Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cities and Flooding - A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century

12 Guiding Principles for Integrated Flood Risk Management

1. Every flood risk scenario is different: there is no flood management blueprint.
Understanding the type, source and probability of flooding, the exposed assets and their vulnerability are all essential if the appropriate urban flood risk management measures are to be identified. The suitability of measures to context and conditions is crucial: a flood barrier in the wrong place can make flooding worse by stopping rainfall from draining into the river or by pushing water to more vulnerable areas downstream, and early warning systems can have limited impact on reducing the risk from flash flooding.

2. Designs for flood management must be able to cope with a changing and uncertain future.
The impact of urbanization on flood management is currently and will continue to be significant. But it will not be wholly predictable into the future. In addition, in the present day and into the longer term, even the best flood models and climate predictions result in a large measure of uncertainty. This is because the future climate is dependent on the actions of unpredictable humans on the climate – and because the climate is approaching scenarios never before seen. Flood risk managers need therefore to consider measures that are robust to uncertainty and to different flooding scenarios under conditions of climate change.

3. Rapid urbanization requires the integration of flood risk management into regular urban planning and governance.
Urban planning and management which integrates flood risk management is a key requirement, incorporating land use, shelter, infrastructure and services. The rapid expansion of urban built up areas also provides an opportunity to develop new settlements that incorporate integrated flood management at the outset. Adequate operation and maintenance of flood management assets is also an urban management issue.

4. An integrated strategy requires the use of both structural and non-structural measures and good metrics for “getting the balance right”.
The two types of measure should not be thought of as distinct from each other. Rather, they are complementary. Each measure makes a contribution to flood risk reduction but the most effective strategies will usually combine several measures – which may be of both types. It is important to identify different ways to reduce risk in order to select those that best meet the desired objectives now – and in the future.

5. Heavily engineered structural measures can transfer risk upstream and downstream.
Well-designed structural measures can be highly effective when used appropriately. However, they characteristically reduce flood risk in one location while increasing it in another. Urban flood managers have to consider whether or not such measures are in the interests of the wider catchment area.

6. It is impossible to entirely eliminate the risk from flooding. Hard-engineered measures are designed to defend to a pre-determined level.
They may fail. Other non-structural measures are usually designed to minimize rather than prevent risk. There will always remain a residual risk which should be planned for. Measures should also be designed to fail gracefully rather than, if they do fail, causing more damage than would have occurred without the measure.

7. Many flood management measures have multiple co-benefits over and above their flood management role.
The linkages between flood management, urban design, planning and management, and climate change initiatives are beneficial. For example, the greening of urban spaces has amenity value, enhances biodiversity, protects against urban heat island and can provide fire breaks, urban food production and evacuation space. Improved waste management has health benefits as well as maintaining drainage system capacity and reducing flood risk.

8. It is important to consider the wider social and ecological consequences of flood management spending.
While costs and benefits can be defined in purely economic terms, decisions are rarely based on economics alone. Some social and ecological consequences such as loss of community cohesion and biodiversity are not readily measureable in economic terms. Qualitative judgments must therefore be made by city managers, communities at risk, urban planners and flood risk professionals on these broader issues.

9. Clarity of responsibility for constructing and running flood risk programs is critical.
Integrated urban flood risk management is often set within and can fall between the dynamics and differing incentives of decision-making at national, regional, municipal and community levels. Empowerment and mutual ownership of the flood problem by relevant bodies and individuals will lead to positive actions to reduce risk.

10. Implementing flood risk management measures requires multi-stakeholder cooperation.
Effective engagement with the people at risk at all stages is a key success factor. Engagement increases compliance, generates increased capacity and reduces conflict. This needs to be combined with strong, decisive leadership and commitment from national and local governments.

11. Continuous communication to raise awareness and reinforce preparedness is necessary.
Ongoing communication counters the tendency of people to forget about flood risk. Even a major disaster has a half-life of memory of less than two generations and other more immediate threats often seem more urgent. Less severe events can be forgotten in less than three years.

12. Plan to recover quickly after flooding and use the recovery to build capacity.
As flood events will continue to devastate communities despite the best flood risk management practices, it is important to plan for a speedy recovery. This includes planning for the right human and financial resources to be available. The best recovery plans use the opportunity of reconstruction to build safer and stronger communities which have the capacity to withstand flooding better in the future.