Floods in 2002 devastated half of the Czech Republic - could something similar happen today?

Published: Aug 3, 2022 Reading time: 7 minutes
Floods in 2002 devastated half of the Czech Republic - could something similar happen today?
© Foto: PIN

In early August 2002, heavy rains caused the most devastating floods in modern Czech history. Unseasonably heavy rainfall raised the levels in the Vltava and lower Elbe river basins, as well as in the Czech Ohře and Moravian Dyje. We began to help in several regions and in Prague itself. We also launched our largest humanitarian operation in the Czech Republic up to that time.

From 6 to 18 August, two massive waves of flooding swept through southern and western Bohemia. In Prague, the flooding culminated on 14 August with a record five-hundred-year flood, inundating the districts of Karlín, Holešovice, Libeň, and Malá Strana, not to mention the Prague metro network. In South Bohemia, the town of Metly was particularly hard hit, and likewise, the Central Bohemian town of Zálezlice. Floods damaged around 5,300 households, and 454 were completely destroyed or had to be demolished soon after.

Our most significant action to date

Helping to deal with the aftermath of the August 2002 floods was the largest operation we had undertaken up to that date. In total, we raised CZK 269 million (11M EUR) by mid-2003. We helped 187 towns, villages, and settlements; we supported 3,170 families and individuals with CZK 152 million (6,2M EUR) and invested another CZK 110 million (4,5M EUR) in the reconstruction of public buildings and small aid projects (bridges, water supply systems, sewage treatment plants and so on).

Table of Contents:

The SOS Floods appeal

We launched the SOS Floods appeal on 13 August—just one day before the 500-year flood swept through Prague. Both private individuals and companies contributed to the appeal in large numbers. People also offered materials, machines, and voluntary help, and the collection was unprecedentedly successful—by 15 July 2003, CZK 269 million (11M EUR) had been collected.

"If we compare the support collected for the families of the victims in the United States after 11 September 2001, by both population and the difference in income and living standards, we see that a similar amount per capita as was collected in the SOS Floods collection. This means without a doubt that not only were the floods a serious national disaster but also that donations—both private and corporate—were becoming an unwritten rule in our country," notes Šimon Pánek—who was then our director of humanitarian operations—describing the extent of the solidarity at the time.

On the day the Vltava crested, our staff was already on the ground, assessing the situation in affected areas in cooperation with local crisis staff and municipal leaders. This ensured that groups of volunteers, material aid, and equipment for the subsequent relief efforts could reach those most in need. The coordinators proceeded from Southern Bohemia to the northern border of the Czech Republic on the Elbe River.

At the same time, we started negotiating with other humanitarian organisations and a flood team was formed, consisting of coordinators, field workers, structural engineers, psychologists, builders, sociologists, as well as hundreds of volunteers in the first phase.

the documentary film "269 milion underwater"

A documentary about our work, 269 Million Underwater, was produced in 2003. The film showed the work of the People in Need flood cell. The flood cell was set up just after the previous year's floods and eventually managed to distribute money to people affected by the flooding according to their actual needs. The film also follows the process of aid distribution from the moment when we received lists from the mayors of affected villages of people who had lost their homes to the moment when the aid reached the people. These were often people that fell through the state's social safety net because they did not comply (often unknowingly) with certain rules.

Everywhere we helped

In agreement with other non-profit organisations, we took responsibility for the districts of Strakonice, Prachatice, Mělník, Litoměřice, Ústí nad Labem, Děčín, Beroun, and eventually for the Prague districts of Karlín and Libeň. However, we also helped in other regions.

Contact Centre Karlín in a trailer

In October, we opened the Contact Centre Karlín on Prague's Karlín Square, from where we coordinated assistance to flooded households in Karlín, Holešovice, Libeň, and Mala Strana.

Our team operated from a trailer and provided returning residents with up-to-date information on the current state of telephone connection, gas and water supply, structural assessment of houses, as well as financial contributions, how and where to apply for alternative accommodation, and what relief flooded-out people were entitled to. Free legal advice was also available.

Our "drying team" offered its help to private householders: the ground floors and cellars of hundreds of houses were flooded and saturated with water. Over a hundred of our drying units were in Karlin from autumn to early spring. Of course, we had to supply them with diesel continuously (most of which were provided free of charge from the State Material Reserves), so over two hundred tonnes of diesel were hand-carried to cellars, where it was then used to power hot-air desiccators.

What we did to help

In the first days and weeks after the floods, we dispatched more than a hundred humanitarian aid deliveries to the affected localities. These included hygiene supplies, disinfectants, and durable food; we also sent work clothes, protective equipment, tools for breaking up soaked plaster and heavy machinery. Throughout the autumn and winter, we either operated or loaned 170 dehumidifiers, sump pumps, power generators, and drill hammers. Some of the material was purchased, some came from companies who chose to donate their products, and all of this was distributed through our warehouse.

We provided financial support to families and individuals. The money was earmarked for home repairs and the restoration of essential household equipment. Contributions were distributed according to the level of damage and the socio-economic situation of the households.

We also helped to repair public buildings, i.e., schools and kindergartens, roads, footbridges, bridges, nursing homes, retirement homes, driveways, libraries, drinking water sources, apartment buildings, and other municipal institutions, systems or buildings. The idea of linking corporate donors to public interest projects arose spontaneously. This practice meant, in effect, that individual contributions were used primarily to help individual beneficiaries, i.e. households, and donations from prominent donors were used mainly to support public interest projects.

Without thousands of volunteers, this would not have been possible

Over 3,000 volunteers were deployed to dozens of flooded sites in cooperation with the UK Volunteer Centre during and immediately after the floods. In total, volunteers worked 150,000 person-hours. Teams of volunteers were sent only after consultation with local mayors or crisis staff. Each group had its own leader, was equipped with all the necessary equipment to conduct its tasks and was organised so that its presence did not add to the stress of the people affected by the floods.

Completion of projects

The assistance to the families ended in July 2003, but the public interest projects often continued for longer. By summer 2003, 97.4% of the funds collected had been used. A minimum of the balance was used to cover the organisational and administrative costs associated with implementing the SOS Floods projects.


The simple answer is: yes.

The amount of precipitation is not changing over the long term. However, the nature of the precipitation is—a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour, leading to more intense rainfall. This can lead to situations where as much water falls in a few hours in summer as would typically fall in a month.

The water then quickly pours out of riverbeds, causing damage and severe flooding in the event of heavy rainfall.

Climate change is also causing faster runoff from the countryside, and in towns and villages with many paved areas, water runs off quickly into drains. If sewers are overloaded and wastewater flows to the surface, there is a risk of contamination of wells, which endangers the population's health.

The consequences of climate change include:

  • reduced water supply from snow
  • a decrease in groundwater supplies
  • higher concentrations of pollution in watercourses and areas
  • conflict of interests between the protection of aquatic ecosystems and water users
  • and, of course, the risk of flooding

Can anything be done against the increased risk of flooding?

The answer is again: yes.

To reduce the risk of flooding, we need to:

  • increase water retention in the landscape
  • revitalise watercourses
  • restore streams and rivers, and other aquatic habitats
  • reduce water consumption
  • help drain rainwater and separate it from sewage

Creating green spaces and areas for rainwater harvesting, establishing urban green spaces, slowing down surface runoff or using rainwater is also very important.

All these practices and strategies have been shown to significantly reduce flood risk.

We have a long history of helping communities worldwide and here in our country to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change. To learn more about the effects of climate change on the Czech landscape, visit our climate website: climate.peopleinneed.net.

Autor: PIN

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