Increase in urbanisation leads to flash flooding

Urbanisation is a worldwide phenomenon, which makes it imperative for both national and local governments to fully invest in disaster risk reduction to enable a more efficient adaptation to climate variability and to be fully prepared for the consequences. A recent report by The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) stated that last year the world witnessed record rainfall and Manila, Philippines was amongst the worst affected with at least 50 per cent of Metro Manila flooded in August 2012.

The Making Cities Resilient Campaign led by UNISDR has helped to raise the profile of resilience and disaster risk reduction among local governments and local communities worldwide. So far to date, 1050 cities have signed up to the initiative but, surprisingly, none are from the UK. This raises the question of why we are not involved with such initiatives. Is acting introspectively really the best course of action for us?

Image courtesy of BBC Weather

The article underlines the concern that flood costs are rising with many insurance companies increasing their premiums as a result. The recent flooding in Japan and China, which caused more than 150 deaths in less than one month, has already cost more than £1billion. Over the past 18 months alone, destructive floods have occurred in Pakistan, Australia, Brazil, Japan, The Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United States. In addition to the city floods, here in the UK we have seen the impact of flood devastation across many parts of England and Wales including Somerset and Devon along with large parts of the North East and North Wales. We are clearly seeing that the combination of urban sprawl and the change in our climate is having major disastrous consequences.

In the report Margareta Wahlström, who heads the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) is quoted as saying, “As the urban sprawl of rapid urbanisation expands outwards and upwards, it provides ready opportunities for hazards such as floods, storms and earthquakes to wreak havoc. Half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and that figure is estimated to rise 70% by 2050.” This forecasted rise will mean a figure of over six billion people living in our cities by 2050, exasperating the risk of flooding during heavy rainfall events if we do not adapt how we develop these areas.

The combined evidence should be more than enough to urge governments and communities alike to develop and implement new systems to protect populations from floods. In the UK much has been done towards delivering our own approach with Sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS). Such schemes can make a great contribution to reducing the risks of urban flooding and their need has been well documented in The Flood and Water Management Act 2010. The long overdue implementation of these regulations will go some way in ensuring the government’s commitment to rebuild infrastructure and control flooding – but we need to make sure we do this properly if we want a truly sustainable system to protect us from flooding in the future.


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