Geography Compass

Recent Catastrophic Flooding

By Andy Hacket Pain

This morning I typed “flooding” into Google News and, limiting the results to the last week, found that you get almost 20,000 hits.

By scrolling through the first few pages of results I then discovered that flooding disasters of different scales have affected Southern China, the US, Burma, Singapore, Winnipeg, India and southern France over the last few days, with several hundred reported deaths and many more people still missing. For example, 132 people are now confirmed dead in China, although this figure is likely to rise significantly, and almost a million people have been evacuated.

After reading these reports, and viewing pictures of the devastation, the immediate question of what, or who, is responsible for these disasters obviously springs to mind. Chang and Franczyk (2008) review the causes of floods in an article in Geography Compass, highlighting both the natural and human factors responsible for these events.

While intense or prolonged rainfall is clearly the primary cause of flooding, land-use change and potentially climate change have also played a major role in the reported increase in flood damage over recent decades. Furthermore, the urban development of high risk areas puts increased numbers at risk; in response to this weeks flooding, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction has again called on governments to take flood risk into account in urban planning efforts.

There is also of course the question of whether climate change also has some responsibility for these flooding events. According to Chang and Franczyk (2008) this is not yet clear, but the evidence is building…

Chang and Franczyk (2008), Climate Change, Land-Use Change, and Floods: Toward an Integrated Assessment, Geography Compass, 2(5), 1549-1579

“Floods across southern China take heavy toll” from the BBC News website

Photographs of the flooding in southern France from The Guardian website

The UNISDR calls for governments to take action, reported at

Satellite images of the weather system over southern China, from the Chinese National Meteorological Centre

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