Springer.

Flood risk management governance requires one to comprehensively assess how policy strategies may affect individuals and communities. However, policy development and implementation often downplay or even increase social inequality based on decisions. Analysis of the social and societal implications of strategies and implementation projects to manage flood hazards is still in its infancy. To close this gap, this paper critically questions implementation practices and options for flood risk management, such as Nature-based Solutions (Nbs) to increase community resilience; at the same time, this paper provides unintended outcomes, such as the implementation of green spaces acting as a trigger for gentrification processes and social inequalities in access to public services. The paper furthermore discusses and presents how justice and resilience in flood risk management are related and it illustrates an outline for future research agendas.

Working papers

Babcicky, P., Seebauer, S. (2020). People, not just places: Expanding physical and social vulnerability indices by psychological indicators. JustFair Working Paper No. 1.

Damage and disruption caused by floods do not just arise from the characteristics of physical structures, but also from the characteristics of residents inhabiting these structures. Social vulnerability studies typically employ socio-demographic proxy indicators that do not address the risk attitudes, beliefs and agency of those living in areas at risk. To close this gap, this paper introduces a range of indicators from psychological risk research. Physical, social and psychological indicators are compared for their influence on vulnerability outcomes such as building damage or emotional distress. Based on survey data of 456 Austrian at-risk households, hierarchical regression models confirm the additional explanatory value of psychological indicators above and beyond physical and social indicators. Adding psychological indicators up to doubles the explained variance in vulnerability outcomes, in particular for health impacts and distress. General intentions for flood preparedness, fear of flooding and self-efficacy are most relevant. For a more holistic view of vulnerability, measurement instruments should incorporate psychological indicators. Disaggregated household-level data is necessary to fully capture the inter-individual differences between households living in the same flood-prone area. Indicators perform differently depending on the other indicators included, and the considered outcome; therefore, we caution against pooling indicators to composite vulnerability indices.