Budapest Sun
A rising disaster

By Eszter Balázs

Apr. 13, 2000

The Government has declared a state of emergency in the areas around the River Tisza and its flood plains. By last Sunday (April 9) water levels at Tokaj had reached their highest in 112 years.

This flood will be long, difficult and expensive: The daily costs of protection are expected to reach Ft100 million ($370,000). These figures had been put together by the contribution of all the ministries.

The flood situation was at its worst around Tokaj in the upper half of the river, but the flood continued to move eastwards to the middle Tisza region, an area between Szolnok and Csonrád. On Monday, people had been evacuated from several riverside hotels and students had to flee from their dormitory at Tokaj.

"The flooding smaller rivers which run into the Tisza bring huge amounts of water from Romania, which encounter the high water level arriving from the north.

"By the middle of April, this will result in an enormous and extensive flood in the middle Tisza area," said Kálmán Katona, Minister of Transport, Communication and Water Management.

"It is very difficult to see where the water can be released to from the riverbed as exterior water levels have remained high, and water reservoirs are scarce," Katona told the The Budapest Sun.

The Head of the Department of Water Damage at the ministry, József Váradi, estimated the worst days were on Tuesday and Wednesday at Tokaj.

He anticipated the retreat of the rivers in May. The fight against the flood is made more difficult by the fact that this has been the third in a row since 1998.

A World Bank funded study, made by the Halcrow Group Ltd, estimated the costs of a complete re-development project to be around Ft170 billion ($632 million).

The Hungarian Government has planned a Ft20 billion ($74 million) investment over 10 years.

"I consider the Ft170 billion figure to be extreme," said Katona, adding that, "Statistically floods like this happen once in 50 years. Therefore no Government would have been any more prepared to handle such an unlucky series of events."

Contrary to the Halcrow study which dealt with the construction of dykes only, Katona envisions a solution using various alternatives.

"We cannot build 17 meter high dykes all along a river to have full protection," he commented.

The Government can announce a state of emergency if the lives and property of a large number of citizens are endangered.

After the announcement the army, borderguard and law enforcement organizations were activated to participate in the rescue and protection tasks.

Original article