Tag Archives: flood

Ordering vulnerability: transitions in flood risk management

By Helen Pallett 

Hemsby flooding

Picture from the Guardian

On Thursday December 5th the east coast of the UK was battered by high winds and rain, causing a tidal surge which flooded many homes and caused wide-spread travel disruption. It is estimated that 1400 properties were flooded, with some of the worst damage being experienced on the Norfolk coast where several towns were evacuated and where seven houses were lost to the sea in the village of Hemsby.

Like earlier extreme flooding and tidal surge events, the most recent storm raises pressing questions about the relative responsibilities of the government, private insurance companies and individual home-owners for both assessing and managing the risks of flood damage. Memories of the 1953 North Sea flood, where a tidal surges over-topped sea defences and led to the deaths of more than 300 people, have been frequently evoked this week. It was after this flood that British government was forced to reassess its responsibilities towards those living in areas vulnerable to future flooding and storm surges, and consequently embarked on a programme of constructing flood and sea defences across the country.

According to a recent paper by Tom Ball, Alan Werritty and Alistair Geddes in the journal Area, this paradigm of hard-engineered flood defences was dominant until 2004, when a number of factors such as the projected impacts of climate change, the unexpected impacts of certain engineering solutions and the prohibitive cost of sustaining flood defences around all vulnerable settlements led this approach to be de-emphasised. The approach moved towards bolstering the resilience of vulnerable communities, rather than offering comprehensive protection, creating a much greater role for the insurance industry in mediating flood risk and vulnerability, along other ‘softer’ management approaches.

This transitional arrangement between the Government, private insurers and home-owners shifted again with the 2007 summer floods in the UK which are thought to have cost insurers £1.7 billion. In the aftermath of the floods the Government intervened to encourage insurance providers to agree to a ‘Statement of Principles’, where they committed to adopting a cross subsidy between homes in low and high risk flooding areas, rather than simply refusing to ensure or charging astronomically high premiums for those most vulnerable to flood damage. The relevance of this fragile settlement to the most recent storm, is that this Statement of Principles expired in June of this year, creating the possibility for yet another transition in how the burden of risk and vulnerability management is shared between our three central actors.

Following last week’s floods, the Observer newspaper reported on the Government’s new flood insurance scheme, which is designed to cater for houses in high risk flooding areas which will no longer be covered by conventional private insurance schemes. As Ball et al point out in their paper, the UK is unusual in not having had provision for state-subsidised flooding insurance until now. However, as the Observer reported, this new government insurance scheme seems unlikely to produce any long-lasting settlement in the management of flood risks and vulnerabilities, as it proposes to cover only 500,000 homes; a much smaller figure than the number of homes projected to experience a high risk of flooding in the 2020s by the Government’s own climate change impacts assessment.

The history of approaches to flood risk and vulnerability over the last 60 years alerts to the ways in which the methods, rationalities and bureaucratic arrangements have shifted substaintially over time. However, it is also important to be attentive to how these moves have interacted with changing relationships between the state, insurance providers and ordinary citizens in the face of the threat of flooding, and the different degrees of responsibility and financial burden these sometimes subtle changes place on each actor.

books_icon Tom Ball, Alan Werritty & Alistair Geddes 2013  Insurance and sustainability in flood-risk management: the UK in a transitional state Area, 45(3): 266-272

60-world2 Half a million homes at risk are not covered by flood scheme Observer, 7 December

60-world2 UK flood defences praised for saving lives and property on east coast Guardian, 6 December

60-world2 Storms, floods and tidal surge devastate the UK’s east coast – in pictures Guardian, 6 December

60-world2 Norfolk floods: seven Hemsby homes badly damaged by waves BBC News, 6 December

Human and Physical interactions

The recent floods in the UK have captured the imagination of the media and general population.  The relationship between flood events and the human population have undeniably been highlighted by the UK media in the last week, with BBC articles such as Why do people buy houses in places prone to flooding? clearly outlining the interactions between humans and the natural environment.

This article clearly outlines the ways in which humans relate to rivers before and during flood events. Much research has been conducted into the effects of flooding with the effects of flood events being felt and seen for many months afterwards. The BBC article,  raise the point that whilst damp or a bit of subsidence may deter prospective home-buyers, living on a floodplain does not, the article then goes onto explore the reasons why.

Considering the physical processes at play during a flood has been considered in many contexts by Geographers. Tadaki et al.’s (2012) recent paper ‘Nature, culture, and the work of physical geography’ in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers discusses the implications of a cultural turn in physical geography. This paper makes thought-provoking points and concludes by stating ‘(it is about) realising all physical geography is applied and that all physical geography is relevant. It is the questions of ‘applied to what?’ and ‘relevant to whom?’ which need to be considered more carefully’ (Tadaki et al., 2012: 560)

It was intriguing to read this paper alongside the daily news articles which were being released. Tadaki et al. raise important questions about the cultural considerations and implications of research which involve the physical environment. Recent flood events prove the significance of research but also lead to enquiries as to how research is interpreted by the public and what knowledge is relevant with one resident in Barford’s article feeling that the ‘inconvenience’ of a flood every few years was worth it to live in such an attractive and convenient location.

books_iconTadaki, M., Salmon, J., Le Heron, R. and Brierley, G. (2012) Nature, culture, and the work of physical geography Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37 (4) 547-562

worldWhy do people buy houses in places prone to flooding? BBC News 29th November 2012

Area Content Alert: 44, 2 (June 2012)

Cover image for Vol. 44 Issue 2The latest issue of Area (Volume 44, Issue 2, pages 134–268, June 2012) is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break for a full list of articles in this issue.

Continue reading

Content Alert: New Articles (2nd March 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Land degradation in Mediterranean urban areas: an unexplored link with planning?
Luca Salvati, Roberta Gemmiti and Luigi Perini
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01083.x

Neoliberalising violence: of the exceptional and the exemplary in coalescing moments
Simon Springer
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01084.x

Who loses if flood risk is reduced: should we be concerned?
Edmund C Penning-Rowsell and Joanna Pardoe
Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01085.x

‘At the next junction, turn left’: attitudes towards Sat Nav use
Stephen Axon, Janet Speake and Kevin Crawford
Article first published online: 28 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01086.x

Original Articles

Scarcity, frontiers and development
Edward B Barbier
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00462.x

Commentary

Beyond trial justice in the former Yugoslavia
Alex Jeffrey and Michaelina Jakala
Article first published online: 24 FEB 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00461.x

Content Alert: New Articles (27th January 2012)

These Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

The paradigm of structural engineering approaches for river flood risk reduction in Norway
Ilan Kelman and Trude Rauken
Article first published online: 23 JAN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01074.x

Floods: the consequences and the management

Despite some advantages, sometimes natural phenomena can be unpredictably damaging to the communities when it happens in big scale.  Over the last month, central Europe was hit by the worst flood of decades, particularly south of Poland.  Latest reports from some media included the Telegraph, Guardian, BBC and Reuters reflected the pressing situations caused by the flood in the affected countries.

Since the flood first inundated central Europe in mid May, at least 20 people were killed across the countries while thousands were being evacuated from home.  The effects on economy were expected to be minimal to Poland by the Financial Times in end of May.  However, natural hazards like flood may also causes loss in dwellings, agricultures and infrastructure which ultimately affects the economy of the affected areas both in short and long terms.

Considering the widespread impacts of flooding, many researchers have conducted research aiming either to investigate the causes of flood or inventions of technologies and management techniques to minimise the flooding consequences.  López-Marrero recently highlights the importance of access to resources and cognitive factors in determining the adaptive capacity to the floods in Puerto Rico.  The case study further suggests integrative approach of both aspects in practical strategies development to increase the adaptive capacity to flood.

Instead of focus at the local level, Chang and Franczyk revised some recent studies on flood across the world in order to identify the causes of flood from various aspects as well as methodological issues in the flood research. The review which finally analyse current challenges in flood research also propose the importance of integrative approach in flood research and management.

As these researchers suggested, I personally agree that we should consider several aspects in developing local flood handling strategies and anticipate integration of data in various scales, systems and disciplines in the research.

Read article by López-Marrero in The Geographical Journal here

Read review by Chang and Franczyk in Geography Compass here

by Lee-Sim Lim