Articles | Volume 17, issue 8
Research article
21 Aug 2013
Research article |  | 21 Aug 2013

Socio-hydrology: conceptualising human-flood interactions

G. Di Baldassarre, A. Viglione, G. Carr, L. Kuil, J. L. Salinas, and G. Blöschl

Abstract. Over history, humankind has tended to settle near streams because of the role of rivers as transportation corridors and the fertility of riparian areas. However, human settlements in floodplains have been threatened by the risk of flooding. Possible responses have been to resettle away and/or modify the river system by building flood control structures. This has led to a complex web of interactions and feedback mechanisms between hydrological and social processes in settled floodplains. This paper is an attempt to conceptualise these interplays for hypothetical human-flood systems. We develop a simple, dynamic model to represent the interactions and feedback loops between hydrological and social processes. The model is then used to explore the dynamics of the human-flood system and the effect of changing individual characteristics, including external forcing such as technological development. The results show that the conceptual model is able to reproduce reciprocal effects between floods and people as well as the emergence of typical patterns. For instance, when levees are built or raised to protect floodplain areas, their presence not only reduces the frequency of flooding, but also exacerbates high water levels. Then, because of this exacerbation, higher flood protection levels are required by society. As a result, more and more flooding events are avoided, but rare and catastrophic events take place.