Aerial view of the Secchia river and flood flooding of 05/13/2019 near Campogalliano, Modena - Italy

Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change and Flooding in Italy

In Insurance, News by Stephanie Brain

Mitigating the Impact of
Climate Change and Flooding in Italy

The risk of flooding in Italy has been on the rise in recent years. Ambiental’s climate change product provides data and analytical tools to understand flood risks and helps insurers, mortgage providers, large commercial enterprises, governments, and local authorities to be more prepared.

Italy is affected by floods every year and 2021 proved to be no exception, with a high number of flood events. High-precision predictive flood maps and property level flood risk data are crucial in minimising the consequences of flooding in Italy. Annual flood losses are increasing and areas prone to flooding are expanding, mainly due to climate change and sea level rise, which makes Italy particularly vulnerable to flood events. Adequate adaption and insurance protection, based on analytical data is needed to protect infrastructure, people, assets, and investments.

Italy’s propensity to flooding 

9.8% of the Italian territory is vulnerable to flooding

Italy is particularly prone to natural hazard events as it also faces challenges from other perils such as earthquakes and volcanoes in addition to floods. The risk of flooding is amplified by weak enforcement of building restrictions and poor floodplain management principles. The areas vulnerable to significant floods exceed 29,500 km2, about 9.8% of the Italian territory. This includes 82% of the municipalities, and six administrative regions: Calabria, Trentino-Alto Adige, Molise, Basilicata, Umbria, Valle d’Aosta.

Furthermore, according to a technical report by the Ministry of the Environment and Land Protection, 2.6% of the Italian territory is subject to a high risk of flooding. Additionally, in 30% of the municipalities prone to flooding it is common for residential quarters to be situated in floodplains. In total it is estimated that 6% of the Italian population, around 3.5 million people, live in areas at risk of flooding.

Coastal flood risk is particularly high in Italy, especially around the northern coasts of the Adriatic Sea. Rising sea levels due to climate change enhance this existing vulnerability and increase the risk of Italian coastal cities flooding. The population is being forced to adapt and become more resilient to frequent floods. Scenes of flood waters inundating Venice during high tides are now regular occurrences and people have devised ways to get on with their daily lives around them. However, the potential for major catastrophic flooding events is ever present and increasing.

The Po River area and the high risk of flooding

The most vulnerable area is the Po River basin located in Northern Italy. It hosts 40% of the country’s total productive activities and 30% of its population. This area is particularly prone to population growth and contains a high concentration of wealth. Hence, the increases in exposure raise the potential flood losses and highlights Italy’s vulnerability to the extreme flood events which models are predicting.

Additionally, the land in this area of Northern Italy is mainly used for agricultural purposes, which has led to a substantial total length of artificial canalisation networks over the area. Furthermore, the river morphology is undergoing changes, which increases the vulnerability of the Po Area and increases the extremity of the flood peak.

Flooded fields for rice cultivation in the Po Valley, Italy. Panoramic aerial view. Typical countryside landscape of northern Italy with dirt roads, fields and ancient farms.

Flooded fields for rice cultivation in the Po Valley, Italy.

According to the Euro‑Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change (CMCC), without any adaption measures, losses in Italy due to flooding will reach 600 million euros per year by 2100. To prepare for a changing climate, and its consequences, Kundzewicz argues that an efficient flood forecast-warning system, an adequate flood risk assessment and flood-related databases are essential.

How to mitigate those risks? 

Ambiental’s flood maps for Italy provide accurate and detailed data that allow insurers, mortgage lenders, property professionals and data providers, as well as local government representatives, to make better selection and valuation decisions regarding flood risks. Ambiental’s technologies provide useful data that help further understand and predict fluvial, pluvial, and tidal flood sources. For the insurance sector, the data also provides valuable information to set the correct pricing for vulnerable areas. Additionally, Ambiental’s Climate Suite data products provide analytics and actionable insights for understanding long-term risks, including transition and physical risks.

Climate change is predicted to result in changes in rainfall patterns, and accordingly flood risks in some regions are expected to change rapidly in the decades ahead. Those changes are incorporated in our FloodScore Climate database to ensure our clients are provided with up-to-date data and risk assessments for every property.

Historical flooding in Italy

Historically, Italy has always been prone to flooding, with significant flood events occurring in the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet, Italy has witnessed an increase of flood events and some severe flooding since the beginning of the 21st century.

A significant flood event occurred in 2003 on the upper Tagliamento River Basin. It affected 300,000 people, caused more than 2 million euros in damages, and occurred after a period of severe drought. Italy was also hit by many smaller flood events which caused significant damages in agricultural and urban areas.

One of the most intense flood events of the last 200 years in the Piedmont Area is the Po River Flood of 2000, one of the largest floods on record resulting in the death of 28 people. This flooding was significant and led to significant statutory changes, with laws passed to oblige the government to act.

Recent extreme flooding in Italy and the impact of climate change

Debris and mud deposited in the streets after flood

Debris and mud deposited in the streets after flood in Sardinia.

In 2021 alone, Italy was hit successively with various flood events: first in Lake Como, in July and August 2021; in September, near Malpensa Airport; in October, in the Liguria Region; and in November, in Sardinia. The country was also impacted in 2017 in Livorno, causing the death of eight people.

VENICE, ITALY - November 24, 2019: St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco) during flood (acqua alta) in Venice, Italy. Venice high water.

VENICE, ITALY - November 24, 2019: St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco) during flood (acqua alta) in Venice, Italy.

Additionally, in 2019, Venice suffered the highest tide in 50 years, which caused the death of two people. The city’s mayor attributed the extreme weather event to climate change and called upon the Italian government to take notice and plan accordingly. Climate change also increases the intensity and frequency of floods caused by rivers and surface water; they doubled over the past 30 years.

Italy’s countermeasures against flood events

Consecutive flood events have clearly highlighted the vulnerability of the country, whilst the level of market penetration of the insurance system has been estimated at below 10%. In response to the repeated flood events, the Italian government issued laws forbidding the construction of new buildings within 150m of rivers (1994), but with little compliance. Additionally, the riverbeds of tributaries to the Po River are cemented, increasing its peak flow and associated flood risks. Nature based solutions which work with nature rather than against it could help to alleviate the problem.

The Italian government has built on available data and technology to strengthen its emergency response mechanisms:

  • It passed laws requiring the authorities to detect risk areas and set prevention plans to avoid future damages.
  • The government established an integrated warning system that monitors the hydro-fluviometric data and the implementation of a network of centres for data processing.
  • The EU Floods Directive was implemented, dividing areas into zones based on their risk level.

Wrecked car after severe flooding in Palermo, Sicily

Wrecked car after severe flooding in Palermo, Sicily.

Yet, despite numerous measures taken by the Italian authorities, low compliance and increasing risks have rendered them inefficient. The need to further understand and minimise economic losses associated with risk is more pressing after another year marked by flood events.

Understanding the risk of flood now and in the future is crucial for insurers, mortgage lenders, local governments, developers, and property investors, to protect assets and human life. Ambiental offers a range of services, from tailored flood maps to predictive tools to ensure better pricing, an improved understanding of flooding in Italy, and increased resilience to climate change and flood events.

Contact us today to learn more about the services we offer and to obtain sample data for Italy.

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