Integrated Flood Management (IFM): a new approach to flood management

Integrated Flood Management (IFM): a new approach to flood management

The traditional approach to floods focused on reactive practices to reduce exposure to flooding and susceptibility to flood damage, mainly through structural measures separating the river from its floodplain. In the course of time, these ad-hoc interventions proved to be only partially effective, shifting rather than mitigating flood risk. The acknowledgment of the necessity of a wider multi-disciplinary approach led to a paradigm shift from flood control to flood management. This indicates a proactive mentality recognizing that floods can never be fully constrained, but, at the same time, present positive (besides negative) aspects.


  The concept of flood management lies within the framework of the Integrated Water Resources Management. The latter promotes a coordinated management of water resources, in order to optimize the resultant economic and social welfare without compromising the sustainability of ecosystems.

  Integrated Flood Management (IFM) endorses this idea, aiming at maximizing the net benefits from flood plains, meanwhile minimizing loss of life. In fact, the concept of IFM rests upon the consideration of the river basin as a unique dynamic system: within it, interactions between land and water resources ensure that every single change affects the other components in a positive or negative way.

Therefore, any intervention to improve the use of the river basin assets (both in terms of water and land) cannot ignore that flood risk and its consequences (i.e. economic and human life losses) cannot be totally controlled. The concept of IFM thus brings an innovation: although reducing loss of life should remain the top priority, the objective of flood loss reduction should be secondary to the overall goal of the optimal utilization of floodplains.
In this sense, the defining feature of IFM, i.e. integration, is intended both in a horizontal and a vertical direction. While the first indicates a cross-sectoral decision-making process, the second entails a participatory and transparent approach. Together, they materialize in different forms: an appropriate mix of strategies, carefully selected points of interventions, and appropriate types of measures (structural or non-structural, short or long-term).

  As a result, an IFM plan should be built on the following six pillars:
• Manage the water cycle as a whole
• Integrated land and water management
• Manage risk and uncertainty
• Adopt a best mix of strategies
• Ensure a participatory approach
• Adopt integrated risk management approaches.

  The Associated Programme on Flood Management (APFM)



  The Associated Programme on Flood Management (APFM) is a joint initiative of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) with the objective to promote the concept of IFM as a new approach in dealing and living with floods. To this aim, it facilitates dialogue and provides governmental agencies (in particular National Meteorological and Hydrological Services) with guidance on flood management for the implementation of IFM national strategies. More specifically, the APFM’s goals are to: • Promote the principles of Integrated Flood Management (IFM)
• Help assimilate IFM within the overall Integrated Water Resources Management
• Identify gaps in present flood management practices, and to stimulate partners to meet critical needs within their available human and financial resources
• Support IFM actions at all levels: national, regional, local and river basin-wide
• Provide a platform for a common strategic vision on IFM issues, and to promote the implementation of effective policies and strategies worldwide
• Promote awareness about flood management issues, build political commitment and trigger action at all levels
• Provide advice and relevant information to institutions and decision-makers on flood management issues

  The APFM was founded in 2001, at the end of a decade of great attention and activism around the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), firstly raised during the international conferences of Dublin and Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Driven by the individuation of a sectoral gap in IWRM concerning flood management, WMO presented a project proposal for the creation of a programme specifically dealing with this topic, later endorsed by GWP.

  Since its inception, the APFM activity has experienced three implementation phases. Whereas the first one (Aug 2001 – Jul 2006) mainly focused on the definition of the basic principles of IFM (published in the Concept Paper and the Policy Series), the realization of regional pilot projects and the establishment of a global network of partners, the second phase (Aug 2006 – Mar 2010) centered on the implementation of the concept of IFM through guidance, trainings and awareness building at the local and regional level and the creation of the IFM HelpDesk. The third and actual phase tries to continue and build upon previous work by strengthening the network of partners, providing long-term support and follow up to previous trainees, developing new guidance material and updating existing publications. At the same time, new activities are put in place, like field demonstration projects, national and regional training courses, e-Learning and an enhanced communication strategy.

  As shown in the picture, the Get Help utility gives access to three different services:

  • Rapid Guidance, to get in touch with the APFM Technical Support Unit and obtain guidance on flood management policy, law and strategy;
• Capacity Building, to request the organization of training courses tailored on the needs of the applicant;
• Pilot Projects, to get assistance to implement IFM principles in the field, in cooperation with regional, national and local organizations.
On the other hand, through the Help Yourself function users can access four sub-sections:
• Tools and Publications, from which it is possible to download the whole range of publications developed over the years (the Policy Series, the Tool Series, Training Manuals, Case Studies);
• Education, a wide range of material to facilitate self-study targeting different kinds of readers (teachers and kids, flood managers, policy-makers, trainers);
• Reference Centre Database, a set of interactive databases gathering institutions, policies and literature related to flood management;
• Questions & Answers, a collection of Frequently Asked Questions to re-direct the user to the relevant section.

  Although freely accessible online, the Helpdesk has been especially conceived for some categories of audience, in particular government agencies in charge of flood management, river basin organizations, bi- and multilateral development agencies in the field of water resources and disaster management, community-based organizations and NGOs engaged in flood preparedness, universities and other capacity building institutions for the water and disaster management sectors.

  The good performance of the HelpDesk is made possible by the active support of the Support Base Partners (SBPs), a network of professional institutions and organizations contributing their expertise and technical backup in various areas of activity. These range from advice and advocacy in policy formulation as well as technical issues to facilitation of training courses on IFM to development of tools and capacity building materials.

  Find out more at:







  Isabel Riboldi
Associated Programme on Flood Management (APFM)
World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

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