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How the Flood Damage Bill Will Increase With Climate Change 
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Blog...How the Flood Damage Bill Will Increase With Climate Change 

How the Flood Damage Bill Will Increase With Climate Change 

Ecology News
Global Warming
arial shot of flooded town and buildings
Why is climate change increasing the threat of flooding? What impact Why is climate change increasing the threat of flooding? What impact does this have on communities? And what are the economic repercussions?
Ecology News
2024-05-31T00:00:00.000Z
en-us
arial shot of flooded town and buildings

The effects of climate change are being felt around the world, and unfortunately, we're seeing an increase in both the frequency and severity of natural weather-related disasters such as floods. The devastating impacts of these events are creating problems for communities and governments globally, as they struggle to mitigate and adapt: not only is there a human cost to climate-related events such as flooding, but there's a resulting economic impact too. 

👉 Why is climate change increasing the threat of flooding? What impact does this have on communities? And what are the economic repercussions? 

What is flooding?

Flooding is an overflow of water that submerges land that would usually be dry. It's the most common and widespread type of natural disaster - and unfortunately, due to climate change, flooding is becoming more and more frequent.

The term flooding covers a variety of different scenarios and can refer to anything from a few inches of submersion to water that's many feet deep. Before we take a deep dive into the causes of flooding, let's first take a look at the different types of floods that can impact a community:

River flood

River floods usually occur when the water levels within the river breach the top of the river banks. This type of flooding can happen in any river or stream channel (from the smallest brooks to the largest mainstream). The causes of this type of flooding are usually excessive rainfall over land, persistent thunderstorms, combined rainfall, snowmelt, or ice jams (when large chunks of ice block the flow of a river). 

If a large river with a significant catchment area is affected, the flooding tends to be slow and low-rising. Sudden river floods are more likely to occur in smaller rivers, rivers with steep valley sides, or those that flow over impermeable terrain (ie. ground that doesn't soak up any of the moisture).

river that has flooded the landscape

Coastal flood

Coastal flooding occurs when dry and low-lying land is submerged by seawater. It's often caused by tidal surges, high winds, and barometric pressure resulting from weather events such as cyclones, tsunamis, and higher-than-average tides. However, the topography of the area may also influence the likelihood of flooding - for example, the height of land above sea level, the amount of erosion, and the removal of vegetation can all make an area more susceptible to coastal flooding.

Inland flood

Inland flooding occurs when the volume of water on land exceeds the capacity of natural and man-made drainage systems. This type of flooding is often referred to as urban flooding and is usually caused by short-term, intense rain or rain over several days. 

Urban areas are particularly susceptible to this type of flooding as they tend to have low-capacity drainage systems and poor ground soil quality due to low amounts of vegetation and green space. 

Flash flood

Flash floods are an extremely dangerous type of flooding that occurs in an especially short timeframe (ie. under 6 hours). Usually, they are caused by heavy or excess rainfall and areas near rivers or lakes tend to be the most susceptible to this type of flooding, however, it can also occur in areas with no water bodies nearby. 

Urban environments (such as in a city or town) are also particularly vulnerable to flash flooding as their impervious surfaces mean that the water can't drain into the ground properly, meaning that the water has nowhere to go and so levels rise quickly. 

The speed of this type of flooding is what makes it so dangerous - even when flood alerts are issued, communities often have very little time to react or evacuate.

flooded river and trees

What are the main causes of flooding?

Now that we've outlined the different types of flooding that exist, let's take a closer look at the main causes behind it.

  • Heavy or prolonged rain - Heavy rain is the most common cause of flooding and can be caused by a number of different weather conditions. The amount of rain, the intensity, the duration, and the area affected by the rainfall all influence the runoff of water that reaches streams and rivers, as well as the land's ability to absorb the water.
  • River overflow - Overflowing rivers and bodies of water aren't just caused by heavy rainfall. Flooding may also occur when debris in rivers or dams blocks the normal flow of water resulting in a build-up.
  • Snowmelt - When snow melts this results in water saturating the ground or soil. When snow melts in large quantities the ground may reach a point of saturation meaning that it is unable to absorb any more water, this leads to surface runoff which then enters nearby rivers and streams, increasing their water levels.
  • Deforestation - Deforestation is the removal of trees to convert the land for non-forest use. Clearing land of trees and vegetation reduces the volume of water that the soil can absorb and retain, which in turn leads to increased groundwater, surface runoff, and increased flow of water into rivers and streams. 👉 Note that forest fires also have the same effect as man-made deforestation and reduce the volume of water that the soil is able to hold.
  • Urbanisation - The building of structures such as roads, pavements, and buildings means that permeable soil is replaced with impervious materials such as asphalt and concrete. This means that the ground is no longer able to absorb excess water which increases the risk of excess surface runoff and makes the area more vulnerable to flooding.

How is climate change affecting flooding?

Climate change affects weather systems and our environment in a multitude of different ways: from increased storms to more intense rainfall, to periods of drought resulting in dry, arid soil, to the melting of snow and glaciers. There is no corner of the world and no weather system that is unaffected by rising global temperatures. In this next section, we'll explore how the effects of global warming are increasing the risk of floods in countries and communities across the world.

Increased rainfall

Why is global warming creating more rain? Well, a warmer atmosphere holds and therefore releases more water. In fact, as climate change heats the Earth's atmosphere, the air can hold 7% more water vapor for every 1℃ rise in temperature. When this air cools quickly, water vapor turns into water droplets which combine to form heavy rainfall. 

What does this mean? Well, due to global warming heavy precipitation events are projected to increase, with some scientists predicting that we could see three times the historical average in rainfall by the end of the century. 

Why is this a problem? Increased intensity of rainfall, or rainfall that is prolonged can saturate the soil and lead to increased volumes of water in our rivers and streams, which means that flooding is more likely to occur. 

Not only this, but increased precipitation also speeds up the melting of snow, which means that snowmelt-fed rivers are experiencing higher streamflows and therefore are also at higher risk of flooding.

More frequent storms

Data shows that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of storms such as hurricanes and cyclones. In the Atlantic basin for example, an 80% increase in category 4 and 5 hurricanes is predicted by the end of this century. What compounds the issue is that these storms are also expected to be wetter with heavier precipitation predicted. More frequent storms with more intense rainfall will result in more frequent catastrophic flooding events.  

What's even more worrying is that these storms also produce stronger winds and create greater storm surges - something that is especially deadly. Hurricane Katrina for example, produced a 28-foot storm surge in 2005 that resulted in extensive flooding and caused the deaths of nearly 1,500 people. Unfortunately, due to global warming storm surges are not only expected to increase in size but will also penetrate further inland, causing more damage and presenting an even greater threat to human lives.

stormy sky with lightening

Melting ice

As air and ocean temperatures rise, the world's glaciers and ice sheets are melting at a faster rate than ever before. This is causing global sea levels to rise. In fact, our oceans are already estimated to be 7 to 8 inches higher than they were in 1990, and scientists believe that future sea levels could rise as much as 5 meters by the end of the century. 

Our polar ice caps are also under significant threat. Antarctica has already lost over 3 trillion tonnes of ice over the last 25 years, which has caused global sea levels to rise by 8mm. As the world's temperatures continue to increase we can expect to see an increased rate of melting and further threat to coastal communities who will be forced to adapt to coastal flooding and permanent loss of land.

What is the impact of flooding?

Flooding not only threatens human lives, but can damage properties and businesses, destroy possessions, cripple vital infrastructure, and prevent access to essential public services. It presents a huge challenge to the communities affected as well as governments who often have to pick up the resulting damage bill. Let's explore the ramifications of flooding and the economic impacts in more detail:

Immediate loss of human life

Fast-flowing and deep flood waters are incredibly dangerous. Even shallow water can knock over children and adults, potentially sweeping them away and resulting in drowning or physical harm to the human body. There is also significant danger presented by the debris carried in the flood waters.

man sitting in hut above flooded river

Health

While immediate flooding can claim lives through drowning, it can also have a severe impact on human health in the long run. Flooding can carry with it raw sewage and chemicals, as well as hazardous runoff from waste sites, factories, and farms. This can result in contaminated water supplies, which increases the risk of infections and the ingestion of toxic materials. 

And even when the water recedes the risk is not gone, bacteria may linger which can increase the rates of respiratory illnesses. Flooding also results in increased psychological stress which can contribute to mental health problems. 

Critical health infrastructure may also be affected by flooding, for example, flooding may prevent power generation or supply, which can, in turn, cut off air conditioning, refrigeration, access to the internet, and other facilities that are powered by electricity This can result in a variety of different threats to human lives. For example, when New Orleans was flooded by Storm Katrina this knocked out power to one of the city's main hospitals (Memorial Medical Center) which meant that patients were forced to endure humid, hot conditions with no AC, no contact with the outside world, and without access to lifesaving medical equipment.

Damage to infrastructure and property

It only takes two feet of water to wash away a car, and the damage doesn't stop there - flooding can cause significant harm to property and infrastructure. When it comes to homes and buildings, floods can knock out windows and doors, corrode walls and foundations, and litter property with debris. Not to mention the damage to the interiors - ruined floors, walls, and furniture. 

And it's not just homes and cars that are damaged: roads, bridges, utilities, and a variety of other public infrastructure can be damaged or ruined too. Where flooding knocks out utilities such as electricity, water, and gas supplies, households and businesses can also severely suffer.

Damage to communities

The long-term impacts of flooding can really take its toll on communities. The stress and trauma of such an event can cause chronic illnesses and long-term psychological issues. Additionally the temporary or sometimes long-term loss of access to community services or infrastructures can also cause a wide variety of negative effects  - for example, lack of access to schools, health facilities, and other amenities can severely impact a community's ability to recover from flooding.

flooded town with houses next to floodwater

Loss of crops

Flooding can damage or completely destroy agricultural land which means that crops and even livestock can be lost. This not only represents an immediate loss of income for the farmers affected, but it can also significantly impact wider food supply chains. Sudden drops in product supplies can result in product price hikes which can impact the cost of goods in countries that are otherwise unaffected by the flooding.

Loss of businesses and livelihoods

It goes without saying that severe flooding can destroy businesses and the livelihoods of entire communities. It might be that their means of creating income has been destroyed (as is the case where flooding destroys a farmer's crops), or it might be that the flooding has destroyed the physical premises of the building meaning that it can no longer operate, or where communities find themselves displaced as a result of the flooding they may have had to leave their entire business behind.

The economic impact of flooding

Flooding has a significant impact, not just on people's lives but also on the economy. Flood risk is a growing concern, and the financial consequences are significant.

Direct costs

Damage to infrastructure and property

  • Floods damage infrastructure and property, leading to expensive repairs and rebuilding efforts.
  • Governments and local authorities in each country must allocate funds to address and manage these damages.

Health costs

  • Health problems caused by flooding add another layer of costs due to necessary medical treatments.
  • Public health services bear the burden of increased demand for medical care, which strains resources and forces the redirection of funds from other essential services.

Indirect costs

Economic disruption

  • Flooding can force businesses to shut down, leading to job losses and reduced economic activity.
  • This disruption spreads beyond the immediate area, affecting supply chains and causing shortages and price hikes.
  • In agricultural communities, the loss of crops and livestock can be devastating, leading to food shortages and loss of income for farmers.

Impact on tourism and property values

  • Flooded areas often see a decline in tourism, resulting in lost revenue for local economies, especially in towns that rely heavily on visitors.
  • Higher insurance premiums and declining property values in flood-prone areas add to the economic strain, affecting both individual homeowners and the wider community.

Market impact

  • Local markets can be severely impacted by flooding, with goods and services becoming scarce and prices increasing. This can lead to inflationary pressures and economic instability in the affected regions.

Preparedness and mitigation

Flood warnings and early response

  • Flood warnings and preparedness are essential to lessen these economic impacts.
  • Early flood warnings can save lives and reduce damage by giving people time to evacuate and protect their property.
  • Implementing an effective flood warning system requires investment in technology and infrastructure, which includes detailed flood risk assessments and modernized alert systems.
  • At an individual level it's important to understand how flood risks are managed in your area and what kind of flood warning service is provided by local authorities - look into these details to be better prepared. For example, you might be able to sign up to receive free messages detailing flood warnings.

Climate change and increased flood risks

  • Climate change is making flood risks worse around the world, with floods happening more often and with greater intensity.
  • This growing threat means that governments and communities need to find ways to mitigate and adapt to these changes. Additionally, it's important that we work towards achieving net zero emissions targets to prevent worsening climate impacts.

Investment in flood defences

  • Investing in flood defenses, like levees, flood walls, and better drainage systems, is crucial.
  • While these measures are costly, they are necessary to protect economic assets and minimize long-term damage costs.

Community and government response

Government and community efforts

  • Governments must manage and address flooding through policies, funding, and infrastructure improvements. This includes creating comprehensive flood risk management plans.
  • Community efforts, including donations and volunteer support, are vital in recovery and rebuilding processes. Donations can provide immediate relief and help fund longer-term recovery projects.

Advice and support services

  • Providing clear advice and support services to affected individuals helps manage the immediate aftermath of flooding.
  • Long-term support services are essential for ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts, ensuring that communities can bounce back more successfully.

Other ways to manage flood risks

  • Implementing sustainable land management practices and restoring natural floodplains are effective strategies.
  • Urban planning that includes green spaces can absorb excess water, reducing flood impact.
  • These approaches not only mitigate flooding but also provide environmental and social benefits, contributing to the overall success of flood management efforts.

Success stories and community resilience

Role of donations and community support

  • Donations play a critical role in supporting affected communities, and providing essential resources when they are most needed.
  • Successful recovery efforts often rely on the generosity and support of both local and international donors, demonstrating the strength and resilience of communities in times of crisis.
  • Stories of communities coming together to rebuild and support each other are inspiring and demonstrate the power of collective action.

👉 The economic impact of flooding is complex and far-reaching. From the direct costs of damage and healthcare to the indirect costs of lost productivity and higher insurance premiums, the financial burden is heavy. With climate change increasing flood risks, it's crucial to invest in both immediate flood warning systems and long-term mitigation strategies. While these investments can be costly, the price of doing nothing is even higher. By taking proactive steps now, we can protect lives, property, and economies from the devastating effects of flooding.

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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