Articles | Volume 4, issue 1
09 Mar 2004
09 Mar 2004

Estimation uncertainty of direct monetary flood damage to buildings

B. Merz, H. Kreibich, A. Thieken, and R. Schmidtke

Abstract. Traditional flood design methods are increasingly supplemented or replaced by risk-oriented methods which are based on comprehensive risk analyses. Besides meteorological, hydrological and hydraulic investigations such analyses require the estimation of flood impacts. Flood impact assessments mainly focus on direct economic losses using damage functions which relate property damage to damage-causing factors. Although the flood damage of a building is influenced by many factors, usually only inundation depth and building use are considered as damage-causing factors. In this paper a data set of approximately 4000 damage records is analysed. Each record represents the direct monetary damage to an inundated building. The data set covers nine flood events in Germany from 1978 to 1994. It is shown that the damage data follow a Lognormal distribution with a large variability, even when stratified according to the building use and to water depth categories. Absolute depth-damage functions which relate the total damage to the water depth are not very helpful in explaining the variability of the damage data, because damage is determined by various parameters besides the water depth. Because of this limitation it has to be expected that flood damage assessments are associated with large uncertainties. It is shown that the uncertainty of damage estimates depends on the number of flooded buildings and on the distribution of building use within the flooded area. The results are exemplified by a damage assessment for a rural area in southwest Germany, for which damage estimates and uncertainty bounds are quantified for a 100-year flood event. The estimates are compared to reported flood damages of a severe flood in 1993. Given the enormous uncertainty of flood damage estimates the refinement of flood damage data collection and modelling are major issues for further empirical and methodological improvements.