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What if Paris flooded?

The River Seine overflowing its banks is not an uncommon sight in Paris, as the winter catchment swells, causing water levels to rise and cover the lower banks, jetties and walkways. 

Apart from traffic caused by the occasional closure of a few expressways, there are few if any interruptions to daily life. The Seine has threatened worse once or twice in the past century, though the last catastrophic flood in 1910 is now the stuff of old black-and-white postcards and photo albums. Still, the risk remains, and if a flood were to occur, the damage to the city and its infrastructure would be considerable, a recent report warns. Over 5 million people would be affected, while the damage could be as much as €30 billion, affecting some 400,000 jobs in a worse-case scenario.

Lives would also be at risk, as New York’s Hurricane Sandy sadly proved in 2012. Projects are under way in the Greater Paris area to improve flood defences, management and planning, and the report lists recommendations that could be taken on board. These include making sure insurance financing is up to the task, since a flood that knocked out Paris and its suburbs would deal a major blow to the French economy, the report says.

OECD (forthcoming, 2014), Seine Basin, Île-de-France, 2014: Resilience to Major Floods, Paris (available online in French: Étude de l’OCDE sur la gestion des risques d’inondation : la Seine en Île-de-France 2014).

©OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014