EU and Asian researchers join forces to learn lessons on coastal flooding
Could holistic flood risk assessment have mitigated the 'Great Flood' that hit Thailand in 2011? The Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) - in Thailand - is on the case. The project team hopes to reduce the likelihood of coastal areas around the world experiencing the catastrophic flooding that wiped out 20 000km2 of farmland.
© panya7 #158581685 , 2018. Source: fotolia.com
A hurricane batters the Caribbean, another tsunami wreaks havoc in the Pacific, and rising sea levels threaten the world-over. Such stories are never far from the headlines and for good reason. Of all natural disasters, coastal flooding is regarded as one of the most dangerous and harmful. Rapid urbanisation combined with climate change and poor governance means that the risk of catastrophic flooding is only set to increase.
Addressing the risk requires improved forecasting and, equally important, an ability to warn coastal populations of an impending disaster. These warning systems also need to be integrated into broader management strategies and backed by appropriate institutional and organisational arrangements.
Providing technical support
The EU-funded PEARL project is working to facilitate the state-of-the-art science and technology needed to put such a system in place. Starting from the premise that prevention is better than cure, the project is identifying the root causes of flooding and developing measures capable of reducing such risks. Among the project partners from coastal areas around the world working to develop adaptive risk management strategies is the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT).
Based in Bangkok, Thailand, the AIT promotes technological change and sustainable development in the Asian-Pacific region through higher education, research and outreach. Within PEARL, the AIT applied PEARL concepts to a case study on Thailands Great Flood of 2011, explains Sutat Weesakul, affiliated faculty at AIT and Director of the Hydro and Agro Informatics Institute (HAII). AIT provided technical support to the case study and will serve as co-advisors on the final report.
The Great Flood of 2011
The monsoon season in 2011 was particularly tough for farmers. In an attempt to protect rice paddies, they built temporary dikes along the river. Unfortunately, the dikes soon failed and the rice paddy fields a staple for the regional economy were flooded and ruined. With similar catastrophes occurring across the country, the 2011 flood was responsible for an estimated $81 million in damage and is ranked as the worlds fourth worst flood of all time by the World Bank. In total, seven industrial estates, 900 factories and over 400 000 employees were affected.
AIT researchers assessed how the effects of the 2011 flood could have been mitigated using PEARLs holistic risk assessment framework. The framework enables scientists to estimate not only water levels and the extent of flooding from rivers and watercourses accurately, but also to trace the cascading effects of floods and estimate a range of impacts.
A multi-layered solution to a multi-layered problem
The results of the Great Thailand Flood case study highlight the need to use different kinds of adaptation and mitigation measures, such as engineering and natural solutions. From this case study we learned that flood risks emerge from the interactions of several factors, and that gaining an understanding about risk perception from local communities is essential to implementing mitigation measures, explains Weesakul.
The Thai case study is one of 11, with others looking at flood events elsewhere in Asia, in Europe and in the Caribbean. This international collaboration should lead to coastal communities in Thailand and elsewhere having access to information that will make long-term planning, regional forecasting and emergency warning systems possible.
For more information on the floods in Thailand, see: