RIVES: natural risks know no frontiers

There are no frontiers for natural risks. This fact was the starting point of a cooperation program between France and Italy. Its name is RIVES and its purpose is protection of regions against natural risks. "This operation, carried out within the framework of a European Interreg IIIA project covers four geographic areas in the South of France and the North of Italy", says Daniela Belziti from the CSTB Sustainable Development Delegation. The regions are the Alpes-Maritimes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence Departments in France, and the two transalpine provinces of Cuneo and Imperia. All are characterized by the same vulnerability to natural risks in mountainous areas, low potential of extension of zones for urban development, and strong exposure of strip infrastructures to problems.

The RIVES project was launched at the end of 2004 and it associates several partners (see inset). There have been many discussions with bodies such as the Ministry of Ecology, Planning and Sustainable Development, the Eco Mayors’ association and DDEs (Departmental Development Authorities). Players responsible for the management of regional risks have been strongly involved in this project, including particularly in France the Alpes de Haute Provence Prefecture, mayors, the SDIS (Departmental First Aid and Fire Department) and civil protection associations, and in Italy the Cuneo prefecture, the Piemont Region, mayors and civil protection associations.

RIVES, for which the conclusion meeting was programmed for January 24 2008, concentrated particularly on the management of crisis situations in a mountainous cross-frontier region, pooling of analysis methods and organizations, and optimization of civil protection means. To satisfy the objectives of the program, partners carried out joint research work on four particular points to get a global understanding of the cross-frontier zone including the characterization of risks in the defined region, the regulatory framework (risk prevention plans, emergency plans, etc.) existing in each country, the players involved and a crisis simulation (landslide) in Haute Ubaye, France. "This exercise, controlled by the BRGM (Bureau for Geological and Mining Research) for France supporting the Alpes de Haute Provence Prefecture and involving 200 French and Italian persons, involved the isolation of two French villages, bringing in means from the Italian side, explains Daniela Belziti. This provided a means of testing knowledge and means to be deployed for management of a cross-frontier event; setting up a mutual assistance protocol, knowledge of players, test of national and trans-national communication means, and analysis of physical crisis management means such as maps."

Sustainable development and natural risks
CSTB and the French Town Planning Institute extended the study on control of natural risks to cover the more global level of regional management and town planning. It has the expertise necessary for the study that it carried out to determine how to reconcile risk prevention and regional development in local communities (local town planning (PLU)), while integrating the concept of sustainable development. In doing this, the team produced a compilation of legislative and regulatory texts in force, to determine the risk prevention stakes in regional planning. Secondly, it examined how laws were applied in the field and therefore the reality of the procedures adopted before issuing specific recommendations to get a better understanding of risks.

"The study carried out on a few communes across France enabled us to characterize situations faced with risk management, making use of a number of criteria including risk identification, identification of sustainable development stakes, and planning, decision making and management capabilities - that we discussed with our Italian partners, says Daniela Belziti. We were then able to identify three approaches faced with integration of risk prevention into the PLU, namely "deliberate and ambitious", "legalistic and minimalist", "simplification and circumvention". We started from this collected information, and made generic recommendations to integrate risks in French town planning and we suggested a control tool for France and Italy. This tool will determine how risks are taken into consideration and their influence on sustainable development in the municipality concerned."

As a result of this work carried out by CSTB and the IFU, the municipalities faced with management of a natural risk will be able to find critical elements to study the best approach to be adopted to achieve their sustainable regional management objectives. This is the double advantage of RIVES: reaction in an emergency situation and action for the long term. While it demonstrates needs for specifically managing crisis situations, it also provides municipalities with means of reconciling sustainable development (social, society and economic) and control of natural risks.