News.Feb 26, 2016

Community participation mitigate effects of floods

One of the many natural disaster events projected to be on the rise in future climate change scenarios is flooding. Professor Richard A. Matthew from University of California at Irvine, described it as “the most destructive form of natural disaster around” during his talk in the Water Dialogue seminar in Stockholm on 22 February.

All types of human settlements will be affected, from megacities to small rural villages. Hence, there are clear and highly motivating incentives, not least economic, to find solutions that could provide preventive and mitigating solutions to this situation. Professor Matthew is part of a research team that is looking into just that.

The established methods for early warning systems and flood prevention have all relied on regional analysis pinpointing whole areas or cities as being under direct threat from upcoming flooding events. This has proven to be a crude and relatively inaccurate tool and, for just that reason, has not been all that successful in delivering the message intended. People living in areas under threat from these flooding events know from experience that the broad brush approach of vigilance doesn’t really match reality, and therefore take the message of a pending natural disaster with a grain of salt.

The fact that communications around pending risk of flood events were too broad and that people affected by the natural disaster had a better detailed assessment of where the damage of the flood could be done, was something that Professor Matthew and colleagues set out to improve and incorporate in their new model.

They developed an advanced visualization software FloodRISE that utilizes historical data on precipitation, topography, infra structure etc. down to street level, together with a communal natural disaster reporting system. The detailed level at which predictions, both spatially and quantitatively, that can be made using this system will lead to more efficient preventive measures. A more trustworthy predictive tool will gain all parties affected in the long run.

Similarly to the sentiment expressed by Rajendra Singh at the Water Dialogue held earlier this month, it seems that by keeping those directly affected, be it by drought or flood, informed and part of the solution, you stand a better chance to succeed in your efforts.