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Increasing Flood Risks Create Major Challenges for World’s Coastal Cities

Stéphane Hallegatte's picture

Increasing flood risks create a major political and institutional challenge for the world’s coastal cities as ambitious and proactive action at the local level over the next decades will be needed to avoid large-scale flood disasters. However, the implementation of flood risk management policies meets many obstacles. 

In a recent study written with colleagues Colin Green, Robert Nicholls and Jan Corfee-Morlot as part of an OECD project on urban vulnerability, we estimate how flood risks could change in the future in 136 coastal cities, in response to increasing population and wealth, local environmental change, and climate change. We find that because current flood defenses and urbanization patterns have been designed for past environmental conditions, even a moderate change in sea level is sufficient to make them inadequate, thus magnifying flood losses to catastrophic levels. If no action is taken to reduce flood vulnerability, most coastal cities would become inhospitable and dangerous places to live, with annual losses in excess of $1 trillion dollars.
 

The Old Man is Snoring

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Flooding in Bangkok‘It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring.’ Truth be told, I apparently snore, and I suppose I’m not that young anymore. But hard to believe, I’m sure this nursery rhyme is not about me. And despite the recent Noah-like floods in Europe, Bangkok, Calgary, Dhaka, Jakarta, New York and Toronto, it’s not really about any one city, or any one country, or even any one continent. But, ‘went to bed and bumped his head. And won’t get up in the morning,’ aptly describes our current political paralysis.

Many children know this song. Soon they will learn how their grandfathers and fathers slept through the rain.

Here in troubled Toronto and gritty Calgary, there was the inevitable debate on whether or not the recent floods could be attributed to climate change. ‘If it’s this bad now, what’s the future hold?’ people wondered. ‘Sleepwalking into trouble,’ came to mind for many.

Why a 4-Degrees World Won't Cause Just One Water Crisis

Julia Bucknall's picture
There is much talk of a water crisis. We who work in water don't really see just one; we see lots of different water crises already now, getting worse as we move towards 2 and eventually 4 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures. Floods in some places, droughts in others, poor operation and maintenance making infrastructure unable to protect citizens in some places, lack of enforcement of rules leading to pollution crises or rampant overuse of groundwater in many others. So there are lots of water crises, some caused by nature, some by humans and most some a combination of the two.

Belize Looking to Neighbors and PPCR to Build Climate Resilience

Justin Locke's picture

 Bishwa Pandey/World Bank

Photo: Bishwa Pandey/World Bank

Like other countries in the Eastern Caribbean region, Belize is highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as coastal and inland flooding, high winds, fire, and drought, all of which are being exacerbated by climate change. And like its neighbors, Belize is doing something about it. Following the lead of other Caribbean countries involved in the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), Belize is initiating a comprehensive climate resilience investment plan that spans across sectors to mainstream climate change in its national development planning and action.

Drive on any of Belize’s four main highways and you will quickly understand how tough it is to maintain this main network connecting Belmopan and Belize City, the two key economic zones. Frequent floods impede commuting and the transportation of goods and can cut off the population for several days. It’s only going to get worse, as recent studies indicate that Belize will undergo a warming and drying trend and is expected to endure even more frequent and intense rainfalls. Seventy percent of its people live in low-lying areas prone to recurrent flooding, so reducing vulnerability to natural disasters is at the core of Belize’s development challenge.

It is a lot for one nation to face alone. That is why the government of Belize is reaching out to the international community for support and guidance on setting a path toward long-term solutions to protect its population and maintain economic prosperity. When the government of Belize approached the World Bank to support them on improving climate resilience, I was excited to see how we could apply lessons learned from other Eastern Caribbean countries involved in the PPCR to help Belize develop its own investment plan in support of a national climate-resilient development path.

Flooding and a Changing Climate in Mozambique

Phil Hay's picture

Here in Mozambique, the rainy season has brought disaster for as many as 110,000 people living in the Limpopo Valley, as surging water over recent days has flooded their crops, capsized their towns and villages, and forced their evacuation to higher ground. Forty people are believed to have died in the floods so far. It’s expected that as many as 150,000 people may ultimately be affected.

A UN reconnaissance plane that flew over the Valley on Monday took photos of mile after square mile of crops and farm land under brown muddy water, a result of the Limpopo River and others nearby bursting their banks.  It's at times like this that you really appreciate the powerful humanitarian role of the UN.

Mozambican President Armando Guebuza quickly went to the scene to see for himself how the flooding had turned communities upside down.

Talking with people from the town of Chokwé and surrounding areas at an emergency shelter, the President said, "we are with you, we weep with you, because we know that you have lost many of your goods including your houses, your goats, your cattle and much that is of great value."

What Does Water Look Like in a 4-Degrees World?

Julia Bucknall's picture

Turn Down the Heat report

All climate negotiations have been based on staying below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Yet it looks increasingly unlikely that that will be possible. A new report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, suggests that there is a 40 percent chance that we will reach 4°C by 2100 even if we stick to the agreed emission reduction commitments.

What does water look like in a 4°C world?

Put simply: it's complex. Water is a complicated system and one of the major impacts of climate change is the effect on the hydrological (water) cycle.  These impacts will coincide with an unprecedented increase in demand for water because of population and economic growth.

How a small grant turned Humbo green

Edward Felix Dwumfour's picture

A comparative picture of the Humbo region in February 2002 and March 2010.

A number of years ago, I started a journey with seven poor communities located about 380 kilometres southwest of Addis Ababa, by a mountain called Humbo. The idea was to allow a degraded mountain to regenerate, and the communities would earn carbon credits for their efforts.

I still hear this phrase echoing in my ears: “With the meager amount of resources they have, this is an impossible agenda”. But the communities were stubborn and dedicated, and last week, the project was issued 73,339 carbon credits (temporary Certified Emission Reductions, tCERs) for their efforts. Similar payments will add up to $700,000 over the next 10 years from the BioCarbon Fund.

The Humbo communities wanted to see a transformation because they knew that their lands had been stripped as a result of unregulated cattle grazing and massive clearance of vegetation to meet their excessive demand for timber, firewood and charcoal. Soil erosion and flooding had intensified as a result. They could see their farmlands increasingly covered with silt, cobbles and boulders. Above all, they could attest that their farmlands were losing fertility, becoming unproductive and yields were down.

How Tweet it is: Metro Manilans rise above the floods with Information and Communication Technology

Artessa Saldivar-Sali's picture



After reading a World Bank publication about leveraging ICT for development, I wondered how Manilenos used their social networks to remain resilient to the devastating floods of the past weeks. In a country with a per capita income that is only 56% of the East Asia & Pacific regional average, the data for ICT penetration is astounding (although anybody who knows how popular SMS is in the Philippines might not be surprised):

My curiosity piqued, and wanting to find out how my friends were holding up, I set up a (highly unscientific) poll of my Facebook network to find out how social media, mobile communication, and ICT are used by Metro Manilans during disasters.  The following are just a few examples of the answers:

Building Climate Resilience into Timor Leste’s Roads

Chris Bennett's picture

The only thing worse than taking 5 hours to drive 106 km along winding and often damaged mountainous roads, is the realization that having reached your destination you have to turn around and repeat the trip to get home. That was in the forefront of my mind as I sat in the very quiet town of Ainaro, south of the capital in Dili.

Water Water Everywhere But Not a Drop to Drink

Ray Nakshabendi's picture

Disasters seemingly have become so commonplace lately that many of us have become desensitized to them. Watching disaster unfold has become like hearing a cacophony of voices on a busy street but not really listening or paying attention to your surroundings. Take a second, and think of the millions that are in need and suffering, and imagine if you were in their shoes, another person’s suffering becoming a part of your own.

In Pakistan, about a month ago a natural catastrophe took place, a disaster so massive that a fifth of the country was inundated with water affecting 20 million people, a sizeable death toll, and with long lasting implications. I joined on a volunteer mission with Dr. Ahmad Nakshabendi, who had much experience with aiding victims of the 2005 earthquake, and embarked on a mission to assist based on our expertise.


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