Discover the 5 Most Flood-Prone Countries in Europe

Written by Chris Madden
Published: November 21, 2023
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European Countries Under the Highest Threat of Flooding (by % of Population)

1. Netherlands – 58.7%

Amsterdam Netherlands dancing houses over river Amstel landmark in old european city spring landscape.

After successfully battling the ocean throughout its history, the Netherlands faces a challenge. That being the fact that over half of its population resides in areas highly susceptible to flooding.

©Yasonya/Shutterstock.com

The Netherlands, a low-lying country, grapples with a harsh reality: a whopping 58.7% of its population lives in flood-prone areas! To better understand this vulnerability, examine its history—a legacy of reclaiming land from the sea. Over the centuries, the Dutch created technologies to keep pushing the ocean further and further back. By using dikes, polders, and windmills, the Netherlands grew larger and larger over time. These methods expanded habitable territory, turning shallow seas into farms and villages. But with this history of victory against the ocean comes a looming threat of elemental revenge.

Despite numerous reclamation efforts, global climate change now heightens the risk of flooding more than ever. The long fight hasn’t lessened this increasing threat, if anything it’s increased it! Their system of dikes and polders, landmarks of the Dutch triumph, puts a good amount of the Netherlands at risk. Seeing the stats highlights how the legacy of land reclamation puts the Netherlands at an especially high risk of flooding compared to other European countries. The Netherlands stands alone compared to the rest of Europe with 58.7% of their population living in flood-prone areas. The Dutch nearly double that of Austria, the second most at-risk country (Austria’s population under threat is 27.8%).

2. Austria – 27.8%

Panorama of Wachau valley (Unesco world heritage site) with ship on Danube river against Duernstein village in Lower Austria, Austria

Wachau valley (a Unesco world heritage site) highlights the nature of settlement in the mountainous nation of Austria. Flat

river basins

lie between mountains, creating the perfect conditions for flooding.

©extravagantni/iStock via Getty Images

Dropping drastically from the flooding levels of the Netherlands, Austria finds 27.8% of its population to be in flood-prone areas. Unlike the Dutch history of fighting the ocean, Austria’s flooding threat is more influenced by specific geographical and infrastructural elements. The larger rivers in Austria, like the Danube and Mur, are the main factors of vulnerability for the surrounding areas. Their waters periodically surge, which puts the adjacent low-lying regions, historically ideal for settlement, at risk. Additionally, dams like the Kölnbreinsperre and the Kops Dam can be huge threats to flood levels.

Both dams are vital for water management and hydroelectric power generation for all of Austria. However, their existence is another part of the flood risk endangering the very population that enjoys their infrastructural benefits. Controlled releases from these dams are necessary to prevent failures and structural damage. But these releases can lead to localized flooding downstream via inaccurate estimations and erosion further downstream. In population dense areas like Steyr and Bruck an der Mur, a delicate balance exists for all Austrians. Living with high susceptibility to flooding due to society’s trend of water-centric settlement alongside the natural environment.

3. Albania – 27.6%

Amazing evening cityscape of Berat town. Splenedid spring sunset in Albania. Traveling concept background.

The country of Albania finds over a quarter of its population to live in areas highly prone to flooding!

©Andrew Mayovskyy/Shutterstock.com

Albania is nearly equal with Austria, at an ever so slightly lower percentage of 27.6% (compared to Austria’s 27.8%). Albania’s high flood risk can be better understood by looking at the history of flooding in the country. The 1979 Shkodra earthquake and the ensuing floods showcased Albania’s susceptibility to flooding. The tremors triggered catastrophic floods along the Drin River, impacting heavily populated areas. Tragically, the sweeping waters claimed 136 lives and left thousands more homeless. This event is recent enough that it should remind people that flooding can still claim lives, even in the modern era.

But even more recently, flooding due to intense rainfall without proper drainage infrastructure caused untold damage. These floods, which occurred in 2015, most heavily impacted southern Albania. Lowlands covered in farms and fields were fully submerged, displacing over 12,000 people and resulting in economic losses exceeding €35 million. The prime minister of Albania marked deforestation as a key reason for this flooding, as a lack of root systems lets earth be eroded and allow for larger floods. As climate change intensifies, Albania needs to invest into its infrastructure, instead of continuing to clear forests with economic interests in mind. Not only to help protect the lives of its people, but also to help fight against global climate change itself!

4. Croatia – 26.9%

Split waterfront and Marjan hill aerial view, Dalmatia, Croatia

In Croatia the dismantling of natural flood barriers such as wetlands in favor of urban development is one of the leading factors in flooding!

©xbrchx/Shutterstock.com

Croatia faces a nearly equally daunting challenge, with 26.9% of its population living in flood-prone regions. This vulnerability is once again best understood by checking out the cases of flooding throughout the country’s history. In 1964, a flood of the Sava River basin covered over 1,500 square kilometers in water, causing extreme destruction to the countryside. Unfortunately, specific numbers on casualties and homes destroyed for that flood are hard to find, leaving the true extent of the devastation a mystery. Still, the aftermath undoubtedly left a profound impact throughout the nation’s memory. Much more recently, in May of 2014, even more catastrophic floods hit eastern Croatia, claiming at least 22 lives, displacing thousands, and causing damage exceeding €350 million!

Political leaders in the country, such as the Minister of Environmental Protection and Energy, Tomislav Ćorić, emphasized the impact of human activities on heightening the risk of these destructive floods. Specifically, he urges the tightening of existent and creation of more strict zoning regulations to restrict construction in flood-prone areas. He also emphasizes the preservation of natural buffers like wetlands. In instances where urban sprawl has eliminated natural topographical/geographical defenses, flooding is all but to be expected! The call for more strategic planning includes elevation based zoning, stormwater management systems, and resilient infrastructure. All together, these would comprehensively limit the effects of floods. Hopefully, this can help reduce the socio-economic toll of floods by protecting assets and helping people avoid having their homes or lives stolen from them!

Environmental studies, notably by the Croatian Meteorological and Hydrological Service, pinpoint diverse factors contributing to Croatia’s flood vulnerability. The intersection of climate change and deforestation emerges as an area of extra interest, with rising temperatures and altered land cover amplifying flood risks. As Croatia grapples with this multifaceted challenge, proactive measures advocated by leaders like Ćorić become imperative for safeguarding both the environment and the well-being of the populace.

5. Slovakia – 26.7%

Bratislava  at autumn, Slovakia

A beautiful historic building in Bratislava as seen from the Danube river.

©TomasSereda/iStock via Getty Images

Once more just barely below the flood-prone area of the country before it, in Slovakia 26.7% of the population resides in flood-prone areas. Historic floods within the country include the terrible 1965 Danube River flood. Claiming 89 lives and causing an estimated $61 million in damages, the decades since haven’t erased its legacy. Equally devastating were the 1998 floods, particularly those of the Váh River, which resulted in 50 casualties and a staggering $222 million in losses.

Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini (served from 2018-2020), aware of the flood risk/climate change correlation, advocated for sustainable practices throughout the country. Pellegrini’s proposed policies, including improved land-use planning and fortified infrastructure, aiming to lessen and prevent future flooding disasters. Dr. Ján Szolgay, a professor at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, conducted environmental studies that shed more light on critical factors. Once again, the common culprits of deforestation and urbanization, particularly when concentrated in the same regions, only intensifies flooding. Despite these challenges, another Slovak politician Zuzana Čaputová, champions comprehensive flood risk mapping, for a better understanding of how flooding will occur. Though a combination of political effort and environmental awareness, flooding can be lessened throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

Summary of the Top 5 European Countries at Risk of Flooding

RankCountryPercentage of Population ExposedTotal Population Exposed
1Netherlands58.7%10,100,000
2Austria27.8%2,437,000
3Albania27.6%771,000
4Croatia26.9%1,094,000
5Slovakia26.7%1,401,000
Summary of the top 5 European counties with the highest risk of drowning (by % of population) [Source] [Source]

The photo featured at the top of this post is © mkfilm/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Chris is a lifelong animal lover with a passion for writing and a natural tendency to explore the internet in pursuit of new wildlife and nature facts! He is completing his Bachelors in Political Science at Concordia University in the Spring of 2024 after a science-centric high school career. Aside from studying and writing for A-Z Animals, he has a budding music career and enjoy spending time outside year-round, from swimming to skiing!

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