Damage costs caused by the devastating floods we have witness across the Westcountry this winter are expected to rise five-fold in Europe by 2050, say scientists.
Climate change and the construction of more buildings and infrastructure are both said to contribute to the trend.
Over the next 36 years, the average frequency of catastrophic European floods is predicted to rise from one event every 16 years to one a decade.
But the worsening financial impact is likely to be proportionately far greater, largely due to economic development, according to new research.
With more buildings, roads and railways susceptible to flood damage, the economic cost of flooding in the European Union is forecast to rise from £4 billion a year to almost £20 billion.
Scientists arrived at the figure after conducting an analysis that combined models of climate change and socio-economic development.
They looked at the risks associated with floods on the scale of the deluge that swamped central Europe last summer.
Heavy rain swept across the continent causing tributaries of major rivers such as the Elbe and Danube to burst their banks.
More than 100 deaths were attributed to the floods and many thousands of people forced to leave their homes.
Large parts of southern England suffered a similar experience this year after the wettest winter on record.
The scientists found that socio-economic growth accounted for about two thirds of the increased loss risk, and altered rainfall patterns due to climate change one third.
Dr Brenden Jongman, from the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam, who co-ordinated the research reported in the journal Nature Climate Change, said: “In this study we brought together expertise from the fields of hydrology, economics, mathematics and climate change adaptation, allowing us for the first time to comprehensively assess continental flood risk and compare the different adaptation options.”
The scientists said risk-assessments should take account of the widespread cross-border effects of flooding rather than looking at each river basin separately.
Co-author Reinhard Mechler, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Brussels, said: “There is scope for better managing flood risk through risk prevention, such as using moveable flood walls, risk financing and enhanced solidarity between countries.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the risk management measures have very different efficiency, equity and acceptability implications. These need to be assessed and considered in broader consultation, for which the analysis provides a comprehensive basis.”