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Recherche et développement régional durable

Corinne Larrue

Session 2. La précaution et le développement régional durable : l'exemple des risques naturels / The precautionory principle and Sustainable regional development: the example of naturel risk

Precautionary principle, sustainable regional development and scientific evidence: lessons from the two programme


Gérard Brugnot

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  • 1 Cemagref, Saint-Martin-d'Hères, France.

1Note portant sur l’auteur1

2Natural risk management aims at limiting the impact of natural phenomena on people and property. It must be based on broad knowledge of phenomena and risk elements.

3Practically speaking, and up until recently, the risks have been dealt with according to a logic of eliminating the phenomena or their harmful consequences. These are what are called structural measures. These structural measures began with the arrival of military engineering, followed by civil engineering in the seventeenth century to deal with flooding, and in the nineteenth century for ‘gravitation’ risks.

4The recent questioning of these measures is not explicitly the result of looking at sustainable development. It is linked to the fact that protection works have masked the risks, which in turn has led to intensification of such works in protected areas, hence a sharp increase in vulnerability.

5Non-structural measures, in the field of natural risks, include all those that aim at reducing vulnerability. In the case of flooding it mainly involves measures that slow down flow and those which reduce the vulnerability of areas of human activity.

6Development in favour of non-structural measures can be seen as a longer term view of natural risk management, but whether or not these measures deserve to be called sustainable development is open to question.

7The examples presented can thus be analysed in respect of their “sustainability”.

8On the middle stretches of the Loire, flood risk management was initially based on a massive embankment building programme, which was followed by restrictive measures brought in as a result of government fear and leading to flood risk awareness being included in local development procedures. It would clearly seem that sustainable development is an objective to be reached in the long term. An issue to be addressed politically is the distribution of economic activity and housing in the 18 communes concerned by this project. A sustainable development strategy which is unrealistic in a single commune is more feasible over a larger area.

9The size of the IRMA project illustrates the value of operating over a large area. This allows a close link between technical measures and a real political negotiation about the distribution of risk. However, the project does not seem to have an economic dimension. Nor is there any evidence of an eco-systemic way of thinking, which leads us to wonder if this programme is not yet another project devised by an engineer or developer showing insufficient interest in environmental quality and development.

10In addition, neither of the projects includes a crisis management section, whereas it is known that whatever the preventive measures set up, there will always be extreme situations to manage and that there are many advantages in co-ordinating programmes for prevention and preparation of crisis management.

11What can be learnt from these projects from a sustainable development perspective?

12From an environmental point of view, the projects should be based on a study of the impact of the suggested measures on the ecosystem. Certain measures are going in the right direction, for example those which slow down the flow and at the same time which notably allow wetland restoration. However eco-systemic developments need to be studied in more depth.

13From a social view point it is known that natural risk is discriminatory. New town developments which can bring about social problems need to be examined.

14From an economic point of view, economic sustainability must be monitored from the outset by bringing in the right actors and tools. In the case of flooding it seems that an area still to be explored is that of insurance. All sustainable prevention projects should in the long term guarantee their own balanced finances without having to count on external support. Flooding of “plains” can even be considered as a natural risk that best lends itself to a classic insurance system in so far as there is only a slight risk to human life. The role of the insurer is thus to check the project's economic sustainability. An example of a sustainable strategy applied to flood risk is the “National Flood Insurance Policy” programme.

15Economic sustainability is one thing, the move from a non-sustainable to a sustainable stage is another, and researchers need to give this move further thought.

16Therefore from a political view point it is no longer a question of protecting populations without their knowledge and taking decisions without consultation. Two approaches can be explored: on the one hand to inform the population accurately about the risks they face, and on the other hand involve them in risk management measures in real-time.


1 Cemagref, Saint-Martin-d'Hères, France.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2002

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