Flood resilience: Research on sustainable reconstruction

June 25, 2024, Nr. 27

The KAHR research network demonstrates how science can support sustainable and resilient reconstruction following flood disasters. KAHR actively accompanied and helped shape the recovery process in the regions affected by the flash floods in July 2021 in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate.
[Picture: Jörn Birkmann]

Creating greater resilience

How can science contribute to the success of reconstruction and rebuilding after a flood disaster? This will be the focus of the third practical science dialogue of the research network "Climate Adaptation, Floods, Resilience (KAHR)," which will take place on June 26, 2024, addressing the reconstruction of flood-affected regions in Rhineland-Palatinate. "The Ahr Valley was and is very badly affected by the flood disaster in July 2021," explains network coordinator Prof. Jörn Birkmann, Institute of Spatial and Regional Planning (IREUS) at the University of Stuttgart. 135 people lost their lives in the Ahr Valley. The flood destroyed thousands of buildings and a large number of roads, bridges and other infrastructure over a length of around 40 kilometers. The floods caused an estimated 40 billion euros of damage in Germany. "The new construction and reconstruction must be more resilience so that we are better equipped for future events," emphasizes Birkmann.

Research involving local people

The interregional and interdisciplinary research network has been successfully supporting the reconstruction process for three years. Topics include research into damage patterns, the relocation of critical infrastructures such as schools and nursing homes, precautionary measures for particularly vulnerable population groups, flood-resistant design of bridges and sports facilities, creation of retention areas, flood-resilient power supplies, improved forecasting models, and risk-based spatial planning. Involving, advising and networking local stakeholders plays a central role in this. Household surveys and expert interviews show, among other things, that, before the disaster, the vast majority of respondents did not realize that they lived in an area at risk of flooding. In addition, at the time of the survey in summer 2022, only around half of those surveyed had implemented preventive measures. "Informing the public about risks and prevention options is therefore essential," says Birkmann.

Professor Jörn Birkmann stands in front of a destroyed house with a laptop.
Survey of the Ahr Valley by Professor Jörn Birkmann

Recommendations for reconstruction are relevant in practice

Some of the "10 recommendations for future-oriented and climate-resilient reconstruction" developed during the project have now been put into practice and incorporated into the justification for higher protection standards and higher financial aid for reconstruction, among other things. "The Ahr Valley is at a decisive turning point in climate-resilient flood prevention. KAHR was able to contribute many fundamental findings, for example for the future design of bridges and technical flood prevention," summarizes Prof. Holger Schüttrumpf, co-spokesman of the network and Director of the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management (IWW) at RWTH Aachen University. Additionally, since the project's inception, nearly weekly public consultation meetings have been held to discuss private flood protection measures. KAHR has also trained civil protection forces and organized storytelling evenings for victims and helpers.

Important research questions and fields of action remain open

"We have achieved a lot in the last three years, working together with the people affected. Nevertheless, there are still important questions and fields of action that require further scientific research," says Birkmann. In the future, protection concepts should place a greater emphasis on the protection worthiness of potentially affected settlement areas and classify them accordingly. There is also a need for action in the implementation of measures to strengthen climate resilience in reconstruction. The implementation of flood retention basins requires further scientific research, also with regard to their feasibility and the effects on the environment and landscape. Furthermore, there are specific conversion plans for individual districts or uses that have not yet been implemented. In our view, it is crucial for these transformation processes to be accompanied by scientific research to assess not only the effectiveness of the measures but also their acceptance," concludes Birkmann.

Dialogue between science and practice

The practical science dialogue will take place on Wednesday June 26, 2024, at 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Landskroner Festhalle, Im Bülland, 53474 Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

The event can also be followed live on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@iww-rwth/streams.

About the KAHR project

The Climate Adaptation, Floods, Resilience (KAHR) project is being funded with a total of around 5 million euros by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the Research for Sustainability (FONA) program. It is researching the regions in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate affected by the flood disaster in July 2021. Coordinated by the University of Stuttgart and RWTH Aachen University, eleven other partners from universities, Helmholtz centers, non-university research institutes and practice partners are participating in the project. The KAHR project will run until December 31, 2024 and a final conference will take place on November 26, 2024. A publication on the project results is planned.

Expert contact:

Prof. Jörn Birkmann (Project coordination, association spokesperson), University of Stuttgart, Institute of Spatial and Regional Planning, Tel.: +49 711 685-66332, email

In close cooperation with Prof. Holger Schüttrumpf (network spokesperson), RWTH Aachen University, Department and Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management (IWW), Tel.: +49 241 80-25262, email

Further information can be found on the KAHR project homepage.


This image shows Jutta Witte

Jutta Witte


Scientific Consultant


University Communications

Keplerstraße 7, 70174 Stuttgart

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