Saturday, July 21, 2007

Worldwide floods show lessons still need learning

Reuters: As communities around the world battle the worst floods in living memory, experts warn such events may become more frequent due to climate change and that lessons still need to be learnt to limit losses.

Floods may result in lower death tolls than earthquakes, wars or tsunamis -- and therefore gain less international attention -- but they can cause similar devastation. Recent weeks have seen a string of such disasters.

…Climate change could make the problem worse, he warned. Many scientists say the world is warming because of carbon emissions from human activity, making weather more unpredictable. "You can't attribute particular events to climate change," Thorne said. "But on the other hand, the conditions that promote serious flooding will become much more frequent than they are now so the probability is we will have more extreme events."

Huge strides have been made in coping with the consequences. A couple of decades ago, floods in Bangladesh used to kill thousands, almost all from disease. Now, cholera outbreaks after floods have been almost eradicated, mainly through better access to sanitation and public education.

When floods hit Mozambique earlier this year, aid workers say the government was swift to broadcast radio warnings and evacuate people from vulnerable areas. Some 45 people died, compared to 700 in 2000-2001.

But experts say many lessons still need to be learned and warn that flood defences have sometimes created a false sense of security, particularly in the most developed countries.

...Failings in the response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans showed that even a developed country like the United States could fall short in the face of widespread flooding if it is not fully prepared.

"Flood plains are not bad places to live 99 per cent of the time," said Nottingham University's Thorne. "Most of the world's great civilisations grew up along rivers -- people are always going to live there. But you have to have plans for flooding."

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