Western floods highlight critical infrastructure risks

20th August 2019

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The unprecedented flooding events seen around the world this year are likely to become more frequent as a result of climate change, and western infrastructure is unable to cope.

Around half a million acres of land have been underwater in Mississippi for five months – longer than ever before – and similar scenes can be seen across huge swathes of the US Midwest and Southeast.

Over the border, Justin Trudeau has admitted that urgent action is needed to boost climate preparedness after record flood evacuations took place in eastern Canada earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, the near-collapse of the Whaley Bridge dam in Derbyshire was among the most serious flood risks observed in England for years, with the emergency response team critical in averting disaster.

“But as the climate changes we won't be able to rely solely on emergency response to cope with extreme weather impacts,“ the UK's Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned.

“The government has a National Adaptation Programme but it is inadequate – we must do more to prepare for climate change while tackling its fossil-fuelled causes.“ The Associated Press identified $1.2bn in damage to US roads, bridges, buildings and other infrastructure in 24 states as a result of floods and storms in the first half of this year. This followed the wettest 12-month period in US history, with most the affected infrastructure built for the climate of the 20th century rather than today's more volatile one.

But a recent study by Climate Central found that developers are failing to heed the warnings, with some states building new homes fastest in flood-prone areas, including Mississippi.

In Canada, two '100-year floods' in 2017 and 2019 have climate preparedness experts worried. Emergencies were announced in Montreal and Ottawa this year, and flooding is now more costly than fire or theft for property owners. “This is one of the most obvious manifestations of a changing climate,“ said Canada's public safety minister, Ralph Goodale. “Unstable weather conditions dump years worth of moisture in a day or two. It causes enormous damage to public infrastructure.“ Western governments have increased their flood defence spending and relief efforts this year, but conservationist Allison Hanes warned that recent events could now be the “new normal“.

“Our cities, communities, villages, hamlets, neighbourhoods, rural areas, highways, roads, bridges, dams, and of course people's homes, are being inundated,“ she wrote in the Montreal Gazette.

“We are in uncharted waters. But the really scary part is that this could be the new normal – a terrifying new reality that has long been foretold, but is now upon us.“

Image credit: PA

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