Flood Risks and Heat Waves Rise, Placing Pressure on Resilience Response Measures
The 2021 rainy season in China resulted in floods that killed hundreds of people and displaced millions more. The 2022 rainy season might be even more catastrophic, according to forecasts from China’s National Climate Center. The forecast follows a week of heavy rain in the Guangxi province that damaged 2,300 hectares of crops and flooding in Guangdong province that shut down schools.
“The flooding this year is set to be ‘relatively worse’ and ‘more extreme’ compared with the historical average,” according to analysis from China’s National Climate Center that was reviewed by Bloomberg News. “Cities must stay alert and recognize the increasing danger from climate-change fueled extreme weather events, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and National Development and Reform Commission said in a separate report.”
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And severe storms are not the only source of flooding to be concerned about. Just last week, a key bridge connecting China and Pakistan was swept away in a torrent of flood water after a heatwave melted a glacier upstream. Homes and buildings nearby were also damaged.
“The event, known as a glacial lake outburst flood, occurs when water is suddenly released from a glacial lake because of a dam failure or breach,” according to The Washington Post. “Warm temperatures over the past month accelerated snow and ice melt near an ice-dammed lake by Shishpar glacier, near Mount Shishpar, increasing the lake’s volume and likely causing the breach and water to overflow across the top.”
Scientists and other experts have warned that as the planet warms, storms and flooding may become worse because for every degree Celsius of global warming the atmosphere can hold 7 percent more moisture. The World Bank estimates that 1.47 billion people are directly exposed to the risk of intense flooding.
With the support of UNEP & @akdn, local residents of Afghanistan’s remote Pamir Mountains ⛰️ are turning to nature 🌲 to confront devastating flooding & landslides.#ForNature #OnlyOneEarth https://t.co/uEKXuw6rGx— UN Environment Programme (@UNEP) May 16, 2022
Further analysis by its Global Subnational Atlas of Poverty and Global Monitoring Database found that “some 2.2. billion people, or 29 percent of the world population, live in locations that are estimated to experience some level of inundation during a 1-in-100-year flood event,” with people in East and South Asia most at risk for flood risk.
“There is evidence that the process of coastal urbanization is accelerating the increase of flood risk,” according to the World Bank. “With safe areas already occupied, new settlements and developments are occurring increasingly in high-risk areas. As spatial planning and infrastructure investments (such as drainage systems) struggle to keep up with the pace of urbanization, risks build up and are locked in. In the coming years, land subsidence, rapid coastal urbanization, and climate change could further increase flood risks.”
Meanwhile, China’s neighbor—India—is struggling to address a heatwave that has reached temperatures of 49.2 degrees Celsius (120.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in Delhi. This heatwave is the fifth to hit the country since March, and officials have warned that it could cause health concerns for vulnerable people—including infants, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases.
“Summers have always been gruelling in many parts of India—especially in the northern and central regions,” the BBC reports. “Even before air-conditioners and water coolers started selling in the millions, people had devised their own ways of coping with the heat—from keeping water cool in earthen jugs to rubbing raw mangoes on their bodies to ward off heat strokes. But many experts say India is now recording more intense, frequent heatwaves that are also longer in duration.”
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On the opposite side of the globe, localities are struggling to address another heat-related problem: wildfires. New research from the First Street Foundation, released on Monday, finds that wildfires pose a widespread risk to nearly half of all addresses in the lower 48 U.S. states.
“Of all the addresses nationwide that could be damaged by wildfire, more than 686,000 face at least a 1 percent chance this year—the same degree of risk that the government uses to determine which houses are sufficiently in danger of flooding that they need flood insurance,” The New York Times reported after reviewing the research. “But wildfire risk is more dangerous, according to First Street, because, while flooding often damages only parts of a house, fire is more likely to destroy it entirely.”
The colossal wildfire tearing through forests east of Santa Fe, N.M., is now the largest fire in New Mexico’s history.— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 17, 2022
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire had burned 298,060 acres as of Monday and was 26 percent contained, officials said. https://t.co/FoK1VTYP1L
During the next 30 years, this 1 percent risk is projected to grow to 26 percent for some addresses; others will meet the 50 percent risk mark. First Street Foundation has created a toolkit that projects the risk, which is available to homeowners and will be displayed on Realtor.com—a popular real estate website.
“The information fills a gap left by government,” according to NPR. “Only a handful of states have mapped where communities are most at risk to wildfire. Federal maps from the U.S. Forest Service aren’t meant to be used for individual properties.”
Resilience and Response Efforts
While climate change is impacting people around the world in the form of different extreme weather events, many have not created plans to address them or increase resiliency.
Ninety-three percent of global cities face “significant climate risks,” but 43 percent of cities do not have an adaptation plan to tackle climate risk, according to research from non-profit CDP. This is especially concerning as projections estimate that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in an urban area.
“Faced with increasing extreme weather events, the number of cities developing climate risk and vulnerability assessments has increased from 40 in 2011 to 478 in 2020, and the number of cities developing adaptation plans to manage climate risks has risen from 30 in 2011 to 459 in 2020,” CDP said. “More than two-thirds (571) of reporting cities cite climate risks of the highest severity. These include rainstorms (25.5 percent), heat waves (22 percent), and droughts (21.6 percent), all of which are uprooting lives and livelihoods.”
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In response to the increasing risk of flooding and the need to make infrastructure and communities more resilient to the threat of water damage, Chinese lawmakers have suggested that cities increase their resilience by improving weather monitoring and alert systems, as well as upgrading their infrastructure.
“Ahead of this year’s flood season, the housing ministry and NDRC asked cities to make sure departments within the government collaborate to build emergency management systems for urban flood control, and asked the media to help raise public awareness of disaster prevention,” Bloomberg reports.
In India, government officials at the state and national level have issued measures to address heatwave effects—including banning working outside during high temperatures. Experts who spoke with the BBC said these measures are a start, but more must be done to implement “big-picture changes” like changing labor laws and making cities greener.
“Our buildings are made in such a way that they trap heat instead of ensuring ventilation,” said Dr. Chandni Singh, senior researcher at Indian Institute for Human Settlements and a lead author at Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in an interview with the BBC. “There is so much innovation internationally that we can learn from. We are doing some things right, but it’s time to up our game—because we have to live with the heat.”
In the United States, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report calling on federal agencies to strengthen their efforts to increase national preparedness and resilience.
Each year, disasters such as #hurricanes and #wildfires affect hundreds of American communities. GAO’s Chris Currie testifies on ways to improve federal efforts to prevent damage before events and respond when assistance is needed—tomorrow at 9 a.m. https://t.co/9Lw4q4U3ob pic.twitter.com/ImS7DgsUlw— U.S. GAO (@USGAO) May 16, 2022
For instance, the GAO found the U.S. federal government has mainly funded disaster resilience projects in the aftermath of a major incident “when damages have already occurred and opportunities to pursue future risk reduction may conflict with the desire for the immediate restoration of critical infrastructure,” according to its report.
To help the federal government be more proactive, the GAO released a Disaster Resilience Framework in 2019 to aid decision makers in taking coherent and coordinated actions to promote disaster and climate-related resilience. The GAO took this step, in part, because as of 2019 no U.S. federal agency, interagency collaborative effort, or other organizational arrangement existed to implement a strategic approach to climate resilience investment.
“Such an approach could supplement individual agency climate resilience efforts and help target federal resources toward high-priority projects,” the GAO explained. “We recommended that Congress consider establishing a federal organizational arrangement to periodically identify and prioritize climate resilience projects for federal investment. As of April 2022, such a federal organizational arrangement has not yet been established.”