How to prepare for floods and extreme weather

As destructive natural events become more frequent, building climate-resilient cities will be non negotiable

Heavy rains have left parts of New Delhi underwater. Reuters
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On the first Monday of July, the world recorded the hottest day, at 17.01°C.

The previous record of 16.92°C was recorded in 2016. As alarming as that July 3 milestone was, the very next day it was even hotter, at 17.18°C, and global temperatures remained at that historic record high for a third consecutive day, on that Wednesday.

The rising heat is one of several aspects of extraordinary and extreme weather events around the world – heatwaves in Southern Europe, wildfires or floods – that have begun to occur with a frequency that no longer qualifies as unusual. It is this very recurrence that needs to be planned for and mitigated by countries globally.

The destruction that such weather events wreak on people, on their livelihoods, to the land and to entire economies is difficult to come back from. Pakistan, for example, knows this all too well, having suffered catastrophic losses in the floods last year that claimed 1,700 lives and stretched the public system.

Rebuilding cities, towns, healthcare systems, schools and the reconstruction of homes can take years, straining government budgets and ultimately slowing national growth and progress.

In recent weeks, there has been enormous flood-related destruction in disparate regions of South Asia. Parts of northern India have been deluged, with thousands of people evacuated from low-lying areas and 90 people reportedly dead.

The rising waters of the Yamuna River, which passes through the Indian capital, breached its highest flood level mark, sombrely altering the landscape. Evidence of extensive damage is plentiful, and the sight of submerged vehicles have become common in more than one part of the continent. In South Korea, for example, eight people have been trapped in a tunnel and the death toll due to days of torrential downpours has reached 35.

It would have been higher in many of the worst-affected areas if not for the swift and co-ordinated efforts from the natural disaster response and recovery teams. Commendable as they have been, however, they are inadequate to cope with increasingly severe and frequent meteorological events that scientists have been warning about.

Investment and planning are necessary not just for countries to cope with the immediate aftermath of extreme weather disasters, but towards rebuilding cities and infrastructure to make them climate resilient, thereby minimising damage and securing as many lives and livelihoods over the longer term.

More countries can perhaps take a leaf out of the Netherlands’s playbook. Despite the precariousness of its topography – 50 per cent of the country is below sea level – it took preventive measures after the flood of 1953, which was the worst natural disaster to befall it. This approach has held its people and Dutch infrastructure in good stead. The Netherlands has kept flood management and mitigation strategies central to its sustainable urban planning – a lesson that other geographically vulnerable countries can study and apply in their own specific circumstances.

Even as it is not the only factor, the occurrence of extreme weather remains linked to climate change. Other man-made factors such as real estate and infrastructure development projects in areas prone to landslides are also to blame in the cases of houses being washed away in floods. But often, and increasingly so, the overlap between climate change and extreme weather is strong.

With just a few months left before the UAE hosts the climate summit Cop28, these extreme weather events are important reminders that countries must do everything in their capacity to achieve their climate targets, as the Cop28 President-designate Dr Sultan Al Jaber has called for.

It has been well documented that there is no viable alternative but to limit carbon emissions, invest in nature and climate solutions and prevent the average global temperature rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Failing to do so would be disastrous. That much is evident from the events we're seeing occur with frightening regularity around the world, leaving no hemisphere unaffected.

Published: July 17, 2023, 3:00 AM
Updated: July 21, 2023, 11:59 AM