Catastrophic flooding fantasies are nothing new. From Biblical tales to climate change disaster movies, the fear of a world-swallowing wave of water is as old as time.
But with many of our major cities built either on rivers, coastlines or floodplains, and with weather patterns becoming more unpredictable, these scenarios may increasingly stray from the realm of fantasy into nightmarish reality.
As the effects of manmade climate change manifest, environmental risks will grow and grow. According to YouGov, 5.2 million homes are at risk of flooding in England.
Effective flood defences are expensive. During spells of predictable weather, it can be hard to generate the support necessary for costly and potentially unnecessary improvements.
Yet the consequences of inaction could be disastrous. According to the London Climate Change Partnership, 15% of London lies within a floodplain – an area which includes 124 railway and underground stations and 10 hospitals.
Although most of the floodplain is well-defended against the Thames, overflowing rivers and tributaries are not the only threats. Storms and heavy rainfall also render this area vulnerable to flooding.
Given the high density of people, infrastructure and technology, big cities have the most to lose to floods. Demand for housing puts pressure on green belts; if they are encroached upon, surface water and sewer flooding will become more likely.
For councils, undertaking Site Flood Risk Assessments is vital. Plans for development should always be subject to risk-based analyses. Strategic risk assessments should help local authorities to identify potential threats and create contingency plans of action should they decide to proceed.
With storms and other precipitation events becoming more frequent, ignoring the risks will be far more costly. Storms Desmond and Eva of 2015 cost the country £2.3bn, with insurers losing another £1bn. Risk assessments and flood defence investment won’t wipe out that cost, but they will do much to reduce it – and save lives in the process.
Published date: 25th September 2017
Updated date: 15th November 2018
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