Flooding: Why cities in Southeast Asia need to be more resilient

November 2017, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia; image by Loes Kieboom/Shutterstock

In the face of global climate change and diminishing natural resources, designing cities and buildings today require environmental, economic and social considerations. While sustainability focuses on how we can slow down effects of global warming, there is also a pressing need to look into the aftermath of extreme weather events.

Greenhouse gas emissions exacerbate water-related disaster risks, intensifying tropical typhoons that may severely affect cities and the built environments. Flooding and wind damage are some of the climate-change-driven impacts that have threatened us in the past decades. For the construction sector, this means we need to build more resilient cities with efficient disaster risk management.

Economic losses due to climate-related and flood-specific disasters are high. Globally, these are increasing exponentially since the 1990s, amounting to at least US$150 billion per year.

Asian cities are particularly vulnerable to risks associated with natural disasters. While we’re also facing earthquakes, volcanic activities and other natural disasters, flooding and other water-related calamities pose more significant risks and undermine long-term economic growth, especially in coastal areas and cities with poor disaster risk management (DRM)—such as Jakarta, which suffers from flooding almost every year during the rainy season. Managing natural disaster risks is an essential component of urban policies in fast-growing Asian cities, particularly as the impacts of climate change worsen.

Research by OECD on the assessment of DRM policies in Southeast Asian cities—Bandung, Indonesia; Bangkok, Thailand; Cebu, Philippines; Hai Phong, Vietnam; and Iskandar, Malaysia—show the following main findings and recommendations.

Southeast Asian cities are largely underprepared for natural disaster risks, especially with regard to vulnerability and risk assessment practices. Comprehensive hazard assessments and mapping have not been uniformly employed. Land-use policies do not often consider DRM, which has resulted in continued urban development in risk-prone areas.

Some recommendations would be to conduct a comprehensive vulnerability and risk assessment to develop a local resilience action plan; and to adopt risk-sensitive land-use policies combining regulatory and fiscal instruments to guide urban development away from risk-prone areas.

What should be noted is that by 2050, two-thirds of Asia’s infrastructure needs still have to be built and financed, thus providing an opportunity to factor in resilience to natural disasters. The substantial need for infrastructure investment will require large-scale private sector engagement. To this end, public finance plays a critical role to facilitate, leverage and guide private investment.

Effective design and implementation of land-use strategies and policies to guide private investment could minimise risks and avoid locking cities into vulnerable development patterns that will be costly to reverse in the long run.

July 2020: Infrastructure development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; image by Ismail Sadiron/Shutterstock

Reducing the impact of flooding and water-related disaster risks could be done through the use of technology such as the Geographic Information System (GIS) platform that brings together a multitude of data for an accurate assessment—such as the topographical survey, building models, local rainfall, waterbody distribution, drainage network and surfaces’ imperviousness.

The use of GIS technology and other digital tools could also be leveraged to co-locate vulnerable populations, assets and geographic areas. This critical information would provide Southeast Asian policy- and decision-makers with data to formulate and implement more effective, targeted and responsive DRM measures.

As flooding is likely to have serious economic consequences through the loss of employment, livelihoods and trading opportunities with local and international markets—for instance, the damage may include city infrastructure and major ports as well as affect international trade—engagement with the local business communities and the private sector is paramount. Resilience to natural disasters should be factored in.

Also read: Low impact development (LID): A stormwater management system

There should also be emphasis on the preservation of trees, natural topography and environmentally sensitive areas such as hill land, natural water courses, flora and fauna; and the creation of constructed wetland to further facilitate water quality control and green lungs to act as buffer zones against emissions.

Anisa Pinatih – Construction+ Online


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