Changing role of municipalities under extreme weather conditions /With a special focus on flood in 2013 in Hungary




Hungary?s was hit by disasters many times in her history and based on the related experiences we can confirm that among them the floods are happening most frequently. Of course these events led to heavy losses in lives and goods. Based on the data recorded in 1980-2010 we have the following (circa) details in human and economic losses:

Number of events: 25
Number of people killed: 716
Average killed per year: 23
Number of people affected: 182,318
Average affected per year: 5,881
Economic Damage (US$ X 1,000): 1,792,947
Economic Damage per year (US$ X 1,000): 57,837
  1. graph: Data related to human and economic losses from

disasters that have occurred between 1980 and 2010.

(Source:, date of download: 24 May 2014)

If we take a look on the following graph we can confirm that the probability of occurrence is the highest in the cases of floods:

  1. graph: Natural Disaster Occurrence Reported in 1890-2100

(Source:, date of download: 24 May 2014)



We need to add however, that beyond on natural disasters there is a chance also for the so called ?eco-disasters? and among them the most devastating happened in autumn of 2010, in the region of Devecser: the red mud (sludge) disaster. Elisabeth Rosenthal ? as a person dispatched to the event site ? gives for us a living description about this event: ??all changed around lunchtime on Oct. 4, when a corner of the sludge reservoir gave way after weeks of heavy rains, letting loose a tidal wave of thick red sludge that oozed its way over garden fences, onto front porches and into middle-class living rooms in Kolontar and Devecser, where lunches sat waiting on tables. Ten people were killed by the muck ? most from drowning ? and more than 100 had chemical burns from the highly alkaline mud that were serious enough to require hospitalization?.[1]

Almost three years later, in late May-early June of 2013, Hungary faced an extraordinary level of flood on Danube as a result of severe weather in Central Europe. The well-known news provider, Reuters, gave the following report on 10th June, 2013: ?The Hungarian capital escaped damage from the swollen river Danube, which peaked at record high levels in Budapest overnight and started receding slowly on Monday morning, the city’s mayor said on Monday. Floods have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes over the past week in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. At least a dozen people have died because of the deluge?.[2]

Based on the above mentioned events we can assume that for solving these huge threats and challenges there was an imperative need for effectively coordinated efforts among state agencies and local governments, municipalities.

This article seeks to show and explain some related features became valid for municipalities after these disasters (of course focusing on naturals due of larger chance of occurrence), especially from the view of the method ?lessons learned??


Some elements of cooperation among state agencies and municipalities


In the case of red mud catastrophe we saw that the importance of effective coordination and mutual assistance was extremely important in order to handle effectively the situation and to give accurate and adequate help for the suffering people. Elisabeth Rosenthal gave the following details: ?The Hungarian government reacted swiftly to the disaster, deploying soldiers, firefighters, police, rescue workers, and scientists. They took samples of the mud to evaluate its chemical content, since sludge from bauxite processing can sometimes contain heavy metals and traces of radioactivity as well. They poured acid into the sludge-clogged local rivers ? where all life perished immediately ? to neutralize the alkaline spill and to prevent its caustic material from reaching the downstream Danube. With shovels and backhoes, teams of workers began removing the veil of sludge from Kolontar, hosing down homes, yards, streets ? and even goo-covered animals. The prime minister initiated a criminal investigation, and police briefly imprisoned the reservoir?s owner, although he was later released for lack of evidence.?[3]

As a result of the red mud disaster many changes were introduced and initiated into the Hungarian Disaster Management Act, which were renewing the earlier existed roles and responsibilities of state agencies and of municipalities as well. One the most important element of this act was the creation of the National Directorate General for Disaster Management, Ministry of the Interior (NDGDM): ?Its basic functions are protecting the lives and the property of the population living in Hungary and insuring the safe operation of the national economy and protecting the elements of the critical infrastructure. It is a highly important public safety task; therefore NDGDM is a law enforcement body with a national competence. Its main mission is preventing disasters as an authority; carrying out rescue operations in civil emergencies; organizing and controlling protection activities; eliminating the negative consequences of emergencies and performing reconstruction and rehabilitation?.[4]

As we can see based on the above mentioned description, the national level control and coordination was fixed by this law by the years of 2010-2011.

In 2013, short after the earlier mentioned ?historical? flood happened the experts of disaster management and hydrology stated on a conference, that ?based on the fact that in the history of irregular floods we measured extraordinary high level and they are happening in much shorter period we can assume, that the traditional tools in flood protection aren?t enough anymore?.[5]

Let us a take a short look now, what was needed to protect people and goods, especially in the case of Hungarian capitol, Budapest:

  • hundreds of thousands of sandbags along the Danube;
  • hundreds of vehicles (including privately owned as well);
  • there were days when 20,000 people have had to work on the most dangerous river sections;
  • some 1,300 people from 34 towns and villages have been forced to leave their homes in Hungary and 44 roads have been closed due to the floods;
  • the Hungarian Parliament stated the extreme danger situation allowed by the Basic Law (Constitution).

In order to handle effectively these shocking events there was an urgent need for effective cooperation among state, public, business and local stakeholders.


What happened exactly in 2013?


Basically, we can state that professionals are calling the 2013 flood ?historical? because it meant horizontally and vertically and extreme high level of challenge not just for Hungary both for the whole Central European region.

The starting time period was in 30 May-03 June 2013, when on the upper (in Bayern and in Austria) section of Danube territories faced much more rain than average. As a result a lot of water arrived to the related smaller and bigger rivers, which raised the level of them quickly.

The formulation of this special weather situation is shown by an Austrian hydrology report through different satellite footages[6]:


Situation on 29 May 2013                                              Situation on 31 May 2013


Situation on 02 June 2013                                             Situation on 04 June 2013

As we can see above, this weather phenomenon moved to the South in a short time period and brought a lot of rain with it. In Hungary the following highest water levels (HWL) were measured in the upcoming days:

Municipalities hit by flood in 2013 New HWL [cm] Old HWL[cm] Year of Old HWL
Nagybajcs 907 872 2002
Komárom 845 802 2002
Esztergom 813 771 2002
Nagymaros 751 714 2006
Budapest (highest level on 09 June 2013) 891 860 2006
Dunaújváros 755 742 1965
Dunaföldvár 721 703 1965
Paks 891 872 1965
Dombori 916 894 1965
Baja 989 976 1965
Mohács 964 984 1965
  1. graph: The highest water level on Danube trough the flood in 2013

(Source: Homokiné Ujváry Katalin: Történelmi árvíz a Dunán – 2013. június, in:, date of download: 20 July 2014)


Based on the list we can confirm that older ? sometimes decades long ? HWL was overthrown on each measuring spots (expect of the city of Mohács).


Some elements and procedures of flood protection


In the following we can take a look on some procedures and elements of flood protection (due of limits of this paper and of the complex manner of these activities the list isn?t full):

  • keeping connections with other countries related agencies and professional organizations (for example: with the Bayern, Austrian, Slovakian and lather on with the Serbian authorities);
  • statement of I. , II., III level of extraordinary protection needs (orders) and executing related activities;[7]
  • continuous and coordinated efforts of the National Engineering Direction Committee[8];
  • documentation of the flood, including data recording and storage for further needs of protection development;
  • coordinated subordinate organizations of of the National Directorate General for Disaster Management, Ministry of the Interior (NDGDM);
  • activities conducted by Ministry of Interior and by Ministry of Defense;
  • wide involvement of municipalities on protection activities;
  • rehabilitation works.


Basic elements of disaster management activities: level of municipalities


Of course, the municipalities have had to do many things on the above mentioned fields, which arose not just from their geographical location but from legal aspects as well. These can be described via the hierarchy of legal sources, starting by the Basic Law (Constitution) and going to the lowest level of special regulation, unique rules.

It is important to take a short overview over these sources:

  1. CXXVIII/2011 Law of Disaster Management, which describes all of the participating partners and their affiliation to each other.[9]
  2. By defining the meaning of ?disaster? it was also stated that the effective protection and handling activities are requiring ?continuous and strictly coordinated cooperation?.[10]
  3. In the case of disasters the local tasks have to be fulfilled by the ?local defense (protection) committees?, its president has to act together with the ongoing major in a naturally joint way.[11]
  4. The further tasks of municipalities includes furthermore: general signaling activities; some tasks of local firefighters; special rules implemented in crisis situations; preparation and (re)imbursement of related costs.

At this point we need to add however, that the above mentioned issues aren?t full because of the fact that disaster management (including flood protection) is a very complex task and procedure system. Its core elements are: effective preparation, successful protection and correct analyze of earned experience.

The existing disaster management system in Hungary is a result of last year?s disasters, with a special scope on red mud hit in 2010 and on the extraordinary flood of 2013.


Experiences gained from flood 2013


After gathering and evaluating all of the data sets and related activities disaster management and hydrology experts stated, that in protection activities ?the traditional methods played as important roles as modern (new) ones?.[12] Of course it means that ?old school? solutions were mixed with ?new school? elements, in which new measuring tools, new processes and new data elements are included.

On 30 May 2014, there was a conference organized in Baja focusing on ?Flood danger in Hungary 2014?. [13] The participants, including professionals and members of municipalities made some very important remarks, such as:

  • based on the measured data there is a new phenomenon that the body of water didn?t raise, however the earlier highest levels were overthrown three times in the last decade (for example in 2002, 2006, 2013 in the case of Budapest);[14]
  • in order to avoid similar problems in the future it is needed to rethink the existing regulation and institutions related to handling of large rivers (especially their bed);
  • based on the experiences and after careful legal and technical planning it will be possible to conduct an effective protection using temporary flood protection elements;[15]
  • it is very important to fulfill the tasks set up by the European Parliament in the resolution no. 2007/60/EC;
  • it is needed to re-measure the earlier diagnosed highest level water ratios, which process was conducted in a joint academic and business sector program;
  • by handling the challenges effectively it was a safe, secure and moreover natural environment provided for those who are living, working or running business on the related fields.[16]

Of course, the above mentioned fields are directly related to different municipality activities: many of them wouldn?t be reached without their help and support!

At this point it is important to take a look on the local experiences gained by municipality leaders, by local inhabitants or by business owners, however is impossible to give a full list of all of the remarks, suggestions and thoughts given by the above mentioned actors. That is why the author was choosing the methodology ? based on internet resources – to provide some general description from the view of the related municipality activities:

  • it is very important to handle correctly the different aid bringing organizations but not just in the urgent protection activities but later on as well (special focus is needed to );
  • the compensation issues are significant after flood situations, particularly in terms of the resources provided by the municipalities;
  • community based emphasis should be placed on vision and opinion disagreements regarding to flood protection activities and it is need to handle them in a professional and proper way;
  • it is very important to organize the local activities in a precise and smooth way;
  • emphasis should be given to the local residents for being aware of the fact that in whose hands are the leadership and management concentrated (with other terms, who is the local boss);
  • let?s avoid the hyper proliferative and too many “ad hoc” solutions;
  • it is essential the accurate and fast, but easy to understand flow of information and communication, in which is particularly important to avoid issuing erroneous data or instructions, if that is the case, prompt correction is needed;
  • put an emphasize on the importance of local logistics;
  • let?s strive for potential social media solutions (fex.: Facebook groups, Google Maps), but avoid hyper flow of them;



  1. map: Google maps page of flood 2013

(Source: Google maps, in:, date of download: 2014. július 20.)



  • it is important to channel the local level offerings into some processes of the protection activities;
  • attention should be paid to keeping a balanced relationship with professional organizations and also to effective interpretation and fruitful enforcement of their requests and tasks;
  • special attention is required for cooperation with the local and national (and if applicable, international) press;
  • significant power and energy is needed to handle the presence of the so-called ‘disaster (catastrophe) tourists’, especially when they interfere with the protective activities;
  • there is a balance needed among protection and environmental defense view differences;
  • trust is important in professional organizations, their acknowledgements and feedbacks provided for them is a must to do;
  • it is essential to be prepared for the future, time and energy should be spent finding more effective solutions and, where applicable, for preparation of their application;
  • attention should be paid for different possibilities in the potential time reserve before the flood or before peak;
  • decisions made for wildlife protection are playing also crucial role;
  • we need to be careful of the critical infrastructure elements potentially hit by flood;
  • in order to build an effective disaster management system, the problems and asking of the protection teams need to be handled in a careful way, if it is possible via special dedicated person or team.

The above mentioned list isn?t full, because there are many additional aspects as well, which are combined with some local specialties.




Based on this this short overview it is visible, that the flood in 2013 ? as an example for extreme weather condition ? occurred a complex flood protection challenge for Hungary. In order to handle it was needed nationwide cooperation. In these tasks the municipalities are playing very important role, in which the legal framework is as important as the locally well known, experience based or new, innovative solutions.

The flood protection is a long procedure, which means that it is not enough to handle it as a priority just in crisis situations (more attention is needed in ?peace? time).

Due of the complex manner of related challenges the municipalities have to give complex answers too: it is needed to have engineering and social scope or basic knowledge related to many fields and creditable skills and abilities for effective implication procedures.






  1. Ár- és belvíz, valamint villámárvíz kockázat értékelése hazánkban, in:, date of download: 2014. június 10.; (Flood, inner and quick flood analyse in Hungary)
  2. DIE HYDROGRAFISCHE ANALYSE DES HOCHWASSERS IM JUNI 2013, in:, date of download: 2014. június 08.
  3. Árvíz 2013 – a vártnál is magasabban tetőzhet a Duna Budapestnél, in:, date of download: 2014. június 12.; (Flood 2013 ? the Danube peak level could be higher as it is expected)
  4., date of download: 2014. június 12.
  5., date of download: 2014. június 15.
  6. évi CXXVIII. törvény a katasztrófavédelemről és a hozzá kapcsolódó egyes törvények módosításáról, in:, a letöltés dátuma: 2014. június 15.; (2011/CXXVIII Act on disaster management)
  7. Péter Bakonyi: A 2013-as dunai árvíz jellemzése, in:, date of download: 2014. június 13.; (Characteristics of flood 2013)
  8. ?Árvízi veszélyeztetettség Magyarországon 2014?, a 2014. május 30-án Baján megrendezett ?Árvízi veszélyeztetettség Magyarországon 2014? elnevezésű konferencia beszámolója, in:, date of download: 2014. június 10.; (Conference held in Baja on 30 May 2014, with the title ?Flood risks in Hungary in 2014?)
  9. Webpages of municipalities, blogs, news informations provided by Google

[1] Elisabeth Rosenthal: Hungary?s Red Sludge Spill: The Media and the Eco-Disaster, in:, date of download: 25 May 2014

[2] Budapest escapes floods, Danube starts to recede, reported by Krisztina Than, edited by Gareth Jones, in:, date of download: 25 May 2014

[3] Elisabeth Rosenthal: Hungary?s Red Sludge Spill: The Media and the Eco-Disaster, in:, date of download: 25 May 2014

[4] In:, date of download: 25 May 2014

[5] ?Árvízi veszélyeztetettség Magyarországon 2014?, a 2014. május 30-án Baján megrendezett ?Árvízi veszélyeztetettség Magyarországon 2014? elnevezésű konferencia beszámolója, in:, date of download: 10 June 2014

[6] Source: DIE HYDROGRAFISCHE ANALYSE DES HOCHWASSERS IM JUNI 2013, in:, date of download: 08 June 2014, p.05.

[7] Árvíz 2013 – a vártnál is magasabban tetőzhet a Duna Budapestnél, in:, a letöltés dátuma: 2014. június 12.

[8] Az Országos Műszaki Irányító Törzs (OMIT) az Országos Vízügyi Főigazgatóság (OVF) védelmi szerve, amely akkor kezdi meg munkáját, ha több vízügyi igazgatóság egyidejű védekezése esetén szükségessé válik az országos koordináció, a hatékonyabb eszköz és létszám átcsoportosítás, információáramlás. Forrás:, a letöltés dátuma: 2014. június 12.

[9] In:, a letöltés dátuma: 2014. június 15.

[10]2011. évi CXXVIII. törvény a katasztrófavédelemről és a hozzá kapcsolódó egyes törvények módosításáról a II. fejezet, 8, 9, 10, 11-es pontjai, in:, a letöltés dátuma: 2014. június 15.

[11] Uo.

[12] Bakonyi Péter: A 2013-as dunai árvíz jellemzése, in:, a letöltés dátuma: 2014. június 13.

[13] ?Árvízi veszélyeztetettség Magyarországon 2014?, a 2014. május 30-án Baján megrendezett ?Árvízi veszélyeztetettség Magyarországon 2014? elnevezésű konferencia beszámolója, in:, a letöltés dátuma: 2014. június 10.

[14] Uo.

[15] Uo.

[16] Uo.