Unprecedented Climate Change Disaster Hinders Preparedness Work

Questions have been raised after dozens of people died in floods in the central United States over the past week. How can communities prepare for the next flood?

The answer is difficult.

new study He warns that unprecedented events — disasters more extreme than any community has ever experienced — are hindering attempts to prepare for them. Risk management strategies based on past climate norms are no longer effective for a more extreme future.

The paper comes out at a time when areas of St. Louis, central Illinois and southeastern Kentucky are still reeling from record rainfall and deadly flash floods. At least 37 people died in Kentucky last week after a single flood in the history-making 1,000 years damaged or rendered inaccessible 40 bridges, scientists said.

A study published in the journal yesterday Nature, examines examples of extreme droughts and floods around the world. We focused on places that experienced two disasters in the same location several years apart, and examined whether communities were better prepared for a second disaster after the first.

Researchers found that implementing a risk management strategy improved outcomes the second time around. The exception is when the second event is much more serious than the first and poses a threat never before experienced by the community.

In these cases, attempts at preparation appeared inadequate.

For example, Cape Town, South Africa suffered severe drought in 2003 and 2004. In later years, the city built a new dam on the nearby Berg River to increase winter rainfall and implemented other strategies to address future water shortages. Such as water usage restrictions and publicity campaigns.

But when another drought hit more than a decade after the first, the city faced a serious water shortage. Because this event was so serious and far more extreme than previous droughts, previous preparations were inadequate.

By 2017, Cape Town was preparing for what it called Day Zero. This is the point at which water levels in reservoirs become so low that extreme restrictions are triggered, including shutting off water supplies for many municipalities. The city eventually avoided a zero-day scenario, but drought continued for several years afterward, largely due to tight water rationing.

It happens even in extreme floods, the study notes. In 2014, heavy rains and flash floods overwhelmed the sewage system in Malmö, Sweden. This was despite trying to be prepared after the floods a few years ago, although it was not as severe.

There are two problems. Older infrastructure was not designed to handle unprecedented extremes. This means that all attempts to prepare for floods and droughts are likely to fail. At the same time, communities often design risk management strategies in the wake of disasters that have already occurred, rather than planning for the future.

Researchers also warn that some risk management strategies can actually backfire in unexpected ways. If communities build levees and other infrastructure designed to keep floods at bay, more people could settle on the floodplains. This is especially problematic if the embankment later breaches due to an unprecedented event.

Overall, the researchers found only two instances in which risk management strategies mitigated the impact of a second disaster, even when it was much more extreme than the first. These include floods in Germany and Austria in 2013 and floods in Barcelona in 2018.

These success stories included significant investments in both structural improvements, such as new sewage systems, and other design elements, such as strict building codes. It also included significant improvements to early warning systems, contingency plans, and cooperation with other local and national governments.

and comment About the new research published yesterday Natureresearchers Beth Telman and Harry Eakin noted that for adaptation efforts to be truly effective, they also need to address systemic inequalities in society.

Numerous studies have shown that people of color and low-income people are more susceptible to extreme weather events than other populations.

“What is needed in the face of these challenges is not risk management, but rather transformation,” suggest Tellman and Eakin. “There is an urgent need to correct the underlying socio-political inequalities that increase vulnerability and exposure. We have to adapt.”

Reprinted from E&E News With permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environmental professionals. Unprecedented Climate Change Disaster Hinders Preparedness Work

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