Category: flooding

Managed retreat: Moving 1 million US homes out of flood zone could save $1 trillion dollars

Managed retreat: Moving 1 million US homes out of flood zone could save $1 trillion dollars

By Will Bugler

A US-government study has found that the country could save $1 trillion dollars by removing around a million homes from flood-prone areas. The report indicates that government schemes to buy and demolish homes at high risk of repeated flooding, moving residents to higher ground, should be expanded. The report notes that climate change will drive flood risk to real estate even higher in the coming decades and warns that without action financial losses will climb substantially.

The report says that buyout programmes are essential to minimise exposure to flood risk. However, existing schemes operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are hampered due to funding shortages and the reluctance of homeowners to move.

“Flooding is the country’s biggest risk, and we just have all of these homes in the floodplain that keep getting repetitive losses,” said Keith Porter, one of the study’s authors and a structural engineering researcher at the University of Colorado. “We never should have been building in the floodplain in the first place. It’s time to solve that problem.”

According to the report, while a nationwide buyout programme would cost around $180 billion, it could save around nine times that amount – $1.6 trillion – over a 100-year period. Savings would accrue thanks to reduced costs to public disaster programmes and avoiding property damage reducing pay-outs through federally subsidised flood insurance schemes.

The report found that moving properties out of the flood zone through a buyout scheme was by far the most cost-effective way to reduce risk, saving $6.50 for every $1 spent. Other flood related protection measures such as levees and home adaptations still represented value, but were much more costly, saving $2 for every $1 spent.

The findings are important, as federal agencies consider the best course of action to reduce climate risks, faced with mounting costs from properties that are flooded repeatedly. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program ensures that homeowners that would otherwise be refused flood insurance can continue to insure their properties. However, “repetitive-loss properties” (those that flood repeatedly, year after year) are becoming increasingly burdensome to the programme. The government has resisted cutting funding for the flood insurance programme, as that would increase premium pay-outs considerably, or leave homes uninsurable.

A copy of the report can be found here.

Cover photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash
US coasts face far more frequent severe floods

US coasts face far more frequent severe floods

By Tim Radford

A new study of high-water levels on US coasts in 200 regions brings ominous news for those who live in vulnerable towns and cities.

By 2050, floods expected perhaps once every 50 years will happen almost every year in nearly three fourths of all the coasts under study.

And by 2100, the kind of extreme high tides that now happen once in a lifetime could wash over the streets and gardens of 93% of these communities, almost every day.

The message, from researchers led by the US Geological Survey, is that sea levels will go on rising steadily by millimetres every year, but the number of extreme flooding events could double every five years.

Researchers outline their argument in the journal Scientific Reports. They looked at the data routinely collected from 202 tide gauges distributed around the US coasts and then extended the tidal levels forward in time in line with predictions based on global sea level rise that will inevitably accompany ever-increasing global average temperatures, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use.

“The impact of this finding bears repeating: sea level rise will likely cause ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ coastal flooding events to occur nearly every day before 2100”

Other scientists have warned that the damage from coastal flooding, storm surges and marine invasion will rise to colossal levels by the century’s end, that routine high-tide floods will become increasingly common, and that up to 13 million US citizens now in coastal settlements could become climate refugees.

But researchers based in Chicago, Santa Cruz and Hawaii wanted more than that: they wanted to know what sea level rise will do, as the waters lap ever higher, from year to year.

“Sea level rise is slow, yet consequential and accelerating,” they point out. “Upper end sea level rise scenarios could displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of the 21st century. However, even small amounts of sea level rise can disproportionately increase coastal flood frequency.”

The researchers selected 202 sites, most of them in sheltered harbours or bays, for their tide data: that way their record reflected the highest tides and storm surges, but not the haphazard readings of waves.

They concentrated on what they called “extreme water-level events” of the kind that happened once every 50 years, because most US coastal engineering work is based on that kind of hazard frequency. And then they started doing the calculations.

Exponential hazard growth

For nine out of 10 locations, the difference between the kind of flood that happened every 50 years and the sort that occurred maybe once a year was about half a metre. For 73% of their chosen tide gauges, the difference between the daily highest tide and the once-every-50-years event was less than a metre. Most projections for sea level rise worldwide by the end of the century are higher than a metre.

Once the researchers had set their algorithms to work, they found that even in median sea-level rise scenarios, the hazards grew exponentially. They found that all tidal stations would by 2050 be recording what remain for the moment 50-year events, every year. When they set the timetable to 2100, 93% of their locations would be recording a once-in-50-years flood every day.

“The impact of this finding bears repeating: sea level rise will likely cause ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ coastal flooding events to occur nearly every day before 2100,” they warn.

This would have profound consequences for what they call extreme events. And even in ordinary circumstances, beaches are increasingly likely to be washed away, and cliffs eroded.

The researchers conclude: “Our society has yet to fully comprehend the imminence of the projected regime shifts in coastal hazards and the consequences thereof.”

This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover image: October 2012: Hurricane Sandy visits Manhattan. Image: By Beth Carey, via Wikimedia Commons
Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

By Risa Palm and Toby W. Bolsen

Advertisers understand that providing consumers with the facts will not sell products. To get people to stop and pay attention, successful advertising delivers information simply and with an emotional hook so that consumers notice and, hopefully, make a purchase.

Climate communication scientists use these same principles of messaging—visual, local, and dramatic—to provide facts that will get the public’s attention. Such messaging is intended to help people understand risk as it relates to them, and perhaps change their behavior as a result.

As social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communication strategies, we became curious about a particular message we found online. Some houses advertised for sale in South Florida were accompanied by banner ads with messages such as “Flooding hurts home value. Know more before you buy. Find out for free now.” The ads were sponsored by the First Street Foundation through its website The nonprofit foundation provides detailed aerial photos of present and future flooding as a consequence of rising sea level.

My colleague and I decided to survey residents of coastal South Florida to better understand how information affected their attitudes and opinions. Did these messages developed by a nonprofit organization change the perceptions of coastal residents who live in low-lying areas about the threat of coastal flooding as a result of sea-level rise?

Defining the danger to property by zip code

Many studies of climate change communication and response have been based on national surveys or more local reviews of counties and states susceptible to a range of coastal flooding. We focused our survey on a single region and a population at greatest risk: those who live in zip codes along the South Florida coast where the probability of flooding in local neighborhoods is extremely high.

Maps can be a way to see potential flood risk. [Image: floodiq/courtesy of the author]

With permission of the First Street Foundation to reproduce their maps that represent what flooding in the future might look like, we developed a survey to understand the effectiveness of tailored messages. How would this messaging impact residents’ beliefs about climate change and sea-level rise? We also asked if residents believed their communities and homes were at risk.

We surveyed more than 1,000 residents living in 166 zip codes in South Florida between October and December of 2018. All those surveyed were at risk from either the direct or indirect effects of flooding to their homes, including a decrease in property values, as coastal property is perceived as a less desirable destination.

We sampled residents of seven metropolitan areas, including Tampa-Saint Petersburg-Clearwater, Fort Myers, Key West, Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and Vero Beach. Half the sample received a map of their own city, rendered at a scale so that their city block was visible. The maps illustrated what could happen just 15 years from now at the present rate of sea-level rise if there were a Category 3 hurricane accompanied by storm-surge flooding.

[Photo: Asael Peña/Unsplash]

Does visual information make a difference?

The study was intended to assess how residents might perceive the vulnerability of their property and their communities to severe storms. We asked residents about their political affiliation and their support for policies such as zoning laws, gasoline taxes, and other measures to address climate change.

Surprisingly, we found that those who had viewed the maps were, on average, less likely to say they believed that climate change was taking place than those who had not seen the maps.

Further, those who saw the maps were less likely than those survey respondents who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms. Respondents who classified themselves as Republicans had the strongest negative responses to the maps.

Those who saw the maps were no more likely to believe that climate change exists, that climate change increases the severity of storms, or that sea level is rising and related to climate change. Even more dramatically, exposure to the scientific map did not influence beliefs that their own homes were susceptible to flooding or that sea-level rise would reduce local property values.

Consistent with national surveys, party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea-level rise. However, the majority of homeowners denied that there was a risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.

What does it take to change minds?

We believe that the motivation of our respondents, their underlying beliefs when forming an opinion, is important when reflecting on these survey results. Specifically, people often process information or learn in a way that protects their existing beliefs or their partisan leanings.

In the case of our respondents’ general beliefs about climate change and its connection to sea-level rise, those who belonged to the Republican Party may have dismissed the maps either because they challenged their party’s stance on the issue or because they did not view the information as credible given their prior views. In the case of our respondents’ views about the future effects of sea-level rise on property values, all of the homeowners we surveyed, regardless of their partisanship, may have been motivated by their personal financial interests to reject the notion that sea-level rise would reduce their own property values.

It is important to emphasize that targeted information about climate change may lead to unintended effects. While accurate and easily absorbed information is important, it will take a much more nuanced approach to change the way people understand information. As advertisers well know, it takes more than facts to sell any product.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Epicurrence on Unsplash
The flooding emergency in Northern England is a policy failure not a freak of nature

The flooding emergency in Northern England is a policy failure not a freak of nature

By Will Bugler

Last week the government declared a national emergency as devastating floods affected parts of Northern England. Communities living on the River Don were particularly badly affected. The speed of the river’s response to a period of very intense rainfall seemingly caught authorities off guard. People were forced to evacuate their homes, businesses were forced to close their doors, and one person lost their life. The tragedy of these floods is compounded by the fact that they were both predicted and preventable. Their impacts represent a failure of policy.

Residents living in the flood affected areas have been in this position before. The River Don has burst its banks on several occasions, causing devastating flooding in 2007, then again in 2012

The previous severe floods provided ample warning of the vulnerability of communities to flood risk. This was reinforced by the UK Government’s own Climate Change Risk Assessments in 2012 and 2017. In 2012, Acclimatise led the work for part of the Risk Assessment, the document explicitly warns that “we currently expect a shift towards generally wetter winters, and a greater proportion of precipitation to fall as heavy events.” Flooding was also identified as a top risk for each of the sectors analysed in the report. Five years later in 2017, the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report presented “compelling evidence that climate change may lead to increases in heavy rainfall and significantly increased risks from fluvial and surface flooding”.

Image 1: The Adaptation Sub-Committee’s assessment of the top six areas of inter-related climate change risks for the UK. Source: Committee on Climate Change (2016) UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Synthesis Report,

One of the businesses flooded this year was the Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield. The Centre was featured in a 2007 Acclimatise report on climate risks to commercial property after it was badly flooded that year. The risks that flooding poses are not just foreseeable, they are foreseen and even experienced.

Image 2: An excerpt from Acclimatise’s report Understanding the investment implications of adapting to climate change (2007) which featured the Meadowhall Shopping Centre as a case study.

Data from the UK Met Office shows the amount of rain from extremely wet days has increased by 17%, when comparing 2008-17 records with those from 1961-90. They calculate that an extended period of extreme winter rainfall in the UK is now about seven times more likely because of climate change.

A lack of action

Despite these repeated warnings, government action on flooding has been piecemeal. According to the government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change there were no areas where the government was preparing properly for climate impacts. This is evident from the reduction in staff numbers working in key departments. In 2013 the number of staff working directly on climate adaptation at Defra was counted in dozens, by 2018 only around five remained. Government support for important services including the UK Climate Impacts Programme, the Environment Agency’s Climate Ready programme and the Regional Climate Change Partnerships was also cut, and reporting on adaptation, mandatory in 2011, has since been made voluntary.

This year’s Committee on Climate Change’s progress report on the government’s record on flooding was damning. It found that “vulnerability and exposure to climate change are increasing across a range of priority areas; including terrestrial and freshwater habitats; development in flood risk areas; risks to health from heat and cold; and risks to health from changes in air quality. Urban greenspace, which has a host of benefits for reducing flood and heat risks, continues to decline, from 63% of urban area in 2001 to 55% in 2018. The proportion of impermeable surfacing in towns and cities, which increases flood risk, has risen by 22% since 2001.”

Building flood resilience

As implied by the Committee on Climate Change’s report, dealing with flood risk requires a systemic approach in order to be truly effective. After severe flood events in the UK, there are a lot of calls for measures such as flood walls and levees to be constructed and for rivers to be dredged. Treating the symptoms of flooding in this way is unlikely to be effective in the face of climate change.

In a 2014 report on dredging as an approach for flood management, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) said that “claims that the widespread use of dredging can act as a flood prevention measure are not only unsupported by both science and evidence, they are a cruel offer of false hope to those living in flood prone communities.”

Dredging targets just one small part of the hydrological system (the river), temporarily increases capacity and the speed of flow of the water. This can have serious unintended consequences for towns as flood waters move faster through them.

Only a small proportion of water in a river basin is held in the river itself. An effective flood prevention strategy should take a whole systems approach, implementing measures that slow the flow of water as it moves through the catchment. These might include tree planting in upland areas, more green spaces in cities, more water stores and floodable areas outside of towns, and improved farming practices to prevent runoff.

The floods on the River Don this year were made a lot worse by poor land management in the Peak District and the upland areas in the Pennines. Over the past decades the areas have seen huge amounts of peat cutting, drainage and heather burning. With nothing to stop it the water now runs very quickly from the hills into stream and river channels. Flooding remains one of the most significant climate risks to the UK. Without significant investment in systemic flood resilience building, events like those experienced by the residents living along the River Don will continue.

Cover photo of The River Don, in Attercliffe Sheffield. Photo from Dan Cook Archived on Flickr
From droughts to floods: the cost of climate change for India continues to mount

From droughts to floods: the cost of climate change for India continues to mount

By Devika Singh

India is one of the most climate vulnerable countries on Earth. A land of such diverse topography and microclimates, it is exposed to a wide spectrum of climate risks. The seemingly endless oscillation from extreme heat and drought to extreme rain and floods, has left the country counting the cost of climate change in lost lives, livelihoods and in dollars. In India, economic losses from weather related events have doubled over the last thirty years. In the ten years from 2008 to 2017 the country suffered losses of US$ 45 billion, compared with US$ 20 billion from 1988-1997. In 2017, damages from climate related events globally reached a record high of US$ 330 billion, 55% higher than the year before (US$ 184 billion).

In India, most of the losses come from an increase in flood events and cyclones, which are projected to increase in magnitude and frequency with climate change. India faces high exposure to climate-related disasters, and is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to extreme weather events in the world. Its vulnerability is compounded by high population density, unplanned development and urbanisation, socioeconomic conditions, and environmental degradation.

India’s vulnerability is in part due to its sensitivity to a wide range of climate impacts including droughts, floods, storms, landslides and extreme temperatures. Droughts occur less frequently, but impact the highest number of people in the country, affecting 680 million people between in the 20 years to 2017. Floods, on the other hand, are the most economically damaging climate impact, costing more than all other disaster events combined. Between 1998-2017, 10 of the 14 extreme weather-related disasters to hit the country were floods, causing economic damage of approximately US$ 45 billion, killing over 27,000 people and affecting more than 370 million people.

Southwest monsoon and flooding in India

In 2018, a prolonged southwest monsoon over the state of Kerala resulted in one of the worst floods in 100 years, causing estimated losses of US$ 4.25 billion. Over 800,000 people were displaced and 400 lives lost over a span of 2 weeks. Up to 1% of the state’s GDP is estimated to have been lost, with the service sector, agriculture and industry all witnessing a slow down from the flood impacts.

This year, many states across the country have witnessed severe drought conditions, followed by a delayed monsoon, which made up for by spells of high intensity rainfall resulting in heavy flooding across the country. The delayed onset of the southwest monsoon and disruption caused by the formation of Cyclone Vayu over the Arabian Sea caused a country-wide monsoon deficit of 44%, and exceeding 80% in some districts till 18th June. However, by the first week of July, a number of rainfall deficit districts in the states of Bihar and Assam were hit by multiple spells of high intensity rainfall (greater than 124.4mm), resulting in flash floods.

By the first week of August, the situation was repeated across the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra. Between June and July, multiple regions in the country were affected by over 18 instances of high intensity rainfall. Kodagu district in Karnataka, home to the Cauvery river and a main component of India’s coffee economy transitioned from drought in May, to receiving more than double (920mm) of its average rainfall over a span of 9 days. Many districts in the state of Karnataka received an untimely burst of rainfall, with some crossing 3000% above its normal range in a single day – 8th August. While half the state is reeling under the impact of floods, there are districts which still have a monsoon deficit crossing 40%.

The impact

The floods in Bihar affected 7.2 million people and resulted in the death of over 100 people. Floods across the state have killed over 20 people and affected agriculture, infrastructure and property. The flooding in Kerala has claimed over 120 lives since 8th August, while Maharashtra and Gujarat lost 79 lives. Across the north Indian states of Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand, more than 70 lives have been lost in this year’s flooding. Millions have been evacuated and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Army, Navy and Air Force have been deployed in rescue operations across the country.

Economic impacts

The Centre and State Disaster Relief Funds (NDRF and SDRF) have already issued over US$ 9.6 billion for flood relief across 8 of the affected states, compared to the US$ 7.7 billion released towards post-disaster relief measures between 2015-2017. Financial assistance from the government budget is directed towards relief, while banks and financial institutions also provide relief and rehabilitation support in the form of loans, rescheduling existing loans and sanctioning fresh loans in the face of natural disasters. As a result, loan recovery in the face of natural calamities becomes increasingly difficult, with the Indian banking sector reflecting an increase in agricultural and non-agricultural Non-Performing Assets (NPAs). Between 2012-2017, agricultural NPAs increased by 2.5 times, partly due to crop damage from weather-related events. After the Kashmir floods of 2014, non-agricultural NPAs increased from 8% of total NPAs in 2015 to 14% by 2016.

Apart from the direct loss of life, economic losses in 2019 from impacts on road and other transport infrastructure, water and electricity infrastructure, agriculture, and industries are yet to be estimated. Recognising the importance of building resilience in addition to relief and rehabilitation measures, the Government of India is spearheading the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), proposed at the Hamburg G20 in 2017. The government has pledged US$ 70 million to fund the Coalition which aims to pool resources and best practices for technical and financial assistance in disaster-resilient rebuilding of core infrastructure sectors (transport, energy, construction, telecommunications and water).

Through disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation efforts, India has made significant progress in minimising mortality from natural disasters, while the economic losses from damage to property and infrastructure have been dramatically increasing. The CDRI is an important step towards building resilience and minimising losses from climate-related disasters to local infrastructure and the economy.

Cover photo by Barry Pousman from Wikimedia Commons and republished under Creative Commons 2.0 licensing.
New York’s poor and ethnic minority neighbourhoods to be hit hardest by climate change finds NYC Panel on Climate Change

New York’s poor and ethnic minority neighbourhoods to be hit hardest by climate change finds NYC Panel on Climate Change

By Will Bugler

The New York City Panel on Climate Change (NYCPCC), released last month, its 2019 report on the science of climate change and its implications for New York City. The report finds that climate change is affecting everyday life in New York today, and that climate impacts will continue to increase over the coming decades, hitting the poorest neighbourhoods hardest.

The NYCPCC, which has been helping NYC prepare for climate change since 2008, found that extreme weather events are becoming more pronounced, high temperatures in summer are rising, and heavy downpours are increasing. The report finds that areas with lower incomes and the highest percentages of African American and Hispanic residents are consistently more likely to suffer the impacts of climate change. The panel advises that community engagement is critical for more effective and flexible adaptation efforts in the most at-risk communities.

The report serves as a “further wakeup call on the need to move urgently and take action on climate change” according to New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio. “This [report] shows what New Yorkers learned acutely during Sandy – climate change is real and an existential threat,” he said.

Records show that maximum daily summer temperatures have been rising at rates of 0.5°F per decade at JFK Airport and 0.7°F per decade at LaGuardia Airport since 1970. Sea level recorded at The Battery in lower Manhattan continues to rise at a rate of 0.11 inches per year since 1850. These changes are broadly in line with the climate change projections made by the NPCC in 2015.

The report also emphasises that climate change is already affecting the daily life of NYC residents, especially for those who live in coastal communities where nuisance flooding is becoming more frequent and for those who operate and use the city’s critical infrastructure during heatwaves and heavy downpours. Economic losses from hurricanes and floods have significantly increased in past decades and are likely to increase further in the future from more intense hurricanes and higher sea level rise.

“Recent scientific advances have allowed the NPCC to better detail climate vulnerabilities in the city, such as where nuisance floods might occur more frequently,” says William Solecki, co-chair of the NPCC. “This improved knowledge has, in turn, helped the panel craft new sets of tools and methods, such as a prototype system for tracking these risks and the effectiveness of corresponding climate strategies.”

One of those tools is the Antarctic Rapid Ice Melt Scenario, which the NPCC created to model the effects of melting ice sheets on sea level rise around NYC. The model predicts that under a high-end scenario, monthly tidal flooding will begin to affect many neighbourhoods around Jamaica Bay by the 2050s and other coastal areas throughout the city by the 2080s.

“The NPCC 2019 report tracks increasing risks for the city and region due to climate change,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-chair of the NPCC and senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “This report, the third by the NPCC in ten years, continues to lay the science foundation for development of flexible adaptation pathways for changing climate conditions.”

To help manage the dynamic climate and public policy contexts, the NPCC 2019 report recommends that the city put in place a coordinated indicator and monitoring system to enable the city and its communities to better monitor climate change trends, impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation measures. The report also notes that property insurance can be a catalyst for infrastructure resilience by encouraging investment in adaptation measures prior to a disaster through a reduction in premiums.

Other NPCC recommendations include:

  • continuing broad assessments of climate change across the metropolitan region with federal, state, and regional partners (for example, NOAA’s Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast);
  • using updated methods for the next set of NPCC climate change projections; and
  • hosting a NYC Climate Summit once during every mayoral term.

Photo by Tommaso Ripani on Unsplash

Queensland floods kill half a million drought-stressed cattle

Queensland floods kill half a million drought-stressed cattle

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

After a long-lasting drought, Queensland, Australia, has been hit by extreme rain reaching up to 1.4 metres in some areas – twice the amount that falls in London in a year. What started as a sigh of relief in drought-stricken communities quickly turned into floods that destroyed homes, infrastructure and left an estimated 500,000 cattle dead.

Michael Guerin, CEO of AgForce, a peak organisation representing Queensland’s rural producers, said there was no doubt this was a disaster of unprecedented proportions that will take the industry decades to recover calling it a massive humanitarian crisis. “The speed and intensity of the unfolding tragedy makes it hard to believe that it’s just a week since farmers’ elation at receiving the first decent rains in five years turned to horror at the devastating and unprecedented flood that quickly followed,” he added.

Rachael Anderson, a farmer in western Queensland lost 2,000 cattle, about half of her livestock. The losses have put her business under severe financial stress, not sure how she will be able to make repayments to her bank in six months. She added, “we can’t get loans because we’ve got nothing to borrow against, none of us have got anything left. I’m not going to lie, it will finish some people up, but others will be rebuilding.” In the meantime, the rotting bodies of dead livestock and stagnant floodwaters are creating an unbearable stench, but they are also polluting the creek Anderson’s station was using as water supply to wash clothes and brush teeth.

The crippling livestock losses come after more than five years of debilitating drought. Now, whole rural communities are fighting to survive as farmers are left with nothing but debt. Guerin implored governments to make sure these communities get long-term support to recover from these recent shocks including bringing in specialist well-being professionals.

Scott Morrisson, Australian prime minister, confirmed the federal government would provide an immediate in-kind payment of AUS$1 million to affected shires. As of 11 February, insurers had received over 13,500 claims from Townsville, Queensland, alone; the estimated losses are about AUS$165 million.

After the record-setting blistering temperatures of January 2019, bushfires that tore through 200,000 hectares in Tasmania, these extreme floods are just another frightening signal of what climate change is doing to the continent. As Adam Morton and Ben Smee write in The Guardian, Australia is “no stranger to extreme weather – bushfire, flooding, rains and skin-peeling heat are central to its history and mythology – but the contrasts this southern summer have been particularly stark.”

Cover photo by Commonwealth of Australia (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0): An MRH-90 Taipan helicopter from 5th Aviation Regiment delivers livestock feed to communities near Julia Creek to assist graziers affected by severe flooding.
Heavy rains and blocked drains: Nairobi’s recipe for floods

Heavy rains and blocked drains: Nairobi’s recipe for floods

By Sophie Mbugua, Climate Home News

Dirty flood waters, impassable roads and submerged slums have become the norm every time it rains in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.

In August, the authorities took drastic action, bulldozing around 2,000 buildings in the flood plain, including shopping malls worth millions of dollars. After a lull, they are due to resume demolitions this month, national media reports.

The ongoing October-December rainy season is on track to bring – mercifully – average volumes of water. Yet the city’s flood risk is rising, as climate change brings more extremes of rainfall. Experts tell Climate Home News better waste management, urban planning and warning systems are needed to protect its growing population.

Numerous informal and formal settlements without adequate sewerage and sanitation services edge onto the three Nairobi Rivers: Mathare, Ngong and Nairobi.

At Hazina village, one of 22 villages in south B division along the Ngong, the river chokes with refuse, making the water hardly visible.

“It’s the village’s dumping site,” Anne Keli, a 46-year-old mother of 12 tells Climate Home News. She has lived in the village for two decades and says flooding has been particularly bad in the past two years.

“The water reaches the village at a high force compared to previous years but gets stuck due to the plastics, paper bags and assorted waste in the river, blocking its flow,” Keli says. “Since we are on a lower area, the run-off from higher areas headed to the river has no place to go as the river is full. So, where else does it go? Into our houses.”

During the long rains in April, Keli’s family left their flooded home and camped in the county commissioner’s grounds. She lost around 30,000 Kenyan shillings ($290) worth of goods from the shop she runs less than a kilometre from the river.

The provincial administration made some efforts to clean the river during the flooding, but as soon as the rainy season ended it clogged up again, Keli says. “People keep building close to the river, reducing its size by day. People are asked to remove the structures with every flood but after the rains, everything moves back to normal.”

Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) has installed more than 72 monitoring stations across the country in a bid to provide more timely and precise information.

Brian Chunguli, a county disaster management official, says a UK-funded programme will allow them to monitor live flooding levels from satellites and alert residents as waters rise.

“We hope to respond before flooding happens, and collected data will inform the disaster policy and interventions as we will compare long term data showing at what rainfall levels has certain areas flooded,” explains Chunguli.

Long-term projections of East African rainfall vary, with most climate models predicting heavier inundations as temperatures rise.

Mary Kilavi, the Nairobi County director of meteorological services, is mapping the areas likely to flood in Nairobi given a specific amount of rainfall. South B and South C on the Ngong river are hotspots, along with Mathare by the Nairobi river.

“We are using a model that simulates surface water flooding using previous city flooding data corrected over time,” she explains. “We want to find out with a specific amount of rainfall, which areas will flood.”

This will help the authorities to move beyond a reactive approach to systematic preparation, she says. “Since weather is given in probabilistic terms, systems don’t act fast. We will establish the probability of achieving the estimated flood causing rainfall, then with stakeholders, agree at what point to act, the actions to take and funds to be set aside for the actions.”

The solutions range from cleaning up waste to creating green urban spaces and changing land management upriver. Many of these face political, as well as practical, obstacles.

There is a directive against building within 30 metres of the riverside, for example, but it is haphazardly enforced. Many owners of the recently demolished structures insisted they had permits to build there.

“It requires funds and land to relocate and rebuild the structures amid political interference, as area politicians incite the residents not to move,” says Barre Ahmed, assistant county commissioner for Starehe sub county.

Dr Lawrence Esho, chair of the Kenya Institute of Planners, calls for a drainage master plan to cover the entire metropolitan area.

“We have a flooding crisis but the issue is bigger than the illegal buildings. It is more of the uphill destruction of land which we are doing nothing about, too much concrete pavements aggregating the run off flow, blocked drains and climate change,” says Esho. “Over the last 20 to 25 years the city has also gone through the change from bungalows built over a huge area to high-rise apartment blocks… without a drainage city master plan change.”

Builders should leave gaps between pavements for grass “to allow the water sip under when it rains,” he advises.

In the meantime, Keli can only make sure she has a quick exit strategy ready. She says: “I worry at every drizzle. But this time, I am prepared with a bag packed for any eventuality to rescue my children. As for the shop, there is little I can do. Until the river is cleaned, I still believe this village will flood if the rain keeps coming as they did these two years.”

This article originally appeared on Climate Home News and is shared under Creative Commons license. This article was produced as part of an African reporting fellowship supported by Future Climate for Africa.

Cover photo by Sophie Mbuaga: The Ngong river is choked with garbage as it passes through Hazina village.
Kerala floods kill hundreds & cause close to $3 billion in damages

Kerala floods kill hundreds & cause close to $3 billion in damages

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Floods in the Indian state of Kerala have killed over 320 people, caused at least $2.7 billion in damages, and displaced over 700,000. Authorities estimate that 20,000 homes have been destroyed, 40,000 hectares of farmland are under water and 83,000 km of roads have been damaged.

Between 8 and 15 August the state, which already receives a lot of rainfall, experienced over 250% more precipitation than normal. Water from 35 dangerously filled dams had to be released by state authorities, which in turn led to surges in rivers and overflowing banks.

While the rains have eased, poor sanitary conditions and widespread contamination of water could lead to the outbreak of several diseases, especially in relief camps where 724,000 people have taken refuge. The state requested $285 million in immediate assistance, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government would provide $71 million for immediate assistance and additional funds in the future.

Even though Kerala is one of India’s most prosperous states, the floods highlight how vulnerable South Asia is to climate change related altered rainfall patterns. Last year alone over 1,200 people died and an estimated 20 million were affected in some of the worst monsoon floods India, Nepal and Bangladesh have ever experienced. Megacities like Mumbai flood regularly leading to widespread infrastructural damage, death and disease, and leaving poor residents with even less than they had, increasing their vulnerability to adverse climate events or other risks and hazards.

As Kerala starts its recovery efforts, it will not just be important to build back but build back better, keeping in mind the shifting thresholds of a changing climate, but also putting a special emphasis on more vulnerable members of the population. As this year’s and past years’ extreme weather events have shown, India, and South Asia in general, are facing many challenges making the need for climate resilience more pronounced than ever.

To learn about measures that are already being taken in South Asia to adapt to climate change, head to the Action On Climate microsite and find out about the programme’s work to climate proof growth and development in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Afghanistan:

Cover photo by Akbarali/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0): Kerala flood – Cheruvannur mosque disappeared, 17 August 2018.
Flooded internet is possible by 2035

Flooded internet is possible by 2035

By Tim Radford

Information now travels along the internet. But what happens when sea levels rise and leave a flooded internet, its vital cables and traffic hubs under water?

US engineers have identified a problem nobody had ever expected to confront so soon: the approach of the flooded internet, caused by worldwide sea level rise. Within 15 years seawater could be lapping over buried fibre optic cables in New York, Seattle, Miami and other US coastal cities, according to a new study.

The consequences for global communications are unknown. But, as the glaciers melt, and the water in the oceans continues to expand as temperatures rise, the chances of urban flooding will increase.

And that means water where nobody expected it – over buried cables, data centres, traffic exchanges, termination points and other nerve centres of the physical internet, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, the computer scientist who led the study and presented it to a meeting of network scientists. “That surprised us. The expectation was we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

“Keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective”

In fact, such buried infrastructure is usually sheathed in water-resistant protection, but water-resistant is not the same as waterproof. And while submarine cables are fashioned to withstand extended seawater corrosion and pressure, urban services don’t have quite the same level of future-proofing.

But city managers already have the awful lessons of massive flooding in New York  from Superstorm Sandy, or of New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, or of Houston from Hurricane Harvey.

The message from climate science for the last five years has been simple: expect more coastal flooding.

Risk easily increased

The US scientists looked only at the challenges for the US. They calculate that by 2033 an estimated 4,000 miles (6,400 kms) of buried fibre optic conduit will be under water. More than 1,100 traffic hubs – internet exchange points that handle massive quantities of information at colossal speeds – will be surrounded by water.

Many of the conduits at risk are already at or near sea level, and only a very slight further rise could bring extra risk, especially at those places where the submarine cables come ashore.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Professor Barford believes. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure. But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

And, he told academics and industry scientists at an Applied Network Research Workshop: “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.”

This article originally appeared on Climate News Network and can be accessed here.

Cover photo from Pixabay.