Chief conservationist defends lack of permanent flood defences in Prague

30-08-2002

Lesser Quarter and Charles bridge, photo: CTKLesser Quarter and Charles bridge, photo: CTKAs clean up work on Kampa Island and in the Lesser Quarter continues it is clear that the extent of the damage to this side of the riverbank was enormous. This has inevitably led to the question - could something have been done? In Wednesday's edition of the paper Lidove Noviny, the Culture Minister Pavel Dostal laid the blame firmly at the feet of the State Institute for the Preservation of Historic Buildings. He claimed that the institute had blocked attempts to build anti-flood defences at Kampa with the argument that permanent concrete defences would ruin the beauty of one of Europe's most unspoiled cityscapes. In fact, even before the floods a compromise on the issue had been reached, and Mr Dostal has now toned down his criticism. There are plans to start next year with the construction of removable flood defences, of the kind that worked well in the Old Town on the other bank of the river. But the problem remains. The riverbanks here are lower than in the Old Town, and you don't have to be a mathematician to work out that even with the planned barriers, on this occasion the waters of the Vltava would have swept over Kampa. So I called Mr Stulc earlier and asked him whether he still felt that removable barriers would be sufficient.

"You can't make Kampa Island and the Lesser Quarter of Prague waterproof without severely impairing its historical integrity and its beauty. Anyway the houses on Kampa Island survived the flood miraculously and are in admirably good condition. Since there used to be floods every ten years in the past houses were built in such a way as to withstand floods."

Yes, but some would argue that people's belongings were unnecessarily damaged or ruined. What would you say to the people who actually live there?

"This is of course a serious problem. To begin with the houses in this area are now "over-used" . We strongly protested against the fact that in every other house the attics have been turned into flats. In the past this was not so and people could take their belongings up to the attic when there was danger of flooding. Even under present day conditions, it's a matter of choice. If someone were to offer me to exchange my flat -which is not at all bad and is situated high up on a hill- for a similar flat on Kampa Island I wouldn't hesitate . Even knowing the risks I would prefer to live in this marvelous neighborhood. I am afraid that after this great flood there will be a tendency to erect massive concrete walls on this side of the Vltava river. Such a decision would take this part of Prague off UNESCO's World Heritage List."

I was thinking more along the lines of a wall erected on a temporary basis.

"On a temporary basis ....I believe that with international know-how and assistance and experience we could perhaps find a technical solution which could work and not impair the composition and the beauty of the Lesser Quarter. Perhaps it would be more expensive but the Old Quarter is worth it."

30-08-2002

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