France

Case study description

Cities involved: Vitry-sur-Seine
Affected Population: 26 000 inhabitants
Last flooding episodes: 2016

Vitry-sur-Seine is a commune located 3 km south of Paris. It is confronted to flooding by overflowing of the Seine River but also by runoff. In reference to the historic flood of 1910, the flood prone area represents 1/3 of its territory. 26,000 people are living in this flood prone area as well as industrial companies (including classified Seveso establishments). Since 2006, the Municipality is preparing to face a disaster scenario. A plan has been elaborated covering the commune area and providing, in case of flood, a warning system and the evacuation the exposed population as well as its relocation. The municipality developed information campaigns towards institutions, of which it is responsible for. Despite his efforts, the municipality emphasizes a deficit of culture of risk within the exposed populations as well as a lack of interest.

The case study therefore provides an interesting opportunity to assess how different flood risk management approaches interact and play out in terms of community resilience.

Capacity assessment

The assessment of the communities’ capacities to prepare, cope with and recover from flood cannot be separated from the general FRM system, and the structure of the society itself. In the French case, despite the efforts to change the current status quo, the widespread idea that “it is the government job to protect the population” prevents any community involvement coming from the grassroots to arise. The lack of recurrent flood events in the area also reinforces the perception that a flood will hardly happen, this idea changed with the May-June 2016 events, but still population is not ready to take proactive actions to prepare for flood.

Thus the French case presents a clear division between institutional actors and rooted communities; this is because its political organization is structured on a representative basis. Capacities such as knowledge, motivation, networks and finance are strengthening but not in direct relation to the communities and their needs.  The municipality plays the role of the intermediary but still this creates an important gap with the population which is not advancing at the same pace than institutional actors.

Pilot Actions

Selection

Two main weaknesses have been identified regarding social and civic capacities of the assessed area:

– A one way relation between local authorities and citizens. Some links exist between city council and people but they are orientated: city council provides information through regulatory tools (DIRCRIM[1], flood marks), some mainstream exhibitions, a specific city walk, some neighbourhood council meetings, which citizen are receiving. There is currently no incitation for the people to become actors.

– Although some people are motivated and some networks working, people do not always feel that they have legitimacy for (or the responsibility to) take actions in flood risk management. Those citizens are not integrated in the thinking at the global or regional scale (PAPI, SEQUANA exercise, institutional networks…)

Based on this background, three pilot actions have been prepared to achieve the following objectives:

– To create one or more communities of citizen interested in getting involved in flood risk prevention for the community

– To strengthen the link between the city council (and the institutional actors in general) and the citizens

 

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[1] DICRIM stands for Document d’Information Communale sur les Risques Majeurs (French: Backgrounder Municipal Major Hazards)

Description

This action consisted workshop at on the 25th of February 2017 with 7 inhabitants,

 

The first Pilot Action consisted of a 3 hours’ participatory workshop for inhabitants co-designed with the CEPRI (European Centre for Flood Risk Prevention, a local NGO) and the Vitry municipality taking place in the Maison des Projets in Vitry on February 2017; the second one was an informal meeting with key community members in a local bar in Vitry in June 2017 and the third action consisted of a stand in a festival organised by a local community (Alternatiba Vitry) with the support and participation of the municipality and the Vitry Cultural Centre in October 2017. A brief description of the actions is given below.

 

Brief description of the Pilot Action 1, Participatory workshop: The workshop was held on the 25th February at the Vitry-sur- Seine Maison des Projets. The CEPRI was in charge of the animation of the workshop with some interventions from the Lab’URBA and Vitry sur Seine representatives. Vitry citizens from the Port à l’Anglais and La Ferme districts have been contacted by phone (around 250 persons) to propose them to participate to the workshop, 20 of them declare they will come and 17 they will probably come. Finally, only 7 inhabitants of the flood prone areas of Vitry came; other participants were: 2 representatives of the risk office at the Vitry municipality, two persons from the CEPRI, students on risks and the research group. A complementary survey was carried out to understand the motivation of citizens to participate in the actions.

The workshop was organised in 5 main parts:

– The first one was an activity in small groups. People received a set of around 30 pictures representing various aspects of floods and were asked to select the 3 closer from their flood risk perception and the one which was, according to them the less representative of flood, according to their own opinion. This allow the participants to express their ideas and perceptions on flood risk.

– The second was a presentation of flood risk in Vitry and in the Ile de France area, taking in consideration the ideas expressed in the previous activity.

– The third brought the people to perceive the threat that flood represents in order to raise willingness to act and get involved, by making them work together in small groups to identify the impacts a major flood at different territorial scales.

– Then, there was an open discussion to discuss on how to act at personal level to face flood allows to make the people available and to discuss the way they envisaged to get involved in flood risk management.

– The last part was dedicated to discussion of the actions people wanted to implement and to think about the conditions to implement them.

 

Brief description of the Pilot Action 2, informal meeting with inhabitants: This action was designed after the implementation of the Pilot Action 1. It took into account the results obtained in the first action and is part of the actions aiming to consolidate a close relationship with the citizens/inhabitants to engage in a long-term collective learning process.

This action used the citizens’ capacities built in the Pilot Action 1. (knowledge on risk, motivation to work together on risk preparedness, motivation dynamics) to consolidate a collaborative relationship with motivated individuals and associations.

The Pilot Action 2 took place on the 14th June 2017 at the Terrasse bar in Vitry, there were 4 highly motivated inhabitants with whom we have been working before, 2 of them from the association Port-à-l’Anglais, who participated in a 2 hours open discussion with the research group to understand better the citizens’ point of view, their difficulties to involve in FRM, and ideas to involve the local communities in flood risk preparedness.

 

Brief description of the Pilot Action 3, stand in a local festival called Alternatiba Vitry: This action was designed after the research group was invited to participate in the festival by a member of the Vitry Cultural Centre (municipality) after an interview we held with him to understand how can we get in touch with a larger public in Vitry as there were some challenges motivating people to participate. The festival was organised around alternatives to change and improve the world we live in, which includes themes as water, food, energy, communities, etc. The main hypothesis of the action was that flood risk could find a larger public among the local communities by linking to a wider topic to which the public feel concerned through a more festive, playful communication strategy and attractive environment.

The objective of the Pilot Action 3 is to:-  Participate in a local initiative to reach a larger number of people living in Vitry or the metropolitan area and – get in touch with the local associations, their representatives and other partners such as the Vitry Cultural Centre to work together in the organisation of the event to consolidate the local network on risk preparedness.