China’s rapid urban growth over the last 40 years has increased its cities’ exposure to natural hazards, a trend exacerbated by environmental degradation and climate change. The risk to infrastructure systems became obvious in July 2021, when extreme rainstorms, formed by Typhoon In-fa, caused flood and widespread destruction in the city of Zhengzhou. The storm broke the single-hour rainfall record of 2,418 national meteorological stations in mainland China. Subway stations in Zhengzhou were flooded and paralyzed, trapping dozens of people inside. The prevention measures in place to protect the city’s subway operations proved inadequate.
The flooding in Zhengzhou’s subway stations highlights the urgency of improving the design and enhancing the protection of underground transportation in China. Consequently, resilience of transportation infrastructure under extreme weather events was a key topic discussed at a recent one-week online Technical Deep Dive (TDD) on Disaster Risk Management and Resilient Infrastructure organized by the World Bank’s Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) in collaboration with the World Bank Tokyo Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Hub.
Through a week of knowledge sharing and training, government officials and researchers from seven countries – Azerbaijan, China, Jordan, Maldives, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Tunisia – shared the challenges they were facing in addressing risks in infrastructure planning, investment and management. The international experience shared at the TDD provided inspirations to participants from China on how to prepare and handle unexpected extreme weather events in the future. They especially reflected on potential solutions to mitigating flood risk to underground railway transportation systems in Chinese cities.
An important step, as highlighted in World Bank reports, Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity and An EPIC Response: Innovative Governance for Flood and Drought Risk Management, is for researchers to carry out a systemic update of maximum inundation scenarios. The Chinese participants also learned from Kobe’s experience in handling the aftermath of Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which led Kobe City to revise its disaster risk management plan. With accelerating climate change and rapidly expanding city footprints, authorities must regularly reconsider previous assumptions on disaster risks and redesign responses in extreme scenarios.
On strengthening underground rail transportation, Fukuoka City’s Rainbow Plan and Shibuya Station (Tokyo)’s redevelopment plan for storm-water management are relevant examples. In the case of Fukuoka’s Rainbow Plan, building more culverts and storm sewers proved useful for dredging storm water, and ensuring the storm water sewers would not mix with sanitary sewer. From the Shibuya Station’s redevelopment plan, participants from China learned that the construction of a large-capacity underground reservoir could help reduce the possibility of flooding in subway stations. Further, various Japanese cities have utilized green solutions to facilitate rainwater infiltration to alleviate flooding in an environmentally friendly way. In many cases, rain gardens and permeable pavements can be utilized to filter and absorb stormwater.
The TDD offered additional takeaways on how to strengthen disaster preparedness for China and other countries.
First, emergency professionals are essential to coordinate an effective response. Cities need to recruit specialized staff and ensure existing officials are appropriately trained.
Second, public awareness is important. This is an area where local authorities can play an important role. Information campaigns and regular emergency drills can help improve people’s skills in rescuing themselves and helping one another in an emergency.
Last but not least, information is key. When disasters hit, promptly sharing accurate information on evacuation routes and disaster relief is critical in saving lives and preventing losses.
As China continues to urbanize with the challenges of environmental degradation and increasing climate risks, policy makers and residents alike will pay greater attention to resilient infrastructure and communities. The global knowledge accumulated through World Bank operations, as well as the lessons from Japan’s disaster prevention and post-disaster responses, provide important experiences that could help China and other countries better cope with increasing natural hazards and prevent major disasters in the future.
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