A Small Waterway Which Flows Into A Main River Urban Risks – Flash Floods

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Urban Risks – Flash Floods

Their aftermath has led to criticism not only of those responsible for risk management and disaster relief, but also of institutions responsible for urban planning. When disasters are deadly, involving significant casualties and images of horror, suffering and loss are widely exposed by the media – then, criticism will rise to the peak of “mismanagement and negligence”. The deadly flash floods sounded alarm bells for city planners to pay attention and pay attention to environmental standards amid rapid urbanization and industrialization. The full breadth of environmental realities and the state of natural resources, including measures to guarantee human safety, must provide an over-arching framework for decision-making related to transport, industry and urban construction. (i)

Dealing with the challenges of flood risk in densely populated areas has always been a historical factor in human settlements. Most of the cities are located in valleys, flood plains and coastlines. By their nature of having large impervious areas, cities generate large amounts of run-off that drainage networks cannot accommodate and are potentially vulnerable to flooding. It is recognized that the potential for flood damage in cities is extreme. Given the high population density in urban areas, even small-scale flash floods can cause extensive damage. At the extreme end of the disaster spectrum, urban flash floods can cause disasters that greatly impede development. Climate change and global warming will increase the frequency and severity of floods, continued urbanization and uneven growth, and will increase the economic costs of flash floods. Sustainable management of urban flood risk is becoming a challenging task for city/municipal authorities. (ii)

Flash floods are clearly characterized by very rapid rise and fall, associated with debris flows and landslides, occurring along channels and rivers with small drainage areas. Their distinct characteristics paint a clear picture. Flash floods occur suddenly, easily and frequently, are very destructive and difficult to protect against. Recently, flash floods have caused very destructive calamities viz. Recent flooding in Istanbul, Turkey. In most cases there is a break in the flood protection facility.

Rapid economic growth increases the risk of flash floods. As new construction takes over arable land and urban population density increases, infrastructure growth cannot occur simultaneously. Increasing urbanization inevitably reduces vegetation, wetlands, and other habitats for flood prevention.

Urban flash flood patterns are almost identical in their strength. Small streams, canals, drains, drainage ditches become fast flowing dangerous rivers. Where the terrain is flat, primary and secondary roads are submerged by flood flows, roads and parking lots become rivers of flowing water. By definition, flash floods rise rapidly within minutes or hours of heavy rain. As the water rises and moves faster, cars are swept away, trees are uprooted and even destroy roads and bridges.

Disaster risk reduction in identified potentially flood-prone areas requires focus on limiting exposure and vulnerability. More attention needs to be given to the connectivity of urban dwellers near river channels with infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, power houses) located in the same area. Vulnerability can be reduced by enhancing preparedness through flash flood guidance, community awareness campaigns, early warning systems and planned coordinated emergency procedures. The World Conference on Disaster Reduction held in Kobe in January 2005 called for early warning systems to be people-centric, providing timely and reliable warnings to people at risk.

While usually a natural phenomenon, flash floods are the result of human activity or poorly designed infrastructure. Very few countries have flash flood management action plans. China stands out among those who do, with stiff penalties for negligence. Flash floods are frequent features of China, with two-thirds of its terrain mountainous, monsoon climate, fragile mountainous terrain, and frequent natural disasters due to increased human activity. A total of 74 million people are at risk of flooding in mountainous regions. A total of 225,000 people died from floods in China over a period of four decades (1950-1990). (iii) Urban Planning Contingencies in the Action Plan after completion of flash flood assessment must approve any new construction.

Before approving construction projects, city/municipal authorities may examine the conditions affecting the construction area. Best practices in flash flood management in urban areas warrant extension of the disaster management chain and expansion in urban planning. In some authorities, this includes helping municipalities prepare for climate change. (iv)

Elsewhere, as in West Africa, there is a growing awareness that, if left unplanned and unorganized, “urban waves lead to flooding.” The Dakar suburb of Guediaveve was a dry area 30 years ago. Nowadays, it’s a different story. Residents of this densely populated suburb face floods every monsoon. (v) Explosive population growth, poor urban management, urban congestion and indiscriminate building in green belt zones all help short the fuse for disaster. Population in northern Nigeria is causing houses to be built on waterways and natural drainage systems are being blocked by garbage. Despite a ban on construction in the Dakar “Cap Vert” wetlands, the flood-prone area experienced waves of rural-urban migration in the wake of Sahel-wide droughts in the 70s and 80s. Now the region is filled with buildings and roads blocking natural waterways and valleys.


(i) Today’s age. Claus Jurgens. Limits to Urban Development: Have we reached the limits of urban planning?

(ii) The Associated Program on Flood Management (APFM).

(iii) Flash Flood Management in Urbanizing China, Zhu Jianchu and Li Zuoking, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Science.

(iv) Prediction and Management of Flash Floods in Urban Areas (URBAS), Thomas Infault, Andreas Wagner, Fritz Hatzfeld, Jörg Seltmann.

(v) IRIN, West Africa, Urban Surge Feeds Flooding, Dakar, 14 September 2009.

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