Water, Water Everywhere
do to avoid
AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT of life, water can
also be a destructive force. In the past decade, catastrophic floods have hit nearly all corners of the
earth—Mozambique, Australia, the United States,
Brazil. And with each tragedy, lives are lost, infrastructure decimated and a community is left with
little recourse but to rebuild.
“The evidence is clear. There is nothing anyone can do to avoid flooding entirely, and you
shouldn’t try,” says Colin Thorne, professor and
chair of physical geography at the University of
Nottingham, Nottingham, England, and deputy
chair of the U.K. Flood Research Consortium.
Flooding may be inevitable in some spots, but
public policymakers can, however, reduce the
impact of floods with careful long-term project
planning. And that’s going to take more than just
putting a finger in the dike.
ON THE RISE
The problem isn’t receding. In the United Kingdom,
for example, the risk of floods could increase 20-fold
by 2080, according to Mr. Thorne, who worked
on the British government’s 2004 Foresight Flood
and Coastal Defense Project, which continues to
shape flood-management policy.
Seasonal flooding actually can be a vital part
of the ecosystem and agricultural economy. In
Bangladesh, floodwaters create habitats for annual
fish spawns and recharge the flood plains with silt
and minerals that support crops.
THE RESISTANCE PLAN
For flood-risk management to be effective, land-use
planners have to take an integrated approach.
“You definitely need hard structures and
defenses,” says Mr. Thorne. “But you also need to
put key infrastructure in more secure areas and
In Britain, for example, firehouses, hospitals and
power stations are often built on flood plains and
are quickly inundated when a flood hits. “That’s
just poor planning,” he says.
Yet Mr. Thorne acknowledges that municipalities
can’t simply tear down and rebuild cities to make