Risks rise from urban flooding in East Asia and Pacific: World Bank offers practical Guide to reduce losses

February 14, 2012

Tokyo, February 13, 2012 – Urban flooding is a serious and growing development challenge for fast growing low and middle-income countries in East Asia, underscoring an urgent need to build flood risk management into regular planning and development investment of cities and towns, says a new World Bank guidebook.

“Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century”, released today, provides operational guidance on how to manage the risk of floods in the face of urbanization, growing populations and long-term climate change trends.

“Urban expansion often creates poorer neighborhoods which lack adequate infrastructure and services, making them more vulnerable to floods. The poor are hit hardest, especially women and children,” said Pamela Cox, World Bank Vice President, East Asia and Pacific Region. “But rapid urbanization also means we have the opportunity to do things right the first time, so cities and towns can support sustainable development, saving lives and money.”

Floods are the most frequent among all natural disasters, and the East Asia and Pacific region, along with South Asia, is particularly vulnerable. In the past 30 years, the number of floods in Asia amounted to about 40 % of the total worldwide. More than 90 % of the global population exposed to floods lives in Asia.

As developing countries in the region transition to largely urban societies, the concentration of people and assets has made urban flooding increasingly costly and difficult to manage. In addition to direct economic damage, floods also have long-term consequences such as loss of education opportunities, disease and reduced nutrition which may erode development goals.

According to this guidebook, the most effective way to manage flood risk is to take an integrated approach, combining both structural and non-structural measures –from hard-engineered construction of drainage channels and dikes to more natural alternatives such as wetlands, retention basin and natural buffers, as well as early warning systems and awareness campaigns. The key is getting the balance right. Structures can be overcome by natural disasters beyond their design capacity. Current risks may change in the future as the effects of urbanization and climate change accelerate, requiring flexible solutions. Many of these ideas are already at work in Indonesia, which is highly exposed to natural hazards including flood.

“In Jakarta, which suffers from recurrent flooding, the World Bank is helping the local government rehabilitate parts of the city’s waterways, while also strengthening coordination between national and local agencies,” says Stefan Koeberle, World Bank Country Director for Indonesia. “Moving forward, flood risk management should be integrated into regular urban planning and governance, to keep up with the rapid pace of urbanization in Indonesia.”

Many tools are available to help us better understand flood hazards and its associated risks. Web-based flood forecasting systems are an effective way to disseminate hydrological and hydro-meteorological data to a range of users. Mapping risk and vulnerability can be invaluable in directing resources appropriately to protect people and key economic assets. Communications also plays a significant role in raising awareness and reinforcing preparedness. The guidebook also warns that less severe disasters can be forgotten in less than three years, which makes the integration of flood risk management into city investment in the first opportunity becoming even more important. As flood risk cannot be eliminated entirely, planning for a speedy recovery is also necessary, using reconstruction as an opportunity to build safer and stronger communities which have the capacity to withstand flooding better in the future. The guidebook was produced with the financial support of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. Partners include the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

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