Category: floods

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.
Americans who live far from coasts should also be worried about flooding

Americans who live far from coasts should also be worried about flooding

Editor’s note: This is an article that was written last year, however, the lessons from Hurricane Harvey still hold true and are also relevant to the aftermath of Hurricane Florence earlier this month.

By Nina Lam, Louisiana State University

Catastrophic flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey is the latest reminder that floods kill more people in the United States than any other type of natural disaster and are the most common natural disaster worldwide. Many communities along U.S. coastlines have begun to take heed and have slowed development in coastal flood zones. The bad news, as Harvey shows, is that inland communities are also at risk – and in some, development in flood zones is increasing.

With post-doctoral research associate Yi Qiang and graduate students, I recently studied development patterns in the United States from 2001 to 2011. We found that while new urban development in flood zones near coasts has generally declined, it has grown in inland counties. This is a worrisome trend. It implies that people who have experienced flooding on the coast migrate inland, but may not realize that they are still vulnerable if they relocate to an inland flood zone.

That’s what we have seen firsthand here in Louisiana. Thousands of people fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and settled 80 miles inland in Baton Rouge. A decade later, many of these same people lost everything again when a 500-year flood event struck Baton Rouge in August 2016.

Climate change effects, such as sea level rise and potentially more extreme weather, are increasing the risk of flooding, hurricanes and storm surges in coastal areas. Some communities are considering moving coastal populations inland to protect them. However, our research shows that people should be very careful about moving inland. They can still face flood hazards if their property is located in a high-risk flood zone.

Not just a coastal issue

Flooding can happen wherever large rainstorms stall over an area, as we have seen in Boulder, Colorado in 2013; in Texas and Louisiana in 2016; and over Houston now. However, if communities take steps to reduce flood risk, they can mitigate the danger to people and property.

When we assess flood risk in a given location, we consider three questions.

  • Hazard: How likely is a flood event?
  • Exposure: How many people and physical assets are located there?
  • Vulnerability: Do people have the capacity to deal with the event?

Flood risk is the product of these three elements.

We can decrease flood risk by reducing any of the three elements. For example, communities can reduce hazard by building flood control structures, such as dams and levees. They can use laws and policies, such as land use controls, to reduce exposure by steering housing development away from flood zones. And they can make people and property less vulnerable through other measures, such as elevating houses and developing better flood warning systems and emergency preparedness plans.

How can people learn about flood risks where they live? The Federal Emergency Management Agency has created flood zone maps for most parts of the United States. The maps are based on models that consider factors such as elevation, average rainfall and whether a location is near a river or lake that could overflow.

FEMA maps classify flood zones into three categories: high-risk, moderate-low risk and undetermined. High-risk zones have at least a 1 percent chance of being inundated by flood in any given year. These areas are also called base flood or 100-year flood zones.

To obtain a federally insured mortgage on property in a 100-year flood zone, buyers are required to have flood insurance. This policy is designed to make people less vulnerable in the event of a flood, but it increases the cost of home ownership. As a result, flood zone designations can be very contentious.

100-year flood zones are based on a combination of statistics, hydrogeology and society’s tolerance for risk.

Moving into harm’s way

We undertook this study because we wanted to develop a clear baseline showing how Americans’ exposure to flood hazards has changed over the past decade. To assess levels of exposure to flood hazards nationwide, we compiled urban development, flood zone and census data and overlaid them on a county map of the nation.

Overall, we estimated that as of 2011, more than 25 million Americans lived in flood zones. We also found that inland communities were less responsive to flood hazards than coastal communities and were doing a poorer job of steering development out of flood-prone areas.

The three U.S. counties with the largest concentrations of people living in flood zones are located on the Gulf of Mexico. They are Cameron Parish, Louisiana (population 6,401, with 93.6 percent in flood zones); Monroe County, Florida (population 66,804, with 91.4 percent in flood zones); and Galveston County, Texas (population 241,204, with 82.8 percent in flood zones).

These are all coastal communities, where flood risks should be well-known to all residents. But we also found inland counties where the share of the total population living in flood zones increased over the decade we examined. A number of those with the largest increases are bordered by rivers, such as Marshall County in western Kentucky, which sits between Kentucky Lake and the Ohio River. We also identified several hot spots where urban development has increased in coastal flood zones, including New York City and Miami.

Heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Harvey is forecast to reach hundreds of miles inland. National Weather Service

Reducing exposure now

This alarming trend points to a need for more awareness, education and communication about flood risk, especially in inland counties. More affordable housing in nonflood zones and strategies to mitigate floods are also needed, especially inland.

Why would people move to inland flood zone areas? Some may be unaware of the risk. Others may plan to adapt through steps such as elevating their houses or buying flood insurance. Still other may accept the risk because they want to be closer to relatives or workplaces, or for other cultural, political or institutional reasons.

Our analysis has pinpointed a number of regions of concern. The next step is to produce in-depth analyses of these regions, in order to understand why people are locating in flood zones there, and to devise local strategies to reduce overall U.S. flood risks. Climate change, land subsidence or sinking, and construction of new levees and dams will change long-term flood exposure in these areas over time. Therefore, local governments, mortgage lenders and homeowners should review current FEMA flood hazard maps for accuracy.

This research provides national context for a detailed study that we are carrying out examining resilience and sustainability in the Mississippi River Delta. Our goal is to understand how human actions combined with natural environmental conditions may have caused land to sink in the Mississippi Delta. Our research on development in flood zones reminds us that flooding problems in low-lying coastal regions are not unique and also affect areas well away from the shore.The Conversation


Nina Lam, Distinguished Professor of Louisiana Environmental Studies, Louisiana State University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Steve Zumwalt/FEMA (public domain): Jamestown, Colo., Sep. 15, 2013 — The small mountain town of 300 has been cut off because of Boulder County flood.
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: http://www.acclimatise.uk.com/collaborations/action-on-climate-today/

Cover photo by Akbarali/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0): Kerala flood – Cheruvannur mosque disappeared, 17 August 2018.
Urban floods: We can pay now or later

Urban floods: We can pay now or later

By Michael Drescher, University of Waterloo

Wild weather seems increasingly widespread these days. Cities are especially vulnerable to extreme weather, meaning that many of us will end up paying for the damage it can cause.

But how much we pay — and when — is largely up to us. We could, for example, pay now to prepare ourselves and limit future damage, or we can pay later to repair our properties and restore the environment.

Urban flooding — and other complex, environmental challenges — can be solved when communities work together to share their experiences and knowledge. In Canada, the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo is taking the lead on this as part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Urban floods on the rise

Many factors contribute to the increasing risk of flooding in urban areas. For one, in many regions climate change seems to be causing more intense downpours than what have occurred in the past.

This is a problem because the storm-water systems built just a generation ago were not designed to handle the amounts of rain we are seeing now — and expecting in the future.

The growth of cities also contributes to urban flood risk. The increased construction of hard, sealed surfaces hinders rain from soaking into the soil and causes runoff. If there is too much runoff, the water pools and enters our lakes and rivers, dragging oil, metals, road salt or pesticides with it.

Or it can turn into a flood.

The density of sealed ground continues to grow in urban areas. We just keep on adding more houses, more roads, more parking lots. From 1991 to 2011, the built-up urban area in major Canadian cities increased by more than 20 per cent.

On top of that, houses are being built closer together and they get ever bigger. More than half of the homes built after 2001 are larger than 140 square metres. When you factor in that these new homes come with patios, parking pads, driveways and sidewalks, it’s no wonder we have a problem.

Level of preparedness

Unfortunately, city dwellers, by and large, are not well-prepared for urban floods. A recent study found that most people do not know if they are living in flood-prone areas and, if they do, many do not take measures to protect themselves against flooding.

They may not know that many home insurance policies do not cover water damage from flooding, but only damage from broken pipes or similar issues. Or if the policies do cover flood damage, that the coverage might be limited.

And governments may refuse to bail house owners out, so to speak, if they could have purchased insurance add-ons that do cover flood damage.

Even so, most municipalities do not address the issue of urban floods as effectively as they could — maybe because their budgets are too strained to act or they have other, seemingly more pressing, priorities.

Recently, flooded-out residents in Ontario have filed lawsuits against their municipalities, and a few years ago in Illinois, a major insurance company filed nine class action lawsuits against municipalities over this.

How can homeowners prepare?

It is not a question of whether wild weather will affect your neighbourhood, but when. Somebody will pay for it — and it might be you.

You could pay upfront to protect yourself against damage or afterwards to fix it. There are a number of things that people can do to protect their homes, their neighbourhoods and the environment against the damages caused by urban floods:

  1. Purchase add-on flood protection with your home insurance.
  2. Keep the water from getting in. Covers can prevent water from rushing in through basement window wells, and foundation grading can direct surface water away from your house. You could also install a sump pump or sewer backflow prevention system.
  3. Install on-site water storage to collect and store rainwater for safe release later. Some municipalities sell rain barrels; larger water storage tanks are even better.
  4. Green infrastructure solutions can slow down rainwater runoff and help the ground soak up the water. Rain gardens — specifically designed depressions with plants for increased water infiltration — and green roofs are options. Patios and driveways can be built with permeable pavements.
  5. Talk to your neighbours, your neighbourhood association and your city councillor about urban floods. These strategies work best when many people in a neighbourhood take action together.

Change can be expensive, but municipalities are increasingly providing tax incentives or financial assistance to pay for some of them.

Nothing will provide 100 per cent protection against the potential losses from urban floods, but planning ahead reduces the odds that you will be flooded and may reduce your costs when a flood does occur.

The ConversationThe neat thing is that by acting with foresight and heeding this advice, we can protect ourselves, protect our neighbours and protect the environment, all at the same time.


Michael Drescher, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Fred/flickr (CC BY-SA): Flood waters rise in the Montreal neighbourhood of Cartierville in May 2017.